The Privileges of God’s People

1 Peter 1:4-12

November 1, 2014 | Brian Bill

An oxymoron is a rhetorical device in which two seemingly contradictory words are used together for effect.  Here are some examples.

An Actual Reenactment

Excruciatingly Joyful – that’s how I felt when I walked my daughters down the aisle

Accidentally on Purpose

Airline Food

Chicago Bears Defense

Clearly Confused

Short Wait

Deafening Silence

Lone Ranger Christian

Inactive Member

A Living Stone – In 1 Peter 2:4, the Lord Jesus Christ is referred to as a “living stone” and in verse 5 Christ-followers are called, “living stones.”   How can a stone be living?  These phrases seem contradictory at first glance. 

We’ll dive in shortly but first let’s summarize last week’s message from the opening verses of chapter 2: We won’t grow unless we get into the Word.  We were challenged to remember our salvation, to remove sin from our lives, and to refocus on the graciousness of God.  As a way to get the Word into us we must read, feed, need and heed the Bible.

Verse 4 begins with Peter continuing his exhortation for us to be intentional and determined in our daily devotion: “Coming to Him…”  To “come” was used of drawing near to God in worship in the Old Testament.  Peter assumes that we will come near to Christ.  It’s in the present tense, meaning that we’re to come personally and repeatedly.  I love that Jesus invites us to approach Him when we’re burdened and bummed out in Matthew 11:28: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Portrait of Christ

When we understood who Christ is, we’ll better understand who we are in Him.   Peter first paints a portrait of Christ and then he spells out the privileges of those who follow Christ.  We’ll conclude with some priorities.

1. The Savior is a Stone. 

In the first century a stone was one of the most stable things around.  Actually, we see three types of stones listed.  Interestingly, Peter quotes from three Old Testament passages.

  • “Living stone” in verses 4-5.  This literally means, “a stone that gives life and provides sustenance” like the rock smitten in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:4).  We don’t perform a bunch of dead rituals for a dead Savior, do we?
  • “Chief cornerstone” in verses 6-7.  Jesus referred to Himself as the chief cornerstone in Luke 20:17.
  • “Stone of stumbling” in verse 8.  

2. The Savior was selected by God. 

Look at verse 4: “chosen by God.”  In verse 6 He is referred to as “elect.”  It’s the idea of being picked out as excellent.

3. The Savior is precious. 

Three different times in this passage (verses 4, 6 and 7) Jesus is referred to as “precious.”  This word means “honored, esteemed and valuable.” 

Privileges of Christ Followers

We must always start with who Christ is before we can understand who we are.  Let me point out that while Christianity is deeply personal it’s not meant to stay private.  God calls us individually but He’s designed for us to live in community with others.  We’re made to do life together, to love one another and to lean on each other.

We’re not to be independent but interdependent.

Did you know that almost all the ‘you’ exhortations in the New Testament are in the plural and not in the singular?  If we lived in the south we would translate them as “ya’ll.”   While it’s certainly appropriate to apply the promises of God personally, remember that much of what we’re told to do can only be fleshed out in community, as we live out the gospel together.  We’re not to be independent but interdependent.

As I read verses 5-8, remember that these first century believers were suffering and had been scattered.  Imagine how these words must have encouraged them: “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.’  Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone’ and ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.’ They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.”

I came across a helpful outline for this section from Russell Smith.  He points out that we are a family with a foundation and a people with a purpose.

1. A Family with a Foundation.

When you come to faith in Christ you enter the family of God with Jesus as your foundation.   Look at verse 5: “You also, as living stones are being built up a spiritual house…”  I like that the KJV translates it as “lively stones” (some of us could stand to be more lively).  I’m reminded of what Jesus said on Palm Sunday when his enemies told Him to keep the crowds quiet in Luke 19:40: “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”  This is the first rock concert, BTW.  These living stones are placed upon each other to make a spiritual house, which is a word that often refers to the Temple in the Old Testament (see 1 Kings 5:5).

I like what Ray Pritchard says: “That means that he is the Rock and we are like chips off the Living Block…when we come into contact with Jesus Christ, we are made alive with him…the church is more than a human organization.  The true church is an ever-growing collection of living stones, being built one upon another by the head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ…And he’s building it one living stone at a time.”

You are dependent on those around you and under you…and you support the ones placed on top of you.  If one is pulled out, we all shake…you are so built into the body that if you were to stop gathering with us, we’d all be affected.

