|APRIL 2009||ARTICLE SERIES||
LIVING ON GOD'S DESIGN - SERIES 10
This is one of the most celebrated passages in the Bible. The reason why Christians are called the people of God appears in the rest of the passage. By baptism Christians are set apart and dedicated to the sacred order of things. Since Christians addressed in the letter came from different races, nations and peoples, Peter’s language is bold in using ‘race, nation, people’ to designate the new unity that they have in Christ – a unity transcending all other barriers and distinctions that you may declare the virtues of him.
Chosen by God. ‘Ye are a chosen generation’ (v.9) There is no greater honor, complement, or privilege than to be chosen by God. The word eklektos may describe anything that is specially chosen. It can describe, for example, chosen fruit or handpicked troops specially chosen for some great duty. But along with the honor and privilege of being chosen by God, we have a responsibility to God. We are chosen for service. The fact that we are chosen means that some of the work of God is placed in our hands. Precisely at this point the Jews failed, and we must see that the tragedy of a like failure does not mark our lives. What an awesome thought: that the churches may fail! God has entrusted to us the Great Commission. If it is carried out, we must do it. If we fail to take the gospel, the Great Commission will not be carried out. We must not fail. Our task is a great incentive to mission giving.
God chose the children of Israel for a special purpose. Christ chose twelve disciples to follow him. Through the Holy Spirit people are chosen to enter a special relationship, a unique fellowship in which individuality remains but the ruling disposition of the heart is radically altered. Much is said of decisions, but in the New Testament God’s compelling is emphasized. “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” (Jn 15:16) When a personal overwhelming preference for Jesus follows, a life of walking in the light that he alone can give begins. Despicable, yet chosen. (Ps 85:42) The idea that Israel was a magnificently developed type of nation is a mistaken one. Israel was a despised, and a despicable nation, continually turning away from God into idolatry but nothing ever altered the purpose of God for the nation. The despised element is always a noticeable element in the purpose of God. When the Savior of the world came, He came of that despised nation; He Himself was ‘despised and rejected by men’ and in all Christian enterprise there is this same despised element ‘things which are despised God has chosen’.
You were chosen for a special purpose. The privilege of being chosen implies responsibility that goes with it. The new people of God must take up the task left unfulfilled by the old viz., to declare the excellence (or wonderful deeds) of the God who had called them out of heathen darkness into the marvelous light of salvation. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) This church is primarily a spiritual reality with a spiritual purpose. Here we find no distinction between laity and clergy. They are associated by reason of their calling and their common new life; they are destined to reveal and fulfill the purpose of God for the whole human race. When God speaks about Paul after his conversion experience clearly that he was chosen to serve (Acts 9:16).
We are reminded in verses 10-16 of 1 Peter ch 2, of the differences in our lives before and after becoming Christians. Peter has reminded his readers of the merciful treatment that God has bestowed on them. “Now you are God’s people.” (v.10 RSV) Then Peter admonished his readers, on the basis of their new and vital relationship to God, to demonstrate a new and positive relationship with the Gentiles. “Abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul. Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that … they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (vs.11-12 RSV) In verses 9 and 10 Peter piles up phrases from the Old Testament (Ex 19:6; Is 42:12; 43:20f; Hos 1:10, 2:23) to show how all that is true of God’s chosen covenant people is true for those who believe in Jesus, however rejected and weak they may seem.
In the key passage Peter says that the church is more than an organization or an institution. It is a special community very dear to the eternal purpose of God in this world.. Peter used symbols from the Old Testament to describe the church as a people called by God drawing parallel to Israel. There are some important questions to be answered. Who are we as a church? What kind of persons are we called to be? How do our worship and actions reflect that calling?
We as the church are a chosen generation or race.. This reminds us that God has taken the initiative. The church did not create itself as organizations and institutions are ordinarily formed. It is the result of the action of God who, by grace, called it into existence. The church is not based on our goodness or righteousness, but is God’s action. We are a royal priesthood. Priests were the ones who offered sacrifices to God. As the people worshiped God under the leadership of the priest, they depended upon the priests to represent them to God. Now, in the life of the church, we, the body of believers, worship the living God directly, without any priestly representation. We as the church are a holy nation. We are peculiar or different from other groups and organizations. We judge our life by standards different from those in other groups. God has a purpose not only for our individual lives, but also a divine plan for the human family. We as the church are God’s own people. A Christian does not own himself , but belongs to Christ. We are God’s possessions because, according to the New Testament God bought us from our old life of sin to a new life in the Spirit through the death and resurrection of Christ.
As these new people of God, we have a mission in life. We are created for a purpose – to share or proclaim the actions of the living God to all the people in the world so that everyone might come to be part of that new humanity. Peter says we are formed in the church, “that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”.
Our missionary program is bound on that belief. William Carey believed it was the responsibility of the church to carry the message to the whole world, including the people in the Far East. He challenged the English Baptists to do so, and he showed the way by going to India as a missionary in 1792. A church that does not share the Good News with the people around them is a dying church.
