Sermon 04-23-2023: “Throughout the Time of Your Exile”

May 3, 2023

Scripture: 1 Peter 1:13-21

Today, we continue with our sermon series on 1 Peter, “Upon This Rock.” Today’s sermon is all about living as an exile through faith in Christ. And I want to answer three questions in this sermon: First, what does it mean to be holy? Second, what does it mean to be an exile? And third, how does it relate to our church’s vision statement.

But first, what does it mean to be holy…

Let me begin by telling you a story about the worst best friend I ever had. You know how you have “best friends” at different times in your life? Well, in eighth and ninth grades, much to my parents’ chagrin, my best friend was a guy named Jason. He was not a good influence on my life. My parents were horrified by my friendship with him because over the course of those two years, Jason became a punk-rocker—during the brief period of time when punk rock and punk-rock fashions were popular among a small subsection of kids from my high school. 

Not only did Jason listen to punk rock, he shaved his head into a mohawk and dyed it orange. He wore safety pins in his ears, as earrings. He wore ridiculous punk-rock clothes, including a fashionably torn blue-jean jacket with these words painted on back of the jacket: “Non-conformists unite!”

Non-conformists unite! 

He became famous, or infamous, around high school for this slogan, which he eventually spray-painted on an outside wall of the high school, an action for which he got suspended. But everyone knew him as that “non-conformists unite” kid—and I was known as the best friend of the “non-conformists unite” kid. 

Regardless, Jason apparently failed to see the irony of the slogan “Non-conformists unite!” “Hey, all of you non-conformists out there!” he seemed to say. “Why don’t we all get together and form a social club?” 

To say, “Non-conformists unite,” is almost like saying, “Non-conformists conform!”

Which just goes to prove how difficult it is to be a non-conformist. As much as we don’t want to conform, we really want to be loved and accepted by others. Because it’s hard and it’s often lonely to go against the grain. Going along to get along, by contrast, is far easier. In 1984, the kids listening to Prince and Van Halen and wearing polo shirts with their collars turned up had far more friends than Jason, I’m afraid. Jason moved to California to live with his dad shortly after the spray-paint incident, never to be seen or heard from again, as far as I can tell. 

But his poor mom! Oof… 

Anyway… I think of Jason and “non-conformists unite” when I read today’s scripture because of what Peter says in verse 14 through 16: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”

If you’ll recall last week’s sermon, I identified a purpose statement for living a Christian life in verse 2: We were called and chosen by God to be his children through faith in Christ for two main reasons: for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood. And I talked about what each of those reasons meant, and I said that the outcome of these two reasons was “joy that is inexpressible.”

In today’s scripture, the apostle Peter goes deeper into that first reason—to be “obedient to Jesus Christ,” except he uses different words to describe this obedience. But it’s nicely summed up in verse 15: “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.”

Holiness means two things: It means to be “set apart” for some exclusive divine purpose. In the ancient temple in Israel, for instance, recall that animals were sacrificed on the altar in the temple courts, in front of the sanctuary. This altar had burning coals and a grate—very much like a large barbecue grill—because the meat from the bull, or the lamb, or the goat was either cooked or burnt up… But even the shovel that the priests used to shovel ash out of the altar was called “holy”—because it was set apart for God’s purposes. It was “holy.” 

We sometimes speak of “holy matrimony.” What makes marriage “holy”? It’s not necessarily because the man and woman are morally upright people, people of high moral fiber; rather, it’s because they are choosing to set themselves apart in an exclusive arrangement, for God’s purposes: which, when it comes to marriage, is to bear witness to the love of Jesus Christ and to glorify him; to provide lifelong self-sacrificial love and companionship; and, if possible, to bear children and raise families.

Marriage, in this sense, is holy… whether the couple knows it or not! Because marriage is intended to set us apart for God’s good purposes.

John Wesley is famous for composing or adapting a prayer that has become known as the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer. He doesn’t even use the word “holy” in the prayer itself, but it perfectly captures the meaning of this “set-apart-ness.” Listen to the first part of the prayer: “I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you, Praised for you or criticized for you. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and fully surrender all things to your glory and service.”

This is holiness. This is set-apart-ness.

And as Peter makes clear in today’s scripture, holiness also implies a life of obedience to God. Because you have been set apart by God for his purposes, of course you’re going to want to please God by doing what he wants you to do. Or, as Peter puts it, to “be holy in all your conduct.”

