The Priesthood of All Believers, Part Eight
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, August 25, 1996
Copyright © 1996, P. G. Mathew
God has conferred great dignity on Christians. Once we were a lonely people, a hopeless people, a blind people--blind to the glory of God. Once we were in darkness, and we were darkness. But God came to our darkness as Light of the world, called us out of darkness into his marvelous light, and made us light in his light. And so in this passage Peter says that we are a chosen race, kings and priests, and a holy nation. God has made us a treasure for himself, so that we may not live for ourselves, but for God, that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into this marvelous light. And if we intellectually understand this dignity God has conferred upon us, we will with grateful hearts give God thanks forever and ever.
Highly Honored by God
In Luke 1:28 we read how the angel Gabriel appeared to a virgin named Mary who lived in Nazareth. How did he greet her? "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." In calling Mary to be the mother of his Son, God gave her great honor. In the same way, each person who is effectually called by the gospel is highly favored. God's call comes to the foolish, the weak, the lowly, the despised--the nothings of the world, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, and this call makes such people, as we learn from Peter, highly favored. Peter says we are "a chosen people, a royal priesthood."
Every Christian receives this dignity from God. Wives, you have probably heard that your husband is a king, priest, and prophet. But that is only half of it. Wives also are kings, priests, and prophets. Children who confess Christ as Lord are sons, kings, priests and prophets. Slaves who trust in Jesus Christ also are honored highly in the kingdom of God as sons, kings, priests, prophets. God has bestowed great dignity on all Christians.
Therefore, all Christians must rejoice in the new position and honor that is granted to them. We were once darkness, but we have been called out of darkness into the light of God. We were creatures of the night who revelled in sin, but by a divine miracle we have been made the light of the world by him who is the Light.
A Holy Nation
Another way God has honored us is to make a holy nation. We read about this idea in Exodus 19. Immediately after the exodus from Egypt God revealed to the Israelites that they would be to him a holy nation by obeying his covenant. Moses speaks about this also in Deuteronomy 7:6, "For you are a people holy to the Lord your God." The people of God are a nation within the nations of the world. They are a holy nation, meaning we are different from the nations of the world. We are separated to the Lord to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord our King.
Balaam spoke about this separation in Numbers 23:9 when he gave this prophecy under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: "From the rocky peaks I see them, from heights I view them. I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations." We are strangers in the world, scattered throughout the world, but we are a holy nation.
When Israel rejected their king Jesus Christ, Jesus said, "Therefore, I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation who will produce its fruit" (Matt. 21:43). This nation is the church, and the fruit it is to produce is obedience to the King. In Isaiah 32:1 we read, "See, a king will rule in righteousness. . . " Jesus is the King of this holy nation and he has his own laws and rules. His people, this holy nation, will delight in producing the fruit of obedience to this King and his laws.
Characteristics of the Holy Nation
The people of this holy nation are not defined in terms of any external factors such as color, gender, or station in life. They consist of all peoples of the earth--Jew, Gentile, male, female, bond and free--who have been born again unto a living hope, who have been redeemed to God by the precious blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish or defect. They are a people who participate in the divine nature, Peter tells us in his second epistle. They are a people who have experienced an internal change, and so their behavior has been changed. They are a holy people doing holy deeds for the glory of God.
The laws of this holy nation are recorded in a book, the Bible. But these laws are not laws of restriction. They are not like the bits and bridles that control a brute donkey. No, the Bible says these laws are the law of liberty. The people of this holy nation love them and delight themselves in them, as we read in the great psalm celebrating God's laws, Psalm 119.
This holy nation has a central government headquartered in heaven, to which we are subject. In Philippians 3:20 Paul says, "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body." Our capital is Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God, as the writer to Hebrews says in Hebrews 12.
A Nation of True Freedom
The people of this holy nation are truly free, unlike the citizens of other nations in the world, which are not holy nations. The King of kings, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has made us free, so we are free indeed. The citizens of the United States pride themselves on their freedom, but they are truly not as free as the people of this holy nation are. Why? Christ by his life, death, and resurrection set us free once and for all from slavery to sin, Satan, and death. Our sins have been totally forgiven and we have been declared righteous by the Supreme Court of heaven.
