Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with his blood: May grace and peace be yours in fullest measure.
Christians Are Aliens in the World
Last week we saw that Christians are aliens in the world. Verse 1: "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens . . . " Our first and primary citizenship is in heaven not the United States. Our first a primary constitution is the Bible not the U.S. Constitution, our first and primary King and Commander in Chief is Jesus Christ and not President Clinton, and the dominant cravings of our heart are not for the treasures and tributes of the world but for the kingdom of God.
We are aliens. The language and values and customs and expectations of this world feel foreign to us. Something really radical has happened to us. Peter says in verse 3: God has caused us to be born again to a living hope—for another world, another, greater kind of existence. Paul put it this way: "You have died and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you will appear with him in glory" (Colossians 3:3–4). Jesus called us to live like aliens—to fix our minds on radically different priorities than the nations:
31 Do not be anxious then, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'With what shall we clothe ourselves?' 32 For all these things the nations eagerly seek [that's the way people live whose citizenship is here in this world]; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
God will supply your needs in the foreign land of the world if you orient your life on the kingdom of God and his values and purposes and righteousness.
Living Like Aliens Is Utterly Necessary
We are aliens. And living like aliens is utterly necessary. O, what a tragedy when an alien falls in love with the world. In Colossians and Philemon Paul called Demas his fellow worker along with Luke and Mark. But in the last letter 2 Timothy, he wrote these terrible words, "Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica." This is a great tragedy when a professing believer throws away his faith and hope in the future world, renounces his citizenship there, and lives for "this present world."
When professing Christian aliens are absorbed into the world and give up walking by the constitution of the kingdom and give up loving the King and give up pursuing the cravings of the kingdom, then they have no warrant for thinking that they will inherit the kingdom. "They went out from us," John said (1 John 2:19), "but they were not of us. For if they had been of us, they would have remained with us."
Living as aliens in the world is the only pathway to heaven. If you choose to be at home in the world and love the things of the world, you will perish with the world. John said, "The world is passing away and its desires, but the one who does the will of God abides for ever" (1 John 2:17).
How Do We Keep Our Alien Identity?
So the question of how to keep our alien identity is not an idle question. It is utterly important. Our eternal destiny hangs on it.
My aim this morning is to stir you up to use the means God has given to maintain your alien identity in a world constantly pressing you into its mold. More specifically I hope to motivate you to seriously consider giving yourself to a small group for the next nine months as a way that God has appointed for your great good as his alien in the world. To do this I focus on 1 Peter 4:7–10 where Peter teaches us some indispensable strategies of maintaining our alien identity.
7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. 8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Be hospitable to one another without complaint. 10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
There are four strategies for maintaining your alien identity in these verses. And what I want to argue is that in each of these four cases the strategy that Peter gives works best in some kind of regular togetherness with other believers—some kind of small group.
1. Sobriety for Prayer
The first strategy for not getting absorbed into this age—especially since the end of this age has already begun with the coming of the Messiah—is to "be of sound judgment and sober spirit" with a view to staying in touch with the foreign king back in the homeland of heaven.
The Inebriating Power of the World
The words mean literally "be in your right mind" and "be sober." There is something about the present age and the present world that tends to put you out of your mind and make you drunk. I talk to drunk people virtually every week. One thing is clear. It is almost impossible to connect them with reality. That's the way it is when you drink up this world. It puts you out of touch with the reality of spiritual things.
Only one thing will make you a person of prayer—a person connected with reality—namely, sobering up from the addictive, inebriating power of worldliness. If you are drunk with worldliness, and can only think of the pleasures of the world, then you will have no taste for heaven and no desire for prayer.
What Can Be Done to Prevent Such Drunkenness?
So I ask you, what can be done for a person about to give up the sound judgment of spiritual mindedness, and give himself over to the stupor of worldliness? The answer is intervention. It's what you do with an alcoholic in a deteriorating family. You gather around him and you say: No. You are destroying yourself and us. We see it, even if you don't, and we love you too much to let it happen. You have to seek help.
And what is the help? Do they send the alcoholic off to the wilderness by himself for a year? No. They put him in a small group. Now my point is not to say that small groups are to be AA groups. My point is simply to illustrate that we need each other if we are going to escape the drunkening effects of the world and be sober aliens in a world drunk and oblivious and uncaring about the things of God.
