As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. . . . But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10 NIV
This is an interesting passage to me, at least in part because of all of the things that God’s people are called. We generally use the term Christians, or the Church, to describe God’s kingdom on earth. But Peter uses a very different set of terms here.
- Living stones
- A spiritual house
- A holy priesthood
- A chosen people
- A royal priesthood
- A holy nation
- God’s special possession
- The people of God
I suspect more than one preacher has built an exhaustive sermon series around these eight alternate names for the church and the significance of each. But I want to consolidate this list a bit and share a few words about each.
Stones and House
Individually we are identified as stones; stones that are assembled together to become a spiritual house, built around Jesus as the cornerstone. This is really very similar to the analogy of the body that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 12, where each of us is a body part, with Jesus as the head.
This analogy can be challenging for people coming from a culture that emphasizes individuality as much as mine does. We focus on individuals, especially ourselves, and only secondarily see ourselves as a part of something bigger. It may be that I am a rock, but I am a mighty fine rock that is shiny and shapely and unique.
But how often, when looking at an old building constructed of stone, do you focus on individual stones? Is it not more likely that you will admire the building itself? The building is greater than any of its individual stones, no matter how shiny any one rock is.
So it is with believers within the church. It’s not about me, what I get out of it, or how important I am: it’s about the body. Let the master builder put you into the structure where he wants and knows that you will offer the greatest value to the building. Be willing to do, and be, what is best for the building, rather than yourself as an individual stone.
The building, in which we serve as living stones, is a spiritual house, a holy temple. What a blessing to be a part of God’s purpose in creation.
A Royal and Holy Priesthood
This passage also calls us royal, and holy, priests. In particular, priests who offer spiritual sacrifices to God. In the Old Testament, one of the biggest roles of the priest was to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. The priest would accept the sacrifice from a member of the community, cut it up into pieces, place it on the altar, and light a fire beneath it where it would be consumed. The sacrifice would then be accepted by God on behalf of the one who offered it.
But as New Testament priests, we do not offer sacrifices on behalf of other people. Rather we offer our own sacrifices to God. And rather than animal sacrifices, we offer sacrifices that are spiritual in nature. Sacrifices that are acceptable to God. And what might those sacrifices be?
- Ourselves, as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1)
- The gifts we give to those in God’s service (Phil 4:18)
- Of praise (Heb 13:15)
- Doing good and sharing (Heb 13:16)
This priesthood is described as being holy, set apart, and royal, belonging to the king. We are not just run-of-the-mill priests. We have been set apart by the King of the universe for his special use. Let’s offer to God those sacrifices that are good and pleasing to him.
The Chosen People of God
When I was a junior in high school I was 6’1″ and 135 pounds; think Somalian poster child, except much taller. I lacked any athletic ability or much in the way of coordination. Now picture the typical P.E. class when it comes time to choose teams for some sport; it makes little difference which one. Two ‘captains’ are chosen by the teacher, and then they began selecting the remainder of us for their team. Eventually, they are left with the dregs, myself chief among them. I always made it on a team because the game couldn’t start until everyone was on one. But I was never really chosen by a captain; I was forced on them.
That experience makes this passage special for me. God chose me. I was not forced on him. He was not required to pick me. He didn’t pick me because he felt sorry for me, although I must admit I was pitiful. For some reason, God wanted me on his team.
The mystery of this is that God did not choose me because I was especially talented in some way, or because I was strong or good-looking, or because I was a great evangelist, or because I did great things for him. God chose me because of his mercy and grace. Because he wanted me. Because to him, I had great value. How cool is that!
It is not just me that God has chosen. He has also chosen people around me and throughout the world. And collectively we are called God’s chosen people, his all-stars. What a blessing to be numbered among God’s chosen.
A Holy Nation, Special to God
In much of this passage, Peter is looking back at Israel’s experience at Mt Sinai and the establishment of the old covenant. In both the Old Covenant, in Exodus 19:4-6, and in the New Covenant, God’s people are identified as a treasured (or special) possession and a holy nation. Under the Old Covenant, the idea of being a holy nation was indistinguishable from being an earthly kingdom. They were, as a nation, set apart for God. But that changed under the New Covenant. There is no earthly kingdom associated with God’s people. Instead, we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom. I am a citizen of the greatest kingdom this world has ever known, the kingdom of God.
Of course, there are some responsibilities that go along with being a citizen, especially of a nation that is set apart for God. My citizenship is not a reward for meritorious service, or because I am such a wonderful guy. Rather God chose me because he wanted me, and had a purpose for me. It only makes sense then that I should know his purpose for me. And once I know it, I am to be about accomplishing that purpose.
The kingdom of God is not a welfare state. It is a kingdom of service. We are a chosen people and a royal priesthood. And, while that is an awesome privilege, it carries great responsibility as well.