In his commentary on today’s scripture, pastor Chuck Swindoll summarizes today’s scripture by writing the following: “If the question in the first section” of this letter—which I preached on last week—“If the question in the first section was, ‘How can I remain joyful in the midst of suffering?’ the question in today’s scripture is, ‘How can I stay clean in a corrupt society?’” 1

And I almost agree with this summary. I would just say that in this section, Peter doesn’t answer the question, “How can I stay clean” so much as “why”: Why should I stay clean? Why should I “not be conformed to the passions of [my] former ignorance”? Why should I be holy in all my conduct? Or getting back to the purpose statement of verse 2: Why should I live a life of obedience to Jesus Christ?

And I know, I know… The answer, ultimately, should be, “Because God said so,” which was similar to what my mom liked to say when I wanted to know why she wanted me to do something. “Because I said so!” But Peter offers actual reasons, or motives, for doing so that help us understand why we should do it.

And this sermon is mostly about one of those motives. And this is Point Number Two. One important answer to the question, “Why should we be holy,” is this: because we are exiles

Back in 2014, about a year or so after my mom died, my sisters and I sold her house—the house that I came home to when my parents adopted me and brought me home in 1970; the house that I grew up in. 

A few days before my parents’ house was sold, I was talking to my oldest friend in the world, Andy. We spent a lot of time in that house, especially in the basement—the “rec room”—playing video games, playing pool, playing pinball. Dad at one time had a pachinko machine on the wall. Pachinko is sort of like pinball except there’s no skill whatsoever, and it’s mostly for gambling. There are, like, pachinko gambling parlors in the far east.That game on the Price Is Right called “Plinko” is based on pachinko. Andy and I often had wars in which we threw the tiny steel pachinko balls at one another. 

How did we not put someone’s eye out? How did we survive childhood in general? But we had fun! 

Anyway, when Andy found out our house would be sold within a few days, he had a great idea. He said, “You and I should spend one last night there. Get some sleeping bags. Bring a TV and some video games. Watch an old movie with Tim Conway and Don Knotts. Read some Ghost Rider comic books like we used to. Maybe pop some popcorn.”

It was a thoughtful and sweet suggestion. Sadly, we didn’t end up doing it. But consider this heartbreaking fact—and I know this is true for many of you, too: But since 2014, I haven’t had a place to “go back home to.” You know what I mean? Even long after I became an adult and moved out of the house—went to college, got married, raised a family, changed careers—I still always had a place to go home to. But not anymore.

It’s sad! I would give a lot in order to go home again! Because sometimes, like so many of you, I feel homesick.

When I say that we should be holy because we are exiles, that’s in part what I mean. We are not at home yet. But we’re homesick. We can’t wait to get there! Because even in this foreign land we’ve experienced enough of home to know that it’s far better than anywhere else!

Peter mentions the fact that we’re “exiles” in verse 17: “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.” But this is the second time he mentions being an exile. The first time is in the heading of the letter in verse 1: “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion.” What does this mean? “Elect” means we are chosen by God… but notice that other word: “Dispersion” is capitalized in the ESV. Literally the word in Greek is diaspora. It refers specifically to what happened to God’s chosen people Israel after the fall of Judah in the sixth century B.C. Jews were scattered or dispersed around the known world at the time—throughout the Babylonian empire. In Psalm 137:4, the psalmist famously laments, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” 

But in this letter, the apostle Peter isn’t writing mostly to Jewish Christians like himself… he’s writing mostly to Gentile believers. And he’s drawing a parallel to ancient Israel. Like a Jewish exile living in Babylon, for instance, far from their home back in Jerusalem and Judah, so we Christians are exiles living far from our home in heaven…

Make no mistake: there will come a point in the future—after the Second Coming—after those of us in heaven, and those still on earth, receive new “resurrection bodies,” when this present world will be redeemed and renewed and transformed… Revelation 21 says that heaven will come down to earth… And only at that point will this newly transformed world become home for us. Until that happens, however, this present world most assuredly is not our home.

And that’s Point Number Two: We are exiles. Which means, we are homesick. We long for our true home.

And now Point Number Three: How does being an exile relate to our church’s vision statement?

