The Testimony of Our Hope

| 1 Peter 2:4-15

Week of June 21, 2020

The Point:  Our hope in Christ points others to Him.

A Holy People: 1 Peter 2:4-15.

[4] As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, [5] you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. [6] For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” [7] So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” [8] and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. [9] But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. [10] Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. [11] Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. [12] Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. [13] Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, [14] or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. [15] For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.  [ESV]

“The Living Stone and Living Stones [2:4-10]. According to verse 4 the Lord of verse 3, who is clearly Yahweh in the Old Testament context of Psalm 34, in none other than Jesus Christ. The use of the Old Testament is significant Christologically since it demonstrates that what is true of Yahweh is also true of Jesus the Christ. The present paragraph is stocked with Old Testament allusions and citations. The first allusion emerges when Jesus is identified as a living stone. That Jesus is the stone is confirmed by the Old Testament references that follow in verses 6-8. Jesus is doubtless called the living Stone because of his resurrection. In Acts 4:10-11 – where Peter also cited Psalm 118 – it seems that the rejection of Jesus as the cornerstone was fulfilled in his death, whereas his vindication or being honored by God occurred at the resurrection. The same emphasis on Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection of Christ is likely present here as well. The perfect tense of rejected supports the notion of a past action with ongoing results. In God’s sight Jesus was not rejected but chosen and precious. He is God’s chosen and honored Stone, and since this is contrasted with his rejection by human beings, we probably have an allusion to the resurrection and exaltation of Christ. The life of Christ functions as a pattern for the Petrine Christians, for they too are despised by many, but they are chosen and honored in God’s sight, destined for vindication after suffering. [5] Peter now draws the comparison between Christ as the living Stone and believers as living stones. Believers are living stones because of their faith in the resurrected Christ. Jesus’ resurrection life becomes theirs, even while they live in the midst of a hostile world. They await their resurrection at the end of the age, but even now because they have come to Christ [4] they have new life. The picture here is of a house in which believers constitute the building stones. The house is spiritual because it is animated and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Peter clearly identified the church as God’s new temple. The physical temple pointed toward and anticipated God’s new temple, and now that the new temple has arrived, the old is superfluous. The purpose of such building is that they function as a holy priesthood. We should not be surprised that believers are both priests and the temple. They are God’s dwelling place by the Spirit and his new priesthood. The focus here is on the church corporately as God’s set-apart priesthood in which the emphasis is likely on believers functioning as priests. All believers have direct access to God by virtue of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The purpose of the holy priesthood is to offer spiritual sacrifices which are sacrifices offered by virtue of the work of the Holy Spirit. What sacrifices in particular were in Peter’s mind? We should understand Peter speaking generally and comprehensively of all that believers do by the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, not any and every sacrifice is pleasing to God, but only those offered through Jesus Christ. [6] The text cited is from Isaiah 28:16. In context Isaiah 28 is a message of judgment on Ephraim for their disobedience and unbelief. What Isaiah emphasized throughout the book comes to the forefront here. Those who trust in the Lord will escape judgment. Those who do not trust in him will perish. God has appointed Christ as a stone in Zion. He is God’s elect and honored cornerstone. That is, the entire building (i.e., the church) takes its shape from him. The first part of the verse restates the idea from verse 4 that Christ was God’s chosen and precious stone. The reference to believes in him restates the idea of coming to him in verse 4. What Peter emphasized in citing this verse is that the one who believes in Christ will not be put to shame. Just as Christ is the chosen and honored one of God and was so honored at his resurrection, so too believers will be vindicated on the last day. What is true of the Christ is also true of his people. They will not experience the embarrassment of judgment but the glory of approval. [7] Peter now draws an inference (so) from verse 6 for believers. By honor Peter meant final vindication on the day of judgment. Just as Christ was honored by the Father at the resurrection, so those who trust in him will be honored on the last day, even though presently they are suffering. Conversely, those who disbelieve will face shame and dishonor on the last day. The reason for this is that the stone that was disregarded by the builders has now become the very cornerstone of the