Excellence in Exile, Part 2: Cooperation without Compromise
Believers are resident “aliens” in this world. Three times in 1 Peter, the followers of Christ are called “strangers” or “aliens.” The Apostle Paul concurs when he reminds the Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” In other words, the believer’s primary residence is not here. We’re from another place. And we’re going home someday to a world of perfection. This world is not our home.
But as great as that truth is, it creates a serious challenge for the people of God. How do we interact with the world while we’re here? What is our relationship to unbelievers supposed to be until we finally go home? That has always been a struggle for the covenant community.
When Daniel and his three friends were aliens in Babylon, they faced a similar challenge. And they discovered quickly that the art of being a believer in this world is to love God and love your neighbor—in that order. King Nebuchadnezzar tried to shape their thinking, their identity, and their convictions. But the four freshmen from Israel resisted a secular brainwashing at Babylon University.
They wouldn’t allow themselves to be intoxicated by the glamour that comes from eating the king’s food while they were trying to guard their own hearts against personal compromise. They survived in a culture that was hostile to their faith by drawing some lines in the sand and refusing to cross them.
But there’s a way to draw those lines, and a way not to draw them. Daniel didn’t lead a march, a sit-in, or a protest rally. He didn’t engage in hate speech. He didn’t walk around Babylon with a placard saying, “Thou shalt not eat non-kosher food,” or “Prepare to meet thy God.” Instead, he practiced cooperation without compromise. Daniel was sympathetic to the king’s official and didn’t want him to lose his head because of his faith. So Daniel wound up cutting a deal—and it was a deal that God honored.
One can’t help noticing that Daniel had a genuine kindness and respect for the pagans around him. He wasn’t a religious bigot with a fanatical, holier-than-thou chip on his shoulder. There was an ease with which he moved in secular circles. He wasn’t edgy around people who didn’t share his faith. He wasn’t uncomfortable around people who worshiped idols. He didn’t treat them like they had spiritual cooties.
Rather, he was kind and deferential to them. And he accommodated them—but only in so far as his own faith allowed him to do so. The principle is this: If we regard God as ultimate, we’ll try to bargain with the world so that we can stay loyal to God. But if we regard the world as ultimate, we’ll try to bargain with God so that we can look good in the eyes of the world. And that’s exactly backward. God must always be the believer’s first loyalty.
Jesus, of course, was the ultimate resident alien. He didn’t arise from within the human race; he came into it from the outside. He came as a stranger. That’s what Christmas is all about. And in his life and ministry, Jesus was totally loyal to his heavenly Father. He never compromised, and he never sinned. Yet he moved so freely and easily among the people who were far from God, leading them to see more clearly his truth and love for everyone.
And in his death, Jesus, the alien, became alien-ated by bearing in his own body the sins of the world on the cross. He did that so sinners could become undefiled, and believers could someday go back home with him.