What does the Bible mean when it calls us exiles?

Warm-Up: Read Jeremiah 29:1-14

As you probably noticed, the name of this website is Embracing Exile. Kind of an odd choice, I know. After all, exile is not something people would typically embrace, right? As usual, the Bible views things differently, and two key passages played a role in naming this site.

Exiles in the Old Testament

In Jeremiah 29:5-7, God has a special message for the exiled Jews who were sent to live in Babylon. He said, “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.

Clearly, God called His people to embrace exile. They were not to seek the destruction of Babylon, but to work for the peace and prosperity of their new homes.

But what does that have to do with us today? While I don’t know your story, I’m pretty confident you aren’t a Jewish exile stuck in ancient Babylon.

Exiles in the New Testament

Interestingly, the idea of being exiled appears again, much later in the Bible, and helps us to understand the relevance of the Jeremiah passage to modern day. 1 Peter 2:9-12 says this,

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

As believers, we are now God’s people. Our citizenship is not of this world, it is with the Kingdom of God. Through His grace, we have become exiles in the world, much like the Jews were exiles in Babylon.

Are you a Visitor or Resident?

Let’s say you visit a foreign country for a week. You’d probably stick with your friends or family and not seek to build strong local relationships. You probably wouldn’t learn the problems facing the local community or seek solutions. You’re only there for a few days – Why bother?

It can be tempting as Kingdom exiles to take this approach in the world. We’re only on Earth for a few years, why bother investing time and energy? Wouldn’t it just be easier to hang out with other Christians? They act like you and talk like you! But as you can see from the passages in Jeremiah and 1 Peter, God calls us to something different, something greater.

Exiles are Resident Aliens

Scholars say the Greek term Peter used for exile essentially means “resident alien.” So if you think the name “Embracing Exile” is odd, just be glad I didn’t name it “Relishing Resident Alienship.”

Being a resident alien means two things: We may act differently and talk differently than the people around us (alien), but we’re also living with those people for the long haul (resident).

I’m a US citizen. My family has lived in America since the Revolutionary War. I like to tell people I have over 200 years of freedom running through my veins. Despite my over-the-top American-ness and love for all things bald eagle, my wife and I live in New Zealand and have done so for over four years.

I’m a bonafide resident alien.

american-in-new-zealand

American outfit, New Zealand mountains

I can drive on the left side of the road, love to eat meat pies, and even named my firstborn after a New Zealand hike, but I’m not exactly a local. I can’t say 3 sentences to someone here before they realize I’m an American. Probably because of the accent. Or my frequent use of “y’all.” Maybe it’s because I get excited about trivial things. Or because I’m consistently the loudest person in the room.

Whatever the reason, Kiwis can tell that I’m an “alien.” Even though I’m not a New Zealand citizen and probably won’t live here forever, I am a resident. I love the people here, and I want to see New Zealand thrive.

Living as resident aliens

In the same way, God calls us to love the people in the world who are not of His Kingdom. We are called to work for the welfare and good of our communities. 

We aren’t called to reject non-believers or live separately from them. We are called to live “among the Gentiles” and act as representatives of God, pointing people to Christ. The same call that God gave the Jews in Babylon is given to us, we should work for the peace and prosperity of our cities and pray to the Lord for it. We are called to embrace exile and live as resident aliens – to be noticeably different, but still contributing members of society.

Application Questions

  1. In what ways do you feel different than those around you? What things do you share in common with them?
  2. Have you isolated yourself into a Christian bubble? If so, what are some simple ways you can step outside of it?
  3. What can you do to start working for the good of your community, workplace, and family?
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