1 Peter 2.1-12
This passage is about living as the people of God. It is about living as members of the church.
The passage talks about:
1: THE HEART OF THE CHURCH - Jesus Christ (vv4-8)
The church is about Jesus. He is the rock on which the church is established. He is the building into which the church grows to become.
He is the living stone (v4): Picture here is of a building. Jesus is the stone at the foundation on which the church is established. Take him away and the whole thing comes crashing to the ground. He is also the capstone. Many hands on museums have a small area where you are invited to build a foam rubber bridge. The capstone is the one that goes into the middle.
If you put the capstone in, everything else will fit into place
If you take the capstone out, the building will crumble.
He is the one who has been chosen by God (v4): People may have rejected him 2000 years ago. People may reject him today. Jesus Christ is the most cursed person today. People use his name as a swear word. And yet, we are told he is the way, the truth, the life. He is the one who God has chosen.
The heart of the church is the person of Jesus. He is the one who holds us all together. As we begin this week of Christian unity we remember that he is the one who we have in common. We are united by our faith in him, by his dwelling in each of us, by our membership in him. He is the one under whom we live, for whom we live, in whose strength we live. And he is the one in whom we are called to put our trust (v6b: 'and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame')
And because he is the living stone, because he is the chosen one, if we do not put our trust in him, if we do not follow him, we will stumble (1 Peter 2:8): however successful our lives may appear, we are destined to stumble if we do not obey.
We are like the man who fell to his death when he was climbing one of these high profile high rise buildings. He had climbed many such buildings - it was his hobby. He was getting towards the top of this particular building when he saw something that he could hold onto. He let go of one hold to grab this better hold, and he fell to his death. When they managed to pick the pieces up, they discovered, gripped in his hand, a cobweb. He had obviously seen the cobweb and in the fading light thought it was something different - something that could hold him.
As the church, we need to be very careful that we do not grasp cobwebs. It is very easy to depend on buildings (we're so privileged to worship in this building - but we cannot allow it to become our God), professional management techniques, titles, academic qualifications, publicity, technology, styles of music, choir or band, wealth or latest teachings of church growth theorists. All of that is good in its right place - but if it is what we put our trust in, if it is what we build on, we are destined to stumble.
The church will stand when it is built on Jesus Christ, on who he is, on his love for us, on his call to us, on his purpose for us.
Jesus is the heart of the church. He is what we are all about.
2. IDENTITY OF THE CHURCH (v9-10)
We receive our identity from Jesus.
He is the chosen one. As we come to him, we are chosen in him: God never chooses one person instead of another. He chooses one person for the sake of the other. Jesus was the chosen one, so that we might be blessed. You have been chosen, in order that others will be blessed. And it seems to be a spiritual principal that often others are blessed through the suffering of the one who has been chosen.
He is the living stone. As we come to him, we become living stones (v5): it is an amazing picture. We are rocks being built together: each person is a rock that needs to be shaped and then placed alongside other rocks that are being shaped and placed.
The true building of the church is not the bricks and mortar around us. It is here
And we are called to become a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices (v5)
One of the great reformation principles is the idea of the priesthood of all believers. It came from the realisation that because Jesus has died on the cross for each one of us, you do not need a priest to pray for you: We cannot hide or excuse ourself by saying: I don't have a priest, or my priest is hopeless. Jesus has done it all. It is down to each one of us to be right with him.
I like the story of the Australian vicar walking through his churchyard. A drunk called out, "Say one for me". He replied, "Say one for yourself you lazy coot".
And we are called to be a royal priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices. Martin Luther wrote, " Not only are we the freest of kings, we are also priests forever, which is far more excellent than being kings, for as priests we are worthy to appear before God to pray for others and to teach one another divine things".