I read a troubling story on called, “Secularism Grows as More U.S. Christians Turn ‘Churchless.’”  In his new book called, “Churchless,” David Kinnaman says that roughly four in 10 people in the U.S. are “post-Christian” and “essentially secular in belief and practice.”  Check this out: “There are tens of millions of active believers in America today. But the wall between the churched and the churchless is growing higher and more impenetrable as more people have no muscle memory of what it means to be a regular attender at a house of worship.  How these people think, pray and use their time is shifting away from a faith-based perspective.  As a result, a churchless or secular worldview is becoming its own social force.”  

As an example of this, one woman who is a granddaughter of a Presbyterian pastor, hasn’t been to a worship service in more than 30 years.  Her daughter, a millennial and a pagan, doesn’t go either.  Although she thinks of herself as a Christian, she has stepped back from denominational brands.  Instead, she says, she just tries to show love: “I do random acts of kindness.  I talk to God when I think I need to.  I think I have a good connection to Mother God and Father God.”

Would you notice that we are being “built up a spiritual house” in order to “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God?”  When Christ, the living stone, saves a life, he makes another stony soul live and places that living stone as a building block in the church.  When you become a believer you are built up.  And then as living stones you offer up spiritual sacrifices.  I like what Brian Moss says, “There are two kinds of church members. Those that are serving and those that believe they are deserving.” 

This is what a spiritual sacrifice looks like…

  • Offering our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2)
  • Offering praise to Him, regardless of which band is leading us (Hebrews 13:15)
  • Offering our tithes and gifts to spread the gospel (Philippians 4:18)
  • Offering our good works and possessions to Him (Hebrews 13:16)

Can I encourage you to offer up spiritual sacrifices by aiming to give 10% (a tithe) on a regular basis?  

Many of us, me included, say things like this: “I went to church today.”  In the New Testament, largely because they did not have church buildings, church was associated with the people of God, regardless of where they met.  We must see the church as a people, not a place.   Check out 1 Corinthians 3:16: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”  The word “you” is in the plural, meaning that the church of Corinth is the temple of God!

In addition, as Frank Tillapaugh points out in his classic book called, “Unleashing the Church,” many churches have made their facility a fortress that is difficult for people to penetrate.  Friends, we don’t really “go” to church.  When we gather as God’s people, we are the church.  And when we leave here, we are still the church.  We are the church gathered when we are together and the church scattered when we are apart.

Because we are connected to Christ we’re connected to each other.  Because we have the same foundation we’re in the same family.  In a sermon I listened to by Tim Keller, he referenced a study that found 81% of Americans believe they can live a flourishing Christian life without going to church at all.  That’s just false.  A churchless Christian is an oxymoron.

In verses 6-7, Jesus is referred to as the “chief cornerstone” two different times. The cornerstone is the most important stone in a building.  If this stone is straight the whole structure will be straight.  Everything must line up with this stone in order for the building to be strong.  In a similar way, you and I are to build our lives on the foundation of Christ and to make sure that everything we do lines up with the Lord.

We are a family with a foundation.  Secondly, we are a people with a purpose.

2. A People with a Purpose. 

We see this picture in verses 9-10: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”   

Let’s list these beautiful phrases and briefly explain them…

  • Chosen generation.  While God chose Israel in the Old Testament and still has plans and purposes for them, He has chosen another group of people called Christians who make up the church.
  • Royal priesthood.  The word “royal” means, “belonging to the king.”  In verse 5, we are called a “holy priesthood.”  In the Old Testament, priests had special privileges and responsibilities.  Their primary job was to offer sacrifices on behalf of people.  God set it up so that people needed a “go-between” but now that Christ has come, all that has changed.  He is called the great High Priest in Hebrews 4:14 because He has made the final sacrifice.  We could say it like this.  In the Old Testament, there was a priesthood.  In the New Testament we are the priesthood.  

I think of Halloween or the best name for this date is Reformation Day, because that’s the day we remember Martin Luther hammering 95 theses on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  These can be summarized with five statements known by their Latin name “sola.”  Here they are: “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone); “Sola Gratia” (Grace Alone); “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone); “Solus Christus” (Christ Alone); and “Soli Deo Gloria” (To God Alone Be Glory).

The priesthood of all believers was a rallying cry for the Reformation.  In light of that, let’s lose the laity label.  I believe that one of the reasons the church is held back is because of pastors.  The other reason is because of the people in the pews.  In other words, it’s my fault, and it’s your fault.  

