1 Peter 2

The latter verses of chapter 1 have shown us that the new birth which has taken place with each believer has a purifying effect, therefore the first verse of chapter 2 takes it for granted that we lay aside those ugly features which are the nature of the flesh in us. Of the things specified, malice, envy and evil speakings specially concern our relations with our fellows, and they are particularly mentioned because Peter is now going to bring before us truth which shows us the believer in intimate relation with all his fellow-believers as a stone in a spiritual house, and as one of the priestly family. In such connections, nothing will proceed rightly unless these evils are laid aside.

It is not enough, however, to lay aside evil, we must go in for that which is good. We must not merely put on good as an outward dress or adornment, but imbibe it as spiritual food. There is "the sincere milk of the Word" suitable for the new-born babe, and we are to earnestly desire it. If we feed upon the Word we grow up. But even then we still need the Word, for it is meat for those of full age as well as milk for babes, as Hebrews 5: 12-14, tells us.

This furnishes us with a very clear answer to the oft-repeated question- Why do some Christians make such good spiritual progress and some hardly any at all? Because some feed heartily and regularly upon pure, spiritual diet. They feast their souls upon the Word, whether as milk or meat. Others feed upon it but little and are half-starved spiritually. Others again, choke up their minds and hearts with light and foolish reading. Some go in for sentimental love stories, slightly flavoured with the gospel perhaps; such, naturally, do not progress spiritually any more than a child would progress physically whose diet consisted only of sweetmeats.

Others take up reading of a more intellectual sort but with a strain of infidelity in it; and progress no better than would the child brought up on solid food with small quantities of poison in it.

Food for our minds and hearts we must have. Let us see to it that it is the Word on which we feed, seeing it is by the Word we have been born again, if indeed, we have tasted the goodness of God-for all this supposes that we are truly converted people, that we have really come to the Lord.

And who and what is the Lord to whom we have come? He is the "Living Stone." This is a remarkable title of our Lord. It sets Him forth as the One in whom is life, who became Man, and who, by death and resurrection, has become the Head and Foundation of this new structure which God is building composed of men who live through Him and in Him. He is the "chief corner stone, elect, precious" (verse 6), "the head of the corner" (verse 7). The men who, as "living stones," have been built into this "house" of a living sort, became such by coming to Christ, the Living Stone.

Evidently, the Apostle Peter never forgot his first interview with the Lord Jesus, as recorded in John 1, and in these verses we have a definite allusion to it. John 1 introduces the Lord Jesus to us as the Word, in whom was life, become flesh that as Man He might die as the Lamb of God, and then in resurrection baptize with the Holy Ghost (verses 1, 4, 14, 29, 33). Then Andrew brings his brother Simon to Jesus, as the Christ. The Lord Jesus, knowing that which was before Him, and conscious of all that He Himself was-whatever Simon might know or not know Him to be-instantly assumed possession of him and changed his name to Peter, which means "a stone." It was as though the Lord said to him, "Coming to Me in faith you have become-even though your faith is partial as yet and incomplete-of the same nature as Myself."

Neither did Peter forget the subsequent interview recorded in Matthew 16. On this occasion Peter had confessed the Lord Jesus as the Son of the Living God, which was virtually to confess Him as the Living Stone. The Lord Jesus in reply reminded Simon that his real name now was Peter-"a stone"-while He Himself was the Rock; and that Peter as a stone was not to be left in isolation, but to be with the others builded into the church or assembly which Christ called His own-"My Church."

When the Lord Jesus spoke thus to Peter all was future, for He said, "I will build." Now Peter writes to others who also had come to Christ and thereby become living stones, and he can speak of all as a present and existing thing, though not an absolutely completed thing. He says in verse 5, "Ye are built up"-or, "Ye are being built up a spiritual house." A spiritual house they were, yet it was not a completed thing for other living stones were continually being added.

Now a house exists for its occupant, and we are thus builded together as a dwelling-place for GOD; not a material house of the sort they had been accustomed to as Jews, but a spiritual house. Moreover, where God dwells there He is to be praised and so, by His work and ordering, we fill a further capacity as "an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." These spiritual sacrifices are "of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name" (Heb. 13: 15).

Every true believer is a living stone in the house, and a priest as belonging to this holy priesthood.

Had we approached one of the sons of Aaron and asked him how he became a priest, he would doubtless have told us that it was, firstly, by his birth; and that, secondly, being born of the priestly family, he was put into the priest's office by the washing of water, the sprinkling with blood, and the anointing with oil, as ordered in Exodus 29. We, too, are priests by birth. Being born of God, we are priests of God. We, too, have had the washing of water by the Word (1 Peter 1: 22, 23). We have been redeemed by blood, the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1: 19), and we have received the Spirit, who was typified of the oil; though that particular feature is not brought before us in the passage we are considering. We have come to Christ (1 Peter 2: 4), and thus we are priests, just as Aaron's sons were priests as having come to Aaron, and being thus associated with him in the priest's office.

