Seeing you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that you love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you...But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. [1 Peter 1:22 - 2:10]

What is the nature of our task as Christians in a world of poverty and injustice? There is no better phrase that catches the whole of that task as the expression ‘royal priesthood’ which occurs in the present passage. But both words need interpretation.

The expression itself comes from the Old Testament. In Exodus 19:1 and 6, the Lord says to the people of Israel through Moses: ‘If you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own special people among all the peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’. These are the words echoed in 1 Peter 2:5 and 2:9.

The whole epistle of Peter is thought to have been based on a sermon preached on the occasion of the baptism of new converts during the feast of Easter. One can imagine the newly baptized men and women, clad in white robes, assembled probably in one of the Catacombs of Rome before sunrise on Easter Sunday. The apostle stands before them explaining to them the meaning of their baptism, and giving the Christians their commission for life in the world. It parallels the Lord Yahweh giving his commission to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.

As in the Sinai covenant, in the Christian covenant of baptism also the first element is the call to holiness (1 Peter 1:14 ff). What does it mean to be holy? We are often inclined to disregard the call to holiness altogether, or see it only in negative and pietistic terms.

Hope, Faith and Love are the positive aspects of holiness. The Epistle begins with an affirmation of hope (1 Peter 1:3 ff). Hope is not wishful thinking; a living hope, in the Bible, is the point of orientation of our whole life. It is the looking forward to the coming of Christ and His kingdom. In Verse 1:13 the Apostle exhorts his hearers to set their hopes fully on the grace that is coming at the open manifestation of Christ. Our hope as Christians is centered on the risen Christ, present in the world in a hidden way, to be clearly and openly present in the world at ‘the last day’.

In Verse 1:7, the Apostle speaks about the need for the genuineness of their faith to be tested by various trials and by suffering. Faith is that quality of strength, reliability, non-changeability and freedom from anxiety that comes to us when we are firmly established in the love and grace of God. We can become fully conscious of this faith only when things begin to turn against us and our usual strength and support is gone. In trials and troubles, in the face of opposition and persecution, the early disciples learned that the power of God supporting them in a hidden and interior way could up hold them against the strongest waves of opposition. The martyr demonstrated the strength of this inner faith by his fearlessness before the oppressive might of the powers of this earth. In India today we need this quality of inner strength which is not afraid of opposition and is full of hope in the face of obstacles, a faith which trusts, and relies upon the power of God to sustain us in trouble and tribulation.

In Verse 1:22, the Apostle exhorts the newly-baptized to be with sincere, earnest, deep and brotherly love. By subjecting themselves to baptismal teaching and by becoming part of a community of love and hope, they have begun to be purified. That purity and holiness has to be continually developed, through sincere and self-sacrificing love towards others. Love in the New Testament is neither a feeling nor just liking others. It is the quality of mutual self-surrender and active concern for the welfare of others.

Three positive elements of holiness are:

  1. Hope, looking forward to the coming of Christ, and not to our own success and comfort;

  2. Faith, being established solidly in Christ and therefore free from unreliability, dishonesty, anxiety and deceptiveness;

  3. Love, patiently surrendering oneself to others and being actively engaged in their welfare.

The negative aspect of holiness consists in ‘not being squeezed into the mould of blind passion’ -- not being led by one’s instinctive desires and lusts [Verse 1:14]. It is not simply that these passions are sinful. They are actually misleading and deceptive. They promise you gratification, as the serpent promised Eve in the Garden of Eden. In the end, however, they deceive. They give you the, moment’s pleasure, but not lasting satisfaction. The best of contemporary literature in the West is today devoted to the theme of the deceptiveness of physical passions. Many intelligent men and women in all parts of the world have revolted against the puritanical, restrictive ethics of previous centuries and sought to assert their freedom by taking a positive attitude towards sensuality. For many it was a liberating experience in the beginning. But later one finds it is as enslaving as the puritanical ethics against which one revolted.

