Aliens and Temporary Residents of Exemplary Conduct
1, 2. How are aliens often viewed, and why?
A PERSON who stands out as being very different from the people of the community in which he lives is often viewed with distrust and suspicion. His conduct may come under closer scrutiny than that of persons native to the area. Sadly, some individuals may become prejudiced against a whole race, nationality or tribe because of the misconduct of a single foreigner in their neighborhood. Even governments make laws and regulations that apply only to aliens. If a foreigner’s conduct is regarded as undesirable, he may be deported.
2 Why is all of this of serious concern to the Christian? How should it affect his or her way of life?
3. (a) Why are true Christians “foreigners” in this world? (b) How do unbelievers view them, and why?
3 In this world, true Christians are “aliens and temporary residents,” for they are looking forward to a permanent abiding place as part of the “new heavens and a new earth” of God’s making. (1 Peter 2:11; 2 Peter 3:13) Because genuine disciples of Jesus Christ strive to think and act in harmony with the Holy Scriptures, unbelievers, or those who make only a pretense of practicing Christianity, may look down on them as if they were undesirable “foreigners.” But the world’s view of a Christian should not cause him to feel ashamed. From the divine standpoint, his alien status is one of dignity. Therefore, the Christian will want to do his utmost to conduct himself in a way that does not give anyone valid reason for reproaching him.
4, 5. (a) In the first century C.E., why could the apostle Peter speak of Christians as “temporary residents scattered about”? (b) How did Jehovah God view them?
4 Writing to fellow believers, the apostle Peter called attention to their honorable standing as “aliens and temporary residents.” At the outset of his first letter, we read:
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the temporary residents scattered about in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, to the ones chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, with sanctification by the spirit, for the purpose of their being obedient and sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ.”—1 Peter 1:1, 2.
5 Back in the first century C.E., believers found themselves scattered in various locations and living in the midst of a large non-Christian population. Often they were unjustly despised by their neighbors. So it must have been encouraging for them to read or to hear Jehovah’s estimation of them as set forth in Peter’s letter. They were actually God’s ‘chosen ones,’ the elect. The Most High had made them his possession, his people. Long before the Christian congregation composed of Jews and non-Jews came into existence, the Almighty foreknew that there would eventually be such a group of his servants scattered in various parts of the earth. Through the operation of God’s spirit on them, they were sanctified or set apart for sacred use. The objective of Jehovah’s dealings with them was that they might be his obedient children, doing his will. Their knowledge of this use of them by the Universal Sovereign should surely have stirred them deeply, moving them to want to live up to the noble purpose to which God assigned them.
6. (a) How did Christians gain their clean standing before God? (b) What may be included in their ‘being sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ’?
6 Of course, it was not because of their own merit that believers came to be a chosen, sanctified people. As individuals, they were sinners and had to be cleansed, and so the apostle Peter referred to them as ‘being sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ.’ This reminds us of the cleansing procedure for an Israelite who became ceremonially defiled by, among other things, touching a human corpse. To be clean again, the individual had to be sprinkled with the water of cleansing. (Numbers 19:1-22) Similarly, the atoning benefits of Christ’s sacrifice had been applied to Christians, enabling them to have a clean conscience before God and to have freedom of speech in approaching him in prayer. (Hebrews 9:13, 14; 10:19-22) Then, too, when the Israelites were taken into a covenant relationship with Jehovah, Moses sprinkled the people with the blood of sacrificial victims. (Exodus 24:3-8) Hence, the words about ‘being sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ’ may also call attention to the fact that these believers had been taken into the new covenant mediated through Jesus Christ and made valid by his shed blood and that they now shared in this covenant’s benefits.
7. What does our “alien” status require from us?
7 Like believers of the first century C.E., devoted disciples of Jesus Christ today have an honorable standing before Jehovah God. In this world they must conduct themselves as exemplary “aliens” and “temporary residents.” Otherwise, they bring reproach on Jehovah God and the congregation of his people. All, therefore, need to take to heart the apostle Peter’s admonition: “Beloved, I exhort you as aliens and temporary residents to keep abstaining from fleshly desires, which are the very ones that carry on a conflict against the soul.”—1 Peter 2:11.
