What’s an Exile to Do? Live Your Life with Honor

Posted by R. Fowler White

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Pet 2:11-12)

At its core, the Apostle Peter’s first letter acknowledges that we Christians are exiles in this world and its residents are our hosts. At certain times, our hosts tolerate us; at other times, they’re hostile. Truth is, at bottom, they want us to become like they are and to live our lives as they do theirs. In 1 Pet 2:11-12, Peter presses us again to remember the truth mentioned in 1:1 and 1:17 that “we are just visitors here” and to live as the visitors that God has made us (2:11-12). 

It’s worth noticing how the Apostle begins his exhortation to us here. He addresses us as God’s beloved. He would have us remember that though the world may tolerate or reject us, God loves us, just as he’s explained in the preceding verses. But we’re not only beloved by God. Peter says that we’re also sojourners and exiles living among the Gentiles. Our ultimate homeland and citizenship are in heaven and in the world to come. Not only that, when Peter mentions the Gentiles, we think back to his identification of the church in 2:9-10, and we realize that, united to Christ, we are what Israel was called to be (Exod 19:5a): a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, God’s people. In short, we’re the Israel of God (Gal 6:16). The Apostle’s point is, then, because God has made us who we now are, we’re to live our lives in Gentile society for His sake.

Peter goes on to spell out what he means. First, what not to do: for the safety of our souls, we’re not to indulge worldly appetites (2:11). Don’t pander to the passions of the flesh, not just those appetites we have for bodily pleasures but appetites for possessions and power, those passions that wage war against our soul. Peter makes it clear that he’s not only talking about momentary urges that distract us, but also about deep cravings that corrupt and eat away at our souls. Appetites like those that Moses faced when he might have enjoyed the fleeting pleasures of sin while living in Egypt, but instead he chose to be mistreated with God’s people. Appetites like those Jesus faced when the devil tempted Him to exchange God’s good provisions of care, reward, and protection for his diabolically deceptive provisions. For the safety of our souls, Peter says, do what Moses and Jesus did: don’t indulge worldly appetites.

Now that we know how we’re not to live our lives, the Apostle tells us how we are to do it. His directives boil down to this: for the glory of God, conduct your lives in Gentile society with honor (2:12). We might read Peter’s words and think, “How positively cultured you sound, Apostle.” But then we realize that, by God’s common grace, non-Christians can recognize right from wrong in human relationships and can show at least a grudging respect for a Christian lifestyle of good deeds. Yes, they may well continue to disdain our love of the one true God, but our love of neighbor can win a grudging respect from some when we treat others as we would have them treat us. It’s not that we expect the world suddenly to show us support or to give us aid and comfort. After all, they speak against us as evildoers. The point is, the good deeds they see will contradict the words they speak. In fact, our good deeds will be either a testimony against them or a witness to them. And, as a result, on the day of judgment, whether they’re judged as God’s enemies or saved as God’s people, they will give glory to God. So, think of it this way: as Moses tells us (Gen 39), when Joseph was in Egypt, he lived his life with honor (just ask Potiphar and his wife), and the Lord gave him favor with the Egyptians. Or, as Peter tells us (3:1-2), non-Christian husbands can be won over without a word by the respectful and pure conduct of their Christian wives. In the same way, as Jesus said, You are the light of the world. … let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. For the glory of God, then, live your lives in Gentile society with honor.

We Christians are visitors in this world and the world’s residents are our hosts. At best they’re indifferent to us, and at worst they’re hostile. Bottom line is, they want us to become like they are, and to live our lives just like they live theirs. Don’t do it, says the Apostle. Remember who you are—God’s people—and live your lives in Gentile society with honor for His sake.

1 Comment

  1. February 20, 2021 at 11:02 pm

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