July 26, 2008

Accepted, Valued, and Forgiven: 1 Peter 2:4-10

So far in Peter's letter to the Christians scattered throughout rural areas of the Roman empire, he has given us quite a bit of information and advice. He has reminded us:

- We have a living hope because Jesus, our Savior, defeated death itself
- We have an inheritance that will never perish, spoil, or fade
- The world is different from us, opposes us, and we will endure trials
- Trials strengthen faith, and our faith will be honored when Jesus returns
- Through the gospel we know the Savior, whom the prophets saw only dimly

And he advises us to:

- Prepare our minds: be self-controled, our hope set on the grace given us

- Not seek evil desires, but be holy, as our Savior demonstrated holiness

- Live as strangers in the world with reverence for God

- Love each other
phileo love (brotherly love; take care of each other) and
agape love (care about each other)

- Love each other without any selfish motives at all
- Be truthful, kind, not hold grudges, and not speak evil of each other
- Seek to grow more mature in the faith, more holy (our sanctification)

And now, in 2:4-10, he tells us not how to feel and act, but who we are:

As you come to him, the living Stone-rejected by men 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. For in Scripture it says: 'See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.' Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, 'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,' and, 'A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.' They stumble because they disobey the message-which is also what they were destined for. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, 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."
We are accepted (4-5)

Peter calls Jesus "the Living Stone" who was rejected by mankind but chosen by God and precious to Him; and likewise, we are like living stones and are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood; and our spiritual sacrifices are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

That is, the Spirit of God lives in us. In the historical context, the Spirit living in us is the opposite of the idea of temples where pagan gods like Zeus and Diana supposedly resided, and opposite even to the temple in Jerusalem, where the Spirit of God was represented as residing in the Holy of Holies. There is also a sense here in which as Jesus, the true God and Savior, was rejected by mankind, so we will endure rejection. We can infer that from Peter's earlier warnings about trials.

Note that we "are being built into a spiritual house," referring to our continual growth in spiritual maturity, the process of holiness or sanctification. Peter's metaphor is that we are the "stones" or building blocks from which God is building His temple, the church, comparable to the building blocks used to build temples and altars in the pagan culture in which his readers lived.

Then he points out that God's purpose for us is to be "a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices." The priests were considered to be the representatives of God and mediators between God and mankind. Priests in the pagan religions were considered special messengers or representatives of the pagan gods. In that culture, a priest of any religion (1) represented the god to people and reflected his desires and character in his lifestyle (2) offered sacrifices to the god, (3) interceded with the god on behalf of those who worshipped him or her. This was similar to the function of the Israelite priests, the Levites, at the Jerusalem temple in the Old Testament.

But Peter points out that all Christians constitute a "royal priesthood." The priesthood of believers is a core doctrine of evangelical Christianity. We have direct access to God through prayer and through His Spirit living in us and working through us. Jesus is our only mediator and the Spirit our counselor and advisor. And instead of ceremonial sacrifices to atone again and again for sin, we offer spiritual sacrifices-ourselves, in constant presence of God and communion with God, having the mind or attitude of Christ (see 1 Peter 4:1) and living lives that are characterized by holiness.

This idea of the priesthood of believers is consistent throughout the New Testament and was in the 1st century a new idea among both the Jews and the gentiles. Paul gives good insight in 1 Corinthians 3:16: "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?" Peter is talking about us personally, as God's temple, and to the community of Christians, the church, in which each of us is one of the building blocks. And we find we are acceptable and accepted, His children, and the living building blocks of the church and His kingdom.

We are valued and called to serve (6-9)

Being accepted, we are also valued by our Savior and our Father. Verse 6 compares the Savior to a cornerstone, the first building block laid in the foundation of a building. Verse 7 reminds us that this cornerstone is precious, meaning of great or even inestimable value. And we who trust in Him will never be put to shame. In other words, the building in which we are living stones will never fall.

Often rejected by the world, we have the highest value to the only One whose rejection would mean anything, God our Father. We are as valuable to God the Father as Jesus Himself. The price He paid was the life of the Son. Notice in the last part of verse 7 that it is God's judgment, not mankind's judgment, that is true. Though many rejected the Savior, He is the capstone.

The cornerstone is located in the foundation, on which the building rests. The capstone is on the top stone on a stone wall, a finishing or protective stone. The metaphor is that Jesus is both the cornerstone (foundation) and the capstone (protects, holds structure together) of the church.

In the beginning, God created human beings in His own image; to be holy like He is holy. But we gave up our holiness and spoiled that likeness. Jesus was the one who paid the price for God the Father to get us back and restore our access to holiness. Every time we face a decision between righteousness and unrighteousness, and choose righteousness, we are demonstrating we are restored. Every time we seek forgiveness, we are demonstrating our restoration. Every time we pray and lay our troubles and hopes on Him, we show we are restored.

Only those who disobey the message of the Savior stumble spiritually. In verses 8 and 9, Peter is continuing his metaphor of constructing a building. Without a secure cornerstone and capstone, the building doesn't stand for long. Likewise, those who trust in Jesus become living stones in His perfect kingdom, the church, and those who reject His message inevitably stumble and fall, just as the building without a secure foundation and capstone will not long endure.

Instead of stumbling and falling, however, Peter points out that we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood. Remember that a priest (1) represents God to mankind and reflects His holiness in lifestyle and speech, (2) offers sacrifices to God, (3) intercedes with God on others' behalf. We are "a holy nation, a people belonging to God . . . called . . . out of darkness into His wonderful light."

We are forgiven (10)

"Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God." The phrase "a people" means an identifiable people group or tribe. Once, Peter is telling us, we were like everyone else, lost, devoted to sin, rejecting our Savior, lost in the sea of sinful humanity. Like everyone else, we were spiritual nomads, not part of the only spiritual people group, wandering spiritually, without a home, without direction. But just like a newborn baby is part of the tribe he or she was born into, we were reborn into a people group, the tribe or nation of Christians, which transcends race, nationality, and human tribes and people groups.

And we have received God's mercy. Before we trusted in the Savior, we were not only spiritual nomads, but we rejected God's offer of mercy and forgiveness daily. Not trusting the Savior is not a case of no decision, but a definite and continuing decision to reject Him. But by trusting Him, not only are we a distinct people group, but also we are forgiven by God's mercy. We never merited His mercy by our behavior, but merely by yielding our lives to Him. His mercy is something that happened to us, and it also is constantly renewed: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

(Note: While I usually teach from the New King James Version [NKJV], I am teaching from the New International Version [NIV] in this study in the book of 1 Peter because the NIV so accurately renders the thought of the original text. Regardless of the English translation used, I also compare the English rendering with the Greek New Testament. For those not fluent in the biblical languages, a Greek-English interlinear Bible and Hebrew-English interlinear Bible can be of great assistance in revealing the original nuances of meaning of words and grammatical structure. Many of the interlinear Bibles also include Strong's numbering and Greek and Hebrew dictionaries keyed to the Strong's for concise definitions of the original terms. The most helpful Bible I have found is the MacArthur Study Bible, which is available in the New King James Version and the New American Standard [NASB] translation. The notations in the MacArthur Study Bible are extremely accurate in reflecting the literal meaning of the texts and are invaluable in providing the accurate scriptural backgrounds for the basic evangelical Christian doctrines derived from the literal view of Scripture. Another helpful Bible for English readers is the Hebrew Greek Key Study Bible, which is an NIV translation with numbering keyed to a Hebrew dictionary and Greek dictionary in the back of the book.)

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