building. The establishment of the cornerstone likely refers to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He has been vindicated by God and is the stone from which the building made of God’s people takes shape. [8] Verse 8 continues the thought from verse 7. We can summarize the verses as follows: Those who disbelieve stumble over the stone, who is Christ. They stumble over Christ because they refuse to believe in him and obey him. People who stumble and disobey are responsible for their refusal to trust in Christ, and yet God has appointed, without himself being morally responsible for the sin of unbelievers, that they will both disobey and stumble. The stone that sits at the head of the corner is one over which the disbelieving stumble and fall. Peter then explained why some stumble and fall over the cornerstone. They fall because they disobey the word. Their stumbling over the cornerstone is not accidental, as humans often trip unintentionally while walking. In this instance humans stumble because of rebellion, because they do not want to submit to God’s lordship. Peter added a provocative comment to conclude his comments about the disobedient, as they were destined to do. Peter articulated a common theme in the Scriptures that human beings are responsible for their sin and sin willingly, and yet God controls all events in history. The Scriptures do not resolve how these two themes fit together philosophically, though today we would call it a “compatibility” worldview. [9] The But beginning verse 9 is most naturally understood as a contrast to what immediately precedes. God has appointed the disobedient to destruction, but on the contrary believers are a chosen race. They belong to God’s people because they have been elected, chosen by him. The privilege of belonging to God’s people is conveyed by Peter with a number of Old Testament allusions. Peter drew on Exodus 19:6, using the exact words found there in identifying the church as a royal priesthood. In Exodus the title applies to Israel, with whom God enacts his covenant at Sinai. Israel’s priesthood was such that they were to mirror to the nations the glory of Yahweh, so that all nations would see that no god rivals the Lord. Unfortunately, Israel mainly failed in this endeavor as the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles demonstrate. The reason for the exile is that Israel failed to keep God’s law. Now God’s kingdom of priests consists of the church of Jesus Christ. It too is to mediate God’s blessings to the nations, as it proclaims the gospel. The priesthood here is corporate in nature, and yet this does not rule out the truth that individuals serve priestly functions. Peter also replicated the exact words of Exodus 19:6 in identifying the church as a holy nation. The church of Jesus is a people now set apart for the Lord, enjoying his special presence and favor. The next phrase, a people for his own possession, is used in Malachi 3:17 of believers who respond to the Lord’s rebuke and live righteously, and so in contrast to the wicked they constitute his possession, his special people. Again the privileges belonging to Israel now belong to the church of Jesus Christ. The church does not replace Israel, but it does fulfill the promises made to Israel; and all those, Jews and Gentiles, who belong to the true Israel are now part of the new people of God. The purpose of the people of God is now explained. God has chosen them to be his people, established them as a royal priesthood, appointed them as a holy nation to be his special possession, so that they would proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. As God formed Israel to praise him, now the church has been established to praise his wonders. God’s ultimate purpose in everything he does is designed to bring him praise [Isa. 43:7]. The declaration of God’s praises includes both worship and evangelism, spreading the good news of God’s saving wonders to all peoples. They proclaim God’s praises for calling them out of darkness into his marvelous light. This is a description of their conversion and employs the language of Genesis 1, where God utters the word and light becomes a reality, pushing back the darkness. Conversion is often depicted in the New Testament as a transfer from darkness to light [Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 4:6; Eph. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:4,5,8]. The calling described here is effectual. Just as God’s word creates light, so God’s call creates faith. Calling is not a mere invitation but is performative, so that the words God speaks become a reality. The beauty and glory of the new life is conveyed by the image of light in contrast to darkness. Hence, Peter identified the light as marvelous. [10] Verse 10 returns to the status of the Petrine churches as God’s people. Peter alludes to the words of Hosea 2:23 here. In Hosea, Israel is repudiated as God’s people because of their sin, but God pledges to have mercy upon them and form them again as his people. Such has been the experience of the church of Jesus Christ. The Petrine churches were composed mainly of Gentiles, living in darkness, but now wondrously they are God’s people. They did not deserve inclusion into God’s people, but they have now received his mercy and rejoice at their inclusion. The message of mercy that opened the letter at 1:3 now closes a major section of the letter in 2:10. Peter reminded the readers again that they are recipients of God’s grace, that the foundation for obeying the imperatives is God’s mercy in Christ.

