The Christian’s commitment to the world is multifaceted. It includes a commitment to people’s welfare, to justice, and more, but it is rooted in the commitment to Christ. One aspect of our commitment to the world is our intention to be a channel of God’s goodness to others. This is possible because of Who We Are, What we Do, How We Do It, and Why We Do It. It is these things that we examine as we look at 1 Peter 2:9-12. (Text of sermon is below.)
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 (1 Peter 2:9-12).
This is the final message in a series that examines our church vision statement through the lens of Scripture. The vision statement is: “Committed: to Christ, to Christlikeness, to each other, and to the world.” This week, we explore our commitment to the world against the backdrop of 1 Peter 2:9-12.
1 Peter 2 is one of many Scriptures that address the Christian’s complex relationship with the world. We won’t see everything there is to see, but we will see some things that we can put into practice in our own lives and church.
In our text, there are four principal issues that have bearing on our commitment to the world. The first is Who We Are; the second is What We Do; the third is How We Do It; and the fourth is Why We Do It.
Peter starts with who we are—well, that is where he starts in this particular text, but in the larger context of the letter, he starts with what God has done in sending Christ into the world. Who we are comes out of what God has done and what we do comes out of who we are. We Americans are tempted to skip over the character part to get to the practical stuff – the job description: what we do and how we do it. That is a mistake.
That would be like hiring an employee based only on their skill set and without regard to their character. So what if they have left their last five jobs within 18 months? They can write code. But God knows that the quality of our contribution depends on the development of our character. He shapes who we are and that changes what we can do.
Peter lists six truths about who we are in verses 9 and 10. In verse 9, believers in Jesus are (1) a chosen people. This is something we should constantly celebrate. We were chosen. God wanted us. He didn’t choose us because he needed us. If that were the case, when he no longer needed us, he would lose interest. He didn’t choose us because we were (maybe just barely) better than someone else. He chose us because his heart is set on us. He chose us because of what he wanted to do for us. We are not the cast-off, the unwanted, or the overlooked. We are the chosen.
But don’t assume that the choice is all about getting into heaven. Life is not a raffle for an all-expense paid trip to a cosmic Disney World. We are chosen to join heaven, to work for heaven, to be on staff for the king of heaven. Chris Wright put it this way: “It is as if a group of trapped cave explorers choose one of their number to squeeze through a narrow flooded passage to get out to the surface and call for help. The point of the choice is not so that she alone gets saved, but that she is able to bring help and equipment to ensure the rest get rescued.”
We are also (2) a royal priesthood. That is, we are a priesthood assigned to serve the king. We Protestants take our stand on this, and we are right to do so, but we often put the emphasis in the wrong place. We think that the priesthood of all believers only means that we don’t need some guy in a clerical collar to act on our behalf with God; we can do it ourselves.
I am not saying that is wrong, but it misses the point. We have been given the extraordinary honor to act as God’s priests, even though we do not descend from a priestly family. We can help other people come to God. We can pray for other people. We can extend forgiveness to the repentant in Jesus’s name. We can offer spiritual sacrifices. To be part of the royal priesthood is a remarkable privilege and responsibility.
We are (3) a holy nation. By nation, Peter does not mean an ancient province like Asia Minor nor a modern country like the United States. He is talking about a united people group (in this case, united by a relationship to Christ) that is holy. Holy doesn’t mean “morally superior” but “set apart for God.” The New Testament scholar William Barclay said the main idea the word “holy” conveys is being “different.” We are different because we are God’s.
We are (4) a people belonging to God. The NIV 2011 translates that as “God’s special possession.” The KJV has, “a peculiar people.” The NET Bible has “a people of his own.” These translations are trying to bring out the meaning of a difficult-to-translate Greek word.