The weakness of the puritanical ethics lies in its basically negative framework. It seems to keep on saying: Don’t do this and don’t do that and you will be holy. But this is basically contrary to the Bible. The New Testament encourages eating and drinking but every negative injunction is followed by a positive demand for utilizing our creative energies in the service of others. True holiness is achieved by the combination of hope, faith and love expressed in worship and daily life. Give your strength and time to prayer and worship and the loving service of your fellowmen, and the passions will gradually be conquered.

Our ability to become a ‘kingdom of priests’ or a ‘royal priesthood’ is conditioned by this call to positive holiness. But what does ‘royal priesthood mean?

In the Book of Exodus, it clearly means that the nation of Israel is to serve as a priestly nation on behalf of the other nations of the earth. In other words, Israel, without any special merit on her part, is called to a special degree of intimacy with God. But it was not for her own sake but rather for the sake of the nations. ‘All the earth is mine’ [Exodus19:5]). They are to stand before God as a priest for the other nations. This is also the calling of Christians, of the Church.

We are a people gathered from all the nations of the earth, not because of any special merit in us, but by His gracious calling, to a life of close intimacy with God. That is what distinguishes us from those who are not Christians. Not that we are saved and they are doomed. Rather, we have been given the privilege of knowing Christ and through Him of living in great, close intimacy with God. But this is a great responsibility as well. We cannot take this call lightly and expect that we will be automatically holy. First we must keep in mind the two poles of our calling, namely, that it is out of His free grace that God has called us, and therefore that the call does not make us any better than others. There is no room for feeling superior to others. Second, our calling is always to an existence on behalf of others, Christians and others. This is what priesthood means. A priest is always one who lives to intercede for others and not for himself. And all of us have been by baptism incorporated into the one eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ who ever lives to make intercession for the whole world. Our priesthood is a part of this ministry of universal intercession.

But holiness is always a call. It demands a responsive action. 1 Peter 1:16 says: ‘Be holy, for I am holy’. It is a demand and a gift. The demand is to grow up by the spiritual milk of the word. [Verse 2:2], to put away all bitterness, resentment, malice and hatred [Verse 2:1], to love one another earnestly [Verse 1:22], and to come to Christ and to be built up by His Holy Spirit to become an abode of the Spirit and a holy priesthood [Verse 2:4,5] offering up our own lives along with that of Christ on behalf of all men [Verse 2:5], and to announce by word and deed the marvelous grace of God that has called us out of the deceptive pleasures of this life, into the joyous light of expectant faithful, loving service and worship [Verse 2:9].

The priesthood of the Church belongs to every member of it. It is a participation in Christ’s priesthood. We have ‘such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens (Hebrew.7:26), who ‘has entered .... into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf’ (Hebrew.9:24), who ‘holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever’ (Hebrew.3:14).

This is not usually taught in youth movement circles, but this belongs to the heart of our mission in the world. Failure in holiness and in the priestly ministry of sustained intercession for the world lies at the base of our contemporary failure in mission. Our ministry demands the holiness of hope, faith, and love, and the continuing life of disciplined prayer if it is to share in Christ’s ministry.

But what exactly does the word ‘royal’ mean in the expression ‘royal priesthood’? In the Old Testament it clearly meant ‘a priestly kingdom’, on behalf of other kingdoms. But in the Book of Revelation, the concept takes on a new meaning. Revelation 1: 6 has at least two versions in the Greek. One version says, ‘(Christ has) made us (Christians) a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.’ Another version says, ‘(Christ has) made us (Christians) kings and priests for His God and Father.’ In Revelation 5:10, the meaning becomes clear. The four living beings of the vision of St. John fall before the Lamb, and they sing a new song: "Worthy art thou to take scroll and to open its seals: For thou were slain and by thy blood ransomed for God from every tribe and tongue, and people and nation and made them into a kingdom and priests to our God and they shall reign on the earth.’

