The Christian In the World, Part 2- “Exile”

Posted: November 25, 2012 in Living the Faith, The Christian In the World
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Understanding Exile

I encourage you to keep reading through First Peter, and to do it over and over again.  As you read it, realize that Peter was writing to persecuted believers who were scattered widely over a few Roman provinces.  Peter’s overall purpose in writing the letter seems to have been to help his Christian brothers and sisters deal with the pressures they were facing.

In the course of the letter he pointed out important truths that he wanted them to keep in mind as they dealt with the great divide that existed between the world they lived in and the faith they believed in.  One of those truths that he reminded them of…and it’s a truth we need to be reminded of today…was that Christians are exiles.  The Christian life is a life of exile.

“Exile” is a powerful concept.  The Greek word that it’s translated from is only used three times in the entire New Testament, and two of those times it’s used in 1st Peter.  (The King James translates it as strangers and pilgrims, but since the literal meaning is an alien alongside, a resident alien, the ESV’s “exiles” is a better translation.)  The word “exile” is powerful not because of its basic definition, but also because of the implications of the word.

Implications of Exile

“Exile” basically is the state of being forced to be away from one’s home country, and this brings us to the first implication of exile; it implies that the state of exile is not entirely the result of personal choice.  It has to be, but it’s not ideal.  The state of exile is a state of necessity; one is forced for various reasons to live away from one’s homeland.

Some people are economic exiles; they have to live and work in another country because the economy of their homeland won’t allow them to support themselves or their families.  Other people are political exiles; their political views are unwelcome in their homeland, and so they are forced to live elsewhere.  Then there are those who are religious exiles; the faith they believe and practice is unwelcome in their homeland, so they are forced to live elsewhere in order to live according to their faith.  But whatever the reason for the exile, it is a state of necessity; it’s not entirely a matter of personal choice.

The second implication is that there is purpose in exile.  The fact that one must live away from one’s homeland because of an economic, political, or religious reason implies that there is a substantial difference between the state of exile and a long working vacation. If you are an exile then you’re not here for the shopping, the restaurants, and the night life.  There is a fundamental purpose in your being here that keeps you focused and centred while you live in a strange land.

The third implication of exile is that of return. You see, an exile always plans on going home.  He may be living here because of economic, political, or religious reasons, but ideally he’d much rather be living and working and campaigning and voting and believing and practicing at home.  What an exile is forced by necessity to do in another country, he’d really rather be doing at home.  So, his thinking and planning always involves the eventuality of return.  He may be living in this country, but this country will never be his home.

The Danger of Assimilation

A person living in exile faces a great danger, however, and it’s from the threat of assimilation.  You see, the longer the exile lives away from his home country, and the more connections he forms to his host country, the more the likelihood that he will adapt to the host country and it will become his home.  In the process of assimilation the exile loses the sense of necessity, and begins to prefer the host country. He loses the sense of purpose that took him away from home and develops a new focus based on his life in his host country.  And he loses his desire to return…the host country is where he wants to be.  The old country is no longer his home.

In the process of assimilation he at first adapts to and finally adopts the culture of his new country entirely; materially, intellectually, and spiritually.  Finally, he identifies himself with his host country by becoming a citizen.  At this point all he was before is now a memory.  All significant distinctiveness is now lost, and what remains only amounts to quaint customs and practices observed from time to time.

An Example of Exile

A great example of the concept of exile can be found in the story of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the great Russian author whose exposure of the Soviet labour camps and general critique of the Soviet system caused him to be deported from the Soviet Union and stripped of his citizenship.  He was invited to the United States, and in 1976 he settled in Cavendish, Vermont to live many years in exile.  The three implications of exile are seen clearly in his experience.

First, he was living in the United States by necessity.  He hadn’t chosen to leave the Soviet Union…he was forced to.  Second, there was purpose in his being here; he continued to write and to lecture on the evils of the Soviet system.  He wasn’t here for a holiday.  And third, he lived with the anticipation of return; he always planned on going home…which he did in 1994 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the Russian Federation.

And he resisted assimilation.  Though he had great respect for the political freedoms of the United States, he always considered himself a Russian-in-exile.  He lived here largely as he would have in Russia, he spoke and wrote in Russian, and he clung to the spiritual values that he considered to be distinctively Russian while actively resisting those values of the West that he considered in opposition to them.

Application of Exile

The application of what I’ve spoken is already obvious to some of you…you’ve already connected the dots, and I could probably stop talking now and send you home.  But for the sake of some others I’m going to make it obvious…and drive the point home for those of you who already see where it’s going.

First, you as a Christian are here in this world by necessity…this world isn’t your home.  You’re forced to live here for a while, but it’s not by your choice.

Second, there is purpose in your time here.  You’re here to do the work of the Kingdom of God, to serve as an ambassador of that Kingdom in this world.  You aren’t here on holiday or for your career….you’re here for the Kingdom.

Third, you should live anticipating your return…your return to your real home, in heaven, in the presence of God.

Finally, you must resist assimilation.  The longer you live as a Christian in the world, the easier it will be for you to become like the world…to adapt to and then adopt the thinking, values, and sinful practices of the larger culture that surrounds us.  But you are in fact challenged by the Word of God to do the exact opposite!  You are to rebuild your thinking to reflect Kingdom values, and you are to live in this world according to Kingdom principles that keep you from sin.

Your Christianity is about far more than church on Sunday, midweek Bible study, and the occasional class or seminar!  It’s about a way of thinking that influences your outlook on every other form of ideas; on politics, economics, education, career, family, friendships, and philosophy.  It’s about a way of living that marks you as distinctive in morals, social values, relationships, work ethic, priorities, and every other aspect of life.

If you are a Christian in the world, you are living in exile here.  This world is not your home.  The values of this world are not your values.  The culture of this world is not your culture.  Always remember that during your time in this life you are in fact representing another Kingdom…you are an ambassador for Christ.  So while you may live in this world, you are not of it.

You are an exile here.

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