Vol. 3, No. 11
"Here We Are But Straying Pilgrims" is one of my favorite songs. I once heard that song sung in a crescendo/decrescendo fashion; it sounded as though a happy band of Christians, at first singing in the distance, marched past and continued the glad, songful march toward the horizon of heaven itself. I desperately want to make that pilgrimage, and travel with as many family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers and brethren as possible. In the here and the now, though, we are not only pilgrims but strangers, too.
"Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation" (1 Peter 2:11-12).
Abraham was a stranger and a pilgrim in the literal sense of the words. Doubtless, the accent and pronunciation of Abraham and his fellow travelers readily identified them as aliens (Matthew 26:73; Acts 2:7; Judges 12:5-6). The speech of Christians also either identifies them as part of the world or apart from the world (John 17:15-16; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17). Intermingling with the heathen once corrupted the Jews' language and caused many of them to speak the language of Ashdod (Nehemiah 13:23-24). Christians must be careful lest they too (figuratively) speak the language of Ashdod (i.e., worldly language). Sometimes our speech betrays us!
As nomadic people, sojourners in a land not theirs, the patriarchs often were unable to live in peaceful co-existence amidst settled peoples. Today, Christians, sojourning in the lost world sometimes run afoul and are likewise unable to peacefully co-exist with their neighbors, though we ought to try (1 Timothy 2:2; Hebrews 12:14). This is especially true if we "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Ephesians 5:11)!
The social customs of native people often differ widely from the social norms of foreigners; the do's and don'ts, moral codes and ethics frequently conflict between unlike peoples. Certainly social customs greatly differ between the world today and truly Christian pilgrims (i.e., marriage and divorce, alcohol, modesty, abortion). Practicing Christians are foreigners in this sin-sick and dying world; social friction, therefore, is inevitable (2 Timothy 3:12).
Aliens are also sometimes at a legal disadvantage while abiding in a host country since the laws of any land primarily serve the citizens of that nation. Immigrants may be discriminated against under laws not designed with their protection in mind, or foreigners may simply be unfamiliar with applicable laws and consequently be found in non-compliance. The early church was outlawed, first by the Jews (Acts 4-5) and later by the Roman Empire. Today, our government legalizes many things that are contrary to God's law (i.e., alcohol, prostitution, divorce, nudity, pornography, vulgarity, etc.). Additionally, the legal system itself is beginning to turn on religion with a rising new area of American law aimed at churches (i.e., tort lawsuits for exercising church discipline and malpractice suits). The Lord's church, like the patriarchs of old, is increasingly in danger of becoming legally disadvantaged in this wicked world.
The children of God about whom one can read in Bible history were also adversely affected when they intermarried with the native peoples among whom they found themselves. Frequently, the worship of God was exchanged for idolatry and morals were grossly corrupted. Today, marriage to non-Christians -- or even weak or unfaithful Christians -- can spiritually ruin God's people.
One of the greatest distractions to pilgrims is the temptation to abandon the pilgrimage, settle down and integrate into the host society. Whereas Abraham remained separate from the heathen people, Lot settled "toward" Sodom -- and later was found "in" Sodom! Christians are also tempted daily to abandon their spiritual pilgrimage and become homesteaders. This world has nothing to offer that can begin to compare with the joyous heavenly hereafter with God for eternity (Matthew 19:28-29; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18; 5:1-8; Revelation 21:10-21).
The words "dearly beloved" are terms of endearment employed by the apostle toward the brethren who were the recipients of his inspired epistle. The phrase "I beseech you" represents a pleading, tender admonishment. Next, Peter referred to his Christian readers as "strangers" -- sojourners, aliens, foreigners in a strange land, dwelling near or beside another.
Christians often become as aliens to friends and family members who remain lost -- outside Jesus Christ; a spiritual gulf exists between practicing Christians and all others. Christian "citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20 ASV; Hebrews 11:9-10, 13). A foreigner thinks of his homeland though he may be far away from it; Christians ought to never lose sight of heaven -- always seeing it clearly in the mind's eye and ever marching toward it.
The apostle Peter called the addressees of First Peter "pilgrims," too. A pilgrim is a person who remains in a place a short time while traveling through as on a journey, especially a journey to visit a holy place. Therefore, the Christian pilgrim avoids alliances with the world that would impede his spiritual journey to the holiest of all places; neither wealth, possessions, marriage, job nor anything else is entertained with equal or more interest than heavenly and eternal pursuits by conscientious Christians. The pilgrim takes as little baggage as possible with him! Alert Christians relentlessly bound for the Promised Land and carefully skirt around the lusts of he world (1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4).
To "abstain" here means to hold back from and to continue to hold back from something. "Fleshly lusts" are equivalent to all evil desires (Galatians 5:16-24; 1 Peter 4:3-4) and that from which successful pilgrims hold back. This is so crucial to a successful pilgrimage that the New Testament repeatedly records exhortations concerning "youthful lusts" (2 Timothy 2:22), "former lusts" (1 Peter 1:14), "worldly lusts" (Titus 2:12) and "crucified lusts" (Galatians 5:24).