Or as another person said, "I am a pastor in the church; but a priest in the market place". So each of us could say, "I am a chorister, reader, coffee rota person in the church; but a priest in the market place"
And together we are that priesthood. Yes, we have our different roles within the body of the church. I've been called to focus on prayer, teaching the word of God and being a pastor. Through ordination I've been given the authority by my brothers and sisters within the church of God to speak with the authority of the whole church. That is why vicars will say 'you' in the absolution or blessing. I'm not excluding myself, but I'm speaking with the authority that Jesus gave to all of us together to forgive sins. But it makes me no more or no less a priest than you. We all have the privilege of direct access to God. We all have the responsibility of declaring the forgiveness of sins and of new life in Jesus, and we all have been given the gift of beginning to live that new life.
Two other descriptions are given of our identity as members of the church:
We are a holy nation: We are citizens of this nation, and we are called to pray for our rulers and to obey our rulers in all things that are right. Gordon Brown is talking about having a British national day, and I'm sure that is probably necessary. But we have to realise that our ultimate allegiance is not to this nation - nor to another nation on earth. We are members of another kingdom. Actually, here we are aliens and strangers. We are people controlled by a different allegiance, a different motive, a different love, a different destiny.
We are a people belonging to God: That was the title of the people of Israel. God says, "I will be their God, and they will be my people". We are a people who belong - not to ourselves, not to our family, not to our career or work, not to our school - but to our God who loves us. We belong to him in the same way that a husband belongs to his wife and a wife belongs to her husband in an act of intimacy.
3. PURPOSE OF THE CHURCH (vv11-12)
In some ways this has already been mentioned, when Peter writes that we are to be a 'holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices'
But Peter emphasises three things here:
1. We are called 'To declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light' (v9): to declare the praises of Jesus Christ who can be trusted, who has poured his mercy on us, who makes us new people.
And that needs to be reflected in our services: in our litury, our prayers and hymns. But it is also to be reflected in our service, in our lives. Are we people of praise - and it is true: as we learn to praise God, we also learn to praise others.
2. We are called to abstain from sinful desires (v11). They belong to our old identity as people of the world. They have nothing to do with our new identity as members of the people of God.
I guess that there are echoes here of the first few verses: calling us to rid ourselves of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander. They have no place in our calling to be members of a royal priesthood and a holy nation.
3. We are called to "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they may accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us" (v12).
I love that verse.
The effect of the Christian life lived out in difficult situations can be so dramatic in its impact on the non-Christian. A former criminal, Kozlov, later a church leader, wrote of life in a Soviet prison:
"Among the general despair, while prisoners like myself were cursing ourselves, the camp, the authorities; while we opened up our veins or our stomachs, or hanged ourselves; the Christians (often with sentences of 20 to 25 years) did not despair. One could see Christ reflected in their faces. Their pure, upright life, deep faith and devotion to God, their gentleness and their wonderful manliness became a shining example of real life for thousands."
Or as Mark Twain said, "Always do right; it will gratify some people and astonish the rest."
I guess that this is saying that our faith has to be worked out in reality. Our faith becomes practical when it is expressed in two books: the date book and the check book.
John Wesley's Rule of Conduct:
Do all the good you can, to whoever you can, whenever you can, wherever you can to as many people as you can in the name of Jesus.
Rick Warren writes (Purpose Driven Church :20). "I love the church of Jesus Christ with all my heart. Despite all its faults (due to our sinfulness) it is still the most magnificent concept ever created. It has been God's chosen instrument of blessing for two thousand years. It has survived persistent abuse, horrifying persecution and widespread neglect. Para church organizations and other Christian groups come and go, but the church will last for eternity. It is worth giving our lives for and it deserves our best".
I echo those thoughts. I love the church of God - not always the institution: which is made up of people, people like me, who get tired, who make mistakes, and who sometimes do things that are plain wrong.
But I love the church, the people of God, as we seek to be faithful to God's vision for the church, for his people. His vision of a people who are built and founded on Jesus, and on trust in Jesus; of a people who are invited to share in the identity of Jesus; and of a people who are called to declare the praises of God and to live radiant lives.
It is as we seek to be obedient to that vision, that our town will be changed, our nation will changed and our world will be changed.