The kingship or lordship, as we call it, belongs to Christ the God-man. But it is given to us as well. And it is this kingship which God has given to mankind that forms the second aspect of the mystery of the royal priesthood. We basically misunderstand the lordship of Christ only as lordship or kingship over us and over the creation. That is true, but not the whole truth. Christ shares his kingship with other men. We share not only in his priesthood, but also in his kingship. We are also ‘royal’ because we belong to the household of the great king.

But we misunderstand the kingship of Christ as well as our own participation in it, if we take our image of a king from the arbitrary rulers of history -- Ashoka or Akbar, Alexander or Augustus. The dialogue between Pilate and Jesus is very instructive here. Pilate asks Jesus: ‘Are you the king of Jews?’ (St. John. 18:33). Jesus replies with a question: ‘Are you asking for yourself, or did others say it to you?’ Pilate says something irrelevant in reply, and Christ continues, ‘My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of the worldly kind, then my servants would have fought, so that I would not have been handed over to the Jews. But my kingship does not belong to the same class as the kingship of this world’ (Verse 18:36).

The inscription ‘Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews’ does not appear on a throne but on the top of a cross. The Old Testament made a basic distinction between a king and a shepherd. Israel had no king but God, but they wanted one because everybody else had one. Read the amusing story in I Samuel 8:4 ff on how they finally got a king, Saul, head and shoulders above the ordinary people (I Samuel. 9:2). But when Saul became an oppressor, God chose a shepherd boy, David, to be king; The Messiah was expected to be a shepherd-king. It is in this light that we have to understand Christ’s description of himself as ‘the good Shepherd’. The passage in St. John 10: 1-18 describes the qualities of the good shepherd, of the real messianic King. Some of these qualities are to be specially noted, as the exercise of our sharing in Christ’s kingship.

Qualities of Good Shepherd are:

  1. The shepherd knows the sheep intimately, and calls them by name, and the sheep recognise his voice as a voice that can be trusted, because it always acts in their best interests (Verse 10: 3-5)

  2. The shepherd leads the sheep out of the confinement of the sheepfold into the wide open pastures, goes before them, and feeds them (Verse 10: 3, 4, 9, 10).

  3. The shepherd stays by the sheep even when the wolves come, face the wolves, and when necessary lays down his life in defence of the sheep. (Verse 10: 11-15).

  4. The shepherd works in order that all the sheep may be brought into one fold (where all can be fed by the same shepherd) (Verse 10:16).

Aim and Responsibilities:

  1. We need to develop such intimate and detailed knowledge of the world so that we know each sheep by its name. This is not merely academic knowledge of the world, but intimate personal knowledge gained by actual ‘living with the sheep.’ Our way of life should win for us authenticity. The world should be able to recognise the voice and actions of the church as always speaking in the best interests of the world and not for selfish purposes. We must by our way of life earn our credentials for being respected by the world. This comes from the holiness of hope, faith and love, and from loving, self-sacrificing service to the world.

  2. We have always to help in the process of leading men from their confinement into the open field of a better life. We should become pioneers who show the way by daring to do new things, to challenge old confining fears, to lead people into the fullness of life, and be with the world in all its aspirations for food and freedom.

  3. Such creative pioneering in finding freedom and food for the sheep will soon invite the wolves who want to feed on the sheep -- the oppressor and the exploiter, armed with great power, cunning and avarice. The Christian community takes the full brunt of the opposition of the wolves, and does not forsake the sheep for fear of the wolves. This identification with the poor to the point of death, in the face of opposition from the oppressor and the exploiter, is an integral part of the royal priesthood.

  4. The Good Shepherd and those who share in His shepherdly ministry are anxious that there should be one shepherd and one fold. This means labouring for the one united Church under the one Shepherd, Christ. But it means more. It means also committing ourselves to one world, a single humanity, in which the welfare and destiny of each member is the concern of all and the welfare of all the concern of each. To work to establish a single worldwide structure, economic, social and political, with full freedom and diversity, but without injustice, oppression and mutual exploitation, belongs integrally to our royal priesthood.

