Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
1 Peter 2:11
Four launchpads for meditation. The first launchpad explores the theme of being sojourners and exiles that is traced throughout the entire Bible. To be an exile is to be away from home. Humanity’s first home is described in the first few chapters of Genesis as the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve live together in harmony with each other, their creator, and the rest of creation. But through their disobedience, they are exiled from the garden.
Later in Genesis, God calls Abraham to leave behind his land and relatives to go to the land that God will provide. In Genesis 23:4, Abraham describes his status in this new land as one of a sojourner and foreigner, which is the same type of language used in 1 Peter 2:11.
Eventually, Israel enters the promised land, what should be their home. However, like Adam and Eve, they disobey God and are exiled from the land.
Eventually, the Israelites return from exile back to the promised land. But what should be their home is not their true home. They live as subjects to a foreign ruler, and the people continue to be disloyal to their God.
But the prophets looked forward with a hopeful expectation of a New Earth that would be a true home. This identity of an exile but with hope for the future is also shared by Noah, Abraham, and the other people of old. As Hebrews 11:13-16 indicates, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
The Biblical theme of exile pertains to the experience of not being at home. Since the fall, it has become the human condition. In a sense, we are all exiles waiting for our true home, our heavenly home.
The second launchpad for meditation explores two ways in which the theme of exile is important within the book of 1 Peter. First, it is important to consider who Peter was writing to, a largely Gentile audience. So, are these Gentiles a part of God’s family now? 1 Peter emphatically says most certainly yes. For example, right before 1 Peter 2:11, in verses 9-10, Peter writes “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
Identifying the audience as sojourners and exiles is another way of welcoming the scattered churches into their new family. Like the people and prophets of old, the members of the scattered churches to which Peter writes are sojourners and exiles.
The second important way in which exile is central to 1 Peter is with the prominent theme of persecution. Understanding exile is especially relevant for the scattered and persecuted churches to which Peter writes. It is a reminder that this earth in its present state is not their true home. The suffering they endure is temporary, but the joy to be experienced in their true heavenly home is eternal.
The third launchpad for meditation explores one sense in which Christians are exiles in this world. It is a cultural exile. The values and practices of the world conflict with how Christians are to live as citizens of heaven. Christians are no longer at home while practicing evil. But since we no longer belong to the worldly aspects of earthly cultures, former friends may frown upon our new way of living. As 1 Peter 4:3-4 indicates, this is part of what prompted persecution: “You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols. Of course, your former friends are surprised when you no longer plunge into the flood of wild and destructive things they do. So they slander you.”
But rather than fighting back or giving up, Peter views cultural exile as an opportunity to witness. Right after 1 Peter 2:11, in verse 12, Peter writes “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” This verse echoes Matthew 5:16 where Jesus says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
As a cultural exile, live out the virtues of your heavenly kingdom. Allow the beauty of your transformed life to be a light in the darkness, so that others would see the light and turn to God for salvation.
The fourth launchpad for meditation explores another sense in which Christians are exiles in this world. We are exiles in our own bodies. In them we lack a sense of being at home. The passions of the flesh wage war against the soul, the whole of who we are as living, physical humans. Rather than being at home, our bodies are the battlegrounds on which a war is being waged. And it is a constant warfare. Just as a war has many military campaigns, the fight against evil desires that we have apart from the Spirit, is a daily battle.
But in this struggle, you are not alone. We all struggle with sinful desires, including the apostle Paul. Writing about his struggles with sin in Romans 7, he writes, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate… I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
As Warren Wiersbe writes, “our real battle is not with people around us, but with the passions within us”. As evil desires wage war against you, wage war against them. Put them to death. And in the midst of the battles, lean into your identity as an exile. Live by the principles of your new heavenly kingdom, and find solace in the fact that this war is temporary. We will one day be at home in our resurrected bodies, free from evil desires and freed up to fully love God and others.