Additionally, we have been enabled by the Spirit of the living God to say no to sin and yes to the holy laws of the kingdom of God. That is real freedom! True freedom is freedom not to sin and freedom to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. True freedom is also freedom to love other people as ourselves.
In Psalm 110:3 David said, "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power" (KJV). We are God's people, and we rejoice in the power, supremacy and reign of our King, Jesus Christ our Lord. We freely and willingly subject ourselves to the Lord of this holy nation, and consider it a splendid, mighty privilege to belong to such a king and such a nation. This is freedom.
A Protected Nation
The people of this holy nation are completely protected and provided for. No Christian needs to be anxious or fearful. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said three times not to be anxious. Why did he say that? As a good shepherd, the King of this nation takes care of his people and they lack absolutely nothing.
Christians need not fear any enemies, for the one who is our King has triumphed over them all on the cross and by the cross. And Paul declares he leads us in triumph always (2 Cor. 2:14). To him belongs all authority in heaven and on earth. (Matt. 28:18). He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, and the book of Revelation tells us he gives the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men as supper to the birds of the air. Not only that, we are kings with him because we are seated with him in heavenly places. Therefore to the slave and the free, to the Jew and the Gentile, to male and female, to all people who trust in Jesus Christ, we say "Rejoice!"
A People for God's Own Possession
Not only are we a holy nation, but Peter then says that we are "a people belonging to God." In the King James version it says "a peculiar people," meaning we are precious. Now, he is not saying that we are precious in the sight of the world. The world despises Christians, rejecting them and treating them as nothing. But we are precious in the sight of him who redeemed us with his own precious blood. How precious are we? The price of our redemption was the life of God's own Son.
This dignity of being precious to God is also in keeping with God's covenant design as found in Exodus 19:5. We read there, "Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession." And Moses says later on in Deuteronomy 7:6 and 14:2 that out of all the peoples of the face of the earth, the Lord chose Israel to be his treasured possession. In Isaiah 43 God says of his people that they are a people he formed for himself, and in Malachi 3:17, we read this: "'They will be mine,' says the Lord Almighty, 'in the day when I make up my treasured possession'" or, as we read in the King James version, "when I make up my jewels," "'I will spare them just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him.'" And how did God spare us? By not sparing his own beloved Son. We are God's sparkling jewels, his treasured possession. God loved us from all eternity with an everlasting love, and he chose, spared, and he saved us by the precious blood of his Son who fully obeyed his covenant. God delights in us who are his jewels. In fact, he comes and makes his abode with us, so that we can commune with him and he with us. This is abundant Christian life. This is rest and refreshing. This is not like Marah,with its bitter water but it is Elim, the great oasis of refreshment, with its twelve springs and seventy palm trees (Ex. 15:23,27).
We Are God's Treasure
In Titus 2:13-14 Paul speaks of "our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." Let me assure you, we are God's treasure. We are Christ's treasure. We are the jewels of God. The foolish, the lonely, the dead, the hopeless, the despised, the weak, and the nothings have been made into very precious jewels for God's own delight and by his own mighty power. We are jewels for God's possession and delight. If this knowledge does not delight you, I would say that you are not born of God.
In the book of Ezekiel we read the story of a newborn girl whose father and mother rejected her and threw her out onto the dung heap. Look at Ezekiel 16, beginning with verse 4: "On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths." She was absolutely unloved. "No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you." She was despised, rejected, hopeless, and as good as dead. "Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised. Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, 'Live!' I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew up and developed and became the most beautiful of jewels. . . . Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine" (Ezek. 16:4-8). This is what we are--God's treasured possession, his sparkling jewels. And we also read about this idea in Ephesians 5, that "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to present her to himself as a radiant church," a sparkling church. We are the bride of Christ.
The Apple of His Eye
Another phrase used to describe our preciousness to God is "the apple of his eye.". In Deuteronomy 32:9-10 we read, "For the Lord's portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance. In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste." And what did God do? "He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye." David understood this. As king he had a copy of God's word, which he read, and so in Psalm 17:8 David says, "Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings." And later on Zechariah the prophet said of the people of God, "whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye" (Zech. 2:8).
