Have you ever noticed that some passages of Scripture are crystal clear and easy to understand—the previous passage, for example? And then some passages aren't—today's passage, for example. In this text Peter talks about priests and sacrifices and construction material. There's some symbolism that isn't easy to understand at first, but in the midst of this passage, there is also some plain and straightforward advice on how to live the Christian life.
In chapter 2 Peter continues his line of thought from the previous chapter. He's still challenging us to dare to be different. This week we see more about that difference and how being different makes a difference in the world in which we live.
Peter uses a term in this passage that is translated in the King James Version as peculiar: "You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people" (1 Pet. 2:9). Other translations use the words unique or "God's own possession." In other words, different—different because we belong to him, different in order to make a difference in the world.
To experience this "difference-making difference"—to grow into maturity in the Christian life—we need to do three things, as we will see in the today's text.
We need to get into the Word.
Peter ends chapter one with the statement, "The grass withers, and the flowers fall away. But the word of the Lord will last forever" (1 Pet. 1:24–25). These words are taken from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah. It refers not only to Isaiah's prophecy, but to the entire Old Testament and, Peter says, the message of the Gospel as well.
There was no New Testament at the time Peter wrote this letter (obviously). Over the next three hundred years, the books of the New Testament came together. Church leaders recognized the authority of the Gospels and the writings of Paul, Peter, and John, and ultimately the New Testament canon was complete. Peter's words can be applied to his own words, and to all of the New Testament. It is the Word of God and it stands forever.
Peter says, "Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to your salvation" (v.2). In other translations the word translated "long for" is rendered "crave." It is a word that describes strong desire. Peter is saying that we need to develop a strong desire for the Word of God.
Do you know the best way to do that? Read it. I've learned that the more time I spend in the Word, the more time I want to spend in the Word. There is no such thing as a saturation point. Charles Spurgeon said, "Nobody ever outgrows Scripture. The Book widens and deepens with our years." It's amazing to me that passages that I read and understood and believed and followed when I was 16 years old continue to speak to me today—decades later—on a different level.
Recently a man told me that Christians, in his opinion, just read the Bible to confirm their preconceived ideas. A little while later he mentioned that when he is sad, he likes to listen to country music. I said, "Doesn't that just make you sadder?"
He laughed and said, "Yep. Usually does." So, I guess he thinks Christians read the Bible for the same reason he listens to country music—to continue feeling a certain way. But anyone who reads the Bible knows that this is not the purpose it serves.
I read the Bible when I'm sad, but not because it confirms my feelings of sadness. I read the Bible when I'm sad because it challenges me to think a new way about life. The same can be said when I'm angry, frustrated, depressed, confused, and so on. When I read the Word, it changes my outlook on life.
James McCosh said, "The book to read is not the one that thinks for you, but the one that makes you think. No book in the world equals the Bible for that." He's right, you know. Reading the Bible causes you to think about your life, about what you're doing and where you're going. It helps you live right.
That's why David wrote, "Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee" (Psa. 119:11). That's also why Peter wrote about those who don't believe: "They stumble because they do not listen to God's word or obey it" (1 Pet. 2:8 nlt).
To experience the difference-making difference, get into the Word. It will change you. It will also help you take the next step ...
Stay connected to Christ.
This difference that I'm talking about is something we receive from him. Peter is challenging us to know who we are in Christ.
In this passage he tells us we are living stones: "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" (vv. 4–5).
It's interesting that Peter would use this metaphor, since Jesus had earlier said to him, "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church" (Matt.16:18). The name Peter means rock. Peter understood that Jesus was not saying that he is the foundation of the church. He knew that Jesus is the foundation of the church. Peter understood that he, like us, is one of the living stones that make up the building of the church. He is saying, "You are a stone. Your place is in God's building." By itself a stone can't do much good. It can serve as a paperweight, and that's about it. But with others, it can be part of majestic structure. Peter is saying, "That's who you are. Your role is to be a living stone in God's building."
We are also a holy priesthood. The Bible teaches the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, which means that that we all have equal access to God and we don't need a human intermediary in our relationship to God. An aberration of this doctrine is to think that we don't need anyone at all in our lives. You've probably heard the song, "Me and Jesus Have Our Own Thing Going." It says, "We don't need anybody to tell us what it's all about." In other words, I don't need a preacher. I don't need a church. I don't need anyone else. It's all between me and Jesus.
That may be overstating the case somewhat. Peter talked about the priesthood of all believers in the context of our role in the church. Yes, we all have equal access to God, and it is important to remember that. It is also important to remember that we all equally belong to one another.
