“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…” 1 Peter 2:9
It is not uncommon today to hear people described as ‘privileged’ or as ‘underprivileged’, usually with reference to the socio-economic position that they hold in society. We hear of ‘underprivileged’ communities living around our major cities or in the remote areas of our country, people without access to basic needs such as housing, clean water, health care, education, etc. And we hear of the ‘privileged few’ who have easy access to such things and who generally have far more than they actually need. Understandably we also frequently hear that since Government cannot meet the demands of all, it is the moral if not legal duty of the ‘privileged few’ to share with those who are in need. And given that by world standards the majority of us are in fact well off, it is important for us to think about the many who do not have what we have and to work toward improving their situation, whether through job creation, training or acts of charity and generosity.
Sadly we seldom think of ‘privileged’ or ‘underprivileged’ people in spiritual terms. And if we did we would find a very different picture being drawn. When it comes to spiritual privileges those who have much in material terms are often impoverished and those who have little in the world are in fact often rich in the things of God. And here too there is at the very least a moral and spiritual obligation for those who have to share with those who do not. It is precisely this obligation, the obligation to share from a position of privilege that Peter has in mind in the passage quoted above. Speaking to believers in Asia Minor many of whom would have been socially and economically marginalised because of their faith, Peter first reminds them of what they do in fact possess – the spiritual privileges that they and we enjoy as believers in Jesus Christ.
First, every believer has been chosen by God to belong to God’s own people. This privilege of course belonged to Ancient Israel in the Old Testament, but now it has been transferred to Christians. And it is this idea of special belonging that Peter has in mind when he describes Christians as a royal priesthood and a holy nation, terms that God used to describe Israel’s great privilege as His people after He had rescued them from Egypt (see Exodus 19:1-6). Though these terms spoke of the responsibility that Israel had, they were in the first place a description of the unique and very great privilege which they enjoyed – a people belonging to God because of His grace at work in saving them.
It is precisely this saving grace that Peter then goes on to mention in the verses that follow. Christians, says Peter, have been called by God out of spiritual darkness and into His wonderful light (vs9). Christians have been brought by God’s grace into His family even though we were by nature outsiders, excluded from all of His great blessings (vs10). Christians who were lost and unforgiven outside of Christ have now been shown mercy by God, so that in Christ our sins have been forgiven and we have been set free from condemnation. As Peter puts it elsewhere in the letter: “Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
As believers in Jesus Christ, we are the truly ‘privileged few’ of the world, and as such we share an obligation to those who do not have what we have. In Peter’s words in our text, we possess all that God has given us by His grace “so that we may declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful life.” Rather than judging ourselves by the standards of this world or bemoaning how hard things are we should start to see ourselves in the light of God’s grace and enrich the world with our declaration of His praise!
How are we to do that? Well certainly with our words, not just our words of song but also our words of testimony – testimony to the greatness of God’s mercy and grace in Jesus Christ and to the wonder of belonging to His people – Gospel words spoken to a world in desperate need of good news. From our words would people know that we are Christian and that we are glad to be Christian?
And Peter goes on to say that we declare God’s praises in the way that we live – by doing good in this world, even when our good deeds are misunderstood or rejected (vs12). There are all sort of reasons for doing good in this world, but for Christians the primary one must surely be so that God may be praised and so that those who are the spiritually underprivileged (both the rich and the poor by the standards of this world) might come to share the unique privilege which is ours.
Written by Mervyn Eloff