Are You a Strange Christian?


Dr. John Hoole ‘ March 10, 2019




According to the apostle Peter's first letter, labeling Christians as "strange Christians" is exegetically accurate.  The implications for our cultural moment in America are crucial.  The Scripture I have especially in mind 1 Peter 4:3–4:


1 Peter 4:3-4 ESV


3       The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.

4       With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you;


See how this passage reads in the New Living Translation


1 Peter 4:3-4 New Living Translation


3       You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible [ESV-lawless, Gk - Athemtos] worship of idols.

4       Of course, your former friends are surprised when you no longer plunge into the flood of wild and destructive things they do. So they slander you.


This passage says your unsaved friends think you are strange or odd or weird not to continue doing things with them as you did in the past.  Since you no longer run with them, or participate in their activities, you will be labeled as narrow-minded, bigoted, anti-social.


Peter tells us that in previous chapters of our lives, we used to live a certain way, a way without Christ.  We followed our passions with little restraint.


1 Peter 4:3 NIV


3       For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do…


         We could say, “You have had enough of that kind of life already, and you don’t need to go back to it.”


This serves as a strong reminder to us that there is a special way we are to live our lives.  And it certainly is not in the pursuit of sinful passions in which we once indulged ourselves.


1 Peter 4:3-4 ESV


3       The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.

4       With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you;


In the ESV, two statements stand out: "they are surprised," and "they malign you."  The word here for "surprised" (Greek xenizontai) is translated "strange things" in Acts 17:20, where Paul is speaking to people on Mars Hills, in Athens.  "You bring some strange things to our ears". (It's built on the word strange, foreign, or unfamiliar [xenos]).


Eight verses later, in 1 Peter 4, both the verb (xenizesthe) and the adjective (xenou) forms are used to describe the persecution of Christians.


1 Peter 4:12 NIV


12     Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful [NKJV-fiery] trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.


We might paraphrase by saying: "Don't think it strange (4:12) when they think you are strange (4:4)."


You can see the first sparks of the "painful or fiery trial" are already flying as Peter writes.  They include the "maligning" of Christians in verse 4.  The word translated "malign" is blasphemeo—from which we get our English word blaspheme.  It can also be translated as, "slander, revile, defame, speak irreverently/impiously/disrespectfully of or about."


The result is a disruption of whom we literally "run with" (verse 4).  You no longer run around with those you once did.  And this disruption causes our former associates to be "surprised."  That is, they think it "strange" that we are not running with them into the same "sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry" (1 Peter 4:3).


Strange Christians


This reaction to our new strangeness is so strong that they "malign" (blaphemountes) us. This is where I see the idea of the title of this lessons is taken.  Their response to our "strangeness" is not mild or respectful.  It is strong and severe.


The word "malign" [NIV-abuse] does not mean they say: "We all have our preferences, and we can live and let live with mutual respect."  No. "Malign," together with "see as strange," means they are using strong language to insult the Christians.  The label "strange or weird" would be among the more mild results of our new way of life.


Other results of Christians becoming culturally alien "weirdos," who are out of step with "what the Gentiles (pagan, ungodly) want to do" (1 Peter 4:3), include: being "reviled" (1 Peter 3:916), being called "evildoers" (1 Peter 2:12), "suffering" (1 Peter 3:141718), and being "beaten" (1 Peter 2:20).


Our Strangeness Embraced


What makes this situation remarkable is that the apostle Peter calls us to embrace our strangeness but then show so many good deeds, that at least some of our detractors are won over, and even glorify God because of our lives not because we become less "strange or weird" but because we are more than strange.


First, notice that our "weirdness" is called for by Peter, and to be embraced by us.  He says we are to "live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2).  For the time that is past suffices for doing what the ungodly want to do" (1 Peter 4:3).


In other words, we are instructed to choose to march out of step with a culture.  That culture, as we have read, is driven by "human passions."  Rather, we have chosen to be in step with the "will of God."  Weirdness or Strangeness has been Chosen or Embraced.


Winsome Weirdness


Second, notice that, another prominent instruction in this book is the call to be so busy with good deeds that those who malign us are "silenced," "shamed," and "converted."



Our aim in filling our lives with "good deeds" is that:


In Step and Out of Step


What is striking and paradoxical in 1 Peter is the mandate that Christians are to be both out of step with their culture, and yet compelling in their culture.  We are to be strange and yet, compelling or engaging.


The key in 1 Peter is that the inevitable moral weirdness that arises from replacing "human passions" with the "will of God" (1 Peter 4:2), and replacing "passions of former ignorance" (1 Peter 1:14) with joy in Christ and his ways (1 Peter 1:682:34:13), is matched with a Christian zeal for “good deeds” (1 Peter 2:15, 20; 3:6, 9, 11, 11, 13, 14, 17; 4:19)


Perhaps Peter's strongest statement of this zeal is that we are to be "zealous for the good" (1 Peter 3:13).  And it needs to be stressed that "good deeds" are not merely the avoidance of bad behavior.  That avoidance is crucial.  It is essential throughout 1 Peter.  That is why we are maligned as "strange ones."


