No Ordinary People

1 Peter 2:9-12

About this time of year, most of us get a little reflective about who we are and what we’ve done over the past year. We think about the things we’ve accomplished and those areas we’re not what we had hoped. And if you’re like me, you tend to be a little hard on yourself, you are your own worst critic.

But it’s true! We are ordinary and we are flawed and sinful. We don’t live up to our own expectations, let alone God’s. But that’s not the whole of the story. Do you remember what Paul wrote in Romans 5: You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

Paul says, “Yes, you were powerless, you were ungodly, you are sinners, but God loves you anyway. In fact, he loves you so much, he made the ultimate sacrifice by allowing his son to die in your place so that he could have you with him forever.

It’s not an excuse to settle for mediocrity, or to accept sin as normal, but a reminder that God loves you just as you are. There is nothing you could do to make God love you more, there is nothing that you have done that makes him love you less.

It is the most amazing paradox.  God chooses the most ordinary of people and makes them extraordinary.  In 1 Cor. 1:26-29, Paul wrote, Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

It is a scripture that I find myself coming back to again and again. And it’s a scripture I find great comfort and confidence in. I am confronted often with my own commonness – there is nothing extraordinary about me. My life is filled with routine. I am not an expert on any particular subject.  My name doesn’t make anybody’s list for the person they would call first to speak on an issue or solve some problem.  My life, like most of yours’ is ordinary.

God didn’t choose the best and the brightest, the most influential and powerful, he didn’t build the church on human potential and accomplishment.  Instead he chose us – common people.  People who have nothing to offer, save our surrendered lives.  Who make a difference, not because of their incredible ability, but because of their willing availability.  And God wouldn’t have it any other way.  His church is built of ordinary people living ordinary lives so that no one could say, “See, it’s the people God has to work with – take them away and what would God be able to do?  The church couldn’t survive.”

And so God picked the most common of people, so that the power would rest in him.  And the glory would be his alone.  And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

But in the process something amazing happens. These very ordinary people become extraordinary.  Like a chunk of coal, placed deep in the earth, under the right conditions is transformed into a beautiful diamond; like a plain caterpillar is transformed into a delicate, graceful butterfly.  Take an ordinary person, put the Holy Spirit into their life, place them in a loving church family, feed them with the Word of God, and they are transformed into a new creation.

Peter takes this theme, and speaks about this incredible transformation: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

Peter writes, “Once you were not a people…”  And I think of how tragically that describes so many peoples’ lives.  Their lives are aimless, purposeless, unfulfilling.  They live for themselves, and look out for number one.  They have no greater identity than an employee number and a paycheck.  Nothing that will live beyond the grave.

But that’s not how God created us.  God sees you the way you were meant to be.  He knows what you can become.  He can give your life meaning and purpose and direction.  But you can experience that nowhere but in him.

And so Peter writes, “But you are chosen people…” 

Is there any more beautiful word in the English language than “chosen”?   It confers special status.  You know how it feels to be chosen.  To be chosen by someone to be their husband or wife.  To be chosen among a field of candidates to work for a company.  To be chosen as a member of a team.  To be chosen by your peers for some special award or recognition.  God chose us.  Not arbitrarily, but specifically and with great forethought.  You are not accidental.  And God chose you to be his very own. 

But there is more – you are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation.”  Not only has God chosen us, but he has entrusted us with being his representatives to a lost and dying world.  We – every one of us – are a priest of God.  We serve in his name, we impart grace and compassion in his name, we share the good news and point people to Jesus.  We are priests.  And we are set apart – that’s what holy means – set apart for a special purpose.  God has dedicated us for his own service, reserved us for his use alone. 

“…a people belonging to God…”

The ultimate purpose of God’s choosing is not so he will have more servants and workers, but so that he will have more children.  That’s what belonging is about.  We have been invited into a relationship with the Father.  We have been away too long and he wants us back home where we belong. 

“…that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

How should you react to that kind of news?  I don’t know whether it hits you square on like a 2x4 in the face, or whether it just kind of sneaks up around you and one day the reality of it sinks in – “I am a child of God.”  But there is only one possible response – to praise him. To realize where we have come from and where we were heading, and to be rescued from all of that.  To have nothing and been given everything.  To have a life that would have ended in death, and to have been given the gift of eternal life.  How could you not praise him?  And how could you keep from telling everyone you met about him and about what he has done in your life? 

No more than the paralyzed man in Luke 5, or the demon possessed man in Luke 8, or the leper in Luke 17, or the blind man in Luke 18, who, when given their lives back, could not help but praise God and tell others what Jesus had done. 

And because of the difference God makes in our life, we in turn make a difference in the lives of others.  Continue reading with me in 1 Peter 2:

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.  (1 Peter 2:11-12)

It’s contagious.  People look at us – transformed hearts, changed lives – and what is their reaction?  Not “What a great guy!” but “What a great God!” 

You see, it’s not about us – it’s about him.  It’s not about changing the world, it’s about making an eternal difference in the life of one person who needs a Savior.

They tell of an old man walking along the beach with his grandson, who picked up each starfish they passed and tenderly threw it back into the sea.  "If I leave them up here," the little boy said, "they will dry up and die.  I'm saving their lives."  "But," protested the old man, "the beach goes on for miles, and there are millions of starfish.  What you are doing won't make any difference."  The boy looked at the starfish in his hand, gently threw it back into the ocean, and answered softly, "It will make a difference to this one."

The fact is, you have made a difference in my life, and you make a difference in the lives of others around you every day. You are no ordinary people.  What God has done among you is extraordinary.  Don’t ever sell yourselves short – God doesn’t.

In research for his doctoral dissertation, a student in Cultural Anthropology spent a year with a group of Navajo Indians on a reservation in the Southwest. During that year, he lived with one family, sleeping in their adobe hut, eating their food, working with them, and generally living the life of a 20th century Indian. The old grandmother of the family spoke no English at all, yet a very close friendship developed between the two. In spite of the language difference, they shared the common language of love and understood each other. Over the months, he learned a few phrases of Navajo and she picked up a little of the English language. When it was time for him to return to school to write his dissertation, the tribe held a going-away celebration. It was marked by sadness since the young man had become close to the whole village and all would miss him. As he prepared to get up into the pickup truck that would take him back to the city, the old grandmother came to tell him good-bye. With tears streaming from her eyes, she placed her hands on either side of his face, looked directly into his eyes and said, “I like me best when I’m with you.”

Isn’t that the way we should feel in the presence of Jesus? Knowing that he loves us completely and unconditionally. That he sees us, not as ordinary, but extraordinary and precious.