Bible reading plan Bible reading plan

Aliens and Strangers

20 November 2020

I used to really enjoy teaching Media Studies to A level students, exploring many aspects of media in the final two years of school education before university. Analysing the different forms of media is still something that I enjoy immensely, and spotting trends always prompts me to think of whether the media is reflecting or directing the society that creates it. One of the trends that began in the early 2000s when I was teaching the subject was the renewed fascination with the ‘other’ amongst us; the person who could blend in to the society they were living in, but were dangerously different to the people around them. As the world wrestled with terrorism and ideologies that embraced random and indiscriminate violence, the media explored the idea of the alien in our midst on TV and in our cinemas. The stranger became a symbol for society’s fears.

 

As Christians, we live in societies that embrace so many things that feel alien, offensive and strange to us. Perhaps we sometimes forget the other side to that equation - to many of the people we meet, we are the aliens; strangers whose beliefs and values fly in the face of the culture we live in. We are the ‘other’ who is treated with suspicion and perhaps even fear by some of the people we see every day. Christians being viewed like this is nothing new. We see it in the epistles of James and Peter, as well as contemporary writings of the people who watched (from a distance) the birth of the early church. When I was studying ancient history, I came across a letter written during a plague in the Roman Empire. The writer commentated that the Christians were still caring for the sick and staying in the infected area, at great personal risk and against the instincts of self-preservation that had compelled the writer to leave in fear for his live and the lives of his family. The letter was not marked by its tone of admiration for these selfless people, but of the writer’s incredulity at the actions of these ‘strange’ people and their ‘alien’ behaviour.

 

The chapters in this week’s readings embrace our differences compared to the ways of the world. James and Peter could well understand that we are called to be distinct – aliens and strangers - in the world, but they were keen to emphasise to their readers that this was to be expressed in the right way in order to show God’s mercy, forgiveness and love. Our everyday lives are meant to be so distinct that the lost realise they can’t live without God. These chapters explore how we can live in this fallen world and still stay holy and how we can share Christ without becoming contaminated by the sinful nature we have been called out of.

 

So, what makes us aliens and strangers here? Well, we don’t repay evil with evil (1 Peter 3:9), we show gentleness and respect even in the face of malicious slander ( I Peter 3 :13-15), we keep our word (James 5:12) and we live such lives that even the most ardent unbeliever can see our good deeds ( 1 Peter 2:12). The word ‘see’ here has a particular meaning in the original Greek. It refers to careful watching over a period of time, not a snap judgement. James and Peter write about people who seek to live a consistent spiritual life, whose agenda is to please God; they’re not a collection of weird isolationists, but people who are loving; they’re not aloof, but humble and compassionate. Just like these early believers, we are called to be a distinct holy nation, a relevant chosen people and a powerful royal priesthood. Once, we were strangers to God, but salvation has made us one in Christ. Ephesians 2:19 says this: ‘Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household’. As we consistently live God’s way through His power and Holy Spirit at work in us, we will see others move from foreigners to family in God’s kingdom. How amazing is that?


Photo of Mark Melhado

Mark Melhado

Youth Pastor
GoChurch Manchester