1 Peter 2:1-17
Today’s reading from 1st Peter reveals to us what God’s people is, and how God’s people relate to the world around it.
The reading begins with the word ‘therefore’, much like it did two weeks ago. “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice and guile, insincerity, and envy and slander.”
So, what is the antecedent to this “therefore”? What was written before this?
The reading above is about the word of God and how the word of God is enduring and solid and sure. Everything else fades and withers like grass, but the word of the Lord endures forever.
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and guile. The word of the Lord stands forever; therefore, rid yourselves of all insincerity, envy, and slander.
And then 1 Peter goes on to give a very concrete image of what the people of God look like.
It says, “Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.” It also says that the stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner.
Jesus is the cornerstone of God’s people and you all are living stones that are built into a spiritual house.
God has a people, who are his own possession. That is what it says in verse 9, “you are a chosen race, a royal priest-hood, a holy nation, God’s own people,”
Now, this can be confusing because of the way that English grammar works. Remember, when we read the Bible in English, it is a translation. In English the word ‘people’ can be singular or plural. It can mean a group of persons, plural, but it can also mean a group or a people, singular. You may have noticed earlier when I said this reading tells us what God’s people is.
God’s people is the entire body of those whom God has chosen and destined and built into a spiritual house, to be his possession.
God does not have a bunch of individuals that are his people. He has a spiritual house, a unified thing, that is his possession.
God’s people belong to him. He builds this people from living stones and it is precious. It is precious precisely because it belongs to him. God’s people, by themselves, are just ordinary people, but if they are possessed by God, then they are precious.
It is like memorabilia that belonged to famous people. For example, there is an Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Illinois, and in that museum are clothes that Abraham Lincoln wore. Now the clothes themselves are not that special. They are actually old and frail and dingy looking. But they are very valuable, because they belonged to Abraham Lincoln.’
And so it is with you. You are precious because you belong to God. You are precious because God has built you into a spiritual house. You are precious because you are God’s.
And the cornerstone of that spiritual house is Jesus himself. He is a cornerstone chosen and precious.
Now, in modern building practices, cornerstones are usually a decoration and a monument. Our church building has a corner-stone, but it isn’t really at the corner. It has the name of the church and the date of building, but I don’t think it was actually used to measure the building.
In the past, though, the cornerstone was the first stone that set in a building and the rest of the building was measured from that stone. It was used to measure the straightness of the walls and the squareness of the structure.
Bricklayers still do something similar in modern times, when they lay bricks or blocks for a foundation. They will first build one corner of the foundation, and then they will run a string from that corner to lay all the rest of the blocks straight.
Jesus is the cornerstone, so everything is measured to him. He is the reference point for the entire people of God. If we are straight and true to him, then we are faithful, but if we decide to use something else as a measure, then Jesus becomes a stumbling block.
Peter continues by writing “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul.”
Peter is using the imagery of body and soul here to mark the distinction between those desires of our old self, which leads to death, and the new self that leads to life; flesh and soul.
And Peter tells us that the people of God are aliens and exiles. This could also be translated as sojourners. We are people who live in this world, but our residence here is temporary.
So we don’t take up all the ways of the culture around us. We don’t participate in the malice and envy and insincerity. God’s people is Holy, which means different. There is something distinct about the way that God’s people live.
And the reason for that distinctness is so the world around God’s people may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.
You are called to be God’s people, not merely for your own sake. You are called to be God’s people for God’s sake, so that people will glorify God.
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to God. You are formed into a spiritual house, to be distinct in this world, so that other’s may see your deeds and glorify God.