And here we go again: What is our church’s vision statement? “Treasuring Christ Above All, and Helping Others to Do the Same.” It’s found on the front of our bulletin. Treasuring Christ above all… Because when we talk about “treasuring Christ above all,” what does the “all” refer to? It refers to all other kinds of treasure

You know… the kind of treasure that the non-exiles of our world treasure. Money, success, material possessions, intimate relationships, good health, popularity, fame, pleasure, entertainment… The large majority of people in this world are not exiles; they’re natives to this world; so for them, the world is their home. It’s natural that they would chase after the treasure that this world offers… It’s the only treasure they have… and it’s the only treasure they’ll ever have—unless or until they receive the treasure that God offers them through faith in Christ.

And unless or until they receive Christ and his gift of eternal life, the “natives” of this world will hold as tightly to the treasure of this world as they possibly can. Because this treasure is all they have, and they know they only have it for a very short period of time—and there are no guarantees when their time will run out.

That reminds me of something that the 19th-century English preacher Charles Spurgeon said. He said, “Don’t envy the wealthy heathen his good fortune, his success… This world is all the heaven he’ll ever know. Whereas for us Christians, this world is all the hell we’ll ever know.” 

But we Christians are not “natives” of this world any longer. We ceased being “natives” of this world when we were “born again”—that is, born a second time into God’s family through faith in Christ… Therefore, because we are born of God through faith in Christ, our home is no longer in this world. Our home right now is in heaven with God—and at some point in the future, after the Second Coming, our home, as I’ve said, will be in a newly redeemed, restored, and transformed world.

I said that when Peter calls us “exiles” he’s making an analogy with ancient Jews who were living in exile, in a foreign land, far from their true home. There is one important way in which the analogy doesn’t hold up: God’s people back then were forced to go into exile. They were forced to live in this foreign land. They were living far from their home against their will.

By contrast, we Christians have to choose constantly whether to live as the “exiles” that we already are—by virtue of our new birth in Christ—or to pretend to be “natives,” and live like them—even though, spiritually speaking, we no longer are natives.

Does that make sense?

Every day, every hour, nearly every moment, we Christians face a choice: Will we choose to live as the “exiles” that we already are—by virtue of our new birth in Christ—or will we pretend to be the “natives” that we used to be… before we were born again?

It’s so easy to forget where our true home is… to be confused… to mistake one for the other. 

In other words, it’s so easy to forget where our treasure is!

Do you know one famous occasion when the apostle Peter himself forgot where his home and his treasure were?

How about when he was in the courtyard of the high priest Caiaphas… shortly after Jesus was arrested? This comes from Luke chapter 22:

So they arrested him and led him to the high priest’s home. And Peter followed at a distance. The guards lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it, and Peter joined them there. A servant girl noticed him in the firelight and began staring at him. Finally she said, “This man was one of Jesus’ followers!”

But Peter denied it. “Woman,” he said, “I don’t even know him!”

After a while someone else looked at him and said, “You must be one of them!”

“No, man, I’m not!” Peter retorted.

About an hour later someone else insisted, “This must be one of them, because he is a Galilean, too.”

But Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 2

Notice Peter almost literally says, “I’m not with him. I’m not one of his people. Pay no attention to my Galilean accent. I belong here… with you. I’m one of you! I don’t belong over there… with Jesus… I’m just like you!”

He said this because in that moment he treasured the things of this world—including his personal safety, his reputation, the opinions of others, and his very life—more than he treasured Christ!

It’s easy to do! Like my friend Jason, it’s hard to be a non-conformist! Non-conformists unite!

By contrast, let me share another theme verse of my life… Now, recently, I shared some theme verses for my life. Well, here’s another one: this one comes from Philippians 3:8, from Paul, who was at that moment seemingly wasting away in prison… who, objectively speaking, had lost nearly everything that the world valued… his freedom, his security, his possessions, at least some measure of his good health, his good reputation, his wealth—prior to becoming a Christian, Paul was prosperous… Yet he says this: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

Paul has discovered the “surpassing worth” of knowing Christ. That’s the greatest treasure. In comparison to the treasure of knowing Christ, every other treasure the world can offer, Paul says, is garbage. Paul knew it. Peter would come to know it.

Do we know it?

Have you heard these words before?

