There’s a section of the New Testament between the book of Acts and the book of Revelation that’s known as “The Epistles.” The Epistles are letters that God inspired Jesus’ apostles to write to help Christians understand His teachings and apply them in their everyday lives.
Now these letters usually begin as you would normally expect a letter to begin. In other words, they usually start with a greeting from the author just as we would typically expect to see in a letter or email today. While it may be common in our fast-paced 21st culture to skim past greetings like this to get to the “important” stuff that comes later, you never know what truths God has tucked away within these seemingly “unimportant” sections for sharp readers to find. For example, check out the first verse found in the Biblical letter known as 1 Peter…
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world…” (1 Peter 1:1 NIV)
While this may seem like a strange way to start a letter, this introduction actually represents an important (and sometimes overlooked) truth for Christians. You see, that phrase “strangers in the world” becomes easier to understand once we get some important background information from the Biblical book of 1 John.
One portion of Scripture within this book tells us “…that the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). The “evil one” is a reference to the devil, a being that Jesus associates with “the enemy” in Matthew 13:39 (NIV). Because of this influence, the term “world” is sometimes used in the Bible to represent those attitudes, values and beliefs that reject the true, Biblical God (see John 8:23 and James 4:4 for some examples).
Now it should go without saying that a world that’s under the spiritual control of God’s enemy will naturally tend to be hostile to God and the people who follow Him. This means that those people who really desire to follow God in such a world will inevitably begin to feel like strangers or outsiders at some point. That’s why the epistle of 1 Peter begins by speaking to, “…God’s elect, strangers in the world…” This naturally brings up a question that every Christian will eventually have to answer: “Do I feel at home in this world as a Christian or do I feel more like a stranger in a world that’s hostile to God?”
Now before we answer this question, perhaps we should first think about what “home” should be. Now The Doctor realizes that every home is not always what it should be. But for now, let’s consider what a home should be and not necessarily what it may be. For instance, when you think about the characteristics of a place called “home,” here are some ideas that should quickly come to mind…
- Home is the place where you’re accepted. the place where you belong, the place where you feel most comfortable.
- Home is the place that you want to go back to whenever you’ve been away.
- Home is the place that’s most familiar, the place where you spend much of your time.
- Your home is the place where you can often find your closest friends.
- Home is the place where you’ll find those people and things that you love the most.
So far, so good, right? OK, now let’s take these characteristics of home and make one small substitution. Let’s replace the word “home” in this list with the word “world” and see how well these characteristics measure up with your life…
- The world is the place where you’re accepted, the place where you belong, the place where you feel most comfortable.
- The world is the place that you want to go back to whenever you’ve been away.
- The world is the place that’s most familiar, the place where you spend much of your time.
- The world is the place where you can often find your closest friends.
- The world is the place where you’ll find those people and things that you love the most.
So how well did you match up with this second set of characteristics? If you didn’t match up well, then congratulations- in this test, “zero” represents a perfect score for a Christian.
You see, if you’re a follower of Jesus, then it means that this world is not your home. To phrase this using the opening words of 1 Peter, every Christian is really just a stranger in the world. Like an athlete who plays for a team in another city and then returns home in the offseason, a Christian also lives and works in a place where they do not ultimately belong.
The truth is that a person who is really serious about Jesus is someone who will never be totally comfortable in this world and may not always be popular or well-liked or fit in well with others. Why? Well, when Jesus was on earth, He wasn’t always popular or well-liked and He didn’t always fit in well with others either- and He remains that way among many people today. In fact, Jesus once addressed this very issue…
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also” (John 15:18-20 NIV).
A person who wants to honor God in their daily life will never totally fit in a world that is under the influence of a being who hates God. This is also why James 4:4 says this…
“…do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (NAS).