Word of the Week
August 28, 2021
God’s People: Persecuted and Privileged
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
1 Peter 2:9
NOTE: We normally devote this space to an article on a single Greek word, but one of you asked for additional Greek insights from 1 Peter 1:9. So this will be a quick tour through the verse, tossing glances over our shoulders at several interesting words.
All Afghanistan is in chaos right now, but things are especially perilous for anyone who identified themselves as “Christian” on their identity card. Being a follower of Jesus is likely to be a ticket to a cell – or worse.
American Christians deal with milder opposition – marginalization rather than martyrdom. But the pressures are real and rising.
Fortunately, we are not alone. Peter wrote his first epistle to believers who were under fire for their faith. Evidently, some of them were quivering a foxhole, too shell-shocked to move forward. That’s why he devoted the first two chapters to encouragement, lifting their faces out of the mud and looking forward to the unimaginable greatness of the salvation which they possessed.
He climaxes this part of the book by reminding them that they were part of a group with incomparable privileges. Remember who you are!
Let’s look at the Greek words he uses to explain their true identity – not as a persecuted minority, but as a people at the center of God’s focus.
- We are a chosen race.
“Chosen” is eklektos – It began as a military term for selecting one soldier out of a group for a special assignment. Then it broadened out to cover elections to civic office. The word describes a personal choice. We naturally choose the best, so it often implies superior quality, as in 1 Peter 2:6, which describes Jesus as the choice stone.”
“Race” is genos – It usually escribes a group with a common ancestry or nationality. Barnabas was from the people of Cyprus, for instance (Acts 4:36).
Of all the people on earth, God chose the descendants of Abraham to be the target of His care. And now we enjoy the same status – God has chosen each of us!
- We are a royal priesthood.
“Royal” is basileios – It describes something connected to a king. In the New Testament world, the word group might refer to the Roman emperor (1 Peter 2:13, 17) or to lower rulers like the Herods (Matthew 14:9). The king was the rightful ruler who exercised authority over all.
“Priesthood” is hierateuma – It occurs only here and in verse 5. God declared at Mount Sinai that Israel was to be a kingdom of priests offering worship to Him (Exodus 19:6). This role was then assigned to the family of Aaron. No one could be king and priest at the same time, but the two were supposed to join to lead their people in following the Lord. Jesus alone could combine the two offices.
The Jewish priest had the privilege of access to God and the responsibility to make Him known to others. Now we enjoy intimate access to the Father, along with the task of helping others approach the King of the universe.
- We are a holy nation.
“Holy” is hagios – It describes something separated from others and devoted to a specific use. A holy bowl or set of tongs would be ceremonially clean, suitable for use in the temple. Anyone who came to worship had to be ceremonially undefiled. The word could also have a moral connotation, describing purity from sinful practices. God is absolutely sinless, so sin disqualifies a person from entering His presence.
“Nation” is ethnos – It has two common meanings: (1) an ethnic group with a shared geographic or cultural identity; or (2) the non-Jewish peoples of the world, Gentiles.
God called Israel to be a holy nation (Exodus 19:5), unlike the rest of the nations which had no connection to Him. Now Peter uses the term to describe the church. Though we often fall short, we have been set apart for God, a people group bound by His grace.
- We are a people for God’s own possession.
“People” is laos – This is the usual word that describes Israel as “the people of God” (Luke 1:68). Like the other words, it means a people group bound by ties of ethnicity and geography.
“Own possession” is peripoiēsis – For a full discussion of this word, see Word of the Week for January 16, 2021. To quote the conclusion: God paid an immense price to acquire you. He claims you as His personal possession. And He intends to preserve you until you reach your eternal home.
The church of God is a distinct people group forged by the blood of Christ and bound by ties of love and loyalty to Jesus Christ. We are His personal possession, and He takes care of His own.
With all that we have going for us, we can view the future with hope, even in the face of hostility and suffering!
In the New American Standard Bible, all of these phrases are listed in all capitals. That’s the way the NASB shows Old Testament quotations. Whenever you encounter this feature, go back to the Old Testament and see how the words fit into that context. In this case, the key verses are Exodus 19:5 and Isaiah 43:20-21. It is easier to see the connection in the Isaiah passage if you consult the Septuagint (ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament).
Q – 1 Peter 3:13 makes it sound as if no one will harm a person who is devoted to the good. But 2Timothy 3:12 says that all who live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. What’s going on here?
A – The two passages are dealing with two different issues. Paul is helping prepare Timothy to stand firm in the face of persecution, so he tells him that a faithful proclaimer of the Word should expect to face opposition. Jesus was rejected, so we should not be surprised when we share the same response.
Peter, on the other hand, was exhorting his readers not to bring suffering down upon themselves by their own sinful or unwise actions. A little reflection will reveal that we usually don’t suffer because we have been so lovingly faithful to the Lord. We are in trouble because of our anger, stubbornness, or other sinful behavior. We usually bring it on ourselves!
Children gobble up the time and attention of anyone who is responsible for them. And God devotes a lot of attention to His children. Next week, we will look at the Greek words for children.
©Ezra Project 2021