By: Marvin Bembry, Sr.
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9).
The apostle Peter addressed his first epistle to the “strangers scattered throughout” Asia Minor. In his salutation, he referred to them as the “elect according to the foreknowledge of God.” It is interesting as one considers the landscape of human history that God has dealt with man according to His choices. Often when we think of volition, we think of man’s ability to choose, but God also chooses.
In the Old Testament God said to Israel that He chose them not because of their value or status among the nations, but because the Lord loved them (Deuteronomy 7:8). He told one prophet that while he was still in the womb, He chose him and ordained him (Jeremiah 1:5). The Scriptures also reveal that John the Baptist was chosen to receive the Holy Ghost from birth. (See Luke 1:15.)
Jesus told His disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and ordained you” (John 15:16). It is quite obvious, then, that God exercises His ability to choose and does so on the basis of His sovereign will.
The Epistle of I Peter was written in the context of a scattered group of believers who were suffering trials and persecution under the Roman Emperor Nero. They faced persecution from not only the Romans but also non-believing Jews. To this setting the apostle Peter laid out before us the favor of God’s people in spite of their circumstances. Thirty-three times in this first epistle he used the pronoun ye. He wrote, ye rejoice, ye love, ye know, ye have been purified and ye are living stones. He vividly painted a contrast when he wrote that the stone which is our anchor is also the stone of stumbling and the rock of offense to those who are disobedient. (See I Peter 2:6-8.) Perhaps the climax, even a compliment, occurred when Peter wrote, ‘But ye are a chosen generation… that ye should shew forth the praises of him” (I Peter 2:9).
The parallel to our text occurs in Deuteronomy 7:6: Moses said to Israel, “Thou art an holy people unto the LORD…. The LORD hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.” This sense of being special to God became an inseparable part of the history of the Jews. It gave them the boldness to call on God in their captivity. In spite of persecution and attempts at annihilation, they knew they had a certain status, a certain prestige, and beyond that they had a promise from God! It was scripturally proclaimed and historically lived, and it was posted on the doorposts of their hearts: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (II Chronicles 7:14).
The Jewish Christian audience of Peter’s epistle understood immediately the message God was sending them. Through Peter the Lord exhorted them to holy living and righteous conduct in the midst of their oppression. The message was loud and clear. They were a special people unto the Lord. They might be rejected by Roman royalty and by first-century Judaism, but to God they were “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.”
Within the last statement of this verse lies the challenge for the church today. God is an economist. He never invests without expecting a return on His investment. There is always a heavenly agenda. Sometimes it is hidden away by isms and schisms, doubts and fears. “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his” (II Timothy 2:19). Since we are a chosen generation, we are therefore equipped to do the work of the ministry.
The choice of Israel to be God’s special people was not to create a proud or arrogant people. God’s choice of the church to be the depository of His name is not to create an exclusive club, but as Peter wrote, we are to “show forth the praises of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.” In other words, we are to be an advertising agency whose sole purpose is to get new customers and to create profit for the Master. We must be service oriented. We have been chosen to serve.
We would do well to consider the words of Jesus: “The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45, NKJV). The Greek word used for serve is diakoneo, which carries the meaning of being a domestic attendant, a waiter, or someone who takes care of another’s necessities. Jesus came to minister to the needs of others as a servant, not as one to be served. In Luke 22:27, Jesus said, “I am among you as the One who serves” (NKJV).
In his sermon to the Jews in Perga in Pamphylia, Paul referred to David as one who served his own generation (Acts 13:36). David is mentioned nearly a thousand times in the Bible. From being a shepherd to becoming king of the United Kingdom of Israel, David’s story is one of rags to riches. Although David was not free from character flaws or acts of sin, he never lost his role as a servant of his people and his God. Through service he executed the Philistine giant, became the personal harpist to a mentally disturbed king Saul, who repeatedly attempted to take David’s life, became a warrior hero, and then accepted the crown to rule Israel. He was always the servant of the nation as well as the servant of God. In bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, he danced with all his might, sharing his devotion to his God with the common and lower class people. In his troubles and trials, he learned how to serve.
