– Pastor Brandon’s article from the April 2018 Newsletter
To the Church of God sojourning in Staunton, Swoope, Churchville, Deerfield, Grottoes, Raphine, Fishersville, and Waynesboro: Grace to you and peace from Almighty God through Jesus Christ be multiplied.
Last summer, I spent some time reading letters written by early Christian leaders who lived during the period just after the death of the apostles. It was both very encouraging and challenging to see how these people followed Jesus wholeheartedly even in the face of suffering and martyrdom. One of the things that fascinated me most was the way in which they introduced their letters and addressed one another. Here are two examples:
“The Church of God which sojourns at Rome, to the Church of God sojourning at Corinth”1
“The Church of God which sojourns at Smyrna, to the Church of God sojourning in Philomelium”2
These “hellos” from one church to another give us an important glimpse into how these believers viewed themselves and their relationship to God and the world. Notice here the repetition of the word sojourn. What an interesting, odd word! It’s not one that we typically use in our everyday vocabulary so it requires some explanation. It’s related to word journey, and it means to stay in a place temporarily.
The idea, then, is that these followers of Jesus saw themselves as only temporary residents of the places in which they lived. Ultimately they were just passing through. They were citizens of heaven awaiting the future coming of God’s glorious kingdom. This truth shaped the course of their lives and helped them to endure some intense suffering.
The mindset of these believers has its roots in the teaching of the apostles. For example, when Peter writes to the followers of Jesus in Asia Minor, he addresses them in this way:
To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. (1 Peter 1:1-2)
Here, Peter calls these believers strangers, foreigners, resident aliens in the world. In other words, they live in the world, but it is not the only sphere in which they operate. They are reminded of the spiritual dimension of their lives and encouraged to look to eternity with God as their final destination.
This has important implications for the way in which order our lives. Are we operating with our primary focus on this temporary residence? Have we become enamored with the status and stuff of this life? Are we spending ourselves for what we can do and be in the here and now? Or, like those early followers of Jesus, do we have a deep, abiding understanding that we’re just passing through? Are we doing everything in this life in light of the life to come? For what realm are we truly living? May God grant you mercy and peace as you examine yourself and pursue the life offered by Jesus our Savior.
1Clement of Rome. (1885). The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 5). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.
2Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (Eds.). (1885). The Encyclical Epistle of the Church at Smyrna. In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 39). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.