We’ve been studying 1 Peter together on Sunday mornings. One of the things we noticed was the way Peter referred to his readers as ‘strangers in the world’ (1:1). Later he describes them as ‘aliens and strangers in the world’ (2:11).
The background to the use of this phrase is found in the Old Testament when the Israelites were taken away from the Promised Land and made to live in Assyria and Babylon. They were therefore aliens and strangers in Babylon, because their true home was in the Promised Land; and they longed to return to their true home.
In the same way, Christians are aliens and strangers in the world, because our true home is in heaven with Jesus Christ our Saviour. This idea is taught, not only in 1 Peter, but in several other places in the New Testament. So, for instance, we were raised with Christ to the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6). We’ve been raised with Christ and our life is now hidden with him in God (Colossians 3:1–3). Our citizenship is in heaven, from where our Saviour will one day come (Philippians 3:20). According to the New Testament, our true home is in heaven. And so, while we go on living on the earth, we’re strangers here; we don’t belong here anymore; we’re only living here for the time being. Moreover we long for the day when Christ will return to bring us at last to our true home in heaven.
However, even though Peter says we should regard ourselves as aliens and strangers in the world, we’re to endeavour to live in the world in a way that brings glory and honour to the Lord. So, in the public square, we’re to submit to the governing authorities (2:13). In the workplace, we’re to submit ourselves to our employer and supervisors (2:18). In the home, wives are to submit to their husbands (3:1) while husbands are to live with their wives in an understanding way (3:7). While we go on living on the earth, we’re to live such good lives among our unbelieving neighbours that they may see our good deeds and glorify God (2:12).
This ties in with the Reformed doctrine of vocation or calling. Before the Reformation, society was clearly divided between the sacred and the secular. There were those — the clergy and monastics — who did ‘sacred’ or ‘spiritual’ work. Since this was ‘spiritual work’, it brought them close to God. Everyone else was engaged in ‘secular’ work which could not bring you close to God. So, if you wanted to serve God, then you had to leave your ‘secular’ job and enter the church or the monastery.
The Reformers got rid of this division because they taught that every job is a calling from God. God, who rules over and arranges all things, calls one person to one kind of work and a second person to another kind of work. He gives one person one kind of responsibility and a second person another kind of responsibility. He gives us various roles to perform. Therefore, no matter what our calling is, every believer is able serve and glorify God by doing it well.
The Reformer Martin Luther was once asked what a Christian cobbler should do in order to serve God. Should he enter the ministry? Should he enter a monastery? Should be become a missionary? Luther said that no, he should make a good shoe and sell it at a fair price. By doing his work well and honestly, he would be glorifying God.
Think for a moment about your life and the different roles and responsibilities and relationships you have. The Reformers referred to all of these roles and responsibilities as ‘callings’ from God, because these are the roles and responsibilities he has called us to perform.
The Lord has so arranged your life that you might be: a child with responsibilities to your parents; a husband or wife with responsibilities to your spouse; a parent with responsibilities to your children; an uncle or aunt with responsibilities to your nephews and nieces; a neighbour with responsibilities to your neighbourhood; a citizen of your town and country with responsibilities to your fellow citizens; a student with responsibilities to your teachers and classmates; a worker with responsibilities to your employer; a member of the church with responsibilities to your fellow believers.
So long as these different roles and responsibilities are lawful (that is, so long as they’re in accordance with God’s revealed will), then each of them is worthwhile and can be done for God’s glory and honour.
Why is this important? I recently came across a magazine article in which Christians were saying they often felt guilty because they weren’t more involved in the work of the church. Busy parents, busy workers, busy students, the sick and the elderly felt they were letting the Lord down because they weren’t doing more ‘spiritual’ work.
What those Christians need to know is that believers, who love the Lord and have made it their aim in life to please him in all things, are able to serve the Lord in their daily lives. They can bring glory to his name by being a good citizen, by being a good worker, and by being a good member of their family.