Peter addresses the recipients of his first letter as “chosen exiles.” A tension exists with those two words. Chosen represents their status with God. Exiles depicts their relationship to the world. The recipients of the letter seem to be predominantly Gentiles Christians (1:14, 1:18). Now that they are Christians they are out of step with their pagan neighbors, who were “surprised when you do not run with them in the same flood of loose living” (4:4). These Christians found themselves maligned. They felt the tension of being in the world but not of the world.
Is this a correct understanding of Peter’s use of the word “exile”? Peter will come back to this word. Notice the context. It is about right living in a pagan world.
“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. ” (1 Peter 2:11–12, ESV)
One of my favorite quotes from second century Christians is found in an anonymous letter, The Epistle to Diognetus. This author seems very familiar with this tension and expresses it eloquently.
For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric life-style. This teaching of theirs has not been discovered by the thought and reflection of ingenious men, nor do they promote any human doctrine, as some do. But while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. They share their food but not their wives. They are “in the flesh,” but they do not live “according to the flesh.” They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws. They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted.*
Don’t be surprised that sometimes you feel like an exile? It comes with the territory of being in the world but not of it, and being chosen is worth it all. The chosen have Christ, the chosen have God, and the chosen have hope.
*The Epistle of Diognetus 5:1-11 in M.W. Holmes, translator, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, p. 541.