People of God

1 Peter 2:4-10

Sometimes it is not easy being part of a minority group. From the beginning, true believers in Jesus have usually been a minority in a world that is often dead set against them. Jesus once called His disciples a "little flock." Though they were small in number, God had "chosen gladly" to give them the kingdom (Luke 12:32).

Pressures on minorities can come from without and from within. Larger cultural forces can discriminate against them. Internal differences and multi-cultural origins can also cause stress. The churches to whom Peter wrote were Adistressed by various trials@ (1:6). In many ways, their situation was very much like ours today. How can we overcome these pressures and become one people of God?

Different Backgrounds

Peter wrote to Christians from various minority groups. They lived just west of where Noah's ark came to rest. From there new peoples began and branched out. Later, people from other nations moved there too. They had different backgrounds and fought to keep their identities.

Greeks colonized Pontus about 1000 B.C. We know there were Jews living there because Aquila was a native of Pontus (Acts 18:2) and people from there traveled to Jerusalem for Pentecost (Acts 2:9-10). Gauls migrated to the central plain of Asia Minor. Phrygians and Jews also lived in Galatia. Selucids controlled the province of Asia up to 133 B.C. A Thracian tribe had occupied Bithynia. In addition to strong cultural differences, many lived in rough mountainous areas. Cave dwellings were common in Cappadocia.

In the years leading up to Jesus' coming, the nationals had to fight for their places against the larger imperial forces of Rome. They faced persecution for their ethnic identity. Then on top of this, the Christians among them came to experience persecution for following Jesus. They also faced temptations from commercial and pagan forces.

The courage of the Christians in this area may come from both their faith in Christ and their cultural determination. But how are so many different people, including God's chosen people of the Old Testament, to understand that they are all one as people of God?

A New Identity

Peter tells them that they have a new identity. They are "chosen according to the foreknowledge of the Father" (1:1-2), selected to be His people. They are "born again...through the living and abiding word of God" (1:3, 23). They are redeemed by the precious blood of His Son Jesus (1:18-19). Like newborn babies, they have a new beginning, they feed on the same spiritual food and grow as part of the same family (2:1-10).

God has given them an "inheritance...reserved in heaven" (1:4). They identify themselves with their benefactor, a holy God whom they address as Father (1:17).

They put their new faith and hope in God (1:13, 21). Though they live as aliens and strangers in their own countries (1:1; 2:11), they are a "holy nation", citizens of heaven together, (2:9; see also Ephesians 2:19 and Philippians 3:20-21).

Living Stones

To help them see what all this means, Peter gives them a beautiful word picture. Peter is aware that both Jewish and native residents would know about physical temples and stones. The natives knew the temples of idols, the Jews knew the temple in Jerusalem.

But Peter says they actually are stones, living stones. He uses the powerful picture of living stones to give new meaning to their collective experience. Now God is building them up into His house. The chief corner stone of His house is Jesus. He is "choice" and "precious" (2:6). This precious value is for believers (2:7). What a wonderful picture: to be living stones with Jesus in God=s spiritual house.

The Jews would know that "house" means more than a building. It means family, the entire household, including ancestors. God=s house includes all of His people from every century. They are no longer just a small minority but part of what is to become a huge world-wide, heaven-wide, everlasting family.

Godís Mercy and Consolation

God recognizes the realities of the difficult world around them: not all believe; unbelievers persecute them. Here is God=s consolation to the believers: to unbelievers, Jesus becomes a different kind of stone, "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence" (2:8). Unbelievers run into a wall, an impenetrable fortress, when they oppose God. They stumble, they cannot stand against Him; in a word, Peter calls it "doom." God wins.

But back at God=s house, in contrast to unbelievers, His people are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God=s own possession" (2:9). Here is how God brings all these people together. He gives them a new identity, "the people of God" (2:10). Though they "were once not a people" now they are. They had not received mercy, now they have it from a merciful Father. They had come from all over. Now they are one in Jesus. (On the importance of consolation in the church you may wish to see Luke 2:25-35, 1 Corinthians 4:3 and Philippians 2:1-11.)

Is this not how it is with us? We come from all over, but we are one in Christ. We have an identity because of Who we belong to. We belong to God and are part of something bigger than ourselves, a royal and holy family. As such we have new privileges, comfort and responsibilities.

A Mission

God gives His people identity, mercy and a mission too. We have a purpose: "to proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (2:9). Now that God=s people know who they are, now that they have relief from their enemies and a rock-solid hope for the future, knowing they are on the winning side, they have something to sing about.

Peter also guides us in daily living. All of this leads somewhere. Our lives are holy like His. We live in a royal family with a chosen and precious Saviour. We are part of His priesthood. We serve. We build up. We represent Him to others. We belong to Him. He comforts us. We identify with Him and He gives us a new identity: people of God.

Paul Birston

February 2002©

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