The royal priesthood thus consists of two elements:

  1. The priestly element of a holy or set-apart community which exists for the whole of humanity, grows in holiness by growing in hope, faith and love, and continues in Christ's ministry of intercession, and

  2. The pastoral, kingly or shepherdly ministry of identification with the aspirations of the world, close intimacy with all mankind and especially the poor, creative pioneering, fearless facing of opposition even to the point of death, and working for the unity of the Church and for a single worldwide structure of justice and welfare for all humanity.

The royal priesthood, which corresponds to the kingly and priestly ministries of Christ, is the aspect of the kingdom given especially to Christians. How in practice do we express this ministry as young people? The whole New Testament speaks in answer to this question. Let us in this last study recapitulate some of the elements that we have already encountered in the passages so far studied, and in related ones.

  1. Grasp the meaning of our baptism:
    Baptism is introduction into a new life -- the life of royal priesthood. This is the life of an ongoing community, the Church, which participates in the eternal ministry of Christ. The first epistle of Peter makes this clear. ‘And baptism saves you, not by removal of bodily uncleanness, but the pleading of a clear conscience in the presence of God, through the risen Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, who has entered heaven with angels and authorities subject to him’ (1 Peter 3:21). Baptism is initiation into the heavenly community which lives in the presence of God, enabling us to join in the service of God. Those who practice Christmation (Muron) as an integral part of their baptism (and not as a separate sacrament of confirmation) should know that the holy oil anoints them to the priestly, prophetic and kingly ministries of Christ.

  2. Grasp the kingly priesthood:
    The ministry of priesthood is on behalf of the whole creation, and not a means of personal salvation which is already given to us as a free gift. Our fundamental orientation of life then becomes that of the first part of the Lord’s Prayer. ‘Father in heaven, Thy name be hallowed, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth as in heaven.’ We do not seek any other objective for our ministry as Christians in the world, except this concern for the coming of God’s kingdom over the entire earth. That the hungry may find food, that the oppressed may be set free, that justice and righteousness may be established in society, that the world may rejoice in God -- these form our ambition as Christians living in the world.

  3. Prepare to express the kingly priesthood:
    By training for a ministry of self-sacrificing service for the kingdom. If possible find channels for engaging in such service along with others right now. Our service may be in village work, in urban social work, in teaching, in healing, in building, or in pleading the cause of the poor, in labor union work, or in the ordained ministry of the Church. Let our youth and our academic career be a time of training by practice in the art of serving others without dominating them or using them for our own gratification. Let us respect those whom we serve, and consider it our privilege to be able to serve them. The Master came to serve and not to be served. We have the same role.

  4. Express the royal priesthood
    By engaging fully in the ministry of worship and prayer. Make the Eucharist the centre of our life of prayer. We should not regard the Holy Communion (Holy Mass or Lord’s Supper) as an occasion when Christ gives us his grace by feeding us. That is only part of the Eucharist. But primarily it is a participation in Christ’s eternal act of self-offering on the cross. When the bread and the wine are lifted up and offered to God in Christ, we are offering ourselves, our bodies, our minds, our souls, our abilities and all we have to God in Christ in an act of loving self-immolation to the gracious and loving Father; not to appease Him, but because He is worthy of all, and our gratitude to Him can be expressed in no lesser way. In the Eucharist we should learn to offer up the problems of our people and of the whole of humanity to God. We have a responsibility to lift up the sufferings and yearnings of those with whom we live and whom we know well. We must feel in ourselves and directly experience the poverty and misery of our people, and must intercede for the poor and the miserable and the oppressed with deep personal concern. Only that way the service we render to our fellowmen will receive the quality of authenticity. The Eucharist is the mode in which the sufferings of this world are linked up with the sufferings of Christ on the cross, through the conscious act of the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit. But this must become a reality in our worship life, and a reality in our daily life.

