This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Breaking Refugee Stereotypes

Peter wrote his first epistle to Jewish refugees "who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (I Peter 1:1). Because of their conversion to Christianity and stand for Christ, the Jews were scattered north and west from Jerusalem into Asia Minor (Turkey), a region approximately 600 by 400 miles. Interestingly, the word scattered is Diaspora, a term used to define this specific event in history, in which converted Jews were expelled from their homeland and flung throughout the world.

Peter refers to trials faced by these refugees. "You have been distressed by various trials" (I Peter 1:6). He does not immediately identify the trials, though a major one was clearly the Diaspora itself. Peter later identifies a second aspect, which was the unwelcome response of the citizens among whom they resided: "they slander you as evildoers" (I Peter 2:12).

This reaction toward a group of refugees or displaced persons is neither unique nor surprising. While the citizens of those lands very likely did not understand everything about the strangers, they would have been aware that the invading people were there because they were being chased from their own country. They must have speculated about the reason, wondering what those people had done and what kind of people they were. Considering the prejudices that naturally exist regarding foreigners, it would have been easy to assume that these strangers were disreputable and undesirable. In fact, the word evildoers refers to criminals. Because of their biased attitudes, the citizens of those lands were speaking evil against the newly-arriving Christians, who they believed had been chased from their homeland for being criminals or who had fled their homeland to avoid punishment.

In 2:11, Peter had urged these refugees to remember their status as strangers in this world and to avoid the spiritual warfare that is aroused when the distinction is ignored. (See previous post.) In 2:12, Peter gives a second commandment. "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation."

The believers were to keep their behavior excellent. In the things they did and in the way they lived, these believers were to continually maintain excellence. The word refers to something beautiful, being used figuratively to mean morally or literally good. There is a different Greek word that refers to something intrinsically good; this word, however, refers to excellence, beauty, or goodness in appearance or use. The believers were not perfect, but through their actions they were to present to others lives that were valuable, virtuous, and worthy.

The believers' testimony was at stake. The Christians were dwelling "among the Gentiles," surrounded by them and open to their observation, "as they observe." These Jews had been forcibly placed into a situation in which they were on display. The pagan nations into which the Jews were scattered might not have understood the difference between traditional Jews and converted Jews, but, due to past experience with Jews, they almost certainly knew that Jews were different. Additionally, they probably had some understanding of the political situation - that these particular Jewish refugees had been chased from their own homeland by their own people. All factors considered, the Gentiles would have been curious about these refugees and would have been observing them carefully.

The way in which the Christians were to answer those accusatory observations was with their "good deeds." Good is the same word translated excellent earlier in the verse, referring to beauty, virtue, and value. The Christians were not to show this virtue by their demeanor alone, but through the deliberate and observable actions of their everyday lives. The Gentiles were carefully watching and inspecting the believers. After all, they suspected the Christians of being criminals. When they did not immediately observe evil deeds, the scrutiny may have become even more intense, and suspicion may have grown, suspecting that these tricky criminals were trying to lull the observers into thinking they were okay. The observers would have been cautious, expecting that the true nature would eventually emerge. If the believers lived as God desired, however, the Gentiles would see only continued good works.

As the observers continually saw the exact opposite of what they expected to see, God's purpose would be achieved. The divine plan was for these heathen nations to "glorify God in the day of visitation." These skeptical and depraved people would end up magnifying God and esteeming Him highly. In essence, the Gentiles would observe the life-changing work of God in the lives of the believers. The Gentiles would realize that not only did those Christians not fit their expectation of refugees, they didn't fit the expectation for humans at all. Mankind in his natural state does not live that way, so obviously God had done a divine work in them. These careful observers would see the evidence of God's transforming power and would embrace it for themselves, thereby accepting salvation and glorifying God.

While Christians today may not fall into the category of political refugees, they are nevertheless strangers and pilgrims in this world. Like these Jewish believers, modern Christians are surrounded by lost people who often view them with curiosity and suspicion. The accusations themselves may be different. Instead of calling Christians criminals, today's society might call them weird, hypocrites, judgmental, freaks, weaklings, intolerant, or fanatics.

God's instruction is the same. Believers are to live beautiful lives of integrity and value. Certainly, Christians are imperfect and will sometimes fail, but the overall impact of the life should be that unbelievers see Christ. Just as in the early church, those unbelievers are watching carefully and perhaps suspiciously. They may watch for a long time before they are willing to change their preconceived notions. God's plan is still the same. Christian "refugees" who live godly in this "foreign" world will draw unbelievers to God for His glory.

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