Human beings like to be settled. Even travelling communities want to meet up with like-minded people so that they can preserve a sense of identity and feel that they 'belong'. Naturally we are drawn to those who are like ourselves, but we also become like the people we associate with. Father God sees all the people we meet; who we want to be like, and those who are influencing us - more than we might choose. He has called us to a holy life (1 Peter 1:16), and so He watches to see how we deal with the worldly people we live among. One day, His observation will be the basis of His assessment of our lives (Matthew 12:36). Unlike the politics of the world, God sees impartially. He clearly identifies righteousness and wickedness, and He will reward according to what He sees (Matthew 16:27).
Peter was writing to Christians who had been physically scattered away from their homeland by persecution (1 Peter 1:1-2). Living and working in towns and villages where pagan worship was a communal activity, and not participating, would stigmatise the followers of Jesus. The easiest thing would be for them to 'settle down' and become like everybody else around. But they are called to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). That challenge is the background to the call in this verse - to reverently fear the Lord (Psalm 2:11). To fear Him is more than awe; it is to live knowing His eye is upon us – hating the prospect of displeasing Him and hungry for His reward for those who obey (Psalm 34:9).
This verse is an instruction to Christians everywhere about how to see themselves. We are not migrants acclimatising to a new culture: we are aliens, foreigners and travellers with Creator God as our Father, Jesus as our Saviour and the Holy Spirit as our counsellor. This world is not 'home' for the Christian; we are only temporary residents here. But we have a heavenly 'passport' when, through faith in Jesus, we become children of God and citizens of heaven (John 1:12). And so, our time on earth is temporary, but it is an important preparation for our eternity with Christ.
Our work on earth is not permanent either. Even the largest business empire will mean nothing when Jesus returns. That is not to say that our work, or ministry, is unimportant; but God will judge how much we did it as a way of serving Him, rather than ourselves. Those who invest their energies in earthly things will get earth's reward (Matthew 6:2): those who invest their life in heaven's kingdom, will receive Christ's reward (Colossians 3:24). To be 'at home' with a sinful world is to alienate ourselves from heaven; but true Christians must hold lightly onto this world (with its riches, power and pleasures) because they know that their citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20-21).
© Dr Paul Adams