  5. Develop our life of continuing intercession for the world:
    Christ is unceasingly interceding for the world. We should participate in this continuing ministry of intercession, not in order that we may spiritually grow, but rather in order that life and joy may come to the dying and the miserable. As busy students and hard-working people, we may not have long hours to engage in sustained prayer. The tempo of our technological civilization demands new forms of prayer life. The most accessible to all today is the habit of ‘Ejaculatory’ Prayer. This is from time to time to say in the depths of our hearts ‘Lord, have mercy on the poor’, or such short one sentence prayers, which can be said on any occasion when a lecture gets boring, when we have to wait for somebody, while walking to the college or to our home, etc. The content of these prayers should also become concrete whenever possible, like ‘Lord, have mercy on our nation, and deliver us from famine, from corruption, etc. In the early morning, even while remaining awake in bed, we should lift up our hearts to God in loving, adoring thanksgiving and worship. Only thus can the subconscious mind be cleansed.

  6. Devote our energies to creative service:
    Youth is a time when the energy available seems to be in excess of the needs. Tremendous resources of muscular, mental and emotional energy make it difficult for us to control them as we wish. Real growth in the royal priesthood takes place only as we ‘yield our bodies to righteousness for sanctification’ (Rom. 6:19). The fight against personal impurity and uncleanness cannot be a frontal fight. It can be successful only when we use our bodily energies and emotions to work in the service of others. St. Paul asks us to ‘present our bodies as a living sacrifice’ to God (Rom.12:1). The body, with the muscles, the nerves, the mind, the emotions and the will, is to be engaged in the ‘spiritual worship’ of the royal priesthood. The battle against personal sin is partly won in the fight for social righteousness and in dedicated, devoted service to others.

  7. Become pioneers with others in bringing freedom and justice in the world:
    Let us use our mind and our imagination to find ways of pioneering in fighting oppression and injustice in our societies. The Christian Church started schools, hospitals, and other institutions which have now become the common property of all -- including those who are not Christians. This is our continuing ministry in the world -- to be pioneers of new forms of good. We are not to imitate the world. ‘Do not be squeezed into the mould of this age’ (Rom. 12: 2-a). Our task is to be transformed ourselves, and become a transforming influence in society, by attesting (demonstrating) what the will of God is for our time and place (12:2-b), When there is black- marketing and hoarding of food in our society, as intelligent students and young people it is our job to find means to prevent such acts and to expose those who practice them. If our officials and leaders are corrupt, it is our job to bring the corruption to light. But this kind of destructive criticism may be too easy. We must also show new ways of doing things which change the structures of corruption and oppression, and at the same time inspire others to integrity and self sacrificing service. Creative pioneering is the main vocation of a minority Church.

  8. Finally, be ready to accept failure and to lay down our lives with faith, hope and love.
    Christians should not be naive enough to think that by our pioneering action, our society will become a paradise overnight. The cross was apparent failure, ineffective in saving the world. But out of the apparent failure have come the great movements of emancipation and welfare of our day. We should not anticipate either success or general approval, in direct response to our actions. To act in faith is to be despised and rejected and to fail apparently, as part of the calling of the suffering servant (Isaiah 53)

  9. In all things render thanks to God, and wait for his full manifestation.
    Our job is to work within our mandate, with joy and thanksgiving. His presence, open and unveiled, will also bring the day of final release, final salvation, when the whole earth shall rejoice in the light of God. It is the anticipation of this final, open triumph of God in Christ that makes Christians an extraordinary people who never lose courage (2 Corinthians 4:1-11).

  10. To serve these purposes, help to make the Church a creative fellowship, where honesty, integrity and love are the binding forces, and where hypocrisy and mutual competition and deceit no longer rule. ‘Come to him (Christ) to that living rock, rejected by men but in God’s sight, choice precious; and like living blocks of rock be yourselves built into a house of the Spirit, to exercise the holy priesthood of offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 2: 4 -5)


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