How Will You Obey Verse 7?
How are you going to obey verse 7 this fall? What steps are you going to take to keep your mind sound and your heart sober so that you don't gradually slide into the subtle mental delusion that this world is what really matters, and then lose your alien identity? If this fall you slowly show the signs of dabbling with the mind-altering pleasures of the world, who is going to be close enough to spot it?
I urge you to consider that this is what small groups at Bethlehem are for. They are meant to combat the creeping, drunkening, mind-altering, deluding effects of this God-ignoring world. They are meant to be recurrent jolts of reality. Repeated sessions of reality therapy. They are meant to be bi-weekly sessions where the first stages of addiction to the world can be detected and lovingly confronted and remedied with the Word of God and the power of the Spirit. That's the strategy of verse 7 for not losing your alien identity.
2. Fervency of Love
Verse 8 focuses on the need that we all have for love. Peter says, "Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins."
Love One Another with a Special Degree of Love
Aliens are not perfect. And the stress of living in a foreign land can cause us to say things and do things that we regret. Things that hurt and can even destroy the precious relationships that we need so badly as aliens. These things need to be covered and forgiven if life is to be livable together as aliens in a hostile world.
So Peter calls us to love each other. And to let love cover the offense that can ruin the camaraderie that holds the alien community together.
Now it's true that we are to love our enemies, and all the people of the world. It's true that we are to love in a special way all the fellow-aliens. But here in verse 8 Peter seems to call for something very special: "Keep fervent in your love for one another." Here is a special degree of love. Fervent, earnest, strong, ardent, strongly felt. Not just commitment-love for those you don't like, but heartfelt affection for those you have come to trust and cherish.
What Is Your Strategy for Obeying This?
Now what is your strategy this fall for following through on this? How will you grow fervent in your love for other pilgrims on the way through this foreign world? The answer I want to suggest is: plan to get together and fan the flame of your love with intentional care and attention in a small group and in the relationships that grow out of it. Love does not become fervent and earnest through neglect and distance. Friendship and trust and affection grows with time spent together.
Why do we cry when a family member dies but not when a fellow church member dies that we don't know? It's almost directly related to the time spent together. Time together weaves our lives together so that what hurts the one hurts the other. God is calling you to cultivate that kind of love with some people this fall. Who will they be? That's the strategy in verse 8 for not losing your alien identity.
3. Opening Your Home Cheerfully
The strategy in verse 9 goes like this: "Be hospitable to one another without complaint."
A Simple and Practical Command
In other words aliens in a foreign land need to get together in each other's homes. Isn't it remarkable that in a book as weighty and spiritual as 1 Peter, we should read the simple and practical command: open your homes to each other and don't grumble about the hassle.
The more alien we feel in this world the more crucial this becomes. Without the camaraderie we feel in a fellow-Christian's home, it is very hard to survive the alienation from others.
How Will You Make Your Home a Haven for Others?
What is your plan for this fall to make your home a place where aliens find refreshment and encouragement along the pilgrim way in this world? This is the way most of our small groups work. Different people open their homes or apartments. Something happens when you get into someone's home. It's as though the home is a doorway to the heart.
4. Using Your Gift for the Good of Others
Finally the strategy of verse 10 for maintaining your alien identity is the use of your gifts to minister God's grace to others. "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."
The major work of the ministry at Bethlehem is not done by me or the staff or the elders. It is done by the people. And this text says that "each one"—note that—"each one" has received a gift. And the function of that gift is very simple: it is meant for service, or ministry, and that means being the agent or conduit or channel or vehicle of God's grace to others.
This is why small groups are so crucial. The major ministry of the church is brokering grace between God and his people. Don't miss this. It is utterly crucial and so plain in this text. You all have gifts. You are called to serve with these gifts. This means letting the grace of God come through your unique gifts. This is the great challenge and excitement of small groups. What will the grace of God look like tonight when we get together?
So there they are. Four strategies to keep your alien identity in tact:
- sobriety for prayer;
- fervency of love;
- opening your home cheerfully;
- and letting the grace of God flow through your gift to others.