Applying Philippians 3

This is the third installment in a series to encourage followers of Christ to rightly divide the Word of truth when using biblical support for policy statements.  The example we’re analyzing is the National Association of Evangelicals’ 2009 Immigration Statement.

Last time we considered the questionable use of historical migration examples from the Bible to apply to current immigration patterns.  In the same paragraph (citing biblical examples of people going to other countries), we find the following sentence:  “Peter referred to the recipients of his first letter as “aliens” and “strangers,” perhaps suggesting that they were exiles within the Roman Empire.”

This reference is found in verses such as 1 Peter 1:1  and 2:11.   Here is the wording of these two verses from the New American Standard Bible:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen(1 Peter 1:1) 

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)

We can clearly see that from the first verse the believers were scattered.  There’s no question, so we don’t have to say “perhaps” like the NAE statement.  Constable says “Davids estimated that when Peter wrote this epistle about one million Jews lived in Palestine and two to four million lived outside it.” (1)   But does that tell us what “aliens” means?  No.

The end of that verse says they are “chosen”, a spiritual concept.  The second verse (2:11) is another reference to the inner, spiritual reality of being an “alien”.  In fact, the whole letter (especially the beginning verses of chapter 2) shouts out how believers should behave in and respond to a world that is hostile to them, not because of their ethnic roots or national origin, but because of their spiritual identity.

Maybe a parallel thought that Paul wrote gives us more direction:

“…remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world… So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household,”  (Ephesians 2:12, 19)

This uses “stranger” and “alien” in the reverse sense.  Those who aren’t in Christ are spiritually exiled from Him.  The Ephesians were there at one time, but not when they got this letter.  Another Pauline hint to the meaning of “alien” is from his letter to the Philippians:

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;” (Philippians 3:20)

When these words (aliens and strangers) are used in New Testament epistles, the idea of citizenship is overwhelmingly spiritual, not earthly.  The context of Peter strongly relates to the believers’ new heavenly citizenship, not where they happened to find themselves after the diaspora.  In fact, his aim in the letter is to ready the church for suffering.  As new immigrants, should they have demanded better treatment from the governments of Pontus, Galatia, et al?  That doesn’t seem to be Peter’s advice at all.

How interesting, though, that even though his readers were living outside of Palestine, he reminds them to obey human authorities and submit.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.  For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.  Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.  Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:13-17)

Next installment:  “Immigration and Romans 13”


(1) Tom Constable. (2003; 2003). Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (1 Pe 1:1). Galaxie Software.

maine outline mapLast week the citizens of Maine approved a referendum that reversed their state’s law that recognized marriage between gay and lesbian couples.

Good.  But not enough.

While many Christians and unbelievers alike voted for the referendum, the followers of Christ in Maine and every other state have a biblical mandate they must acknowledge: the primary role of the church in our world is to bring about heart-change, not simply law-change.

Standing up and speaking up for right living according to Scripture is a calling of believers, but not the main one.  Matthew 28:18-20 applies to all nations, and each of the people in those nations. 

There is an interesting and undeniable thread through the Bible that shouts God’s love and desire for human governmental leaders.  Have you ever thought about how you can be an instrument of sharing the gospel with your representatives?  What if their hearts were changed by the power of the gospel?  We should pray and act with that goal in mind (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Expressing views on issues and voting, while encouraging others to vote, are examples of good earthly citizenship.  But a believer’s top identity is heavenly citizenship with a whole other set of priorities, attitudes and actions.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.  Philippians 3:20, 21