I realize that these days, it can be problematic to talk about “tribes.” That sort of language smacks of exclusivity and division, an us vs. them mentality that’s hardly helpful in our increasingly polarized world. However, we can’t run away from the fact that we form tribes over seemingly anything and everything—from the love of a certain football team to an affinity for gourmet coffee. But the best tribes are those where the connection runs deep, when being together feels like a family gathering.
In the Bible, God formed tribes—quite literally. From Jacob’s sons, He formed twelve tribes that would become the nation of Israel, His chosen people from all the peoples of the earth. That, of course, did not mean God was altogether abandoning the rest of humanity. The purpose of setting Israel apart had always been to shine a light to the Gentiles. This happened at times, but for most of the Old Testament, the people of Israel saw their chosen status as a reason to boast rather than a reason to shine.
And then came Jesus, the light of the world. Through His life, death, and resurrection, He made a way for people from every nation to be saved. The dividing wall between Jew and Gentile was torn down.
Peter, one of Jesus’s closest friends, had an ongoing struggle with this. He had to receive a supernatural vision and hear a voice from heaven before he would enter the house of the Gentile Cornelius and share the gospel (Acts 10:9–48). Later, he refused to sit with Gentile Christians for fear of what his Jewish friends might think (Galatians 2:11–14). But something changed in Peter. In the letter we now know as 1 Peter, he writes to Gentile Christians, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession” (1 Peter 2:9). These descriptors were all once used of Israel. But now, because of Christ, Gentiles have been invited into the tribe.
Our hope is not found in where we happened to be born or in whatever group the world has placed us. The only tribe that matters is the tribe of Jesus. In Him, we belong. In Him, we are adopted as God’s children. In Him, we have an inheritance beyond measure.
In the same letter, Peter also says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people” (v.10). This language is borrowed from the book of Hosea. There, God used the prophet Hosea’s marriage to an adulterous woman to illustrate Israel’s unfaithfulness. Israel had broken the covenant they made with God at Sinai, and they did not deserve to be called His people. But the truth is, none of us deserve it. Not one of us is faithful. Not one of us is good enough. After all his ups and downs, Peter finally got the message: Jesus did on our behalf what we could never do on our own, so that we could be included in His tribe. Thanks be to God!
Written by John Greco