Under the Roman system of slavery it was possible for an
ambitious slave to gain his freedom. If he had a skill and was
determined to work he could hire himself from his master for so
much a day, and work for himself. If he was successful, he could
accumulate enough savings to buy himself from his master and be
free. It was by this method that some slaves rose to high positions.
The money that a slave made over and above what he had to pay his
master was called his “peculium” and the law protected it as his own
private property. This Latin word is the origin of our English word
peculiar. The word has come to mean odd, weird, or eccentric, but
when the KJV translators used it, it was with the original meaning
of privately owned and acquired property. Something peculiar was
the private possession of some person.
This is the meaning of the word when Peter calls Christians
peculiar people in the King James Version. Christians may be odd,
but this is not what Peter is referring to in verse 9, nor what Paul is
referring to when he says in Titus 2:14, “Who gave himself for us,
that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a
peculiar people, zealous for good works.” Christians are to be
distinctly different as being God’s own possession, and as such are to
conform to the image and plan of their master in holiness and
service. Their peculiarity does not consist in their being a
conglomeration of oddities promoting a pack of screwball ideas.
A sect was organized in 1838 called The Peculiar People who
took their name from this text. They practiced being peculiar in the
modern sense of the word rather than the biblical sense. You can
see how almost anything can be justified when a word is taken in a
different sense than what it originally meant. That is why we can be
grateful for modern translations which use the word chosen people
rather than peculiar. We want to examine the concepts that Peter
lays down here which are to be distinctive of God’s people.
I. A CHOSEN RACE.
You have probably heard of the lost tribes of Israel, but the fact
is that the whole race has been lost in our thinking. The New
Testament makes it clear that Christians are a new race of people.
We usually credit the Jews as being the only race which is also a
religion. Jew stand for one’s religion as well as one’s race. But in
sheer neglect of the New Testament we do not apply this distinctive
concept to Christians. Christians are God’s chosen people. The
Jews were also, but they failed, and so now the New Israel is the
chosen race, and it is the only race that is universal. It is the only
race that includes those from every other race. It is the only race
that is open to all. All other races are by nature exclusive. A person
of the white race cannot become a part of the black or yellow race.
No race can include another race, but the Christian race is inclusive,
and it is composed of people from every race. There are no walls in
this race, for there is neither Jew or Gentile, black or white, male or
female. All are equal as sinners saved by grace, and all have entered
this race by the new birth through submission to Jesus as Savior.
There is no concept like this in all the world. This is peculiar
to Christians, for this is their distinctive nature. What an impact
this concept could have in a world so full of racial strife. The church
has the answer to unity. If men accept Christ and become a part of
the chosen race, all walls are broken down. That people are white,
red, black or yellow is secondary, for we are primarily of the
Christian race. People are born as a certain race, but when they are
born again they become a part of a new race. All things become
new, even their race. As Christians we believe that the chosen race
is the greatest race, for it is the only race that is eternal. It is the
only race that can incorporate all others and eliminate all the racial
strife, for all in this race become blood brothers through the blood of
Christ. This is a revolutionary concept, and if the implications of it
are applied by the church there would be no racial conflict in
Christianity. As God’s peculiar people we have an obligation to the
world to make it clear what God says about race. The second
distinctive Peter lists is-
II. A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD.
The first distinctive demolished the walls of distinction between
races and made all believers one race. This second distinctive
demolishes the wall between clergy and layman. This wall has done
more to destroy the ministry of the church than all the external
forces of evil. It is a wall that was built within the church, and it has
caused the vast majority of believers to neglect and ignore one of the
most vital truths of Christianity. Francis O. Ayres begins his book
The Ministry Of The Laity with this startling paragraph: “You are
a minister of Christ. In all fairness, and exposition of the ministry of
the laity has to begin with that statement. If you are a baptized
Christian, you are already a minister. Whether you are ordained or
not is immaterial. No matter how you react, the statement remains
true. You may be surprised, alarmed, pleased, antagonized,
suspicious, acquiescent, scornful, or enraged. Nevertheless, you are
a minister of Christ.”
So often people have referred to the peculiar notion of the
Jehovah Witnesses that they are all ministers as nonsense. We know
they have not gone to school and been ordained, and so we dismiss
their claims with a smile. But what a surprise it is to discover that
the laugh is on us, for they have the New Testament behind them.
