This Is What You Are
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.
Last time we looked at 1 Peter chapter 2 verses 6 to 8. In those verses Peter said: “For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do”.
From those words we considered the following three points:
- The wonderful reality for you who believe
- The awful reality for those who do not believe
- The inescapable reality of the great divide
We noted that Peter was drawing a clear contrast between those who believe in Jesus Christ and those who don’t believe in Him. What’s more, we saw that whether or not you trust in Jesus as your Saviour is not just a matter of personal preference. It has eternal consequences and is literally a matter of life and death.
We closed by quoting a comment on these verses that was made by a German writer named Leonhard Goppelt. It’s worth repeating his words as they summed up the thrust of those verses very powerfully. He said: “Christ is laid across the path of humanity on its course into the future. In the encounter with Him each person is changed: one for salvation, another for destruction. One cannot simply step over Jesus to go on about the daily routine and pass Him by to build a future. Whoever encounters Him is inescapably changed by the encounter. Either one sees and becomes a living stone or one stumbles as a blind person over Christ and comes to ruin”.
As we’ve seen, Peter mentioned the awful reality for those who do not believe. He didn’t duck the issue. He certainly didn’t shy away from pointing out the bad news for those who don’t believe. However, that is not something that he dwells upon. As an apostle of Jesus Christ, his main concern is the good news. So, as we continue into verses 9 and 10 we read that he went on to say: “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”.
You see, having mentioned the awful fate of those who do not believe, we find that verse 9 begins with “But you”.
Who does he mean by “you”?
Well, in the immediate context, he meant his readers and they were believers in Christ that he was seeking to encourage. In saying “but you” he’s continuing to emphasise the difference between believers and “those who do not believe” and who will “stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do”. He’s now turning back to his readers and concentrating on those who do believe. What in particular does he go on to say about those who believe? Well, it seems to me that there are three points that arise for us to consider from verse 9 about those who believe. Those points answer the following three questions:
- What are we?
- How are we what we are?
- Why are we what we are?
It had been my original intention to cover those three points together in one sermon but I’ve decided that it would be best to just consider the first of those points this morning and to leave the other two points for a later occasion. So, today, we’re going to particularly concentrate on what we see in verses 9 and 10 about the answer to the question:
What are we?
Point 1. We are a special people!
The first thing to notice as you look at verse 9 is that Peter uses a number of words to describe what we are. He describes us as a “race”, a “priesthood”, a “nation” and a “people”. It is surely immediately apparent that those are all collective terms. So, when Peter said “But you” he wasn’t primarily describing each individual as being a member of a “race” or of being a “priest”, or of being a citizen of a “nation” or of being a “person”. No, he was saying that they together were a “race”, a “priesthood”, a “nation” and a “people”.
Now, of course;
A “race” inevitably does consist of its individual members.
A “priesthood” does consist of individual priests.
A “nation” does consist of individual citizens.
A “people” does consist of individual persons.
We see exactly the same as Peter continues in verse 10 by saying: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people”.
In all of these descriptions, individuality is implicit but it’s not the individual that is being emphasised. The individual is not to the fore here. Peter’s emphasis is on the collective whole rather than on the individual. It’s important for us to notice that because modern day views and ideas of the church tend to emphasise the individual rather than the collective whole. Once you do that, the individual becomes the focus of attention and the church as a whole almost becomes a separate entity. It becomes an aside. The individual believer then becomes slightly removed from the whole and the church is then reduced to being something that you’re associated with or you’re interested in or it’s just a meeting that you happen to attend. You have a semi-detached relationship with the church rather than being an integral part of the church. If you’re not careful, you then start asking questions like “what’s in it for me?” or “what do I get out of it?”
When the credit crunch first struck you’ll remember that the slogan that was very quickly bandied about was “we’re all in it together”. That sounded very good and fair and healthy but as time has gone by it has become increasingly clear that some are less “in it” than others. No matter how much the politicians cry “all in it together” it is very clear that for many it is actually “everyone for themselves”. It’s “look after number one”. We really shouldn’t be surprised by that. That is simply fallen human nature coming into play. But, believers in Christ have a new nature. Together, as the church, we really are to be “all in it together”. If we’re not, something is dreadfully wrong. We’re not being true to what we now are in Christ.
You see, Peter’s emphasis here takes it for granted that each individual believer is an integral part of the church as a whole. That’s very much in keeping with the idea behind the stone imagery that he’d used earlier in the chapter. Remember that back in chapter 2 verse 5 he’d said: “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood”. The picture is of individual believers in Christ being joined and fitted together to form a building for God’s glory.
We mustn’t think that Peter’s emphasis on the collective whole rather than on the individual is just his own personal take on things. The New Testament consistently speaks of the church in a collective, corporate sense. Paul, for instance, speaks of the church as “the body of Christ” and he likens the individual members of the church as the body of Christ to the various parts of a physical human body. We read in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26;
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together”.
You see, the picture is one of both needing one another and of serving one another. Whether suffering or being honoured, we’re “all in it together”. Now, simply recognising this emphasis on the collective whole could just sound like some sort of naïve, woolly minded, commune type mentality. But there’s more for us to see here.
Next post we will consider the second part of: What we are?
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!