8. To what should we not allow ourselves to become unduly attached, and why?
8 Because of being “aliens and temporary residents” in this passing system of things, we cannot afford to allow ourselves to become unduly attached to anything within the now-existing human framework. No earthly ties, sorrows, joys or possessions are permanent. Time and unforeseen occurrence befall all people and can change one’s circumstances suddenly and dramatically. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) Hence, there is real wisdom in heeding the apostle Paul’s counsel: “Let those who have wives be as though they had none, and also those who weep be as those who do not weep, and those who rejoice as those who do not rejoice, and those who buy as those not possessing, and those making use of the world as those not using it to the full; for the scene of this world is changing.” (1 Corinthians 7:29-31) For us to be completely absorbed in sorrows or joys that are the product of these ever-changing circumstances and relationships could work against our drawing closer to the Most High and his Son, with serious loss to ourselves.
9, 10. (a) What accounts for the way in which worldlings regard possessions? (b) Why should our view of possessions be different from that of unbelievers?
9 The situation of the majority of mankind demonstrates clearly why we should not try to ‘make use of the world to the full.’ People generally either are not aware of God’s promise of “new heavens and a new earth” or have no real faith in such a coming righteous new order. So they have nothing but their present life on which to focus attention. They lack a solid hope regarding the future. That is why they are so wrapped up in thinking about their daily needs and are intent on gaining as much from the world as possible. (Matthew 6:31, 32) Their eyes light up at the prospect of getting fine clothing, sparkling jewels, expensive ornamentation, beautiful furniture or luxurious homes. They may hope and seek to impress others by means of material possessions.—1 John 2:15-17.
10 The Christian, by contrast, recognizes that an eternal future lies before him. It would be foolish for him to become so absorbed in the affairs of life that he has virtually no time for the Creator on whom his future depends. This does not mean that true servants of God cannot properly enjoy many of the fine things that money can buy. But even wholesome pleasures and beneficial material possessions must never become the focal point of our life, not if we really see ourselves as “temporary residents” in this present system. While not being wasteful or careless with our assets, we rightly regard them much as do trustworthy persons who merely rent a furnished apartment, tools, equipment or other items that they may need. Such persons care for these well but never become completely attached to them as if they were permanent possessions. Our life should show that we recognize that nothing in the present system gives any guarantee of permanence, that we are but “aliens” and “temporary residents,” moving forward toward the promised new order of God’s making.
‘ABSTAIN FROM FLESHLY DESIRES’
11. What would be included in the fleshly desires from which we must abstain?
11 However, to make a success of our way of life as Christians, far more is required of us than just a realization that, as far as our life now in this world is concerned, our circumstances are subject to unforeseeable change. We also need to give serious attention to the Bible’s exhortation to ‘abstain from fleshly desires.’ These are the wrong cravings or desires in the body members of the individual. The apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians reveals what sins these wrong cravings incite. After showing that the person who is led by God’s spirit does not carry out “any fleshly desire,” the apostle enumerates the works of the flesh—“fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct, idolatry, practice of spiritism, enmities, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, contentions, divisions, sects, envies, drunken bouts, revelries, and things like these.”—Galatians 5:16, 19-21.
12, 13. (a) How do fleshly desires “carry on a conflict against the soul”? (b) What must we do to maintain a clean standing before God?
12 As a result of inherited sin, we are subject to strong pressures to become involved in the works of the flesh, to ‘carry out fleshly desires.’ The unwholesome cravings are like an invading army that is seeking to gain the mastery over the whole soul, the whole person, causing him to give in to the indulging of sinful passions. The Christian apostle Paul was very much aware of the struggle that can thus come about within the individual. With reference to his own case, he wrote: “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, there dwells nothing good; for ability to wish is present with me, but ability to work out what is fine is not present. For the good that I wish I do not do, but the bad that I do not wish is what I practice.” (Romans 7:18, 19) This conflict made it necessary for Paul to ‘pummel his body and lead it as a slave, that, after he had preached to others, he might not become disapproved somehow.’—1 Corinthians 9:27.