We are God's and he will defend us. We are weak and yet precious to him, so no one can destroy us. They may kill our bodies, but the Bible says that we need not fear because death itself has been destroyed and its sting has been taken away from us. We must realize that God is for us, he is with us and he is in us. We are his, we are in him, and Paul says nothing in all creation shall be able to separate us from his love.
He Is Our Treasure
Not only are we God's treasure, but he is ours. When God called us out of darkness into the marvelous light and made us light, the first thing we saw was him who called us. Like the blind man who saw Jesus Christ as the first thing he saw when his eyes were healed, for us also there is a treasure, but it is not the world or the things of the world. The Lord is the treasure of the church. Therefore, when heaven tells the church, "You are my portion," the church responds in unison from the earth, "O Lord, you alone are our portion."
He is our portion and possession. In Psalm 73 Asaph declared, "Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you." That demonstrates a complete lack of materialism and worldliness. If you traveled throughout the earth and saw all the riches and fame it could offer, would you then be able to say, "Earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever"? If that is what you say, you can rejoice that you have been called out of darkness into God's marvelous light.
In the Old Testament we read that the priests did not receive any land inheritance. Why? The Lord was their possession and portion. Even so, we who are kings and priests of God have the Lord as our possession, inheritance, and portion, and nothing in the world will make us happy and satisfied except enjoying the presence of God and having communion with him. If God is for us, who can be against us? If God is for us, we lack nothing. Our cup overflows unendingly.
Live Holy Lives
What is the purpose of God honoring us by calling us out of darkness into his wonderful light and making us a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own possession? Peter says, "that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9). The purpose of the church is to advertise God and glorify him in the world by word and deed.
First, let us examine what it means to advertise God by our lives. We are not to live self-focused lives, but we are to make God known among the nations by declaring his virtues, his excellencies, his wonderful deeds, his attributes, and his glory. To do so, we must live clean, holy lives.
In 1 Peter 2:11, 12 it says, "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." No doubt Peter was referring to what he heard in the Sermon on the Mount: "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? . . . You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:13-16).
We must abstain from evil. Did not God say, "Be holy, because I am holy"? We are light and therefore we must be light in the world by being different than the world rather than conforming to its philosophies, values, and deeds. We are a nation that lives apart. We do not consider ourselves among the nations. We are different, and it is in the difference that we advertise God.
What else should we do? In 1 Peter 3:15 we read, "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." As Christians, we must live different lives, but we must also proclaim the reason for the hope that is in us. We must be able to tell the world that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. We must declare the praises of him by living holy lives as well as declaring the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Where do we live these lives? We should start in the family. Look at 1 Peter 3: "Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives." When an unbelieving husband witnesses the light radiating from his Christian wife, he may want to trust in Jesus Christ. We have been called out of darkness and made lights that we may declare the praises of him.
Peter also says to live holy lives in the context of suffering. The entire epistle of 1 Peter addresses the issues of suffering. When we are suffering, we are to suffer cheerfully, being conscious of God. If we do so, that will cause the world to glorify God.
From Darkness to Light
Christians are the light of the world. We were darkness but we have been made light by Jesus Christ, the Light of the world. Now we shine as lights, living separated lives in a sinful world, that the world may see our good deeds, and those chosen from all eternity may come to believe and glorify the Father.
As lights, we must be what we are for the salvation of the world and the glory of God. The Shorter Catechism tells us the chief end of man is to glorify God. The chief purpose of our redemption, of God's granting us these new dignities and making us jewels, is to result in the praise of his glorious grace. Let us declare his praises in our homes, in our personal lives, and in our work lives. We must adorn the gospel with our lives and proclaim it with our words.
There is a gospel preached today that promises that Christians will always become wealthy, healthy and influential in the world. That is a different gospel from the gospel Jesus, Paul and Peter proclaimed. God's purpose for us is to advertise him in our suffering, in our poverty, and in our ordinary lives in the world.
Holding Forth the Word of Life
We must also proclaim the gospel with our words. First Peter 2:9 tells us that not only are we sons, kings, and priests, but we are also prophets, and as such we have a duty to declare and proclaim God's word. What was the great Old Testament promise which was to be fulfilled in the end times? The great eschatological hope found in Joel 2:28 was that "Your sons and daughters will prophesy." We see that fulfilled first in Acts 2:17. And what were these people speaking about? The excellencies and virtues of God.
