by Michael E. Brooks
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1).
It is pilgrimage season in the Muslim world. The Islamic religion promotes five “pillars” of faith which are:
- Ramadan (one month per year of fasting)
- prayer (5 times per day)
- alms-giving (as one is able)
- the frequent recitation of the “Shahadha” (“There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet”)
- the “Hajj” – a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia which every Muslim who is able is to make at least once in a lifetime.
In this part of the world a “pilgrim” is one who is on his way to Mecca.
In the U.S. pilgrim has a different connotation. We think “Mayflower” and remember the brave party of religious refugees who fled England in the seventeenth century so they could practice their own faith without fear of persecution.
The word brings to our minds the story of their suffering during a hard winter and their Thanksgiving celebrations when a bountiful harvest assured their survival.
Peter’s use of the word differs from each of these. He is describing Jewish Christians who lived in cities of what is now Turkey – the same area Paul visited on his first missionary journey.
They were not traveling at the time Peter wrote. Most of them had been resident there for generations — hundreds of years. We would not consider them pilgrims, but possibly exiles, refugees, or ex-patriots. Many of them no doubt were comfortable and happy in the only home they had ever known.
But to the apostle they were “pilgrims.” This Greek word suggests one who is staying somewhere temporarily. The New American Standard translates it “aliens.”
Elsewhere Peter uses the alternate term, “strangers” (1 Peter 2:11). He is not concerned with their travels, if any, but with their relationship to their current surroundings.
There is a vast difference in our perception of “home” versus “somewhere else.” We are rarely or never as comfortable in another place as we are in our familiar home environment.
Peter uses this fact of human nature to remind us that as Christians we are always in a strange place, far from our natural situation. This world is an alien environment, inhospitable to those who would “walk by the Spirit” (Romans 8:1).
In 1 Peter 4:4, he points out that “Gentiles” (unbelievers) will be surprised at Christian values and will not react well to our insistence upon them. They will treat us as foreigners, because in truth we are.
Christians are different -– fundamentally, intrinsically different from those who do not share their faith.
The address of Peter’s first epistle reminds us that we are in a strange place -– this physical world –- and we must never be too comfortable here.
Be prepared to be treated as aliens, with hostility. Accept it, and know that the Lord is with us.