The new people are called to be different from others in the world. Peter lists the negative attitudes that mark the lives of those who are not believers. (1 Pet 2:1) The new person is free from malice, the desire to harm somebody by word, deed , or thought. Guile is the attempt to get the better of others unfairly. It is deceiving others. Insincerity is saying what we do not mean. It is acting a part that is different from our real lives. Envy is jealous of others because of who they are, what they have, the position they occupy, or their relationships. Slander is speaking evil of others or insulting them. It is being critical of persons or accusing them.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can overcome the passions of pride and flesh which once kept us in darkness. One Christian man put his testimony this Way: “I am not what I want to be, and I am not what I ought to be, but thank God, I’m not what I used to be.” A popular Christian hymn by Rufus H. McDaniel says: “What wonderful change in my life has been wrought since Jesus came into my heart.”
Verse 4 exhorts the Christian to forsake his ‘forever way of life’. Pleasure, pride, and passion are to become subservient to the rule of God. This is not easy to achieve, especially if friends laugh at his new way of life. But the Christian should know that in time the judgments of earth will be reversed. Eternal pleasures will make up for the abandoned earthly pleasures.
Have you ever wondered why so many church members who have been saved for many years and a part of the life of the church for so long never win anybody for Christ? One reason may be that when they are saved, they give up their old ‘buddies’ and former associates and have nothing to do with them. One of the first things a new Christian should do is to go to his friends and witness for Christ. But many Christians limit their friends to those who attend the same church. Eventually, they may not even know anyone who is not already a member of the church.
Jesus transformed the life of a demoniac (Mk 5:1-19). The man was so excited over his new found faith that he wanted to travel with Jesus. In reading the story, you almost feel the former demoniac wanted to start preaching immediately. Note Jesus’ words to this new Christian: “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee.” (v.19) Jesus instructed him to go to his family and then to his friends and witness to them about God’s great power. Christians need to tell friends, and strangers what great things God hath done in their life. One of the greatest needs in churches is a return to genuine personal witnessing. Let’s upgrade our Christian witness.
Believers must put away their old ways of living and live up to the standards set by Christ. His life and love are incentives for new life. Putting aside these evil ways helps us to be better persons. They threaten the fellowship of the church. We find help in putting away these sins by drawing upon the teachings of the Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is one of the resources to aid us in growing in maturity. It is sad that in spite of our profession, we are becoming biblically illiterate. One of our basic principles is that we believe that the Bible is the authority for our faith and practice. Yet, instead of becoming diligent students of the Bible, we continually look to others – groups, leaders, or movements – to tell us what we believe. We become subject to others’ interpretations and views of the Bible. Many new converts carry the Bible everywhere they go. Yet for many persons in our churches the Bible is a closed book gathering dust. We cannot expect to grow and experience the power of Christian fellowship unless we take the Bible seriously. It is the spiritual food that nourishes our faith and life.
Peter presents the church as a building, specifically a temple. We are the stones from which the building is formed. It is not merely an institution with buildings, programs, or organizations. The church is a community faithful to Christ as Savior and Lord, led by the Holy Spirit, and worshiping God and serving as a result of the worship. We are to be participants and not merely observers. All of us together form the church. Everyone of us as a living stone is tied to Jesus Christ who is the cornerstone. We are part of a living organism in the church as Paul has reminded us and not passive recipients of its blessings.
One of the main activities of the church is the worship experience. Worship is the offering of our total being to God in praise and thanksgiving. It is the moment when we wait before God expecting to hear God’s word of forgiveness and God’s leading for the days ahead. However, we tend to be passive observers. To allow that practice to happen betrays Peter’s idea that we are God’s priests who are offering true worship to God. No one can worship on our behalf. To forfeit that opportunity is also to deny one of our great principles – the priesthood of all believers. We are called as all the people of God to offer a true sacrifice or true worship.
God’s new covenant offer forgiveness and ample evidence of his personal love to those willing to be his people. Here it is good to refer to Jeremiah 30-31, which is referred to as the ‘Little Book of Comfort’. These chapters appear to have been written amid the ashes and ruin of the nation just after the fall of Jerusalem. Chapter 30 verses 1-3 serve as a general introduction stating the glorious picture of God’s people. The day of the Lord would be a day of distress and a day of deliverance. God’s chosen would serve the Lord their God. Like Isaiah, Jeremiah reminded God’s chosen that God was really with them. The God who chastened them would also deliver them. From a human standpoint it was a desperate and hopeless situation. But God, in his grace would heal their wounds. Jeremiah gives the picture of the ideal covenant relationship between God and his people. The restoration would be complete.
The basis of the covenant which God would form also included a new principle. God would work with individuals and implying the principle of personal responsibility . It was a message on the dignity, competency, and responsibility of the individual before God as it is outlined in Ezekiel 18. No longer could they blame their sins on heredity or environment.
