Set apart to sing God's praise. 2:4-10
Having challenged his readers to live differently in the world, 1:13-2:3, Peter goes on to speak of the privileges that belong to the members of God's new community, 2:4-10. When a person responds to the gospel they become members of this new community, the church (a "spiritual house"). In this "house" the members function as a "priesthood" in service to God. Christ is the unifying centre of this new community and those who share with him are blessed, but those who reject him face judgement. Those who accept Christ become part of this new community, they enjoy God's mercy and are privileged to shed the light of His grace to the ends of the universe.
v4-5. Although Peter uses Old Testament language here, he is describing, in very simple terms, the "narrow way" - the call to follow Jesus, God's stone of destiny. When a person comes to Jesus they are incorporated into the fellowship of believers - a community, a "spiritual house", a heavenly assembly gathered in the presence of God and eternally secure before him. In this assembly believers function as priests in service to God, "offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable through Jesus Christ." Peter does not define this service, but "faith expressing itself through love" is probably the sum of it. The rest of Peter's letter fleshes out this service which is acceptable to God.
v6-8. Peter quotes three passages from the Old Testament to support the point he has just made, Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22, Isaiah 8:14. One of the titles for the Messiah is "the Stone". Christ is the chief cornerstone of God's new building - the new Israel, the Temple, Jerusalem, the people of God. Those who link themselves to Christ, who "come" to Christ, who "trust in him, will never be put to shame." They will become a "living stone", sharing in the life and glory of the "precious cornerstone". For those who reject Christ, the stone will cause them to stumble and inevitably crush them. Those who reject the gospel align themselves with apostate Israel, a people destined to destruction. This is not a predestined damnation of individuals, but rather the predestined damnation of those who stand outside God's community of grace. For the individual, those who "come" are saved, while those who "reject" are damned.
v9. The new community, in union with the "precious cornerstone", the true Israel, the remnant people of God, consists of the true children of Abraham, the children of faith. As such, believers bear the glorious nature and function of God's special people; a royal residence, a priestly community, a holy people. As God's special people, we are called on to be a "light unto the Gentiles", to proclaim the wonderful mercy of God realized in the person of Jesus Christ.
v10. Peter again employs Old Testament imagery. Israel was once no people, called out of the bondage of Egypt into the land flowing with milk and honey. The heathen too were without mercy, lost. Yet now, in the church, believers stand as God's eternal children, "the people of God."
A light to the world
Our passage for study focuses on Christ and on those who bathe in his glory.
Jesus is the "precious cornerstone". Not only is he the Messiah, the anointed one who came to call together a new community in the presence of God, he is also everything that God's people should be. Jesus is the Godly line, the remnant of Israel, the true Israel; he is the one "chosen by God", the elect one, the predestined Son of God; he is the prophet, priest and king; he is the perfectly obedient and faithful one. Wicked people may have taken him and crucified him, but God raised him up. He lives, and in his life we can live.
So then, we who "come" to this "living stone", we "who believe" in him, end up possessing all that is his. In him we possess the fullness of God's glory. This stone, for us, becomes "precious". In our relationship with Jesus we become, as John Elliott puts it in his translation, an "elect line, a royal residence, a priestly community, a holy people, a people for God's possession." Such defines our corporate nature in Christ.
Peter then goes on to remind his readers of their function as a people of God's own possession. We must take it upon ourselves to tell of the wondrous things that Christ has done; we must proclaim his noble deeds. The Christian community fulfills this function by supporting the evangelistic programs of the church, contributing to missionary societies, or the Bible Society, and even speaking of the Lord ourselves when the opportunity presents itself.
Unlike so many in our world, we have much to motivate us in our priestly duty of bringing God's mercy to the lost. "In the past we had no experience of God's mercy, but now it is intimately ours" (cf. J.B. Phillips).
1. This passage gives us an insight into the substance of the church. Discuss.
2. Discuss the meaning of "offering spiritual sacrifices."