As a new and young follower of Jesus I recall coming across the verse in 1 Peter 2:9 which in the King James version (KJV) was translated as “but ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:”
As a teenager the idea of being considered ‘peculiar’ had its own appeal. Most of us like to think we are somehow different and unique and in my contemporary Australian context that’s some of what the word ‘peculiar’ now means. It can also mean ‘strange,’ ‘odd’ and ‘oddly different’ and similar sometimes negative interpretations.
We may know people who do think Christians are a peculiar people as the word is currently used but what the Greek words in the New Testament mean is that we are God’s special people, we are his possession (this is actually what the word ‘peculiar’ meant at the time of the KJV translation in 1611). The more recent Bible translations use contemporary language in the attempt to convey the writer’s meaning see, for example, the NIV, NKJV, and the ESV for the same verse.
What does belonging to God mean? What does being a ‘special people’ mean? The Israelites in the Old Testament were called by God to be his special people. God worked in and through them to reveal his mercy, his grace and his glory to the surrounding pagan nations. He called the Israelites a ‘holy people’, set apart and provided by him with the social and religious structures and teaching on the attitudes they needed for their particular time and their particular place in order to worship and glorify him. We too are called to be our holy God’s ‘holy people.’
When, for example, the Israelites were in a place of exile in the foreign pagan land of Babylon they remained God’s special people, that didn’t change. What did God through his prophet Jeremiah exhort them to do? They were to “seek the peace (shalom) and the prosperity of the city…pray to YJWH for it, because if it prospers, you will prosper.” (Jer. 29:7) Here they were living in a pagan city as deportees amongst people with vastly different beliefs, attitudes and patterns of living and we read that God called them to seek the shalom of the city!
How do we live as God’s holy people here in this affluent, peaceful and post- Christendom nation? Discerning what it means to be a holy people in contemporary Australia is central to our call as God’s people living in this time and place. It requires of us time, prayer and searching the scriptures to detect the voice of his Spirit. The wisdom of people from earlier times as well as those who are living now can also be some of the ways we will discern how God would have us live out our calling as his special people, his possession. We are the holy people of the holy God living in this particular time and place, that is our calling and that too is our hope.