Every believer today is then a priest. But we must remember that it is one thing to be a priest, another to really enter into and exercise our priestly functions. The first exercise of our priesthood is Godward, in the offering up of the sacrifice of praise. This is "acceptable to God by Jesus Christ," for He is the Great High Priest, as the Epistle to the Hebrews makes so manifest. All that we offer we offer by Him; and this of course accounts for its acceptability to God, since He is the chosen One and precious in God's sight, as the sixth verse shows.

It must never be forgotten, however, that He is not elect and precious, nor is He the acceptable One, in man's esteem. The very reverse, He is disallowed and rejected. The fact is that man has become a disobedient creature as verse 7 reminds us. Instead of falling in with God's plans, he wishes to push ahead with plans of his own. Instead of being content with God's building and with being called to have a part in it as a living stone, man wishes to create a building on his own account-a building which shall conform to his own fallen ideas and result in his own glory. When the Lord Jesus appeared, men attempted to work Him into their building and failed. Had He consented to fall in with man's ideas it would have been otherwise. They would have been delighted if so great an One as He had been a supporter of, or even a developer of, Roman government, or Greek philosophy, or Jewish religion. Coming as He did, on God's behalf, He exposed their folly and fitted in with none of their notions. He was, as it were, a stone of such peculiar formation that there was not a single niche in the imposing temple of man's fame where He fitted in. Hence He became "the stone which the builders disallowed," and "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence" to the proud men who rejected Him, whilst being elevated of God into the headstone of the corner in the divine building.

Consequently, we who are priests of God in association with Him are no more of man's building, of man's world-system, than He is, though we have another priestly function which has direct reference to the world through which we pass. We are "a chosen race, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a people for a possession"-as verse 9 has been rendered. We are those whom God has chosen out and separated to Himself. In the coming age the kingly character of our priesthood will be more manifest than it is at present, but now we are commissioned to show forth the praises, the virtue or excellences, of God in this disobedient world. This is our priestly function manward.

In the coming age the saints are going to judge the world, as 1 Corinthians 6: 2 tells us. As kingly priests we shall then be commissioned to dispense His judgment. We are kingly priests today, but commissioned to dispense His excellent righteousness expressed in grace, to set forth His character as light and love. This, of course, we do even more by what we are than by what we say. It is the character and spirit and attitude of the royal priest that counts for so much.

Do some feel inclined to declare this an impossible task? Nay, not impossible! Difficult perhaps, because not natural to us as men in the flesh, though natural enough to the born-again, redeemed, Spirit-indwelt priesthood to which we belong. Possible, indeed, because we ourselves have been the subjects of the grace that we are now to "show forth" to others. We have been called "out of darkness into His marvellous light."

Can you not imagine one of the converted Jews to whom Peter wrote, crying out at this point-"Darkness! But, Peter, you forget, we were never benighted heathen as were others"? And we, who were brought up in conditions controlled-by an enlightened and christianized civilization, might say the same. "I know it," the Apostle would have replied, "but your Judaism was darkness, for all that." God was not fully revealed, it was not "in the light" (1 John 1: 7), if Judaism be considered in its original purity. When it was corrupted into a mass of traditions and observances by the Pharisees it was darkness indeed.

All was darkness for us whether we were called out of Judaism or heathenism, or a nominal and corrupted Christianity, and now we are in a light which is marvellous; we are the people of God, having obtained mercy.

Marvellous light! Is this how we feel about it? The world plunges on, deeper and ever deeper into its darkness and unbelief. Its learned scientists and philosophers fill the air with triumphant shoutings as to their investigations and their discoveries. Yet really they are as men who clutch at elusive shadows while their science is an enshrouding mist. Their discoveries enable them to do lots of clever and curious things in the world, but not a ray of light shines in them as to things beyond the grave. And here are we, put in the light of God fully revealed in Christ, in the light of His grace, His purposes, His glory. Are we studying these things, so as to become even more and more enlightened, and consequently, luminous ourselves?

On a cloudless night at the season of full moon we get the benefit of our satellite shining in the light of the sun. How marvellous must be the sunlight that can make a dark body shine so brightly! Well, the world is still in the dark, for its back is turned towards God. We are in the light of His truth and grace,-the light of the knowledge of Himself. How marvellous that light is may be discerned in the fact that it can make dark and unattractive people, like to ourselves, show forth His excellences and reflect Himself.

Oh! to be more fully in the unclouded brightness of God's MARVELLOUS LIGHT.

At 1 Peter 2: 11 the apostle Peter turns the "marvellous light" of God upon the daily lives of the holy and royal priests to whom he writes, addressing them as "strangers and pilgrims."

