Text: 1 Peter 2:9—"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light."
It is plain from this text that there will be a group of people living when Jesus comes who will be distinctive or uncommon. And it is our work as ministers to help develop that people.
Perhaps all of us have shared equally the mercy of God, but not all have profited equally from our experiences. Nothing is more evident in this world than that there is a difference in people, as in cattle. We have thoroughbreds and scrubs and in-betweens. In the forest of humanity some trees are taller. Now the question is, How can one tell whether he is common or uncommon, whether he belongs to this royal priesthood, this holy nation, this peculiar people, or not? It's relatively easy to see which trees in the forest are taller, but how can you tell which are the distinctive men in the forest of humanity? What does it mean to be uncommon or distinctive? Is it a matter of family? If I can trace my genealogy back to families that have achieved much in industry, art, or government, does that make me distinctive? No.
Then how about position? Being governor, or king, or leader—does that automatically place me in this coveted group? No, the king, the governor, or the leader often has a character with the same fabric and weave as that of the tavern loafer.
How about money and clothes? No. Then genius and talents? The singer, the sculptor, the artist, the famous folk often are no better than the streetwalker—cheap, vulgar, and very, very common.
Is it what I say or do? No, not primarily. One may write as an angel and perform dazzling deeds, but live at a very low level.
Here it is! Whether or not you are common depends primarily on just one thing. It is tested by just one question. What is it that you LIKE? If you like A or B, you are one of the elect; but if you like X, Y, or Z, you are common.
It is fortunate for all of us that these characteristics lie in the field of ideals, because ideals can be changed. It is possible for every one of us to change his likes, his tastes, his ideals, and thus become a member of this distinctive group mentioned by the apostle Peter.
Now, dear reader, if you do not think that it is possible to change your tastes and ideals, then do not read further. To proceed will only make you more miserable.
Characteristics of Distinction
Now let us discuss briefly seven characteristics of the distinctive person—measurable qualities that we can all understand easily. In the first place, this uncommon man is spiritual. In 1 John 2:16 we read, "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." The nonspiritual man is not only worldly but he is very, very common. He likes the things and does the things that everybody does. On the other hand, the uncommon man has an entirely different philosophy of life and of pleasure. He lives in harmony with Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 10:31: "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." This is Made even plainer by a few sentences from Steps to Christ, page 62: "Who has the heart? With whom are our thoughts? Of whom do we love to converse? Who has our warmest affections and our best energies? If we are Christ's, our thoughts are with Him, and our sweetest thoughts are of Him."
A baby's great delight is a bottle of warm milk. On the third of a certain July, I was having a tire repaired and asked the young man who was working on it what he planned to do the next day, the Fourth of July. He answered, "I intend to have a case of beer and a tub of ice sent up to my room, lie in bed, and drink beer all day."
On the train one day, a young man in the seat beside a minister asked whether he would like to have a cigarette. He declined; then he offered him some strong drink, which he also declined. After a few more remarks, he asked, "What in the world do you do for pleasure?" Like the baby and the tire boy, he was limited to the pleasures of the physical and could not understand the supreme joys and the happy hours of the pleasures of the mind and spirit that spiritual people enjoy.
Here is a real question for us as workers. Have our pleasures changed from the physical to the mental and spiritual? Have we discovered what Jesus meant in Matthew 4:4 when He said, "Man shall not live by bread alone"? This must have been what the group of young women from the garment workers' union in New York City meant when, on a strike, they carried as one of their banners, "We want bread and roses."
Let us test ourselves. What do we like best—food, fine clothes, luxury? How much do these things really matter? Are these our most enjoyable pleasures? It is not wrong to enjoy food, to feel well dressed; but if these are at the top of our list of pleasures, then they automatically classify us in the "common" group. If they can be quickly put away for the things of the mind and the spirit, then we pass this test successfully.
Or do we like, not just say we like, but really like a beautiful picture, a lovely poem, a great symphony, to read the Bible? Would we willingly miss a meal, an hour of skating, to pray, to see a great man, to hear a symphony, to attend a church service, and be willing to be physically uncomfortable in doing so? If so, then let us rejoice, for in this trait we have achieved membership in the distinctive group.
The uncommon people like to serve, whereas the common crowd want to be waited upon. They look out for number one, get plenty while they're getting it, blow their own horn, push themselves forward, take the best seat. Jesus contrasted the attitude of these two groups in Matthew 20:25, 26: "But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister." That's it: service—making people happy. Their motto is "Joy," spelled this way: "Jesus first, Others next, Yourself last."
An American soldier went to Paris on leave. As his train approached the station, he noticed an elderly French woman in his car with many suitcases. He waited in the car as the others left, to see who would come and help her, but nobody came; so he picked up the suitcases and carried them into the railroad station. Since he could not speak a word of French and she could not speak a word of English, he bowed and waited for someone to take her the rest of the way; but as she began to pick up the suitcases to carry them to the Metro, he went along, carrying most of the bags. It had now become a game, and he decided to see it through, so he paid his fare and boarded the subway train. When the woman motioned that she was going to get off, he carried her bags out and up three flights of stairs to her apartment. Then he bowed to leave, but she took hold of his arm and walked him to a restaurant at the corner of the block and began speaking rapidly and excitedly in French, and everybody stood and applauded this young American soldier. In recounting this experience, he said, "I've never felt happier in my life. It was the most enjoyable experience I had during the whole war!"