We have not been conscious that as a part of the royal priesthood we
are all ministers. In the New Testament we do not find any marked
distinction between clergy and layman. The only distinction is one
of function. The Apostles, teachers and deacons, and others all had
different ministries to perform by using their gifts. As time went on
the clergy gained more power, and the church became clergy
centered rather than lay centered. This was the beginning of the
downfall of the church. It reached its height in the monastic
movement where the distinction was sharply drawn between the
first class Christians who left the world to live for God as monks,
and the second class masses who lived in the world.
Christianity lost its distinctive of the priesthood of all believers,
and it became a religion of professionalism. Being religious was the
job of the clergy. It was for them to know, and if you needed to
know you went to them. Just as the layman does not do his own law,
surgery, plumbing or dentistry, but left these areas of life to the
professional, so also religion was left in the hands of the clergy. This
was a major cause for corruption of the church. The Reformers
made it a major issue as they stressed the priesthood of all believers,
but we still have not rid ourselves of the concept that the church is
clergy centered. It is so ingrained in our thinking that even though
we know of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers we tend
not to practice it, and we scoff at this truth when it is proclaimed by
the Jehovah Witnesses.
Here we see it in black and white written to churches all over
Asia that they are a royal priesthood. This is a transfer of a
distinctive from Old Israel to the New Israel, which is the church.
Peter is applying to the church statements that were concerning
Israel in Ex. 19:5-6: “Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and
keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all
peoples, for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom
of priests and a holy nation.” Peter says this is now the promise to
the church, and this is now a Christian distinctive. Everyone in the
chosen race is also a priest. There is no distinction between clergy
and laity. The clergy are only those chosen out of the laity to fulfill a
particular function in the church. The laity are the church. All of
the Epistles of the New Testament, except for I Timothy and II Timothy
and Titus are written to layman to teach, train and instruct
them in their ministry. Only those three Epistles are written for the
instruction of the minister.
Jesus was a layman, and He chose all layman to be His
Apostles. The church was founded on layman, and by layman it was
promoted. When it was layman centered each member recognized
themselves to be in ministry to the world. When the concept of the
royal priesthood of all believers is lost, you loose that distinctive that
makes the church the peculiar people of God. This does not mean
we minimize the role of the clergy, but that we simply see their
limits. Paul was the only one of the Apostles chosen from the clergy
class, and it makes good sense why this is so. He was to be the
theologian of Christianity, and so he needed to be a man with much
theological training. But it is the people of God who are the chosen
race and the royal priesthood.
Luther stressed this and wrote, “All Christians are truly priests
and there is no distinction amongst them except as to office.
Everybody who is baptized may maintain that he has been
consecrated as a priest.” Peter makes it clear that every believer is a
preacher-priest. There task is not one of ceremony, but one of
declaring the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into light.
Every believer is to be a preacher and declarer of the glory of God.
When preaching is limited to the clergy and the pulpit, the church
ceases to be what Christ intended. Sadler said, “It is hypocrisy for
men to claim for the laity the honor of priesthood, whilst they do
nothing to remind them of the duties of the priesthood.” Peter gives
us both. He claims we are royal priesthood, and that the function of
each priest is to bring glory to God by their life and their lips. There
is one more distinctive we want to consider.
III. A HOLY NATION.
Here is a distinctive that once belonged to the Jews and now is
the possession of the church. Christians are now the holy nation
among the nations representing the God of Israel, and the God and
Father of Jesus Christ. Christians are the true internationalists, for
their primary loyalty is to Christ and His body, which is a nation in
the world, but not of the world. It is a nation without walls, for it
has no boundaries. It’s citizens all have a common allegiance to
their King the Lord Jesus. It is a kingdom not of this world, but still
in this world, and it transcends all the limitations of earthly nations.
The church is a holy nation, and that is what makes it distinct.
God is its government, and its laws and principles are in Scripture.
This makes the church the most distinctive group of people in the
world. We are to rise above the ordinary in all areas. We are a
chosen race, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. This means that
in race, religion and politics we are to be unique, and we are to have
distinctively superior attitudes in comparison to the world, so that
the world might see the excellencies of God through us, and be
compelled to recognize that we live in the realm of light. What a
calling we have as believers. We should be thrilled to be a part of
such a group of peculiar people.