So, according to Peter, we are priests and kings and now we see that we are also prophets. We must note here that this includes women as well as men. I know some people do not like that idea, but the gospel liberates everyone. The text says we are kings, we are priests, and, by implication, we are prophets. As God's people who are filled with the Spirit, we must prophesy. Are we prophesying about ourselves and how great we are? Oh, no. Prophets fix their eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. We must watch our tongues and be careful so that we don't talk about ourselves but speak of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. We must prophesy that God is great, that God is good, and that Jesus Christ alone is God and Savior of all who will repent and believe on him.
In Philippians 2:15 Paul tells us to live as children of God, blameless and pure, in a crooked and perverse generation, "in which you shine as stars in the universe, as you hold out the word of life" (Phil. 2:15-16). God has made us light in the darkness of the world. In the midst of a terrible world, we must cry out to God and say, "O God, make me light," and we must not behave like everyone else. Why? To be like everyone else means to be like darkness. We are called to shine as stars.
In Matthew 5 Jesus told us not to cover our light because of criticism. Sometimes we do blend in with the world out of fear of persecution, and begin to speak the same language and engage in the same actions as the world to protect ourselves. What we are doing is hiding ourselves in the darkness of the world. But when we do this, we are covering our light. We cease to advertise God and we are thus denying the purpose to which God has called us.
If we are covering our light, if we are hiding under a bushel, we must question our salvation. Why? The nature of light is shining. If we are not shining, we must question whether we have been made lights.
Declare His Praises through Your Lives
If God has called us out of darkness into his wonderful light, how can we declare his praises? First, we must live for God in our personal lives. We must ask what type of thoughts we are indulging in, thought of uncleanness and impurity, or thoughts of God. What are we watching? What are we reading? Are we light or darkness? To live clean lives we must first begin with our thought life. Then we will speak the right thing and do the right thing. Our personal lives must be clean.
Secondly, we must live for God in our families. What are the values you promote at home? Do you talk only about money, things and gadgets, and thus promote worldliness? Or are you encouraging godliness? Are you finding happiness in things, in sensuality, in experiences, in eating and drinking? Do you understand God has brought us to Elim? We must realize that God is bread; God is living water; and God alone will satisfy us. If we find satisfaction in the world, we are fools. What about family relationships? Do you delight in those laws of God's kingdom? Do you love your wife? Do you submit to your husband? Do you love one another and submit to one another? Do you govern your children according to the Scriptures?
Thirdly, we must live for God in our work lives. Anyone can say "I am a Christian" but do you shine as light at work? Do you strive to do an excellent job and then go beyond that to ask if you can do anything for others? If so, then you are declaring God's praises in that place.
How Is Your Life?
Let us reflect on the great dignity God has given us. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, with a king whose laws are designed for our freedom. We are a people of God's own possession in whom he delights and longs to commune with. We are his jewels, and he is making us radiant, always working to cleanse and purify us, until we sparkle as the bride of Christ. And if we do not find that this satisfies us, then we must cry out to God, "O God, call me out of darkness. Make me light, that I may see the glory of God."
Perhaps you have never bowed your knees to God. May God have mercy on you and call you out of darkness. May you understand the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ is coming to you in all power, with the singular purpose of destroying all other authorities and powers. May you recognize the demand of the kingdom that you will repent and unconditionally surrender in your will, your mind and your emotions to the lordship of Jesus Christ. May you be spared, just as those who trusted in the blood of the lamb were spared when God destroyed the firstborn of the Egyptians. Then you will come into this glorious liberty, the marvelous light of the gospel.
May God help us who call ourselves Christians fulfill the purpose of redemption, that we may declare the praises of our great, almighty, glorious God, who freely forgave us our transgressions, sin and iniquity. May we think his thoughts, speak his words, and do his deeds in a crooked and perverse generation, that we may shine as stars in the midst of darkness, holding forth nothing else but the word of life. Amen.
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Copyright © 1996, P. G. Mathew
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