The idea of "war" is an active, constant aggression; this word depicts a protracted campaign -- not a single battle. The "soul," of course, is the immortal part of man and the object of the devil's never-ending assaults.
The word "conversation" refers to the Christian's behavior or conduct; favorably influencing other souls is dependent upon keeping one's own soul. "Honest" is the deportment which Christians are exhorted to exhibit; the lost are to be allured through a beautiful, attractive lifestyle rather than by illicit lusts or worldly inducements.
The world, however, is prone to coarsely evaluate the children of God and "speak against us as evildoers." Literally, we are perceived as "bad actors," dramatically out of step with the ungodly, lost world. Christianity was a brilliant light in the sin-darkened Roman ruled world of the first century. Jesus Christ himself was maligned as an evildoer (1 Peter 2:21-23) and his faithful followers will fare no better (Matthew 10:23-25).
In the first century, Christians were erroneously imagined to be evil doers variously: (1) politically, as enemies of government (Acts 17:7-8), (2) religiously, as atheists for their opposition to idolatry (Acts 17:16-32; 19:24-41), (3) commercially, for undermining the manufacture of idols and interfering with the commerce of curious arts (Acts 19:19, 24-41), and (4) ethically, because they opposed the widespread corruption of the day (Ephesians 5:11; Galatians 5:19-21). Consequently, Christians were blamed for every malicious deed and calamity that transpired (e.g., robberies, all kinds of villainy, arson, murder as well as floods, famine, earthquakes and disease).
"Good works," however, readily visible in the lives of Christians, dispelled the evil attributed to Christians; honest auditors of Christian living (beautiful deeds versus crimes) exonerated Christianity. Thereby, Christian living possesses a strong missionary appeal (1 Peter 3:1). Actions really do speak louder than words!
The word "behold" means to scrutinize minutely, examine carefully or closely inspect. The world will vigorously test one's claim to be a Christian, and God intends that evaluation should reveal "light" -- not "darkness" (Matthew 5:16).
The phrase "day of visitation" refers to a day of examination by God. In this verse, emphasis is on God's desire that all souls prepare for this event and save themselves (2 Peter 3:9).
It is imperative that Christians, as strangers and pilgrims, do not unnecessarily burden themselves with worldly distractions so that their pilgrimage will not be hindered; it is in the Christian's own spiritual self interest to abstain from fleshly lusts. Secondly, godly lives can influence others to obey the Gospel of Christ.
Aggressive Discipleship is depicted emphatically in both testaments of the Bible. That passive discipleship is displeasing to our Lord is evident from Revelation 3:15-16. Furthermore, neither does fanatical discipleship possess inspiration's stamp of approval (Acts 15:1; 3 John 9-10). Aggressive discipleship lies midrange between the passive and the fanatical. Fruitful, aggressive discipleship, then, is a balanced discipleship.
As in the first century, our generation boasts of disciples, many of whom are passive Christians, a few of whom are aggressive disciples and several of whom whose zeal overrides the authority and balance of the Scriptures. For instance, many are the elderships and congregations who are content merely to sit upon orthodoxy. Comparatively few congregations and their elders, armed with the sword of the Spirit, appear genuinely concerned about lost souls. At the same time, some other brethren have undertaken the intensified distribution of their own and peculiar brand of zeal. Aggressive discipleship is the medium and biblical stance between two extremes.
Old Testament characters bring to mind an aggressiveness that has always been characteristic of God's most useful servants. Hebrews, Chapter Eleven, appropriately portrays many Old Testament worthies in some of their most aggressive or active roles. Examination of the Bible's Hall of Fame discloses the activity with which they demonstrated their faith, often in the face of personal peril.
The New Testament also records an aggressiveness with which the Lord's disciples demonstrated their faith. Remember how John the Baptizer boldly proclaimed God's Word before the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 3:7) and even in the presence of a wicked king (Matthew 14:3-4). John was beheaded because of his aggressive discipleship.
Recall the earnestness with which the apostles in Acts Two through Chapter Five and Stephen in Acts Seven preached the Gospel. Their zeal was not hindered by the prospect of physical abuse or death (Acts 5:40-42; 7:58-60). In the face of great personal danger, they practiced aggressive discipleship.
The apostle Paul, even when he was known as Saul of Tarsus, was an exceedingly zealous man. Before his conversion, Paul vigorously pursued Christians unto their imprisonment or death (Acts 8:1, 3; 9:1-2, 13-14; 22:3-5, 19-20; 26:9-12; Galatians 1:13-14; Philippians 3:6; 1 Timothy 1:13). Paul said of himself, ". . . after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee" (Acts 26:5). Being a Pharisee was the epitome of the most intense Jewish zeal of his day. The apostle further wrote to the Galatian brethren:
"For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews' religion above many of my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers" (Galatians 1:13-14).
