Elect and Exiles

Catherine McNiel | January 2, 2018

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1 Peter 1:1–2

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

—1 Peter 1:1-2

If you’re like me, the epistles of the New Testament can blur together. These letters are useful to me, as are all scripture—but they were not written to me. As a result, it can be difficult to keep the audience and their needs clear, not to mention the particular points of theology offered to solve those problems.

One way that 1 Peter stands out is its unique author. Another, however, is the effort Peter takes to place his message in the language and story of the Old Testament, and of Israel. Peter speaks of the prophets foretelling the Messiah, and invokes Noah, Abraham, and Sarah. Throughout 1 Peter he quotes the Hebrew scriptures again and again to corroborate his own message: that Christ is the climax of history, and how to form a community of hope in suffering as we await His return.

And what does this mean specifically for Peter’s audience? He writes in large part to make sense of the problems they face. Right here in the first verse Peter speaks of them as “God’s elect, exiles scattered . . . ”

Throughout the Old Testament, the people of Israel were both God’s elect—His chosen people—and quite often exiles—foreigners living in a strange land. Whether slaves in Egypt, wandering in the desert, establishing a new home among the Canaanites, forcibly taken to Assyria, Persia, and Babylon, or occupied by these nations and others (including Greece and Rome), the primary identity of God’s chosen people has been homeless, scattered, oppressed.

Now, Peter writes to Christians throughout the region—many Jews like himself, but also Gentiles. Some may be physically, politically exiled from their homes, but Peter means something more here as well: being chosen of God means living as strangers in your own land, community, family—and all the suffering that comes with that—now more than ever. Christ’s victory has not changed this: if anything, followers of God will suffer more now than before.

Questions for reflection and discussion: In what respects might the recipients of this letter have been literal exiles? In what ways were they figuratively exiles? As citizens of the most powerful nation on earth, how are American Christians asked of God to live as exiles in our own country? What might that look like in your day-to-day life and decisions?

This week's devotions were written by Catherine McNiel. Catherine and her family have been part of WBC since 2008. Her husband, Matthew, is the director of Puente del Pueblo, our church’s ministry that serves residents of the Timber Lake Apartments and several other areas of West Chicago. 

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