The Christian Life as a Battle and Witness [2:11-12]. Peter now addresses believers as aliens in this world and directs his attention to their behavior in a hostile culture. He summons them to conquer evil desires with which they struggle. Christians must live exemplary lives with the kinds of good deeds that will make unbelievers take notice. Hence, they will fend off any suggestion that they are practicing evil. Even more important, the goal is to provoke unbelievers to glorify God in the day of visitation. Peter’s hope was that unbelievers will be compelled to admit that the lifestyle of believers is morally beautiful, and this admission will bring them to saving faith so that God will be glorified on the day of judgment. The introductory verses of this section show, then, that the good works of believers are intended for mission, so that those who are unbelievers will have the same experience Peter described in 2:9-10. They will be called out of darkness into his marvelous light [9]. They will praise God’s saving mercy and proclaim his praises for rescuing them from the dominion of sin. Peter realized that not all will be saved when they observe the lives of believers. Nevertheless, he summoned believers to holiness with the confidence that some unbelievers will be brought to faith as they see the transformed lives of believers. Since 2:11-12 functions as the introduction to the following verses, the call to mission informs the entire section.

Submit to the Government [2:13-15]. How should believers respond to the social structures of the day? Since God is their Lord, should they ignore human and governmental institutions? Peter argues here that believers should submit to the emperor and those governing authorities appointed by him. They are to submit to governing authorities because of their relationship to God, for in obeying the government they carry out God’s will. Further, by doing good in the public square they will contradict those who claim that believers practice evil. Peter did not see human authorities as ultimate. Christians obey governing authorities because such obedience is God’s will. Hence, the supreme authority for Peter was not the emperor but God himself. Further, in verse 16 believers are to submit as those who are free in Christ and as slaves of God, and not from a subservient spirit. Peter only cautioned that their freedom should not become a pretext for evil. Believers are to show respect and honor to all people, while a special affection for fellow believers is to be displayed. Only God is to be feared, but this does not rule out honor for the emperor. [13] The central theme of this section is found in the first word, be subject (submit). The idea that believers should be subject to governing authorities is a standard part of New Testament ethical exhortations. Believers should be inclined to obey and submit to rulers. We will see, however, that the authority of rulers is not absolute. They do not infringe upon God’s lordship, and hence they should be disobeyed if they command Christians to contravene God’s will. Believers are to submit for the Lord’s sake, which is likely a reference to Jesus Christ. They obey the injunctions of governing authorities ultimately because of their reverence for and submission to the Lord. We have an implication here that the ruling powers should be resisted if commands were issued that violated the Lord’s will. It is impossible to imagine that one would obey commands that contravened God’s dictates for the Lord’s sake. [14] Believers should submit not only to the highest authority (the emperor) but to all those who are in authority. Governors are commissioned by and under the authority of the emperor and are to be obeyed as his representatives. The purpose of ruling authorities is then explained: the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do what is right. Doing right here means that Christians behave as good citizens, that they do what is honorable in the world’s eyes. Peter hardly intended to say that rulers always fulfill such a purpose. He was quite aware that rulers may resist God and his will. But even the most oppressive governments hold evil in check to some extent, preventing society from collapsing into complete anarchy. The ideas here are quite similar to Romans 13:3-4, though Peter did not identify the ruling authority as “God’s servant.” All believers should do what is right and strengthen the social fabric. Rulers help maintain order in society by commending good citizens. [15] Peter now explains why believers should submit, arguing that they should do so because this is the will of God. By submitting to government, Christians demonstrate that they are good citizens, not anarchists. Hence, they extinguish the criticisms of those who are ignorant and revile them. Such ignorance is not innocent but culpable, rooted in the foolishness of unbelievers. To refer to unbelievers as foolish is no denigration of their intellectual capacities. Peter hearkened back to Proverbs, where the foolish are morally debased. They are foolish because they do not fear the Lord and walk in his ways [Prov. 1:7], and hence their ignorance is culpable. Such people will be silenced by the good deeds of Christians. We should note again that there is no conception of believers doing whatever a government enjoins. Indeed, Peter used the same verb in acknowledging that believers may suffer while practicing what is right [3:17]. He did not envision society and governmental structures as always siding with believers or inevitably commending them for their good behavior. His point was that the good behavior of Christians will minimize slanderous attacks on believers, revealing that charges of moral debilitation have no basis. Opponents will be discovered to be animated by hatred, lacking any objective ground for their criticism of believers.” [Schreiner, pp. 103-131].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How do the four things (living stone, rejected, chosen, precious) that Peter says about Christ in verse 4 relate to the condition of believers in the world and to their position in Christ? What is your understanding of the spiritual house and the holy priesthood into which believers are incorporated? How are you to serve as priests in this spiritual house?
  2. Consider the four descriptions Peter gives in verse 9 of the people of God. Why does the apostle repeatedly emphasize the corporate nature of those in Christ, and what significance does this emphasis have for believers in our day? List and discuss several ways that the elect of God proclaim the excellencies of God. In what sense does Peter use the term, sojourners and exiles, in verse 11, and why is it important that we think of ourselves as such? Give several examples of the fleshly lusts from which believers are to abstain, and explain how these wage war against our souls. What is the connection between the personal purity of believers and their public behavior, especially when they are amongst unbelievers?
  3. Why should those who have their citizenship in heaven be the best, not the worst, citizens of the kingdoms of this world? Explain how the phrase, for the Lord’s sake, modifies our submission to civil authorities. Read Romans 13:1-7 and list ways in which believers can demonstrate their submission to governing authorities and give honor to all men. When should Christians resist the commands of the governing authorities [Matt. 22:21; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25]?

References:

The Message of 1 Peter, Edmund Clowney, Inter Varsity.

Let’s Study 1 Peter, William Harrell, Banner of Truth.

1 Peter, Karen Jobes, BENT, Baker.

1, 2 Peter, Jude, Thomas Schreiner, NAC, B & H Publishers.

The purpose of this article is to provide additional reference resources for those Sunday School teachers who use Lifeway’s Bible Studies for Life material.