We’re continuing our study of Michael J. Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God. We are now well-beyond the book, but continuing to explore its implications.
A different kind of colony
(1 Pet 2:9-10) 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. 10 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.
Peter wrote his epistles to several churches, and each church was made of people who were proud of their ethnic heritage, whether as Jews, Romans, or Greeks. The Empire was very cosmopolitan and a given city might have businessmen and bureaucrats and soldiers from anywhere in the Empire. And Peter dares to tell them, “Once you were not a people”! That would be insulting even today.
You, Americans! You aren’t really a people! Neither are you Mexicans! Or you Chinese! People would take offense, wouldn’t they?
But Peter explained they were now truly a people because they’d become a people chosen by God — a single people. You were peoples. Now you’re a people — God’s people. You see, “chosen people,” “royal priesthood,” “holy nation,” and belonging to God are all terms the Law used to refer to the children of Israel. And only the elect are truly a people.
The final phrase is a reference to —
(Hosea 2:23 KJV) And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.
This difficult teaching allows Peter to say —
(1 Pet 2:11) Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.
Get the full force of this. “Alien” means, well, alien — not in the Area 51 sense but in the sense of someone from a different country who is not a citizen. Yes, Peter says, you are citizens of God’s nation — and you are not citizens of any other nation. Now, he doesn’t mean that you have to surrender your citizenship. That’d be too easy. Rather, you have to surrender your loyalty.
Which nation does Jesus love the very best? Obviously, he loves them all. If we are to be like Jesus, which nation should we love the best? Well, we have to love them all just the same — I don’t care what you were taught in your Christian Sunday school.
You see, co-crucifixion means dying to the world, and worldly citizenship is something we die to. We can use our citizenship for Kingdom purposes, but we can never be torn between being an American and an Christian. There is no choice.
And that means we love Cambodians and Nigerians and Mexicans just as much as we love Americans. Our loyalty is to God and his Son — and to his church, which is our only nation. Period. There are no other loyalties. They all died on the cross.
Now, that’s far from saying that you’re disloyal to your country. It’s not loyal vs. disloyal. It’s loyal to God or loyal to the U.S. “No man can serve two masters.” And yet we can serve our fellow Tuscaloosans or Americans in the name of Jesus — because God ordains government and wants people to have the blessings of good government. But we can never compromise our Christianity even a little for the sake of political gain.
But Peter makes it clear that we aren’t here as citizens of any earthly country. We live as “aliens” — people who are not citizens. It’s a hard saying. He’s not saying that we can’t enjoy the privileges of citizenship — such as the ability to work at a job or to vote. Rather, it’s about who you’re loyal to and whose approval you seek. It’s about whether you see the church has being obligated to America first and other nations second. Or seeing only Americans as truly your neighbor.
There’s another thought in the passage. “Stranger” is not just a synonym for “alien.” The ESV translates “exiles.” The same words were used in the Septuagint to describe Abraham while wandering in Palestine and the Israelites while in Egypt. We are each, like Abraham, a “stranger in a strange land” (Ex 2:22). You see, this world is not my home.
(“New Day” is a Church of Christ a cappella group.)
I skipped something earlier —
(1 Pet 2:9) 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.
This is all so that we’ll tell the world about God. Why?
(1 Pet 2:12) 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.
So that the “pagans” — those outside the holy nation — will “glorify God.” We declare God’s praises to bring others into the Kingdom. And we do this by — declaring God’s praises.
We also do this by being servants — the most natural thing for kenotic people. You see, we are to do such good deeds that even pagans who don’t know God feel compelled to praise — not us, not our congregation, and not our denomination! — but God. That’s because we defer all praise to God. It’s not about how wonderful we are, but how wonderful God is.
And this sounds a lot like —
(Mat 5:14-16) “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
We let our light shine by our good deeds — which are done in the name of God, for his honor and glory. It’s got to be about God or it just won’t work. After all, if it’s about us or our little group, well, we aren’t being co-crucified, and so we won’t be lifting up Jesus.
(John 12:32) “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”
He was, of course, speaking of his literal crucifixion. But it remains true that the crucifixion is Jesus’ means of drawing all men. And it will hardly do for us to preach the crucifixion unless we live the crucifixion, and the living is worth a thousand times the preaching. The passages are about living for Jesus through service to others. That’s how we participate in God drawing the world to Jesus.
Preaching is too easy.
Okay — so this tells us something about the Christian colony. The colony is different from the surrounding world. Rather, it models life in heaven — life in God’s presence — for the world to see. Indeed, our greatest testimony is how we live in the colony. If the world doesn’t see that the church is different, special, and maybe even better, it’s not a colony — and it won’t appeal to those outside.
We aren’t to be different for the sake of being different. We’re different because we serve a different king. We don’t measure our conduct by whether it’s the same or different from those outside. It’s just whatever it takes to be faithtful to our King.
This means, of course, that we can’t live just as individuals. We have to live as individuals who are part of a special, different community. It’s not that we are “selling” the church. Rather, we are called into a different kind of living, which is more than personal morality and personal good works. Read Romans 12 —
(Rom 12:9-21 ESV) 9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Notice how many of Paul’s instructions are about interpersonal relationships within the church. Recall that 1 Cor 13 was written to teach us how to live as a congregation — not as husbands and wives. Much of the focus of the Sermon on the Mount is on how to live in community.
We cannot honor these passages living apart from our brothers and sisters. It’s only as the church — the body of Christ — that Jesus is most fully lifted up. Of course, we do it as individuals, but we also do it as community. And this is the only way to truly be a colony, a nation, a priesthood, and a people.