How do citizens of a heavenly nation live faithfully as temporary citizens on earth? How can you survive the election without losing your faith, your friends, your witness, . . . or your mind? Those are the questions we’re answering this week by examining six truths about exile citizenship from 1 Peter 2:11-17.
Here’s the third truth: know you’re watched. No, we’re not talking about Big Brother watching you. Peter wants his readers to know that, whether they like it or not, the world is watching. Look at verse 12—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.
Who are these Gentiles that are among the believers in Asia Minor? Didn’t we say when we began studying this letter that Peter’s audience was most likely a group of Gentile Christians? What does it mean to keep your conduct honorable because the Gentiles are watching? Bible teacher Paul Gardner helpfully says this: “It is interesting that, just as Peter has transferred vocabulary describing Jews as the people of God to all Christians (whether or not they are racially Jewish), so he has transferred the term ‘Gentile’ to all who do not believe, and that includes pagans and idol worshippers but also Jews who do not accept Christ. Just as the gospel embraces all people of all races who trust in Christ, so people of all races who reject Christ place themselves among ‘the Gentiles’ or, literally, among the ‘nations.’”[i]
In other words, unbelievers are watching you, Christian! As Jesus said in Matthew 5:14— “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” He does not say that we should not be hidden, but that we cannot be hidden. If that was true in an age before modern transportation, the internet, and social media, how much more is it true now? Christian, the world is watching our conduct. Including how we behave during this election. What do the unbelievers among you see when they watch you? Do they recoil in disgust when they see you, because you don’t act like the Savior you claim to follow?
But let’s be careful here. Just because an unbeliever doesn’t like what they see when they look at us doesn’t mean we’ve done anything wrong. Peter is clear that when the Gentiles look at us, they often don’t like what they see. In fact, sometimes they’ll “speak against you as evildoers.”
The 1st century Roman historian Tacitus said that Christians were “loathed for their vices.” In A.D. 64 Emperor Nero blamed Christians for the great fire of Rome because they were “hated for their abominations” and adhered to a “pernicious superstition.” They were accused of being cannibals because people misunderstood the Lord’s Supper. They were called atheists because they worshipped an invisible God. They were accused of incest because they called one another brother and sister and were a community marked by love.
Today Christians are once again spoken against as evildoers. We’re called anti-choice, anti-progress, anti-science, backwards, bigoted, chauvinistic, hateful, homophobic, ignorant, immoral, intolerant, misogynistic, naïve, patriarchal, prudish, radical, racist, and repressive deplorables who are on the wrong side of history. Or consider a recent article in a French newspaper called Le Monde diplomatique about the rise of evangelical Christianity across the world. They quoted a Brazilian professor named Valdemar Figuerdo who said, and I quote: “evangelicals are medieval in the worst sense.”[ii] This comes with the territory. After all, Jesus said in John 15:18— “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
But how are we supposed to respond to this? We’ll explain more in a moment, but for now just understand that following Jesus is not going to lead to accolades from the world. They’re going to speak against us, whether it’s an election year or not. In fact, we may be spoken against on both the right and the left when we’re faithful to God’s Word.
How do citizens of a heavenly nation live faithfully as temporary citizens on earth? By knowing you’re watched.
[i] Paul Gardner, 1 & 2 Peter & Jude: Christians Living in an Age of Suffering, Focus on the Bible (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2013), 76. [ii] As quoted in Lamia Oualalou and Akram Belkaïd, “The Rise of Evangelical Christianity,” trans. George Miller, Le Monde Diplomatique, no. September 2020 (September 1, 2020), https://mondediplo.com/2020/09/06evangelicals.