Barclay makes an interesting point. The Latin word for priest is pontifex, which means "bridge builder." Barclays says, "The priest is the man who builds a bridge for others to come to God; and the Christian has the duty and the privilege of bringing others to the Savior whom he himself has found and loves."
Peter also says that we are "offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (v. 5). He is talking about the content of our lives, our worship, our prayers, and our service to others. All ministry, all mercy, all compassion is a sacrifice to him.
Experiencing the difference that makes a difference requires that you stay connected to Christ, that you know who you are in him. Stop calling yourself a failure, a loser, an underachiever, a hothead, disorganized, undisciplined, lazy, and every other bad name that you may be tempted to pin on yourself. Give yourself a new label: You are a rock. A living stone. Part of God's temple. You are priest, a bridge builder. You belong to God: "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" (v.9).
Stay connected to Christ. Know who you are in him. Third, to experience the difference that makes a difference ...
Be a stranger to danger.
Okay, it rhymes; I'm being clever. What do I mean? I'm referring to the ultimate danger: sin. Peter tells how to keep a safe distance from sin: keep a big distance from sinful desire: "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul" (v. 11).
Notice that he uses the word desires. Have you ever struggled with a sinful desire? Maybe it's something you would never do, but the desire to do it just won't leave you alone? For example, there are people who would never commit sexual sin, but they are never far from the thought of it. Or there are people who would never seek revenge, but when they rehearse in their thoughts again and again, day after day, what they "ought" to say or what they "ought" to do to the person who offended them.
Even though these acts might never be committed, the desire alone to commit the sin is enough to destroy your spiritual life. Sinful desire wages war against your soul, and if you give desire free reign, it can take you out of the battle. We have to remind ourselves that there are certain things we can't afford to even think about, because sinful thoughts fan the flame of sinful desires, and sinful desires wage war against the soul.
Peter says that we are to view ourselves "as aliens and strangers." Our attitude is to be like the old hymn: "This world is not my home. I'm just a-passing through. Or, as Larry Norman said it: "I'm only visiting this planet."
Have you ever visited a foreign country with customs that seem strange to you? You see it most often in what they eat. In Brazil, for example, I couldn't get used to their pizza. They put chicken on it. And scrambled eggs. And sometimes even bananas. Then they dip it in ketchup. I didn't want to want be nonparticipatory—I truly wanted to immerse myself wholeheartedly into all aspects of their culture--but when it comes to pizza, I have strong convictions about right and wrong. As much as I love Brazil, when I am there, I live (in this regard, at least) as an alien and stranger: I stick to pepperoni pizza.
Now, here's my point: It's impossible for us to visit a foreign country and not feel just a little out of place. We never forget we are foreigners and that there is another place that we call home. It is the same for believers, and even more so. The differences between America and Brazil are merely cultural; the differences between this world and our home in heaven are ideological. This world tells us to believe one thing; God tells us to believe another. The world tells us to think one way; God tells us to think another. The world tells us to live one way; God tells us to live another. He's telling us to be a stranger to danger. Don't get too comfortable with this world's way of doing things.
Keeping a safe distance from sin involves keeping a big distance from sinful desires, keeping an attitude of alienation from this world's way of thinking, and making an effort to live above the crowd.
Peter said, "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us" (v. 12). Notice the phrase "though they accuse you of doing wrong." It's an unfortunate fact of life that if you seek to live for God, there will be times when you are accused of either doing the wrong thing or doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. When you remain true to your convictions, you will be accused of being narrow minded. When you are confident in God's direction for your life, you will be accused of being arrogant. When you refuse to back down in the face of opposition, you'll be accused of being stubborn. And when you experience God's blessing in your life, you'll be accused of doing it all for your own glory. "They" will accuse you of doing wrong; your challenge is to live in such as way that their accusations do not have staying power.
I think of Bruce Wilkinson, who wrote The Prayer of Jabez. That book received quite a bit of criticism, especially the "bless me" part of the prayer. A friend of mine read the book and said, "What a bunch of materialistic nonsense!" Interestingly, though the book made Wilkinson rich, he now lives and works among the poorest in Africa. And my friend who considered The Prayer of Jabez to be too materialistic? He put a swimming pool in his backyard last summer.
You will be accused from time to time of doing the wrong thing or having the wrong motives, but the emptiness of those allegations will eventually come to light—if not sooner then later. Don't let unfounded accusations prevent you from doing good.
Christians are to be different, different in such a way that we make a difference in the world. Do you want to make a difference in the world? Then get in the Word. Stay connected to Christ. And be a stranger to danger. Keep a big distance from sinful desires, remember that you are only visiting this planet, and make an effort to live above reproach. It may not always be easy, but by his grace you can do it.