13 Similarly, our desire to maintain a clean standing before God and to receive his blessing will motivate us to exert ourselves so that any wrong cravings are kept under control. Why should we make a hard struggle harder through involvement with entertainment, reading matter, associations and circumstances that are bound to excite and build up the pressure of our sinful inclinations? More importantly, we need to take positive steps to protect ourselves. It is good to keep in mind that we cannot succeed in our own strength but need the encouragement of our devoted brothers and the help of God’s spirit. The apostle Paul urged Timothy to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, along with those who call upon the Lord out of a clean heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22) If this is what we are doing, then, with the aid of the holy spirit, we can succeed in preventing wrong desires from gaining the mastery over us. Thus, our resisting fleshly desires by keeping our minds fixed on what is true, righteous, chaste, lovable, virtuous and praiseworthy will prevent our becoming divinely disapproved. (Philippians 4:8, 9) After having sought to help others to succeed, we will not ourselves become failures.
FINE CONDUCT MAY HELP OTHERS TO ACCEPT TRUE WORSHIP
14. How may others benefit by seeing us ‘abstain from fleshly desires’?
14 Our “abstaining from fleshly desires” is accompanied by still another very desirable benefit. The apostle Peter wrote: “Maintain your conduct fine among the nations, that, in the thing in which they are speaking against you as evildoers, they may as a result of your fine works of which they are eyewitnesses glorify God in the day for his inspection.”—1 Peter 2:12.
15. In what way were Christians misrepresented in the first century C.E.?
15 In the first century, Christians were often the object of misrepresentation, depicted as “evildoers.” Typical were accusations such as the following: “These men are disturbing our city very much, . . . and they are publishing customs that it is not lawful for us to take up or practice, seeing we are Romans.” (Acts 16:20, 21) ‘These men have overturned the inhabited earth.’ ‘They act in opposition to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king, Jesus.’ (Acts 17:6, 7) The apostle Paul was accused of being “a pestilent fellow and stirring up seditions among all the Jews throughout the inhabited earth.” (Acts 24:5) Leading men among the Jews in Rome told Paul: “Truly as regards this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against.”—Acts 28:22.
16. (a) What is the true Christians’ best defense against misrepresentation? (b) How can this help opposers?
16 The best defense against such misrepresentation is fine conduct. When Christians prove themselves to be law-abiding, faithfully pay their taxes, manifest willingness to perform any “good work,” and in their personal occupations are diligent workers, honest in their dealings, and demonstrate real concern for the welfare of their fellow humans—the accusations made against them are shown up as false. (Titus 2:2–3:2) Even persons who repeat slanderous information about Christians could thus be helped to see the wrongness of their course and be moved to adopt true worship. Then, at the time of God’s judgment inspection, such former misrepresenters of Christians may be numbered among those who glorify or praise the Most High.
17. In view of the wholesome effect of good conduct on observers, to what should we give serious consideration?
17 The fact that a Christian’s living an upright life can be a tremendous force for good should cause us to think seriously about the way in which we treat others and the extent to which we are showing interest in our neighbors. Certainly we do not want to close our eyes to the needs of people next door. Of course, our being kind, obliging and polite neighbors is not just “good policy.” It is basic to our being Christians. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ admonished: “All things . . . that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.” (Matthew 7:12) The Scriptures urge us: “As long as we have time favorable for it, let us work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith.” (Galatians 6:10) “If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men.” (Romans 12:18) “Always pursue what is good toward one another and to all others.”—1 Thessalonians 5:15.
18, 19. In harmony with 1 Peter 3:8, what should be true of our attitudes and actions as Christians?
