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
The Living Stone
For a discussion of this stone referenced here and in 1 Peter 2:6-8 see the previous blog post on 1 Peter. That article dealt with Jesus as the precious cornerstone who was rejected by the builders. This post will look at the other aspects of this passage; those who have not stumbled over Jesus, but have become his.
Peter is telling us here that believers are being built into a spiritual house. And at the heart of the house’s foundation is Jesus as the cornerstone. A cornerstone that was rejected by humanity, but chosen by God. The remainder of what Peter has to say to us is based upon this truth. Jesus is the cornerstone of the house. We are nothing without him. And all that we have and are is due to him.
As Living Stones
While Jesus is the cornerstone of the spiritual house God is building, believers make up the remainder of the stones. We typically do not like being thought of as rocks. But in a sense, we are. Each believer has a part to play in the construction of this house. Paul also references this building in Ephesians 2:19-22. Again Jesus is the cornerstone, with a foundation of the apostles and prophets. And we are joined together to become a holy temple in the Lord and a dwelling in which God lives.
This idea of a temple looks back to the Old Testament and the temple at the heart of Jerusalem; and of Israel’s spiritual life. The temple was where God symbolically dwelt, in the most holy place. It was the place where the priests ministered. And it was where God’s people came to worship.
1 Corinthians 3:16 is another reference to this temple. This temple is composed of believers. A temple indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Paul also alludes to this spiritual temple in Acts 17:24 when he says that “God does not live in temples built by human hands.” And, in John 2:19-21, Jesus refers to his body as the temple that he would rebuild in three days.
While in the Old Testament period, there was a physical tabernacle and several temples, there is no need for a physical structure any longer. Instead, God’s people are built together to become that temple. A temple in which God dwells.
A Holy Priesthood
At Mt Sinai, when God established his covenant with Israel, he identified them as a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6). While in this passage, no specific task was given to Israel as a nation of priests, it is safe to assume that their role was to serve as priests for the rest of the world. They were to represent God to the world and seek the reconciliation of the world. A task they did not perform very well.
Later Aaron and his descendants were set apart from the rest of the nation to serve as priests at the Tabernacle and later the Temple (Ex. 28:1, Ex. 29:9). They were specifically set apart for the task, bathed, given special clothes, and dedicated. They were instructed in the proper sacrifices to make. And they were given the means to relay God’s will to the people.
Peter now identifies another class of priests. And this time, it includes all believers. We have been given a holy priesthood. We have been sanctified by the blood of Christ; instead of the blood of a ram (Ex. 29:19-21). We have been given new garments to wear (Eph. 4:20-24); instead of the old rags of our sinful nature. And we have been given sacrifices to offer (Rom. 12:1; Phil. 4:18; Heb. 13:15-16). Finally, we have been given the responsibility to bring the gospel to the world; introducing them to the savior we serve (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).
Offering Spiritual Sacrifices
If we are priests, then we must have sacrifices to offer up to God. And we do. But they are not the physical sacrifices of the Levitical priesthood. Instead, they are spiritual sacrifices. First and foremost, I believe, is the sacrifice of myself. Romans 12:1 instructs us “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.” This is a sacrifice that is pleasing to God. But how do I offer up myself as a sacrifice?
The first thing to recognize is that it is a living sacrifice. It does not involve my physical death. Instead, it involves the surrender of my whole self to God. Giving myself to him to do with as he pleases. That is hard to do. But as the remainder of the verse says, it is a spiritual act of worship on my part.
Other passages mentioned above also give some hints as to the sacrifices I can offer. And none of them involve giving up something. We are not called on to sacrifice coffee or chocolate or TV. While we may need to give those up, that is not the kind of sacrifice we are called to offer.
Instead, we are called to praise God in our words and in our actions. When I help someone else, that is considered a spiritual sacrifice. When I come before God in true worship, that is a spiritual sacrifice that pleases God. Or when I share the gospel with another person, God is pleased with my offering.
The People of God
Peter then declares that “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” This is strikingly similar to Exodus 19:5-6a where God tells Israel that “If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Is this just coincidental? I don’t believe so.
Israel was, and continues to be, the people of God. But the makeup of Israel has changed in the transition from the old covenant to the new. The church today has not replaced ethnic Israel, nor are they distinct bodies. Instead, the church is what true Israel has become. And so Peter uses the same description for the Church today as God applied to ancient Israel at Mt Sinai.
