This would be a good time for the ground to open up and swallow me, I thought.
An instant before, my friend Janet had declared, "I don't know how an intelligent woman like you could have anything to do with the church. It has mistreated women for centuries!"
Seeing no escape at hand, I uttered a silent prayer and responded. "I agree, the church has treated women badly at times. But I'm not a Christian because of the church. I'm a Christian because of Jesus. He was absolutely radical in His treatment of women. In a culture that considered women to be property, He . . ."
I proceeded to give examples of how Jesus treated women as the valuable human beings they were. Janet and the other two women I was with listened intently. One of them murmured at one point, "I never thought about it that way."
Had this encounter happened a few years earlier, I'm not sure what I would have done. Changed the subject? Gotten defensive? Fled the scene!?
But well before this conversation, while reading 1 Peter 2 one day, I found three word pictures that are helping me understand how to be an influence in my world.
First, Peter calls us stones that are "being built into a spiritual house" (vv. 4–5). The Apostle Paul called that spiritual house a temple: "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?" (1 Cor. 3:16).
In both Peter and Paul's religious tradition, the temple was the earthly dwelling place of God. It represented God's presence in the community.
The first step in relating to the culture, I realized, was simply to be a presence. God's presence. It meant doing what I was already trying to do: abiding in Christ so people could somehow see Him in me. But it also meant making sure that the people who were seeing me weren't just my Christian pals but also the unsaved in my community. So I got "out there" and took night classes, attended community events, and joined a book group (where I met Janet). Over a period of time, I became a presence.
The next picture Peter paints is of a "priesthood" (v. 9). I think many Christians like to relate to the world as prophets: raining messages of judgment upon pagan shoulders. But while a handful of God's people may indeed be called to be such prophets, all believers are called to be priests: mediators of God's grace to others. The root word in Greek means "bridge builder." It is an image of reconciliation.
Peter tells us how to begin building those bridges: Tell God's story—who He is, what He is like, what He has done for you. Tell what extreme, love-compelled measures He took so that He could be reconciled with a lost world.
When I described to Janet how Jesus related to women, I was functioning as a priest. Ignoring the wall she tried to construct between us, I tried to build a bridge to her very human longing to be valued as a person.
Peter's final image is of "aliens and strangers" (vv. 11–12). His original readers had lost status and rights when they became Christians. They'd become out of place in the culture. And to them, Peter writes, "Look, your citizenship lies elsewhere. Here, you are aliens, and that's OK. Concentrate on living lives that will bring God glory."
Most of us—certainly those of us in the United States—are used to being "at home" in our culture. But the desire to fit comfortably in the culture can propel us beyond "being in the world" to where—often unknowingly—we become "of the world." When I yearn to be just a little more like my unsaved friends—a little freer to joke coarsely, for example, or to see the latest acclaimed but profane movie—I remind myself that I'm not supposed to feel comfortable here. I'm supposed to be different—and that difference can actually bring God glory.
Temple plus priest plus alien equals influence. That's my kind of math!
Sue Kline is the editor of Discipleship Journal (DJ) and this article first appeared in the pages of DJ (www.discipleshipjournal.com). Discipleship Journal is a nondenominational and award-winning periodical filled with highly practical articles that help readers develop a deeper relationship with God by understanding Scripture and applying it to daily life. DJ is celebrating 25 years of publication with an Anniversary Sweepstakes. Enter the sweepstakes at www.discipleshipjournal.com/25thanniversarysweepstakes