18 Clearly, being a Christian includes more than carrying out such vital requirements as attending meetings with fellow believers and sharing Bible truth with others. (Matthew 28:19, 20; Hebrews 10:24, 25) We are also under command to imitate the Son of God in our attitudes and actions, in what we are as persons, individuals. The apostle Peter wrote: “Finally, all of you be like-minded, showing fellow feeling, having brotherly affection, tenderly compassionate, humble in mind.” (1 Peter 3:8) To be “like-minded,” we need to “be fitly united in the same mind and in the same line of thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10) Our thinking should especially harmonize with that of Jesus Christ who expressed his love by surrendering his life for us. (John 13:34, 35; 15:12, 13) While true disciples of Jesus Christ are “like-minded,” as is evident from their love and unity world wide, the questions that we individually must answer are: ‘Am I genuinely contributing to this spirit of oneness and affection? How, and to what extent?’
19 If we truly love our spiritual brothers, we will be kind and forgiving. After a problem is discussed and a solution agreed upon, we will not continue to harbor grudges and deliberately shun certain members of the Christian congregation who may have contributed toward creating the difficulty. In harmony with Peter’s counsel, we need to guard against falling victim to the callousness, the harshness and the pride that are common in the world. Others should be able to see that we have “fellow feeling” or are sympathetic toward those who are suffering, that we have warm love or affection for our spiritual brothers, that we are “tenderly compassionate” or inclined to show pity, and that we do not have an exalted opinion of ourselves but are “humble in mind,” willing to serve others.—Compare Matthew 18:21-35; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12; 5:14.
20. What does heeding the counsel of 1 Peter 3:9 require of us?
20 Moreover, we are not to limit our expressions of sympathy, compassion and kindness just to fellow believers. (Luke 6:27-36) The apostle Peter went on to urge Christians not to ‘pay back injury for injury or reviling for reviling, but, to the contrary, to bestow a blessing.’ (1 Peter 3:9) This does not mean that we will praise persons who injure and revile us or shower them with affection. But we will accomplish the most good and have the greatest peace of mind and happiness if we continue to be kind and considerate in our dealings with them, hoping that they might change their ways and become recipients of divine blessings.
REASONS FOR NOT RETALIATING
21. How can Jehovah’s example aid us in not retaliating?
21 The fact that Jehovah God has mercifully forgiven us our sins on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice should move us to treat even our enemies in a kind, compassionate manner. Jesus Christ said: “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:15) Hence, our inheriting permanent blessings from God is affected by our willingness to bless others. Jehovah God permits us to experience unkind treatment. Among the reasons for this is that we might have the opportunity to demonstrate that we are forgiving and compassionate toward our fellow humans. The apostle Peter expressed this thought by going on to say: “You were called to this course [of blessing those who seek to injure you], so that you might inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9) This is not to say that our heavenly Father wants others to injure us. He has simply not stepped in to prevent our being subjected to the problems of sinful humans living in a sinful world. And this lets us demonstrate whether we really want to be like him—kind, compassionate and forgiving.
22. What encouragement does Psalm 34:12-16 provide about avoiding a vengeful spirit?
22 Continuing his encouragement not to retaliate in word or in deed, Peter quotes from Psalm 34:12-16 and writes:
“For, ‘he that would love life and see good days, let him restrain his tongue from what is bad and his lips from speaking deception, but let him turn away from what is bad and do what is good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of Jehovah are upon the righteous ones, and his ears are toward their supplication; but the face of Jehovah is against those doing bad things.’”—1 Peter 3:10-12.
23, 24. (a) What does it mean for us to “love life” and to want to “see good days”? (b) How do we benefit by showing a love for life?
23 These words of Peter emphasize that treating all persons in a kind manner is really the only proper way to live, the best way to live. The person who ‘loves life,’ appreciating it as a gift from God, and who wants to see “good days”—days that give him a sense of purpose and meaning in living—shows this by promoting the happiness of his fellow humans. He keeps his tongue in check, not using it to downgrade, revile, deceive or to defraud others. His desire is to shun all badness and to do what is good from God’s standpoint. As a person who seeks and pursues peace, he will not be aggressive or belligerent but will exert himself to promote good relations with and among others.—Romans 14:19.