But "good deeds" are the proactive efforts to "bless" those who revile us (3:9).  Of course, there are many things Christians regard as good which the culture will call evil.  That is what Peter says in 1 Peter 2:12, where it says "They speak against you as evildoers"


But right alongside of that recognition, Peter presses us in the same verse to act so "that they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation"  These are deeds that, if God wills, even the hostile culture will see as good.


The Relevance for America


What makes this so relevant today is that American culture is increasingly out of step with the way of life which the Bible calls us to live.


1 Thessalonians 4:1 NIV


4       Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.


What the apostle Peter contributes to this debate, among other things, is this:  Baby Boomers (like me) who grew up with an assumed overlap between Christian morality and cultural expectations, and Millennials, who desperately want to be hip and cool, must both joyfully embrace the calling to be rather strange.  It is not our culture. And we are not cool.


And, with just as much resolve and joy, we must set our faces to be both strange and winning.  This is not done by cowering before the slander, or desperately trying to avoid being maligned,  but by getting up every morning, dreaming of what new good deeds can be done today.  What fresh way can I "bless" my enemies (1 Peter 3:9) or anyone in need?


The apostle Peter is calling for a special breed.  Not the kind of person who gives all his energy to embracing and defending his strange alien status.  And also not the kind of person who will embrace any compromise necessary to avoid seeming strange.  But rather a breed that is courageous enough to be joyfully weird, and compassionate enough to be "zealous for good deeds."


Pilgrims, Sojourners and Exiles


Keep in mind who the apostle Peter is speaking to.  He specifically tells us in the very first verse of this his first letter who these strange Christians are..


1 Peter 1:1 NKJV


1.      Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,


Peter calls the people to whom he is writing as “pilgrims” in this translation.  Other translations render them as: aliens, foreigners, exiles, sojourners.  These are people who are temporarily away from home.


Then, in the 17th verse of the first chapter, we are told the entire Christian life is "the time of exile."  And in Hebrews 11:13, we are "strangers (xenoi) and exiles on the earth"And then, in the Peter’s second chapter, he urges them:  "as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul" (1 Peter 2:11).


A couple weeks ago, in a lesson titled, Ambassadors in a Foreign Country, we saw that today we live in a place different from where our citizenship is.


To the congregation in Philippi, the apostle Paul, wrote,


         Philippians 3:20 NKJV


20     For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,


We are sojourners and aliens in this place.  And that is the way it was often mentioned in the Old Testament.  We have the promise that one day we will arrive in our real home.


WE are told that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob died with God’s promise of a home made for them.  Consider Hebrews 11:13-16 NKJV


13     These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

14     For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.

15     And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return.

16     But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.


The writer wants us to realize that the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) were sojourners, exiles, refugees.  They lived by faith and believed the promises of God.  That is also true of every believer in this room today.  Likewise, we live by faith, also having been promised a home.  Though the first coming of Christ has fulfilled all the promises given to us about our future.  But, by faith, we know they are real.  That is because “All the promises of God are yea dan amen…” (2 Cor. 1:20).


Let me share with you a series of sojourners texts from the Bible.  In Genesis 23:4, Abraham pleads with the sons of Heth for a grave for his wife.


Genesis 23:4 NKJV


4       "I am a foreigner and a visitor among you. Give me property for a burial place among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight."


At the end of his life, Jacob said to Pharaoh in Egypt,


Genesis 47:9 NKJV


9       And Jacob said to Pharaoh, "The days of the years of my pilgrimage [sojourning] are one hundred and thirty years; few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage."


In Psalm 39, King David looked back over these testimonies and included himself in the lineage.


Psalms 39:12 NKJV


12     "Hear my prayer, O Lord, And give ear to my cry; Do not be silent at my tears; For I am a stranger with You, A sojourner, as all my fathers were.


And now, as we return to his first letter, the apostle Peter joins the chorus.


1 Peter 2:11 NKJV


11     Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul,


                   And he is actually including us in that statement.


The point here is that the life of faith is the life of an exile, a sojourner, a refugee.  But, the promises of God are as real as they were to the saints of old.  We have a permanent home, and we do not yet live there.  As the old song says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.”


As the former saints, we see our home afar, by faith.  We have tasted other promises of God, and they make us restless for this one to occur.  That promise has begun to shape our whole way of seeing and thinking and feeling.  They have colored all our values and goals and desires.  As a result, we are out of sync with this world because our treasure is in heaven.


The implication of this "foreign" status of Christians among the cultures of the world is that the new birth (1 Peter 1:323) has given us new desires (1 Peter 1:142:2).  They no longer match "what the Gentiles [ungodly, pagan] want to do" (1 Peter 4:3).