I’ll buy you a diamond ring, my friend

If it makes you feel alright

I’ll get you anything my friend

If it makes you feel alright

‘Cause I don’t care too much for money

Money can’t buy me love

So Paul McCartney and the Beatles sang back in 1964: “Money Can’t Buy Me Love.” There’s an article in this month’s Atlantic magazine in which the author implies that that sentiment is almost 100 percent true. I mean, Jesus and the authors of the Bible teach this over and over… But recent research also proves that money really can’t buy love or happiness or wellbeing or contentment… or whatever other good thing that we hope it will buy! According to the article,

Recent polling from The Wall Street Journal and the University of Chicago points to a steep decline over the past quarter century in the percentage of American adults who view patriotism, religion, parenting, [tolerance!], and community involvement as “very important.” The only priority tested whose perceived importance grew during that period, the pollsters reported, was money. 3

Do you get the picture? Many values that we Americans, historically, have cherished—like patriotism, parenting, community involvement… not to mention religious faith—we value these things far less today than our ancestors did even 60 years ago. The only value that we hold in higher esteem today than we did 60 years ago is the importance of money.

So… to say the least, we Americans treasure money.

But why? It doesn’t work! “Money can’t buy us love or happiness.” And the latest scientific research proves it! Scientists have measured the impact of money on well-being. Listen to this—“the quadrupling of a person’s income had an effect on well-being roughly equal to the mood boost of an enjoyable weekend… “and less than a third as large as the [negative] effect of a headache.” 

If you measured happiness on a one-hundred-point scale—with zero being not happy at all and 100 being perfectly happy to the fullest extent possible—the difference in happiness between someone making $15,000 a year and someone making $250,000 is about five points… on a 100-point scale. One psychologist who conducted the research said, “That’s almost nothing.” He said, “There is no practical effect of the money you make on your level of happiness.”

As the song said, sixty years ago, “Money can’t buy me love”—or anything else that we need to be happy.

Jesus tells us the same thing! Do we believe him? Do I?

Maybe, slowly but sure, even I’m starting to believe him!

And maybe, slowly but surely, I’m learning it, too… 

A couple of years ago, I saw this box in a church closet in the office. Notice the corporate logo on the left. It says “Northern Telecom.” They were a Canadian telephone manufacturer. I had a co-op job with that company 30 years ago, when I was in college my first time around. The co-op program meant that I alternated being school full-time and working full-time. In total I worked for them for three years. The company is long gone now, but seeing that old logo filled me with nostalgia and memories. 

And I was struck by this thought: I did not become whatever I aspired to be back then—not by a long shot! I wanted material success! I wanted earthly treasure! I wanted recognition for my achievements… And most of all, I wanted to show the world how good I was, how valuable I was, how worthy I was—money and material success would be the indirect measure of my worth!

Those dreams did not come true. In a way, I failed to live up to whatever worldly dreams I had back then. Or I should say, God was gracious enough to ensure that I failed.

Because here’s what I know for sure… and I’m not just saying this because I’m a pastor: In these intervening thirty years—and especially in the last ten… I have learned to love and treasure Christ in a way that I couldn’t imagine loving and treasuring Christ back then. And that reality far exceeds whatever dreams I had for myself… back then.

That’s what I want for all of you, by the way… I want you to find your supreme treasure in Christ. He’s worth everything!

So I’ve talked about the first part of the vision statement: treasuring Christ above all. Now let’s talk about the second part: helping others to do the same. That article I mentioned confirm for us what we already know: that our world has gotten badly off course They are treasuring “above all” something that will not satisfy them or bring lasting happiness. Now consider this:

The prophet Jeremiah wrote more about God’s people living in exile than anyone else… And he offers advice to these exiles in Babylon in Jeremiah 29:7. He writes, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

Being exiles means seeking the welfare of the “foreign land” in which God has placed us. And praying for it. It was true for exiles in Jeremiah’s day. It’s true for us today.

The most important thing we can do for the welfare of the people of Toccoa, Georgia, who are seeking their treasure in money and things that are not Christ, is to show them that there’s a better and more reliable path to a treasure. For the sake of their souls, for the sake of their happiness, for the sake of their eternal welfare, can we show them? Can we help them find the treasure that we have in Christ? Are we living in such a way that they want the treasure that we possess through faith in Christ?

Lord, may it be so! Amen.

  1.  Charles Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights, vol. 13 (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2014), 164.
  2.  Luke 22:54-60 NLT
  3.  David Zahl, “Another Week Ends: Rhymin’ Simon, Redemptive Fatigue, Unhappy Money, Forgiven Road Ragers, and Indestructible Hope,”, 14 April 2023. Accessed 21 April 2023.

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