24 The person who demonstrates his love for life by helping others to enjoy happiness and peace makes himself a desirable associate. Others show by their words and actions that they view him as needed, wanted and appreciated. As a result, his life will never be empty or meaningless.—Proverbs 11:17, 25.
25. Why can we be certain of God’s loving care and help?
25 Although his kindness may not always be received with gratitude, such a person is assured of Jehovah God’s loving care. Since the eyes of the Most High watch over the righteous and his ears are always ready to hear them, he knows just what their needs are and may quickly respond to fill these. He will indeed cause them to “see good days,” for the godly devotion they show “holds promise of the life now and that which is to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8) On the other hand, those who practice what is bad—who do not work for the peace and happiness of others—can expect no expression of divine approval. God’s “face” is against them with adverse judgment, for nothing escapes his notice.
A COURSE OF GAIN
26. According to Peter’s words, who may wish to see us return to the corrupt practices of the world?
26 Keeping ever before us the benefits that result from fine conduct will help us to resist pressures to become involved in the world’s degraded practices. The apostle Peter gives us powerful encouragement to this end, saying:
“The time that has passed by is sufficient for you to have worked out the will of the nations when you proceeded in deeds of loose conduct, lusts, excesses with wine, revelries, drinking matches, and illegal idolatries. Because you do not continue running with them in this course to the same low sink of debauchery, they are puzzled and go on speaking abusively of you. But these people will render an account to the one ready to judge those living and those dead. In fact, for this purpose the good news was declared also to the dead, that they might be judged as to the flesh from the standpoint of men but might live as to the spirit from the standpoint of God.”—1 Peter 4:3-6.
27. Why should we never want to return to the world’s corruption?
27 The time that a Christian may have spent in satisfying his sinful passions and desires while he was ignorant of God’s will and purpose certainly should have been enough for him never to want to return to a life characterized by excesses and lack of moral restraint. We never want to forget how empty and meaningless a life of self-indulgence is, and the shame that goes along with it. (Romans 6:21) The vulgar, obscene entertainment, lewd dancing, and wild, passion-arousing music, which have become so prominent in the world, should repel, not attract, us. While it may not be easy to be spoken of abusively by former associates because we shun such things, we surely have nothing to gain by joining them in their wild parties and their unbridled way of life. But we do have much to lose by adopting worldliness. All practicers of what is bad must render an account for their actions before Jesus Christ, the one whom Jehovah God has appointed to judge the living and the dead. (2 Timothy 4:1) Because this judgment is certain, the “good news” was declared to the “dead,” that is, to the spiritually dead who needed to repent, turn around and come to life from God’s standpoint by having the atoning benefits of Christ’s sacrifice applied to them.
28. (a) Why might Christians “be judged as to the flesh from the standpoint of men”? (b) Why should such Judgment not disturb us?
28 Those who do repent are indeed precious in Jehovah God’s eyes, and he wants them to enjoy an eternity of happy living. Men of this world, however, do not recognize the fine standing that true Christians have with the Creator. Such worldlings look upon Christ’s disciples as they do other men and judge them “as to the flesh,” by the outward appearance. However, the fact that their judgment of us is an unfavorable one should not disturb us. What really counts is whether Jehovah God regards us as ‘living as to the spirit,’ that is, living spiritual lives. This will be the case if our life continues to be in harmony with the commands of the Most High.
29. What good reasons do we have for maintaining fine conduct?
29 We do indeed have good reason to maintain fine conduct as “aliens and temporary residents” in this present system. The Most High commands it. His own example of kind, merciful dealing with us requires that we be considerate, compassionate and forgiving in our dealings with others. Our laudable conduct reflects favorably on our God and may aid others to become his servants. Only by maintaining fine conduct will we continue to experience Jehovah’s blessing and finally receive eternal life in a permanent abiding place. No other way of life is so beneficial now and holds such grand promise for the future.