This Is What You Are (III)
1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV
9 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. 10 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.
From our previous post.
Review. We started to look at 1 Peter chapter 2 verses 9 and 10 where we read: “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”.
I mentioned that those verses provide answers to three questions:
What are we?
How are we what we are?
Why are we what we are?
We concentrated on thinking about what answer those verses give to the first of those questions: “What are we?” We saw that believers in Christ, as a collective whole, are “God’s people” because we are chosen by Him, we’re servants of Him, we’re set apart for Him and we belong to Him. As such, we are the spiritual fulfilment of the promises that God made to the nation of Israel in Old Testament times.
Having seen what we are, we’re now going to move on to see what answers we find in these verses to the other two questions: “How are we what we are?” and “Why are we what we are?” In our previous post we answered the first question. Now let’s go on to see how the verses answer the second of those questions.
Why are we what we are?
By being powerfully called out of darkness into God’s marvellous light which shines in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In other words, to clarify that question, we could ask “for what purpose have we become God’s people?” If I was to ask you that question you would no doubt answer by mentioning various things. You might say that we are to act as salt and light in this world. You might say that we’re to proclaim the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. You might say that we’re to show compassion and provide help for the poor and needy. You might say that we’re to love one another. Those are all good things that we should be doing as believers in Christ and you’ll find plenty of Biblical support for all of them. But, Peter doesn’t answer the question “for what purpose have we become God’s people?” in any of those terms. We see his answer to that question in verse 9 where we read: “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”. Why are you “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession”? It is so that or in order that “you may proclaim the excellencies of him”.
Peter probably had the words of Isaiah 43v20-21 in mind when he wrote that because we find that they have a very similar emphasis. There, speaking of His chosen people, God said: “The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise”. Why did God choose them and form them? He said it was “that they might declare my praise”. That is very similar to Peter’s words here to God’s people in Christ: “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him”. God has called us to be his people so that we might declare His praise or proclaim His excellencies. If you’re using the NIV you’ll see that it has: “that you may declare the praises of him”. However, I don’t think that either version quite conveys the true sense of Peter’s words. A more literal translation would be something like: “that you might set forth the virtues of Him”.
What can we glean from that statement about our purpose as God’s people?
Well, let me point out four things that we see from it about the purpose for which we have been made to be God’s people.
The first thing to see here about our purpose as God’s people is that it is a God centred purpose.
You see, we are God’s people in order that “you may proclaim the excellencies of him”. He, God, is to be at the centre of our existence and be the very reason for being. All that we do is to be for His glory. The fact is that we might try to act as salt and light and preach the gospel and care for the poor and needy and love one another but our purpose as God’s people is bigger than merely doing those things. It is not to merely do those things but rather, by doing them and, indeed, in everything else that we do, to “proclaim the excellencies of him”. Our purpose is all about “Him”.
The second thing to see here about our purpose as God’s people is that it is a Positive purpose.
So many Christians and so much Christian activity can seem to be so negative can’t it? The church so often seems to be against things. Now, of course, we’re not to ignore or condone sin but our purpose is not to denounce, renounce, criticise, condemn and so on. That’s the sort of thing the Pharisees were renowned for and you know what Jesus thought of them. Rather than that, we’re to “set forth the virtues of Him”. It’s God’s virtues or excellencies that we’re to proclaim. We’re to positively set forth the greatness and goodness and glory of God.
Remember that Peter’s original readers were suffering terrible persecution for their faith. Was Peter’s advice to them to complain to the authorities, to set up a petition, to campaign for Christian rights or get legal representation? No, he simply reminded them of their purpose as God’s people to positively “set forth the virtues of Him”. It seems to me that in our day in which Christianity is increasingly being marginalised and traditional Christian values and privileges are being eroded there is a tendency to respond by feeling a bit miffed and complaining and fighting for our rights and appealing to history and tradition in a desperate attempt to maintain the fast disappearing status quo. The fact is that we shouldn’t expect any special favours or privileges. That the church has done so in this country for a long time is not actually the typical or normal situation for Christians.
Like Peter’s readers, all Christians can expect to be strangers and sojourners.
We read in Hebrews 13v12-13: “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” You see, like Jesus, we’re to be outsiders. We might well be persecuted. The best we should hope for is to be tolerated. So, the changes we’re seeing regarding the place of Christianity in our society is not a terrible deviation from the norm but an inevitable move back towards the norm. We’re not to waste our time and effort in struggling against that. We’re not to desperately seek to be allowed back into the camp. Rather, all our effort is to go into positively “setting forth the virtues of Him”.
The third thing to see here about our purpose as God’s people is difficult to define.
I’ve struggled to find a single word to describe it. We could perhaps say that it is a wholehearted purpose or a comprehensive purpose or an all-consuming purpose. I’ll try to explain what I’m getting at. When you read the phrase “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him” or “that you may declare the praises of him” you get the impression that this must be referring to verbal expression. The words “proclaim” and “declare” strongly suggest something that is spoken. So, that might lead us to think in terms of our purpose being to praise God whether it be by singing hymns of praise or shouting “Hallelujah!” No doubt it’s that train of thought that has led the NIV to say “that you may declare the praises of him” even though the Greek word for praises isn’t in the text.
The fact is, it’s very easy to say or sing words of praise in an empty way.
For instance, look at Jesus’ words to the Pharisees and teachers of the law n Mark 7v6-7 where we read: “And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’”. Jesus’ point is that mere words, even though they might be true and theologically correct, are worthless unless the heart is right. What comes out of our lips is only pleasing to God and honouring to God if it has first come out of hearts that love him and are near to Him. Remember that the heart in the Bible is used to represent the very centre of our beings. It stands for all that we are. Now, I mentioned earlier that a literal translation of “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him” would be something like: “that you might set forth the virtues of Him”. You see, instead of the very verbal sounding “proclaim” or “declare” we have the expression “set forth”. To be sure, such “setting forth” includes speaking and singing but it’s much more than that. If we are God’s people, everything about us is to “set forth the virtues of Him”.
The fourth thing to see here about our purpose as God’s people is that it is an Experience based purpose.
This “setting forth of the virtues of Him” is not to just consist of abstract ideas. It’s not to merely be an academic, intellectual statement of facts and propositions but something that stems from what we know in our own experience. It’s to be based on what God has done for us. It’s to be based on what we’ve received from Him and experienced of Him. What makes me say that? Well notice that Peter didn’t stop at saying that we’re God’s people “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him”. He went on to say something about the one whose excellencies or virtues we’re to proclaim. You see, it’s “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”.
Those who are to proclaim His excellencies are those who have experienced His effectual calling of them “out of darkness into his marvelous light” and have been made to be “God’s people” by Him and have “received mercy” from Him. And, you see, it’s what we’ve experienced from Him that informs us of the excellencies or virtues that we’re to declare. His gracious, effectual calling us “out of darkness into his marvelous light” and His showing us mercy. He’s a rescuing God and a merciful God. These are His virtues that we are to declare. We know it to be true if we are His people.
Have you been called “out of darkness into his marvelous light”?
Have you received His mercy?
If not all you need to do is trust in Jesus because God provides rescue and mercy through Him.
Dr. Steve Orr
Dr Orr has served the Body of Christ in the United Kingdom for many years and in various capacities (preaching, teaching, etc.,). Steve is a regular contributor to the pages of Christ My Covenant. His insights into the Word of God will serve you in your personal study of God’s Word. Learn of Christ!