Christians Are a Peculiar People

by Spiros Zodhiates

The word "peculiar" gives the immediate connotation that something or someone is different or strange. Webster's Dictionary tells us it is an adjective which means "to belong exclusively to one particular person or group, to be distinctive or special." Such a difference may be detected by one's accent as being, for instance, Australian, Scottish, or Irish. It could be habits or dress that distinguish individuals as being different.

The word periúsios, used only in Titus 2:14, is the adjective translated "peculiar." Although it cannot be adequately translated, a good attempt has been made. To really comprehend its meaning, it must be exegeted.

This Greek word perioúsíos comes from the preposition perí, meaning "around" (from which comes our English words "perimeter" and "periodontist" and ousía, a verbal noun from the participle oân, the feminine of which is óusa from the verb eimí, to be, the noun of which is ousía. Ousía is substance, that which one knows or possesses through his natural, God-given senses.    

In both Classical and Modern Greek, periousía is that which is surplus and not needed for current expenses. It also refers to that which one may have either earned or inherited (kleró) and survives him after death.

The adjective perioúsios, from the noun periousía, surplus possessions, is the word translated "peculiar" (kjv), "very own" (Living Bible), "for Himself" (Phillip's Modern English Version and rsv), "a pure people" (Today's English Version and New English Bible), "to purify for Himself (niv), and "to purify" (Jerusalem Bible). However, none of these translations really conveys the full meaning of perioúsios, or "that which is around."

The closest synonym of ousí, "the substance of God," is phúsis, genus, spoken of God's unique nature in 2 Peter 1:4. Here we are told that we who are born again are partakers of God's divine nature (phúíseos). We who believe in Jesus Christ are made new creatures (kaineâ; ktísis, creation; 2 Cor. 5:17). This means that God makes a qualitatively new creation out of our old nature. We do not become little gods, but we become a unique, a particular or peculiar people, set apart for God, and we cannot practice sin (1 John 3:9, 10) as a way of life.

Now in 1 Peter 3:8, 9 we read that we as believers are peculiar, and these verses give us some descriptive adjectives.

First, it tells us that we are to be of "one mind." This Greek word is homóphrones, the plural of homóphron. If we break down this word, we have homoú, together; and phronéo, to think with the mind (noús) which is a natural gift of God like the sun and the rain (Matt. 5:45). Now because this gift of "one mind" which Christians enjoy is received with faith from God, it has the unity (henótes) of the Spirit, making us all one in the unity of the faith (Eph. 4:3) which is impossible to achieve otherwise.

The second unique characteristic of those who are peculiar (perioúsío) people is that they have sympathy for others. The Greek word is sympatheís, the plural sympatheâs, sympathetic. A person who has no sympathy for others has never felt the helplessness of sin, was never "poor in spirit" (Matt. 5:5). He never felt the need of the mercy of God and so has little sympathy for the weaknesses and sufferings of others.

The third characteristic of this divine peculiarity is love for one another. In Greek, this is the adjective philádelphoi, the plural of philádelphos, to consider others as brothers and sisters in Christ, friends (phílos) having the same interests.

The fourth characteristic is "having compassion." This is the unusual Greek word eusplachnoi, the plural of eúsplachnos, to have good bowels (, good, well; spláchna, intestines, inner feelings; see Eph. 4:32). It is the sick feeling we get in our stomach when we see some terrible suffering, or the desire to help someone in need. The verb splagchnízomai expresses this compassion our Lord felt for individuals who needed it (Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32) and is illustrated in the parable of a servant who owed a small sum of money to another servant whose huge debt had been forgiven. But when the servant asked for more time to repay his debt, his creditor refused and had him cast into prison until he should repay what he owed (Matt. 18:21-35). Consequently, when the master of both of these men heard what the unforgiving servant did to his fellow servant, he had him delivered to the persecutors or tormentors until he paid all he owed. The lesson is that he who has received God's mercy must show mercy to others.

The fifth characteristic of peculiar, born-again Christians, translated "courteous," is that they are philóphrones, friends of wisdom. This word is the plural of philóphron. It is composed of the word phílos, friend; and phrénes, the plural of phreân, mind, a moral brake. So Christians are friends of prudence; they know when to apply the brakes morally and otherwise. They are ready for the unexpected as were the five prudent virgins in the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt. 25:1-13), not like the foolish (áphron, without the right mind) farmer who stored up more than was necessary and was overtaken by sudden death (Luke 12:16-21).

The Lord called the Pharisees foolish who were more concerned with their outward appearance than with their souls. Philóphrones of 1 Peter 3:8, therefore, speaks of friends of sanity of mind, people who know how to apply the brakes to their lives and are more mindful of their behavior than their appearance. They are ready for the imminent return of the Lord or the unknown moment of death.

And now in 1 Peter 3:9 we have the Christian's negative characteristics. They do "not [meâ, the relative ‘not' in contrast to ou, the absolute ‘not'] render [apodidóntes, the plural present participle of apodídome, to give back; from apó, ‘from'; and dídome, to give as a result of one's own choice] evil [kakón] for [antí, in return, instead of] evil."

And last, we have "railing." This Greek word is loidorían, and it means slander or mischief. In the phrase "railing for railing" (1 Pet. 4:9), the "for" is antí; and "railing" (see above). "But contrariwise blessing [eulogúntes, the plural present participle of eulogéo, to speak well of] knowing [eidótes from eídon, the aorist of horáo, intuitively realizing] that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit [kleronommeâsete, the future subjunctive of kleronoméo  a blessing" [see above]. Our inheritance to come indicates that what we have received in this life is not all that we shall receive, but there is more to come as our eternal inheritance (see Eph. 1:14, 18; Col. 3:24; Heb. 9:16; 11:18; 1 Pet. 1:4).

What a glorious promise we are given in Ephesians 1:13,14! In our present life, we have that which God considers sufficient for our present time, the peripoíesio, the deposit or earnest (arrhaboân, security deposit) of things to come (1 Pet. 2:9). The blessings we enjoy now are only a taste, a promise of the full inheritance which awaits us as believers in our coming life as heirs with our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed the true Christian is peculiar; he has been chosen by God and set apart with a prospect of great blessings to come.

Dr. Zodhiates is founder/publisher of Pulpit Helps and president of AMG International.

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