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Peculiar People

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Peter wrote his first letter to Jewish-background believers scattered across cities of the Roman Empire. These Jewish Jesus-followers felt lost and odd in the Roman world. They were from the land of holy law and now found themselves neighbors of carousers and devotees of other religions. How could it be God’s will that they suddenly find themselves a tiny, misunderstood minority because of Jesus? The Kingdom of God was back in their homeland. Or was it?

In chapter two, Peter encourages his readers that life in the Kingdom isn’t bound to any one place or way of life. It is, as Dallas Willard once described, “where what God wants done is done.” Wherever God has placed us or called us to go, we can live on the plain of the Kingdom. Despite the unbelieving or pagan culture around, and in contrast to run-of-the-mill religion that fails to impact it, Peter says,

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (vv 9–12).

You might remember that the King James Version of verse nine reads, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” (emphasis added). “Peculiar” is a word that today seems, well, peculiar. But at its root, it simply means “unusual” or “different.” It conveys well what Peter was saying to believers: that they are to live out very different and godly lives, reveling in Him to whom they belong, doing good things that make an impact on the “pagans” around them, and opening opportunity for God to show up and change lives.

Peter’s words also speak to us today. Even if we increasingly find ourselves a minority group of believers in North America, we are those God has called and sent out into decidedly non-Christian pockets of the world. We may live life on the plain of the Kingdom. It is not just your average, churchy Christian life.

Note the provision, the purpose, and the promise for peculiar people of the Kingdom:

  1. Provision: We can enjoy precious identity and intimacy in Christ. The word “precious” is repeated several times in the early verses of chapter two, mostly with reference to Jesus. But in verse nine, Peter tells us “we are God’s special possession.” The Greek phrase bears the meaning “uniquely God’s own.” It’s who we are. It’s who He’s made us. We are uniquely precious in His eyes—peculiarly precious. This is provision for Kingdom living. The Kingdom is not a charged-up quest on His behalf; it is service that flows from identity and intimacy. On the plain of the Kingdom, hearts overflowing blossom into lives lived to serve His will and plan.
  2. Purpose: We live as priests among the people where God places us. Peter’s original Jewish-background readers knew a thing or two about priests. They understood what a precious thing it is to bring people to the Lord and the Lord to people. How amazing that God extends this priestly ministry to people of our neighborhoods and peoples of the world even though they may not be seeking Him. He does this through us when our grateful hearts move us to live more than ordinary lives, bringing people to God in prayer and revealing Him to them through good deeds and good news. These are the priority activities of the Kingdom. These are lives lived for His purposes for all peoples, lives that are, in short, peculiar.
  3. Promise: God will show up through our presence where He’s placed us. At the tail end of verse 12, Peter says that our nonbelieving neighbors, though skeptical, will see our good works and “glorify God on the day he visits.” While this phrase resonates with the truth that “every knee will bow and tongue confess” Jesus’ Lordship on the day of judgment, it also gives hope in the here and now.

In Acts 15, remarking about Peter’s story of the Holy Spirit moving Gentiles to embrace Jesus, James tells us, “God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name” (KJV, emphasis added). God longs to show up powerfully when we are present intentionally among people of our world and obediently among peoples of the whole world, whom He longs to call to Himself. He wants tongues to confess and knees to bow now, while they may find salvation. He’ll “visit.” He’ll show up through us for the sake of others.

Peter’s challenge to first-century, and twenty-first century, believers who are a minority in a world without Jesus is that we embrace our place as the peculiar people of His Kingdom. It’s no ordinary Christian life; it’s much more. This is “where what God wants done is done” in and through His precious and peculiar ones. Are we among them? Are we peculiar?

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