“Thus, we are no longer aliens and outsiders but we are fellow citizens with the saints and the family of God,”
Anyone who has traveled abroad and finds themselves alone in a country or land where the culture and customs are very different from his own understands how disconcerting it can be. My first time traveling to Ukraine found me navigating my way through airports in languages that I did not know and amongst a people who were not overly friendly toward Americans that did not know their way. Even though I did not look that different than most of the people around me, the fact that I was an alien stood out like a red flag. It was awkward and uncomfortable and I am grateful for the little graces that allowed me to navigate successfully.
As Christians, that is how we should feel in this world. We are outsiders and have a custom that is not common in the land in which we live. What Paul is stating is that in Christ, we have been made fellow citizens and part of a family — that family and citizenry is expressed in the context of the church. And, as we reach out to one another, as we cling to one another for safety and sanity, we find ourselves making our way through this world toward our eternal home.
What is sad is that oftentimes, the professing church has become at home in the world. They have adapted their ways and synchronized their habits in such a way that they don’t stand out quite so much. For instance, they may attend church in the morning but the whole day is not set apart for rest and worship. They may have mastered their tongue at home and amongst other Christians but not in the workplace. They may live in accordance to the Law of God when convenient, but when it is inconvenient, it is put to the side.
No, beloved, the world should not feel comfortable with us any more than we feel comfortable with the world. In fact, a sign that we are doing the right thing is that the world will hate us, not love us. A mark of Biblical fidelity is oftentimes persecution not only in the world, but also in the secular church. Yet, we rally together with the True Church as we make our way through this world, seeking to take dominion over it through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We do this together, as fellow citizens and as part of the family of God (and note that all humans are not God’s children — that is a lie and it comes from the fires of hell — consult 1 John 3:4-10 for clarification on this notion).
“And Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negeb and he dwelled between Qadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar.”
After the fall of Sodom and the surrounding cities, Abraham returns back to the west and the land of his sojourning. The Negeb (sometimes written as “Negev”) is the region to the southern side of what would become Israel. Qadesh and Shur are both on the western coast with Gerar just a little inland (not too far from Beersheba). All of these regions are part of the broader Canaanite territory and they are part of the territory that God had promised to Abraham. This is Philistine territory as well, yet again, all of this region is part of the inheritance of Abraham. In addition to this area being part of what would become national Israel, some of the area is also the territory through which Israel would travel on their wilderness wanderings. Again, God preserving his people in a place where they are surrounded by pagans.
While we may not wander leading a caravan of livestock, in a similar way, we are also wanderers in a land not our own. The culture around us typically claims to believe in God, but by the way most folks live, little of that testimony has merit. Crime, pornography, false teachings being presented as Christianity, and oppression fill our land, yet God provides for us as we walk in the midst of unbelief. In light of this, though, we are given a message to share with those we meet—one of hope, one of life, one of salvation. Because God provides for us and protects us, we have nothing to fear and nothing to hinder us from a bold testimony of faith. How often we fall short.
An interesting side note can be found in the names of the territory that Abraham is traveling between. Qadesh is derived from the Hebrew word for “holiness”—something that has been set apart for divine use. Shur is derived from the word that describes a wall around a well— something that protects the well from being destroyed. Gerar is derived from the word meaning, “to sweep away.” Indeed, these are things that are promised to Abraham’s children though the pagan nations regularly have set their hands to make poor imitations of what can really only be found in God. We are called and set apart as holy and God indeed sets a wall around us to protect us. To that end he sent his Son to suffer and die on the cross so that our sins might be washed or swept away in his grace. How significant even the names of these ancient cities are; how sad it must have been for Abraham to see the bastardizations of truth all around him. How we also ought to lament at how often truth is warped and distorted in our culture as we sojourn in a land that is not our own.