Think of a woman who has a locket given to her by her grandmother. She has lots of other jewelry too, almost all of which has a higher monetary value than that old locket. She lends her other jewelry freely to her friends, but she never loans out her locket. It is her special possession. She cherishes it and protects it and keeps it for herself. The Greek word here might be used to describe that locket. We are special to God. He cherishes us, protects us, and keeps us for himself.
In verse ten we have two other descriptions of who we are. We are (5) a people who once were not a people. This is not about belonging to God but about belonging to each other. The church of Jesus comes from all different ethnicities and national backgrounds. Its people had little in common, until they had Jesus; and when they had Jesus, they had each other. In Paul’s words, “each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5). We have someone now; we have each other. We are a people.
We are (6, also verse 10) beneficiaries of mercy. We have not earned a spot among God’s people. We weren’t so special that God couldn’t do without us. It was rather the opposite. We were timid and arrogant, false and fearful, lost, going the wrong way, and obstinate about it. But instead of putting us in our place one and for all, God took our place once for all, so that we could be with him in his place now and forever. That’s mercy.
So that is what Jesus’s people are; that’s the character stuff. But what is it that they do – what is their job description? We find that in verse 9: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” What does that mean? It means we are in advertising. The church is God’s advertising agency on earth.
Imagine that you got a job as an editor at ESPN and your first big project was to assemble a half-hour special of Michael Jordan’s greatest hits. It is a half-hour highlight reel with commentary. So, you pick the foul line dunk shot, the six three-pointers in the first half against the Trail Blazers, the shot over Craig Ehlo to beat the Cavs, the hand-switching layup against the Lakers, and then the steal against Karl Malone followed by the final shot of his career to win the Bull’s sixth NBA championship.
When you came to Jesus, you were given the same kind of work to do, only you are highlighting God. You want to convince the world that he is the Greatest of All Time—and eternity. So, you choose creation. The splendors are endless, his brilliance shines everywhere, his absolute power is breathtaking. You choose the appearance to Abraham. After God’s team failed so miserably, he didn’t give up on them; he went to pick them up. You’d talk about Sinai and the wonderful gift of his law.
But things didn’t get better, except for brief periods of time; they got worse. People became obstinate in their ways. It looked like the game of life was lost. Then the greatest of God’s greatest feats: The Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14). Instead of rejecting the rebels he came to them. Instead of despising sinners, he lived with them, ate with them, and loved them. Instead of exterminating them, he died for them.
But was it for nothing? It seemed like it, until he rose from the dead, the first of humanity to conquer death – but not the last. This is our corporate story, the story behind our advertising. This is the good news of God in Christ.
Peter says, “…that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” The word “praises” here is not the usual word. It is sometimes translated “virtues” and has the idea of “excellencies” (which is how the NASB translates it). In this context, the excellencies are the highlights, God’s greatest hits. But it not just his highlights in the world that we advertise, but also his highlights in our lives. Every follower of Jesus should have a personal highlights reel of God’s feats in his or her life. We declare the praises of the one who brought us out of darkness into his marvelous light and made our lives worth living.
But why does God want us to “declare his praises”? Is he haughty and proud? Is he stuck on himself? Does he have something to prove? Not at all. He has nothing to prove, but he has something to gain: people. Just as he wanted and chose us, he wants other people. He wants them to join him, to be his “special possession.” He wants them to know him, to have lives worth living. He wants their lives to be saved, not wasted, restored, not ruined.
To put it succinctly: God, as Paul does in 1 Timothy 2:4, God loves all people and wants them to be saved. That is why we “declare his praises.”
But advertising is tricky business. Words matter, as Mitt Romney found out when he ran for president. His marketing firm introduced a phone app with the title, “A Better America: I’m with Mitt.” It was not bad, except they misspelled America. H&M sold a T-shirt with the famous Thomas Edison quote: “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” They misspelled genius.
Words matter in our advertising too. It’s not that you need to be clever or funny, though if you are, that’s great. But your words need to be filled with grace (Colossians 4:6). Gracious words are sometimes funny and clever, sometimes direct and serious, but they always come from a desire (this is St. Paul) “to build others up according to their needs” (Ephesians 4:29).
