Summary: How should Christians respond to persecution and to suffering in the world?
This passage introduces the epistle’s section on Christian living and its overall theme. To borrow from Francis Schaeffer, it is “How Should We Then Live?” How should Christians conduct themselves in a world that is nonChristian, i.e. where the citizenry do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as Redeemer and Lord. How should they understand their situation in this world?
This World is Not My Home
The starting point in knowing how to live is having the right perspective about their place in the world. Actually, Peter has been putting their lives into proper perspective all along. They are the chosen of God, belonging to him; they have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, given new birth into a living hope of a glorious future that will come to pass when Christ returns again. Meanwhile, they together are being built into a temple of God whereby they may have access to him and offer him acceptable worship.
Having said that, the world does not share this wonderful opinion of them, and, quite frankly, life right now is pretty tough. They are being slandered and persecuted, and it is getting more and more difficult to carry on. Why is this happening and what should they do about it?
First, they must understand their place in the world. Peter calls them “loved ones.” That is the actual Greek term. The NIV’s translation Dear friends, seems to miss Peter’s emphasis. It is not so much that these people are loved by Peter as they are by God. He has just said to them, Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Now, you beloved of God, you are aliens and strangers in the world. Peter has already used both terms for his readers. The Greek term for aliens is the same term used in 1:17, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. He originally addressed them as God’s elect, strangers in the world, the same Greek term translated as strangers here. The second term translated “strangers” is used of foreigners dwelling in a different land for a temporary period of time. It would be the term applied to international students today.
The first term, alien, speaks to the status or lack of status of certain foreigners. It would apply more to foreigners who are in the states illegally.
Peter is saying, this world is not your home. It is not where your citizenship belongs. This understanding of their position in the world is critical to understanding what is happening to them and how they should respond. What is meant by not being citizens? Do Christians not have the same rights as nonChristians? Yes and no. We have to be careful to understand Peter’s use of terminology. A danger we often make in interpreting the Bible is taking an analogy or concept and carrying it further than the particular scripture passage intends. To the Christians Peter is writing, he would affirm that they are citizens of their particular country. He would affirm that they are the same as their neighbors in having a place in their community. The difference is not about rights and privileges; it is about our own perspective of what really matters and where we really belong.
An immigrant to this country may become a naturalized citizen and, yet, still consider himself as not really a citizen because his heart belongs to his original country. That is the land that warms his heart; the customs of that land are what hold real meaning to him. In the same way, we may be citizens of the world, but our hearts do not belong here. We may enjoy the blessings of the world; we may make our own contribution to the world, but there is a greater world to which we belong and our true allegiance belongs to it.
If that is the case, that our true allegiance belongs to another world, the rights and privileges of this world should not be our primary interest. It is the cause of that other world that now motivates us. This is Peter’s premise. We belong to God; we are his nation; therefore, what he wants of us should be uppermost in our minds. Every instruction that he then gives will be based on this premise.
What is it that God wants of his people? We’ve already learned: he wants us to declare his praises; he wants us to glorify him. And, specifically, he wants us to win others into his kingdom. Skip to the end of our passage. He wants our pagan neighbors to glorify God on the day he visits us. The Greek literally reads “on a day of visitation.” Commentators differ over the meaning of visitation. The NIV translators evidently interpret the word to refer to Christ’s return. “He visits us” would mean, God visiting us all. That is a possible meaning. Peter has already made reference to the final revealing of Christ.