“I’m not sure the people in my congregation are ready for what’s coming.”
That’s the sentiment of many a pastor who sees how the cultural tides are turning against those who adhere to Christianity’s sexual ethic. The tide is bringing to shore a number of challenges, including social ostracism and the potential loss of income, status, or opportunity.
Some of these fears are overblown; but more than a few of them are real. Four dissenting Supreme Court justices just sounded the alarm.
The questions follow: How do we fortify believers for this cultural moment?
How do we ensure that Christians remain steadfast, committed to Scripture, and immune to activists whose ideologies threaten schism concerning issues that the Church has always been united on?
How do we prepare people to bear the stigma of the world?
The simplest, most profound answer is: through love.
In the passage where he calls New Testament believers “sojourners” and “exiles,” the Apostle Peter starts off by addressing them as beloved (or loved ones, or dear friends – depending on your translation). Beloved. There are two senses of “being loved” that prepare us well as sojourners and exiles.
Loved By the Family
At the first level, Peter is speaking about being part of the beloved family of God. This is the love that we have for brothers and sisters.
Thus, one of the ways we equip believers to bear the stigma of standing for Christ is by doing so together – as the family of God. It’s one thing to be a lone individual taking a stand. It’s another thing to know that there are others are with you.
The last thing we need are believers who adopt a “run for the hills!” mentality and then, like Elijah, bemoan the fact that there are so few who are faithful. There are millions of Christians who have not and will never bow the knee to Ba’al. We belong to this people, and we stand in a long line of men and women who have rejoiced to suffer for the name of the Savior.
The more our world fractures and polarizes, the tighter and stronger our churches must be.
Loved By the Father
At a second level, and more fundamental, Peter is speaking about being beloved by the God who has demonstrated His love through the gift of His Son. We are beloved by God.
It’s common for Christians to think being “in exile” implies God’s displeasure or punishment. This is because we have wrongly applied the exile of the Old Testament people of God to our situation today. The fact that Peter can address “exiles” as beloved means that being a beloved child of God is not at odds with being in exile. And even in the Old Testament, where the exile was in fact a disciplinary moment from God toward His people, the exile did not communicate God’s hatred or His disdain.
Exile is not an accident. In Jeremiah 29, when the prophet wrote his letter to the exiles, he spoke of them as being “sent” to Babylon, as having been “deported” by God Himself. Exile was not an accident back then, and being “in exile” is not a coincidence now. In both cases, God loves His people.
Here’s why this matters for the fortifying of Christian faith and witness in our day. If you fail to get this truth deep down into your heart, if you fail to recognize God’s unfailing, unchanging love for you no matter your circumstances, you will not be able to represent Him well in exile.
The only way you will ever be able to withstand the hatred of the world is if you are immersed in the love of God.
The only way you will ever be able to live without the approval of others is if you are assured of God’s approval of you in Christ.
The only way you can stand against the world when everyone is jeering you is when you know God is there, cheering you on, calling you His beloved child.
Unless we are overcome by the love of God, we will be overcome by the fear of man.
Our task is twofold. First, we must strengthen the bonds of the Christian community, creating an oasis of faith, hope, and love in the midst of a decadent culture. A place of love that makes rejection from the world more tolerable because of the embrace we receive from the church. Secondly, we must immerse ourselves again and again in the inexhaustible fountain of God’s love for us in Christ. A fountain that refreshes us with our free and full salvation through Jesus.
Perfect love casts out fear. So, when you look to the future, don’t be afraid. You are beloved.