Words that tear people down – swearing, condemnation, insults – what Paul calls “unwholesome” or “rotten” words – make God undesirable, even when they make people laugh. Sexist language and racial slurs from a professing Christian diminish God in people’s eyes—even when those people are sexist and racist. Our job is not to fit in but to tell out the praises of God.
I said that words matter, but words are not the only thing that matters, or even the chief thing. People who make commercials understand that the words they use are important, but the backdrop to those words – the people we see, the smiles on their faces, the beauty of their surroundings – can make or break a commercial.
When I drive down I-94, I see billboards for casinos. If people are pictured, they are always laughing. They are always young, and are usually attractive, well-dressed women. The words may appeal to greed or the desire for excitement, or a new car, but the images are what grab people’s attention.
I have only been in a casino once, and then it was an accident. Karen and I followed our GPS to a steakhouse on the north end of Lake Tahoe, just inside Nevada. We went in the wrong door, that led down a bare hallway, past closet doors and out into a small casino, which we had to cross to get to the restaurant.
I didn’t see a cadre of laughing people, or groups of twenty-year old beauty pageant contestants. What I saw were grizzled old men and disappointed old women, sitting alone, downing yet another drink. It was not a happy place. If people hear our words about God but see us as angry, hopeless, selfish people, our words will backfire. You see, in the divine plan, we don’t merely present advertisements for God; we are advertisements for God.
That brings us to the third issue that affects our impact on the world. The first was who we are (a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession). The second was what we do: we declare the praises of God. We run the highlight reel of God’s greatness in creation, in the Bible, but also in our lives. The third issue is about how we do it. The progression is from who to what to how.
This is from verses 11-12: “…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…”
“Abstain” has the idea of keeping something at a distance. People who are wrapped up in addictions, whether alcohol, drugs, porn, shopping, video games, or food are not good advertisements for the freedom-bringing Christ. So, Peter counsels us to keep away from these things. If you are addicted to any of these or other things so that you are always thinking about them, planning for them, giving yourself to them, your first step is to get away from them. You will likely need help with that and there are resources within the church. So, talk with me.
Eliminate the negative – “abstain from sinful desires” – and accentuate the positive: “Live such good lives among the pagans” – the people around us – “…that they may see your good deeds.” Peter’s program for declaring God’s praises depends on God’s people doing good deeds.
He got that straight from Jesus who said, “Your light must shine before people in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Doing good works in not a requirement for getting into heaven, but it is a requirement for living a worthwhile life on earth. God, who is committed to us and wants us to succeed, has done everything to make that possible. He has personally selected good deeds for us to do, has arranged opportunities, and has even put them in our path. St. Paul says, “For we are his work, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance that we should do them” – literally, that “we should walk in them.” In other words, God has placed these good works along our daily paths. We don’t need to go out of our way to find them. But we do need to do them.
Is your life characterized by good deeds? When was the last time you did one? They don’t have to be, and rarely are, anything big. It might be to pray for someone. It might be to help them when they’re in trouble. To feed them when their hungry. To encourage them when they’re down. To give them money when they’re in need. If you can’t think of a time, it’s time for a change. A life without good deeds is not good advertising for the transforming power of God.
We’ve looked at who we are, what we do, how we do it. The only thing left is why we do it. Why do we live such a different kind of life? Why do we advertise God’s excellencies? We do it, verse 12, so that people will glorify God when he comes. There are many aspects of our commitment to the world – more than we have time to discuss now – but at the heart of it is our longing to see the world and all its people restored to the loving Creator.
That longing must not remain abstract and broad. It must become concrete and particular. Ask God to give you someone – family, friend, coworker, neighbor – to whom you can advertise the excellencies of God.
 Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People (Zondervan, 2010), p. 72