“PECULIAR” PEOPLE

1 Peter 2:9—12

In studying the historical books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, we are struck by the similarity of two very different groups of people:  Israel and the Church.  It is acknowledged that the Church has most definitely not taken Israel’s place in God’s great plan for the world; that God is by no means finished with the nation of Israel despite the lowly position she currently occupies.  There is a segment of the Church that believes God has replaced Israel with the Church, but we know there is a great and glorious in store for a nation that remains God’s chosen people.  See Romans 11 for God’s purpose and plan for Israel as a nation.

Notwithstanding all that, there are some remarkable similarities between these two groups of “God’s chosen” that bear looking at in the light of day.

1.  A nation of priests, verses 9, 10

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

The words “but you” are intended to show a marked contrast between disobedient believers (verses 7, 8) and the faithful, believing members of the Body of Christ.  Other scholars see a contrast of another type:  between the believer’s present (verse 9) and their past (verse 10).  Regardless of exactly the contrast Peter intended, both ideas work and both contrasts serve to show the glorious position genuine, faithful believers find themselves in.  We—the Church of Jesus Christ—are a people that are owned by God (“peculiar” people in the KJV), and are therefore different from anybody else on Earth.

In describing the Church, Peter uses terms and descriptors from the Old Testament that originally applied to Israel:  Exodus 19:5—6; Deuteronomy 4:20; 7:6; Isaiah 43:21.

(a)  A chosen people.  Peter applies this term to the Church, but it was originally used to describe Israel—

…my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.  (Isa. 43:12)

This phrase means several things, but at its core it relates to God’s loving and sovereign choice of bringing redeemed people—the Church—to Himself.  The initiative was His to begin with, not ours.  Just as God chose to form the nation of Israel for Himself and for His purposes, so He chose to form the Church; a group of chosen, elected, called out people for His purposes.

(b)  A royal priesthood.   Exodus 19:6 records something God instructed Moses to tell his people—

‘…you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’  These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.

In a very real sense, the entire of nation of Israel had been chosen by God to be His priests.  However, because of their willful rebellion and sin, God instead chose His priests from one tribe only.  Today, there is only one body of priests God recognizes:  the Church of Jesus Christ.  “A royal priesthood,” or “a body of priests” emphasizes a couple of things:  first, each and every Christian is identified with the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, and we share His royal authority and are therefore free to approach God through Him just as He may approach God as He wills.  Second, we are to engage in priestly functions on a routine basis:  corporate worship, intercession, and ministry within the Body of Christ.

(c)  A holy nation.   It may seem odd that Peter would refer to the Church as a “nation,” holy or otherwise, but, once again, he is borrowing an Old Testament word that described Israel.  As used to describe Israel, “holy nation” was political; Israel was literally a nation, with a king and a political structure that had been set apart—separated from all other nations.  How does the term “nation” apply to the Church?  Consider:  a nation is comprised of citizens who live within clearly defined borders, obey certain laws and regulations, and work for the common well-being and safety of their society.  The fact that the Church is compared to a “holy (separated) nation” suggests each citizen-member of the Church shares certain characteristics with Jesus Christ, the Head of the “nation,” and though living among non-citizens they are really living a life separated from them.  Being “set apart” also suggests that citizen-members of the Church are set apart to God for His purposes.

(d)  A people belonging to God.  This stresses God’s ownership of the Church corporately and individually.  Wesley translated this phrase, “a purchased people,” and that is a perfect description of believers—people purchased by the blood of God’s Son.  The phrase also suggests that we are God’s “prized possessions.”  Regardless of where a believer lives in the world, He belongs to God.

These four phrases describe the Church of Jesus Christ, and the next phrase describes the purpose of the Church—

…that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  (verse 9b)

Peter points out that the special job of God’s special people is “declare (advertise) the praises of [God].”  This means that the Church and its citizen-members are obligated to advertise the wondrous acts of God (what He has done) in their lives, their church , and in history.

The contrast with their past lives is pointed out with verse 10; previously these friends of Peter were not God’s people, but now were.  Peter freely uses the words of the prophet Hosea in verse 10, specifically Hosea 1:6; 9—10; 2:23.  In their original context, Hosea wrote to Israelites who had been rejected by God because of their disobedience, but stressed they would be restored by His grace and forgiven of their sins.  Peter uses Hosea’s words to describe the marvelous salvation experienced by his readers.  Once not so long ago, they were “not a people” but now they were “God’s people.”

2.  Living like a priest of God, verses 11, 12

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

How does the believer best advertise the greatness of God?  Does this mean going to church services every Sunday?  That is one way to do it, but the world does not see you singing praises to God in church; the world sees how you live your life.  Not manifesting “sinful desires” is the best way to advertise God!  Christians are really just visitors to this planet; they are in the world but not part of it.  The New Testament teaches that the things of this world are passing away—they are transitory—and Christians are not to attach themselves to things that are passing way.  We are eternal beings and we ought to cling to worthy things of eternal value.  Peter in no way teaches that everything in the world is evil, simply that we don’t really belong here and so we shouldn’t become fixated on things that do.

Wesley wrote that Christians are sojourning in a strange house (the body), and are pilgrims in a strange country (this world).   While we are living here temporarily, we are not to be like the citizens of this world; that is, we are to be “separated” from them by our actions, our attitudes, and our world view.

However, Peter does not suggest Christians ought to live in communes up on mountains, behind high walls.  The Godly life is not just refraining from sin but it is actively living differently than those around you.  Verse 12 is crystal clear:  live among the pagans.  How can Christians manifest Christ before a sinful world unless we live among them?  The purpose of living a “good” life (“noble lifestyle”) is two-fold—

  • The pagans (unsaved people) will see our good works and honorable lifestyle.  They will take careful notice of the fact that we behave differently from others.  Christians should seek to live in such a way that even if they are accused of wrongdoing, the evidence will show otherwise.   Peter does not mean to suggest that if believers live good lives all will go well with them, just that pagans will see—take notice—of their Godly lifestyle.
  • In the future, these same pagans will glorify God.  Does this mean that by our lifestyle we may lead pagans to Christ?  While this can happen, it generally doesn’t.  What Peter means is this:  though the pagan world may not like believers, honesty would compel them to glorify God.  That is, they would at least acknowledge the reality of God because of how a believer advertised Him in the world.

The fact is, whether we realize it or not, we as professing Christians are ever-scrutinized by the world; they listen to how we talk, they watch how we act and react to the world around us.  So we must ask ourselves:  do our neighbors and co-workers who don’t know God see God in us?  Do we act like priests?  Or do we act like pagans?  According to Peter, we have a lot to live up to!  We may not wear flowing robes and work in a temple as Samuel did, we are, nonetheless, priests before Jehovah as he was.  Do we take our role as a priest before God as seriously as he did?  Good question!

(c)  2010 WitzEnd
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