Life in the Badlands
Life in the Badlands
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
1 Peter 2:11-12 (NIV)
A placard in the End of the Oregon Trail Museum (Oregon City, Oregon) explains why the citizens of the Pacific Northwest are the most unchurched in America—"When the pioneers started out, their wagons were loaded. As they made their way west, they threw out the heavy things, starting with the piano. Somewhere along the way, they also tossed out their religion." Only genuine faith made it.
Peter wrote to first-century Christians on the frontier, children of the diaspora (v. 1:1), those who had been scattered by persecution like seeds or spores throughout the world. In particular, he addressed those in “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” (v. 1:1), a clockwise circle of regions in what is today Turkey.
He called them "aliens" (paroikous) and "strangers" (parapidemous). The first word distanced them from home (oikos), the second from their people (demos).
These first century Christian pioneers faced two major spiritual challenges. First, they were far away from the wholesome system of support and accountability they enjoyed back home, whether in Antioch or Jerusalem. Second, they faced a host of new temptations, whatever the pagans (ethnoi) of the region could serve up.
Peter noted that these believers were accused of wrongdoing (v. 12), and it is not hard to guess the nature of some of the charges. Asia was the seat of Artemis worship (Acts 19:27), and believers who shunned this idolatry seemed treasonous and a threat to the economy. Furthermore, Galatia was populated with land-grabbing Gauls from Europe. These were the same people who conquered Ireland (hence the Gaelic language). They were known for their bellicosity, and their Celtic form of paganism was raw in the extreme. Surely they found the Christians’ preoccupation with love and holiness revolting.
Peter’s prescription may have been surprising. Instead of counseling Christians to form enclaves or communes of holiness, he told them to parade their virtue—no self-promotion, but the glorification of God; not sporadic behavior, but consistent living, which stands up to the continuous observation (epopteuontes in v. 12) of a curious, even critical, world.
Today’s world is less and less a comfort zone for Christians. At every turn, they are pushed to accept contemporary counterparts to Artemis worship and Celtic paganism. Society scorns long-respected truths and values. Church defectors demoralize the faithful. The Devil tries new tricks on them. Insults abound.
The pastor rides along with his people through the “Badlands,” urging them to remain faithful to their core commitments in Christ. At night, they hear the sinful revelries of their apostate neighbors, but in the morning, they are ever ready to help them with supplies, medical care, and shelter. Word gets around, and God gets both the glory and new disciples.