The identical aggressiveness that he exhibited regarding the traditions of the Jewish fathers (Galatians 1:14) the apostle Paul applied to his Christian discipleship. The intensity of his Christian zeal can be evaluated by noting that he willingly ignored the manifold blessings and honors of his Jewish station in life (Philippians 3:4-11) and willingly suffered repeated perils and persecutions (2 Corinthians 11:22-28) to preach the Gospel. Beginning in Acts Nine throughout most of the remaining chapters of the Book of Acts, the aggressive discipleship of the apostle Paul can be easily traced.
Not only the apostles but other brethren with whom we are less familiar also demonstrated aggressive discipleship in the first century (Acts 8:4; 11:19). Besides the general reference to the scattering of the Jerusalem disciples (who "went everywhere preaching the word"), detailed accounts appear in the New Testament that depict aggressiveness as a fundamental characteristic of discipleship in the first-century church.
The following names and references represent a fair sample of the aggressive discipleship chronicled in the New Testament. JOSES (Acts 4:36-37); PROCHORUS, NICANOR, TIMON, PARMENAS and NICOLAS (Acts 6:3-6); STEPHEN (Acts 6:3-6, 9-15; 7:1-60); PHILIP (Acts 6:3-6; 8:5-40; 21:8-9); ANANIAS (Acts 9:10-17; 22:12-16); DORCAS (Acts 9:36-42); CORNELIUS (Acts 10:1-4, 45-48); BARNABAS (Acts 11:22-26; 13:2; 14:1; 15:12, 22, 35-36); MARY the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12); RHODA (Acts 12:13); JOHN MARK (Acts 12:25; 13:5; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24); SIMON that was called Niger, LUCIUS of Cyrene and MANAEN (Acts 13:1); BARSABAS (Acts 15:22, 27, 32); SILAS (Acts 15:22, 27, 32, 34, 40; 16:1; 17:1; 18:5); TIMOTHY (Acts 16:1-4; 17:15; Romans 16:21; etc.); LUKE (Acts 16:10-17); JASON (Acts 17:7-9; Romans 16:21); AQUILA and PRISCILLA (Acts 18:24-28); APOLLOS (Acts 18:24-28); GAIUS and ARISTARCHUS (Acts 19:9; Philemon 24; Colossians 4:10); SOPATER, SECUNDUS, TYCHICUS and TROPHIMUS (Acts 20:4); AGABUS (Acts 11:28; 20:10-11); MNASON (Acts 21:16); PHEBE (Romans 16:1-2); SOSIPATER, TERTIUS, ERASTUS and QUARTUS (Romans 16:21-23); CHLOE (1 Corinthians 1:11); STEPHANAS, FORTUNATUS, and ACHAICUS (1 Corinthians 16:15-17); EPAPHRODITUS (Philippians 2:25; 4:18); ONESIMUS (Colossians 4:9); EPAPHRAS (Colossians 4:12; Philippians 2, 3); DEMAS (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24); NYMPHAS (Colossians 4:15); ONESIPHORUS, EUBULUS, PUDENS, LINUS and CLAUDIA (2 Timothy 4:19-21); ARTEMAS and ZENAS (Titus 3:12-13); PHILEMON, APPHIA and, ARCHIPPUS (Philemon 1-2); SILVANUS (1 Peter 5:12); and DEMETRIUS (3 John 12).
Particularly in the first century, to have one's name publicly associated with "the way" (Acts 19:23) or Christianity was of itself a deliberate and often dangerous demonstration of aggressive discipleship. The selection of these Bible characters and the placement of their names in a public record attests to the aggressiveness of these disciples.
Jesus Christ is, of course, ultimately the supreme model of Christian zeal (1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Peter 2:21-24). His disciples should imitate both the fervor with which he served the Father (Matthew 23:1ff) and his willingness to fulfill the mission on which God sent him, in spite of persecutions and death (Matthew 26:39; John 6:38). Aggressive disciples today need to acknowledge the fervor and sufferings of Christ and first-century disciples. Further, faithful disciples of the present should endeavor to duplicate the zeal of the first-century church. Though, if first-century Christian zeal were uniformly duplicated throughout the church in this day, persecutions similar to those of that former time would be directed toward brethren now (2 Timothy 3:12). How well would the church in our day bear the first-century cost of discipleship (Matthew 10:16-39; 16:24-26; Luke 14:25-33)? Is the relative freedom from persecution enjoyed by the churches of Christ today any indication that the church is not as zealous as it was in former years?
Even the aggressiveness with which first-century disciples evangelized the world did not then cause the entire world to be saved, but it "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6). Consequently, discipleship was "multiplied" (Acts 2:47; 5:14). There is no hint in the New Testament that the early church was content to hold its own or keep house!
The biblical formula by which the first-century church grew both spiritually and numerically is recorded in Acts 2:42. "And they continued stedfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." The early church changed forever the world by these principles, not in spite of them! The early disciples multiplied in direct proportion to the proclamation of the Word of God (Acts 12:24)!
For what are we waiting? Is it not now time that we disciple the nations (Matthew 28:19, ASV) and otherwise turn this world upside down (Acts 17:6)?