It’s amazing how much our self-perception depends on what other people say about us. People who’ve been told they don’t have what it takes to succeed often don’t. People who’ve been told they are valued and capable tend to live into the confidence that others place in them.
I suspect that this dynamic holds even greater sway in an honor-and-shame culture such as we find in the pages of the New Testament. In such a culture, public opinion matters much more than it does for most of us. Everyone has a definite, limited amount of honor, meaning the status that accrues from behaving as expected for one of a certain rank in society. How do you gain honor? By letting other people see you behave honorably—as defined by the standards of your society.
The gospel is bound to throw a monkey wrench into that system. It requires people to take the role of a servant, not a master. It requires people to rub elbows with the poor, the enslaved, and others on the margins of society. It requires people to break with their families, if necessary, to remain true to the demands of discipleship. As defined in the Greco-Roman world, all those things diminish a person’s honor.
And honor was a commodity. It opened doors. It greased social interactions. It offered a safety net.
Who in their right mind would choose Jesus instead? Yet that is what the first readers of 1 Peter did. And as we read chapter 2, we learn that they knew firsthand what it meant to be ostracized or disparaged by the people around them.
If the problem is being devalued or even disowned by one’s community, the writer of 1 Peter proposes a novel solution: lean into the reality that one is now part of a new community. He goes out of his way to remind his readers of who they are in Christ. Far from being dishonored misfits rejected by society, they are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people (v. 9). God has brought them together and made them God’s own.
Now, even though these followers of Jesus are aliens and exiles in terms of how their culture sees them, they are chosen and beloved. Therefore, they should act like it, growing into deeper faith and holiness.
It’s all a question of perspective. It is possible to be scorned by the world and still highly exalted in God’s eyes.
Whose opinion are we going to listen to?
• When have you felt misunderstood or even scorned because you chose to follow Christ and not the norms of your culture?
• How can awareness of our standing before God change our outlook on life??
• Why might the biblical writer have used Old Testament images of the people of Israel to describe his predominantly Gentile audience?
Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.
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