Let me explain.  When the church was launched in the Book of Acts, everyone saw themselves as ministers.  Are you ever asked how many ministers we have at our church?  You might be tempted to say that we have six.  Actually, that’s not a biblically correct answer.  The right answer is that we have over 1,000 ministers and six equippers.  Vance Havner was spot on when he said these powerful words: “Christianity began as a company of lay-witnesses…nowadays we hire a church staff to do the full-time Christian work, and we sit in the church on Sunday and watch them do it.”  

That means that you don’t need a priest to get to God.  Related to that, I see no purpose for the pope either, especially after he made a statement this week that torpedoed the biblical doctrine of creationism.

  • A holy nation.   New life in Christ means that we become citizens in a new nation in allegiance to King Jesus.  It’s no longer all about ethnic identity or geographical boundaries.  
  • His own special people.  This literally means, “A people for His own possession.”  We are God’s very own.  
  • Called out of darkness into His marvelous light.  This is similar to Ephesians 5:8: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”
  • Obtained mercy.  This is reference from the book of Hosea.  Aren’t you thankful for God’s mercy today?

Because of all of this, how can we not but respond with wholehearted worship?   Look at verse 9: “that you may proclaim the praises of Him…”

Priorities of Christ-Followers

After we see the portrait of Christ and understand our privileges, we’re challenged with some priorities to live out in verses 11-12: “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

1. Remember you’re from a different world. 

Peter pleads with tenderness: “Beloved, I beg you…”  Here’s really saying, “I beg you, as those whom I love…”  And then he picks up a concept he established in the very first verse of the letter: “…as sojourners and pilgrims…” Here’s what we learned in the first sermon in this series: We are scattered strangers living in an increasingly strange land.  The word “pilgrim” refers to a temporary resident in a foreign place.  Here’s the deal.  If you’re a Christ-follower, this world is not your home.  You are not from around here.  Philippians 3:20 says that our “true citizenship is in heaven.”   BTW, as citizens of heaven and of our country, we have the privilege and responsibility to vote on Tuesday.

Tim Keller points out that Christ-followers in the first century lived as aliens because of some things they did and didn’t do.

  • Did not support Caesar as a god
  • Against abortion and infanticide
  • Against sex outside of marriage
  • Against same-sex practices.  
  • Absolutely and radically committed to poor
  • Mixed races and classes were together in their gatherings
  • Christ was the only way to salvation

Michael Kruger wrote an article entitled, “One Trait That Set Apart the Earliest Christians.” He argues that the sexual ethic of Christians made them stand out from the pagan culture.  Let me remind you that the early Christians battled an over-sexed culture just like we are called to do today.  We must make sure we are not going along with the ever-changing sexual norms of our world: “To do so would not only violate the clear teachings of Scripture, but it would also rob us of one of our greatest witnessing opportunities…in the end, Christianity triumphed in its early Greco-Roman context not because it was the same as the surrounding pagan culture, but because it was different.”

2. Realize you’re at war with sin. 

We’re to “abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul…”  To abstain means to keep away from and to avoid.  It’s in the present tense meaning we’re to continually keep away from by putting distance between those things that are designed to trip us up.   Brothers and sisters, fleshly lusts are at war within you and they want to capture and destroy you.  Don’t ever forget that ultimately Christianity is not about comfort; it’s about being conformed to the image of Jesus.  

too many of us have settled with sin in our lives

I’m afraid too many of us have settled with sin in our lives as we’ve cozied up to compromise and excused our actions.  One pastor writes: “It is not simply a momentary discomfort or distraction. It is more like a trespasser crouching at your door, waiting to pounce. It is a rebel, a thief, a bandit preoccupied with stealing, killing, and destroying everything you hold dear.”  That’s exactly the picture of sin found in Genesis 4:7: “…Sin is crouching at the door.  Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

3. Reflect Christ in your works. 

While we’re at war with our own sins, we are not at war with sinners.  Let me repeat that.  While we’re at war with our own sins, we are not at war with sinners. Warren Wiersbe puts it like this: “Our real battle is not with people around us, but with passions within us.”  Christ calls us to conduct ourselves carefully as we live in our culture in verse 12: “Having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.”  To live Christ-like is our holy obligation in a hostile world.  The world at its worst needs the church at its best.

We must neither give into culture nor withdraw from culture, but maintain our beliefs while engaging and serving the world.  The power to maintain this balance comes from being secure in Christ and united as a church body, with him as our cornerstone.

