Peter begins his first letter by addressing it to “those temporarily residing abroad” (1 Peter 1:1, NET). He then goes on to mention the various provinces in which they are scattered. It is likely that many of these Christians had lived in these places all their lives. In what sense could they or we, for that matter, be temporary residents?
The Christian is an alien, a sojourner, or a temporary resident in that his true citizenship is in heaven. This affects the way we approach life, even though we might live in the same house all our earthly life, our values and affections will show that our destination of heaven is what is most important. If we think of ourselves as temporary residents, we will not loose sight of our goal. Our trust will not be in this world. The world in which we live is but a temporary place. The Christian must look beyond it for his true home.
The Epistle of Diognetus has an interesting section on the Christian being a sojourner. The letter is an uninspired, anonymous letter dating from the second century A.D. The writer is attempting to explain the differences of being a Christian instead of a pagan or a Jew. His thoughts make an excellent commentary on what it means to be a temporary resident:
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. (5:1-9)*
Keeping our eyes on the goal is not always easy. There is much in the world to distract us. The Christian life must be life of watchfulness. Reminding ourselves that we are only temporary residents and sojourners in this world may help us to keep our eyes on the goal.
*Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, p. 541.