Dr. O. Hobart Mowrer, an illustrious psychologist, experienced severe depression as a young man. Psychoanalysis and psychotherapy for a number of years did not help. In desperation he confessed to his wife his ‘hidden secrets’ including infidelity. By assuming personal responsibility for his actions and confessions to God and the ‘significant others’ he found healing. Out of that experience grew the movement set forth in the book Integrity Therapy. Through extensive research in mental institutions, Dr. Mowrer discovered that refusal to accept personal responsibility for actions and refusal to confess the hidden secrets to God and the significant persons in their lives frequently played a part in their mental illness. Personal accountability is the most important single teaching in the Book of Jeremiah. It is introduced at the point where the ethical significance of the new divine order is most singularly stressed.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 represents the essence of Jeremiah’s experience and the apex of his spiritual pilgrimage. They have been called ‘The Gospel before the Gospel’. They are the noblest of Jeremiah’s prophecies. The phrase ‘saith the Lord’ is repeated four times in these verses. The prophet emphasized that what they were about to have was revelation from God. The question was, How could God maintain a relationship with such sinful people living in captivity? The answer was set forth in the concept of a new covenant which would not fail.
In studies in Jeremiah (1961) Dr. Clyde Francisco points out some ways in which the New Covenant differs from the Old Covenant.
Following the New Covenant and new man that God will make, a double seal was set forth to ratify the covenant (Jer 31 35-40) God promises and wants for man, in freedom and from within, to respond to his word.
Christ’s suffering is our example. Following Peter’s exhortation to the Christian’s duty as a citizen (vs 13-14), we come to the supreme example of what a Christian should be. Peter wrote of Christ’s suffering. The Christian is committed to forsake the ways of paganism, unbelief and godlessness and to live as God directs. What did Peter mean when he spoke of Christ’s suffering in the flesh? Three possible meanings are:
Peter here is referring to a spiritual odyssey. To reiterate:
In all ancient lands, priesthoods were collective, whereas kings were individuals. Any particular country would have innumerable priests, but only one king. Priests so to speak, were interchangeable, but kings were unique. If ‘Royal’ suggested the supreme importance of each Christian separately, ’priesthood’ suggested that all Christians together, made up one single group. Not only that. Priests never existed for themselves alone. Buddhist priests may, but not the priests of Israel, not the Christian, the royal priesthood. The priest had a very high function, a double one: to bring God to men and to present men before God. The priest existed for the sake of others, indeed for the very highest welfare of others, for there is no greater service one human being can perform for another than to bring the man and God together. The priest, moreover, represented God in a special way. When he extended his arms in blessing, the people took it as the blessing of God in person. When he taught he was accepted as the teacher of the law of God. Whatever light of God shone on the way of the ordinary man, the priest was the torch bearer. Priesthoods were hereditary guilds, and outsiders could not break in. Now, to be told that they were a royal priesthood, meant, ‘all the wonderful powers and privileges of kings and priests are yours. You may seem like very ordinary people, but you are not. God has shown you his mercy, he has brought you here, he called you from darkness to light. You are here and now, a royal priesthood, lift up your heads, lift up your hearts! You are charged with the most awesome and lofty responsibilities. Christians, their highest interest is not to secure their own salvation but to be a means of salvation from God to others.
We may wonder why God should choose me. It seems out of all proportion that God should choose me. I am of no value. That is precisely the reason why he chose you. The reason he chooses us is that we are not of any value. It is folly to think that because a man has natural ability, he must make a good Christian. People with the best natural equipment ,may make the worst disciples because they will ‘boss’ themselves. It is not a question of our equipment, but of our poverty; not what we bring with us, but what He puts in us; not our natural virtues, our strength of character , our knowledge, our experience, all that is of no avail in this matter; the only thing that is of avail is that we are taken up into the big compelling of God and made his comrade. (1 Cor 1:26-28) Under the control of God ordinary instruments become extraordinary.
A passing thought Amos 3:1-2. “You only have I chosen of all the nations of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” (emphasis added) This should be a warning to all. The United States was brought forth, as we are all taught to remember, in the fervor of a sense of chosenness. All the language of a new exodus over the Red Sea and a new land of promise weighted every Puritan tract. John Cotton preached to the emigration under Governor Winthrop on the text: “I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more.” (2 Sam 7:10) U. S. has been referred to as ‘God’s American Israel’. Philip Freneau, a disciple of Jefferson, wrote “ A new Jerusalem sent down from heaven shall grace our happy earth.” Abraham Lincoln called us “an almost chosen people.” There is no reason to assume because our nation seems ‘almost chosen’ because the Lord of history has been doing a new thing here, that we shall escape the judgments of history. We must not assume in the present world struggle that the ‘godly’ nation must win and the ‘godless’ nations must lose. There is no divine salvation for nations. We cannot escape history. We are in a large measure responsible for it.
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