Let me make some observations from this verse.

  • Be with lost people.  Notice that we’re to conduct ourselves honorably among the Gentiles.  That means we must be with people who don’t yet know Christ.  That’s why we’re emphasizing the importance of neighboring.
  • Expect pushback and persecution.  Even when we have Christ-like conduct, we’ll be spoken against as evil-doers.  We will be misunderstood and slandered.  Don’t be surprised when suffering comes and when it does, don’t attack those who are attacking you.  Fast forward to 1 Peter 3:9: “…not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing.”  Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
  • People will see our good works and give glory to God.  The word, “observe” means to “look upon, inspect; to contemplate.”  It’s the idea of long-term reflective observation.  Friends, live daily with the hope that God will use your Christ-like conduct “among the pagans” to glorify His name.

Tim Keller says that if you assimilate you won’t suffer.  If you attack others people will think you’re angry.  But if you engage, the world may reject but they will recognize your good works.  

So, here’s a question: Are you assimilating, or attacking or engaging?

In his book called the Great Evangelical Recession, John Dickerson writes: “As segments of the United States culture grows hostile and hateful toward Bible-believing Christians, we must take care to be proactive, as Christ was.  If we’re not intentional, we will be reactive, falling to defensive or oppositional positions.  History has taught us that such reactionism to the culture only isolates us and minimizes our impact for Christ.”

Now What?

I want to direct a closing challenge to two different groups of people.

1. Those who are not saved yet. 

You cannot be neutral about Jesus. He will save you or he will shatter you, and there is no third choice.  Let’s look back to verse 6: “And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”  To believe means to rely on and to trust in.  Notice the contrast in verse 7: “But to those who are disobedient, the stone which the builders rejected…”  The dividing line is between belief and disbelief.

Drop down to verse 8: “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.  They stumble, being disobedient to the Word…”  The word, “stumbled,” literally means to strike, slam, or dash against and was used of a traveler bumping into an obstacle that makes him slip or trip.  It carries with it the idea of suffering harm, taking offense, and being annoyed or enraged.

In Matthew 21, Jesus uses some strong language to show that no one who comes in contact with Him can stay the same.  Referring to Himself in verse 42, Jesus is the stone that the builders rejected and He is now the chief cornerstone of the building of believers He is constructing.  In verse 43 He tells the Jewish religious leaders that because they have rejected Him, the message will now go to the Gentiles.  And in verse 44, Jesus declares: “He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”  Either we will be humbled and broken so that we believe in Him or we will be hardened and end up being crushed by Him.  But no one can stay the same.  You will either stumble and fall over Him or become humble and call on Him.

There were two news stories many years ago that had to do with the rocket that exploded right after it was launched in Florida.  The destruction was sudden.  The next story had to do with the lava from the volcano in Hawaii that is spreading slowly as it destroys everything in its wake.  

Friend, here’s your choice.  You trust in Christ now and you’ll never be put to shame.  Or, you will suddenly face disaster as your sins explode all over your soul.  If you’ve not trusted Christ yet, disaster is slowly making its way to your world and you will certainly perish if you don’t personally receive Jesus Christ.  It may be slow or it may be sudden but if you don’t believe in Christ you will be ultimately crushed and spend eternity in the explosive never-ending lavas of Hell.

2. Those who are saved. 

Do you know what I think is the ultimate oxymoron?  Lukewarm Christian.  Those are contradictory words.  We use them together to refer to someone who believes in Christ but is no different from those who don’t believe.  Jesus doesn’t like the label either.  In Revelation 3, He says that these kinds of people make Him want to vomit.  He’d rather have us be all-in or all-out, to be burn hot for Him or to be spiritually cold and lifeless.  Jesus gives a message to people like this in verse 19: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.”  How can we be half-hearted when He gave His all for us?

And then He gives an invitation that is often quoted to non-Christians to help them see that that they must open the door of their lives to Christ for salvation.  While that’s a helpful picture, this passage is calling for Christians to let Jesus all the way in to their lives.  Check out verse 20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”

Have you been keeping Christ at arms-length?  Have you shut the door on Him?  It’s time to open every part of your life to Him!  Make a commitment right now to Christ and to His church by agreeing to gather, grow, give and go.

Allow Jesus to be King of all of you.  Build your life on Him.  Be a living stone…and that’s not an oxymoron.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?