An exile. Whether we’re speaking of someone kicked out of a social circle, or someone in a land not their own, the term “exile” carries a lonely ring.
Picture a little girl in school who has offended the other girls in some mysterious way. There they are in a huddle conspiring. There she is, some distance away, looking at her feet, all alone. She has been exiled.
There are more serious kinds of exiles, of course: Exiles because of war, a repressive ruler, or famine. Circumstances such as these cause people to leave their homeland and enter another land with a very shaky future. Often the exiles are victims of persecution and abuse because they lack the rights of citizenship in their new land. They are viewed by the locals with prejudice, ignorance and fear.
The tragedy of being an exile is magnified if he becomes an exile in his own land, the land of his birth. Suddenly he goes from a citizen to one whose rights have been stripped away. This was the case with early Christians. Peter calls his readers
“elect exiles of the dispersion, in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1). Note those two words “exiles” and “dispersion.”
Historians suggest that in the first century about 1 million Jews resided in the land of Israel, but that another 4 million were scattered throughout the rest of the Roman Empire. At Passover they made the declaration “next year in Jerusalem,” expressing the longing they had for a return from exile. It seems natural for Peter to transfer the same idea to the situation with the early church.
“Beloved I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Don’t assimilate, he cries out. Remain strangers and exiles! Resistance is not futile. We are pilgrims, strangers in a land not our own. Don’t get too comfortable here!
These early Christians had not left the land of their birth, but it was becoming increasingly clear that they differed from their countrymen. The standards and morals they held differed from that of their society. Not always did their friends and neighbors respond kindly to their new lifestyle. They were exiled, “unfriended,” they became outcasts. So be it, Peter says. Live in this hostile environment as Christians. Hold your head up high, and your standards, too. So must we.