It is always so. When we would rather serve than be waited upon, then we begin to enter into the joys of the uncommon group.
Another one of the traits which the distinctive people have is an unconquerable spirit. Cruel tragedies, being double-crossed by friends, mistreated by enemies and the world—all of these may come to these people, but they do not touch their spirits. Socrates demonstrated this characteristic. He was poisoned like a rat in a trap, and historians have tried to sympathize with him. But as we follow him during his last day on earth, listen to his conversation with his friends, and watch him as he drinks the fatal poison, we catch the spirit of the old hero and find, to our amazement, that we are not sympathizing but we are rather envying him, because nothing that his persecutors could do touched his unconquerable spirit.
In a much more beautiful and wonderful way we see this same characteristic in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. See Him at His trial and crucifixion. Take notice as His spirit rises above all that is small, low, vulgar, and unjust: "He answered them not a word." Again we find our hearts admiring and wondering at this Man whose spirit was untouched by anything men said or did to Him.
In our little trials, do we despair, complain, and pity ourselves? Do we talk about "going out in the garden and eating worms"? Or ask theatrically why we were ever born? Or state, "I'm so humiliated"? If we have such sentiments, then we must remember that they are as common as dust, as ragweeds in the cow pasture, as empty cans in the alley. Certainly these sentiments do not belong to the elect class. But if, when things combine to crush, humilitate, or besmirch us, and failure lurches at us, we stand smiling, with head bloody but unbowed, we are members of the House of Lords of humanity. This trait of character will prevent us from dwelling on unpleasant memories, on our failures, or on the thorns of life. It will keep us from being gloomy, sad, or "groaning in grace." It will prevent us from telling our troubles to men or ever breathing a word of discouragement. Our motto will be: "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice" (Phil. 4:4).
Again, the uncommon person is clean. His body may become dirty with the dust of toil. He may be a miner coming up from the pit; but he does not like dirt, so he washes it off at the first chance he has. But he is more particular about his mind. Mind dirt does not stick to him at all, such as slander, lying, profanity, obscenity. He avoids these things for the same reason that a healthy nose avoids putridity. He is not a scavenger or a vulture, and simply does not like uncleanness. He washes his mind of pride, cruelty, and pettiness, as one washes after handling garbage. His thoughts smell of sunshine; they are wholesome, and as we fellowship with him, we feel refreshed. His cleanness makes everyone feel clean who is with him.
The superior person is also humble, does not show off. In Colossians 2:18 Paul speaks of a man's being "puffed up by his fleshly mind." Proud flesh is never healthy, either in the physical or the spiritual sense. Do we like to appear wiser, better, more capable, than we really are? When we get a title or a position, do we strut? If so, it is quite certain that somebody made a mistake, and it is equally certain that everybody will soon find out about this mistake. Do we strive to put our best foot forward, or to make a good impression that we might receive flattery from people? Do we like lots of company? Are we seldom alone? If so, we are not necessarily bad; we are just common.
One man out of every hundred is pained by overpraise. Flattery humiliates him. He hides his virtues or accomplishments as he does his nudity. Lindbergh was bored with parades and demonstrations and avoided as many of them as he could. Pride is a beggar, seeking alms of praise at each house, but the humble are royal and free of favor or fear. Pride is very common, but true humility is rare.
The uncommon man is gentle. Gentleness is not an attribute of weakness but of strength. A baby screams, the coward threatens, the man with defective vocabulary swears. Harshness, brutality, the domineering tone, acts of violence, are masks of impotency. They reveal quickly and clearly that something is lacking. One of the sad facts of church history is that often the half-faith lighted the fagot that martyred the true Christian. All noise is waste. The roaring loom in the cloth factory makes much more noise than the great engine down in the basement, but the power is in the silent engine.
Elijah's experience in Horeb is significant, as recorded in 1 Kings 19:11, 12. We read that "a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice." What a dramatic way to demonstrate to Elijah and to all of us that God's way is gentle, that His people are always ladies and gentlemen!
Finally, long acquaintance does not breed contempt with uncommon people. Some people are like a picture on a billboard, or a cheap song. We soon tire of them. Their pettiness, smallness, commonness, soon appear and get on our nerves. How many of our acquaintances would we like to spend the rest of our lives with? Others are like the masters in art or music —they continue to fascinate. Like a Beethoven symphony, of which we never tire. Do we last? Do we wear well?
There we have the seven. This is certainly not the whole list—it is only a small sampling, but these characteristics are easily understood and they are always present in the characters of this "elect" people described in I Peter 2:9. In most senses, all of us are common people, but, thank God, it is our privilege to have uncommon ideals. And the worker for God, of all people, must be the personification of these heavenly ideals.