When David saw and heard the blasphemy of the abusive Goliath, he refused to be like the others who were afraid to meet the challenge. Why? There was a cause. When no one would seize the opportunity for God to be exalted, he found a place to serve.
While David was fleeing from Saul with a ragged army of outcasts and thugs, he was at the same time teaching them how to be responsible, to show mercy, to show forgiveness, and to worship. Perhaps he sang to them the psalm he wrote after he escaped from king Abimelech by pretending to be insane: “I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the LORD: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. 0 magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:1-3). David served his generation by the will of God.
The people of Israel were aware when his baby from an adulterous affair died. Some knew that he had planned the death of Bathsheba’s husband. His guilt before God and his nation crashed in on him. But he knew where to turn for forgiveness and restoration. In humility and contrition he prayed, “Have mercy upon me, 0 God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. Create in me a clean heart, 0 God; and renew a right spirit within me. 0 Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall show forth thy praise” (Psalm 51:1-2, 10, 15).
He was still serving his generation. He was teaching contrition and repentance. He was prophesying of the great mercy of God.
When we look at North America, we see a transition occurring from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. According to a study by the United States Labor Department, by the year 2000 the service industries will create all the new jobs and most of the new wealth. In 1965 manufacturing produced 30% of all goods and services, but it is projected to be only 17% by the year 2000. Our world is taking a fresh look at service. Perhaps we need to focus the lens of Scripture on the church’s role of service to our generation.
The servant only serves for the pleasure of the master. Any pleasure that the servant receives is only circumstantial and peripheral, for the servant is not greater than the master.
The servant must serve through the good times and the bad, through ups and downs. Jacob, who was tricked by his father-in-law, still served because of purpose. Listen to his plea with Laban: I’ve served you well. I did what I was supposed to do; I have kept the terms of our agreement. Why have you changed my wages to your advantage? Yet he served Laban again and again.
Hagar, loyal and faithful servant to Abraham and Sarah, became a surrogate mom for Sarah, was repudiated by Sarah, and was kicked out of the house to live in the desert. Abraham was not happy about it, but after all she was just a servant. Both Jacob and Hagar served only for the pleasure of their masters.
The challenge for us-the chosen generation, royal priesthood, holy nation, and peculiar people-is to learn how we are to serve our generation. How are we now serving our generation? In the Bible we learn that God speaks not only to individuals but also to groups and organizations. Jesus spoke to Jerusalem of His desire to caress them. He spoke to the church of Ephesus of its lost love. He spoke to the persecuted apostolics of Smyrna, the state churches of Pergamos and Thyatira, the overcoming church of Sardis, the missionary church in Philadelphia, and the apostate church in Laodicea. And God can speak to our church.
In corporate North America we find that most of the Fortune corporations that were around at the turn of the century no longer exist. Why? They lost touch with their generation A few years ago the American auto companies lost touch with their generation. As a church body, we must keep our focus on how to serve our generation.
As we commemorate at this Jubilee Conference our merger in 1945, in our celebration let us thank God for His anointing, mercy, and grace. Let us thank God for the biblical revelation of truth and righteousness. Let us thank God for growth in missions, publications, and doctrinal understanding. But as we rejoice and glorify God, may we pause to consider our service to our generation.