The physical kingdom that was the nation of Israel is now the spiritual kingdom that is, at least in part, the church. The church here does not include everyone who claims membership or some kind of connection. Rather the church is the body of all true believers across time and space. We are a chosen people! A royal priesthood! A holy nation! We are God’s special possession!
Adoption as a People
“Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.” Before Christ came the Gentiles had nothing in common, apart from not being Jews. We were not a people and had no defining identity.
But now those who have been redeemed are a people. Regardless of our ethnic background; our national identity; our economic or educational status; and regardless of our gender; we are the people of God. He has given us an identity that transcends all of the tags that this world uses to label us.
It is unfortunate indeed that, all too often, we allow secondary labels to divide us. The color of my skin; how many X chromosomes I have; the number of letters after my name; or the size of my bank account. None of that really matters. What matters is if I have been redeemed; if I am a part of the kingdom of Heaven. We are one people, regardless of how the world may choose to divide us.
Recipients of God’s Mercy
“Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Peter has already expressed that it was because of God’s great mercy that we have been born into a living hope. Now, like the previous expression, he addresses the transformation that has come over us. Not only have we gone from a non-people to the people of God. But we have also experienced the great mercy of God.
And God’s mercy is not just something that happened at the beginning of our journey of faith. There is an ongoing expression of God’s love, grace, and mercy throughout the journey. Ephesians 2:4 is very expressive of these three attributes in the moment of our salvation. But mercy reflects in all of his dealings with us.
Mercy is the outward manifestation of pity. A pity that assumes need on the part of the recipient, and the ability to meet the need on the part of the giver. God knows our weaknesses, and in mercy, he helps us to overcome them; to be what he created us to be.
A Call To Action
God is the creator of all that is. And his creation is truly marvelous. But from a physical standpoint, the earth we live on is pretty insignificant. And even less so are we as humans. We make up a truly insignificant portion of this creation. And yet, the redeemed among us are God’s special possession. Out of all of the creation, he has chosen us to be his. That is really mind-boggling. Why us? What is special about us that he would take notice?
It is certainly not because there is any value in who or what we are. The only value we have is in what God is doing in us. We are God’s workmanship (Eph. 2:10; Phil 2:13). He is working to produce something special in us. Something that only he currently sees. But we are nonetheless precious to him.
Is there any reason that we should not joyfully and gladly submit to his Spirit’s work within us? If we truly recognized the privilege we have as God’s children, we would respond with gratitude for everything he calls us to do. Instead of clinging so tightly to the known and comfortable, we would lose it all for the sake of the call (Phil. 3:7-11).
- What kind of sacrifices do we have to offer to God?
- What is our relationship with other believers in Christ? Are we truly united with them? Or do we allow differences to divide us?
- What are your thoughts about being God’s special possession?
- 1 Peter: An Introduction
- 1 Peter: Because of His Great Mercy (1:3-5)
- 1 Peter: Glorious Joy, In All Kinds of Trials (1:6-9)
- 1 Peter: The Mystery of Salvation (1:10-12)
- 1 Peter: Be Holy In All You Do (1:13-16)
- 1 Peter: Living as an Alien, a Foreigner in this World (1:17-21)
- 1 Peter: Love One Another Deeply, From the Heart (1:22-2:3)
- 1 Peter: A Chosen People, A Royal Priesthood (2:4-5; 9-10)
- 1 Peter: A Chosen and Precious Cornerstone (2:6-8)
- 1 Peter: Living As Foreigners and Exiles (2:11-17)
- 1 Peter: Responding To Suffering (2:18-25)
- 1 Peter: Instruction for Wives and Husbands (3:1-7)
- 1 Peter: Christian Ethical Behavior (3:8-12)
- 1 Peter: Revere Christ in Your Suffering (3:13-18)
- 1 Peter: Imprisoned Spirits and Baptism (3:19-22)
- 1 Peter: Don’t Surrender to the World’s Influence (4:1-6)
- 1 Peter: Life in the Church: to Love and to Serve (4:7-11)
- 1 Peter: Being a Shepherd, a Rewarding Task (5:1-4)
- 1 Peter: Humble Yourself Under the Hand of God (5:5-11)