In viewing North American generations, sociologists and historians have taught us that history molds each generation differently. One noted sociologist said that we are value programmed at an early age and that value programming will stay with us forever, unless there is a significant emotional event to alter it. They tell us that those programmed in the 30s are the traditionalists, who have the “right” answers; they yearn for a return to the traditional way of life. They came through the Depression years and learned the value of moderation. They call those programmed in the 40s the pendulum generation. Middle of the road. Good mediators. They swing between the baby boomers and rebels and busters of the 50s, 60s, and 70s and their fathers of the previous generation. This generation lived during the era of the peace movement, civil rights, drug experimentation, and the Vietnam War. The generation of the 80s and 90s are living in the time of global
competition, a changing economy, AIDS, alternative lifestyles, and New Age spirituality. In the 60s religion was banished from public schools, but now major U.S. corporations are teaching about New Age transformations and meditate while New Age music is playing. A different generation. It is a time of college-educated workers being unemployed. The social and economic rules and norms of yesterday do not seem to apply to this generation. Sociologists refer to this generation as a time of convergence, a time when all the views of past generations collide together. As they collide, so do our differences-such as religion, lifestyles, politics, technology, racism, nuclear war, terrorism, environmentalism, and morality.
In the midst of this convergence, in the midst of conflict that divides nations within and without, in the midst of explosive growth in technology, in the midst of AIDS and abortion, collapse and conquest, there is another generation—“Ye are a chosen generation.”
Through the prophet Isaiah the Lord gave us words to keep hope alive in the midst of conflict and chaos (Isaiah 51). He said, “Lift up your eyes to the heavens and look upon the earth beneath”
(Isaiah 51:6). This is to be a sequential action. The only way to do this sequentially is first to be lifted above the earth so as to be on a level with celestial glory. God makes us to sit in heavenly places so that we can see the world as God sees it. From that place we can see how to serve our generation. God then tells us that after looking at heaven and earth we will see that His salvation shall be forever. He said, “For the moth shall eat them [the wicked] up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like a wool: but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation” (Isaiah 51:8).
How is God going to make His salvation available from generation to generation? By the foolishness of preaching. He will take foolish things and confound the wise. All God wants is for us to show forth the praises of Him who called us out of darkness. God has a plan. God chose Moses, who had an inferiority complex because of speech impediment, to lead His people out of Egyptian bondage. He has chosen the church to serve Him, but it is “not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).
When the fullness of God’s time came, He took the form of man to redeem us by death and resurrection. Isaiah wrote, “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). Jeremiah prophesied how Jesus would redeem the world: “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” (Jeremiah 31:3).
The church is to serve with love-not with haughtiness, not with constraint, not with preconceived notions, but with love. Let us take the apostle Paul as an example of service. Before his conversion, Paul was among the elite in the Jewish religion. He hated Jews who loved Jesus, and he probably had nothing but disdain for Gentiles. But on the Damascus Road Paul had an encounter with Jesus that changed him. He knew that he had become a new creation and that the gospel is the power of God to everyone who believes, both Jews and Gentiles.
Paul could have boasted about his successful missionary journeys, his trained and skilled staff, his sufferings for the gospel, the many miracles in his ministry, and the many people he had helped and comforted. But he did not glory in these but rather in the cross of Jesus. He proclaimed that he was a debtor to all people, both Jew and Gentile, because of the cross that saved him.
When we realize how Jesus saved us by His love and grace on the cross, it should cause us to shew forth His praises and be willing to serve our generation. Our generation sits in darkness. The only way they will be saved is to see the light of truth through us. Light contradicts the darkest darkness. So then if in the world we see the darkness of exclusivism, we ought to let the light of inclusiveness shine from the church. If we see separatism and segregation in the world, we should let the light of love, acceptance, and unity prevail in the church.
This is our Jubilee Conference. Moses wrote, “Then shall thou cause the trumpet of jubilee to sound… make the trumpet sound throughout all your land…. Ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants” (Leviticus 25:9-10).
This generation may be living in a time of convergence and conflict, but God has a chosen generation to serve. So let the church sound the trumpet of righteousness, holiness, one God, faith, repentance, baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, the infilling of the Holy Ghost, and service.
We are serving our product to the world. If our product is like the world, there is no incentive to buy ours. God has chosen us to serve this generation in righteousness, with humility, love, and praises to Him who saved us.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED IN THE PENTECOSAL HERALD, JANUARY 1996, BY MARVIN BEMBRY, SR., PP. 13-16. THIS MATERIAL MAY BE USED FOR STUDY AND RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.