They were, of course, strangers in the lands of their dispersion, as the first verse of the Epistle told us, but this is not what is alluded to here. Every Christian is a stranger and pilgrim, and we need not be surprised at this, since by the very fact that we are brought into such near and honoured relationship with God there must be a corresponding severance from the world. The world is entirely antagonistic to God and we cannot hold with both at the same time. It must be one or the other. For us it is relationship and communion with God, and hence strangership and pilgrimage in the world. The world itself began with Cain, who was "a fugitive and a vagabond" (Gen. 4: 12). We may summarize the matter thus:-

A fugitive is a man who has fled from home. A vagabond is a man who has no home. A stranger is a man who is absent from home. A pilgrim is a man who is on his way to home.

The actual presence of God is the true home of our souls and we are disconnected from the world' system so as to be strangers in it, though left in it for a time to show forth the excellencies of God. Still, we do not wander aimlessly for we are pilgrims also, and this means that we have an objective before us-a fixed point of destiny to which we wend our way.

The world is consumed with fleshly "lusts" or "desires," and consequently, given over to the gratification of those desires. The Christian has other desires of a spiritual sort which proceed not from the flesh at all, and the only way to foster these is to abstain from the desires of the flesh. This is a very personal matter.

Verse 12 deals with our lives in relation to others. The Gentiles were naturally very critical of these Jewish sojourners in their midst and disposed to speak against them. When any of them became Christians the Gentiles were more likely than ever to denounce them, as witness the way in which a Christian today gets denounced if he gives the world the smallest occasion for it. Therefore, their whole manner of life was to be right and honest. The Jew, with his notoriously strong instincts in the matter of profit-making may have particularly needed this exhortation, but who of us does not need it at all? If we maintain righteousness, ultimately our very antagonists will glorify God. They may do so in a way that will ensure their own blessing. They will certainly do so when God visits them in judgment.

Verses 13 to 17, inclusive, work this exhortation out for us, in its details. These dispersed Christian Jews might very possibly be inclined to resent many of the Gentile authorities who were over them, whether kings or governors, and also the many ordinances and laws and regulations that had been instituted, so many of them very different to what had been given of God through Moses, to which they and their forefathers had been accustomed. Still, they were to submit. Government, they had to recognize, was a divine institution. Hence they and we are to be subject for the Lord's sake. The Christian is of course, free for he stands in the liberty of Christ. Still, he must not use his freedom as "a cloke of malice"-in any way to vent his spleen upon others-but he must regard it as liberty to serve God, and the service of God demands the subjection to rulers which is here laid down.

The matter is tersely summed up in verse 17, and we find what becomes "the servants of God." As to all men-honour. As to the brotherhood, i.e., all believers-love. As to God-fear. As to the king, the representative of all human authority-honour. Carrying out this we do the will of God and silence foolish adversaries.

Having thus exhorted all Christians to submission, the apostle specially addresses servants in verse 18. The word used means not exactly "slaves" but "household servants." These, too, are to be subject to authority and specially to the masters whom they serve. These masters may be often men of the world and ill-tempered. The servant may consequently often have to suffer wrongfully. There is no credit to the Christian if, suffering for wrong doing, he takes it patiently. Such is the divine way of thinking, though nowadays people even Christians-are very intolerant of a small rebuke for their faults. What does please God is to take patiently suffering which is endured for doing well and acting with "conscience toward God." Nothing is harder to us naturally than this. How indignant we feel when our well-doing only serves to bring trouble upon us!

What will help us in this? Two things. Firstly, the example of Christ. Secondly, His atoning sacrifice and its results.

Verses 21 to 23 give us the first. No one ever did well like the Lord Jesus. No one ever was so misjudged, reviled and persecuted as He. Moreover, He did no sin, no guile was ever in His mouth. There was nothing in Him or His life to justify the smallest slur being cast upon Him. Yet no one suffered as He, and no one ever took the suffering with such meekness and perfection. He fulfilled the word of Isaiah 53, "He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth." In all this He was an example for us, for we are called to His path, and to follow His steps. The consideration of Christ in all the glory of His perfection cannot fail to have its effect on us, conforming our thoughts and ways to His. If called upon to suffer we, too, shall commit ourselves to Him that judges righteously, instead of attempting to avenge ourselves.

Yet even so, we are not as He was, for we have sins and He had none. We needed, therefore, the atoning sacrifice of which verse 24 speaks. He who did no sin "bare our sins in His own body on the tree." This is something altogether beyond us. We cannot follow in His steps here.

Every part of this wonderful verse deserves our most careful attention. His own self became the Sin-bearer, and no other. He bare our sins. Isaiah 53 had said He should bear our griefs and carry our sorrows, but it also predicted that He should be "wounded for our transgressions" and "bruised for our iniquities," and be striker for "the transgression of My people," and His soul be made "an offering for sin." These sins were ours, for the verse definitely speaks of the work of Christ, not in its Godward aspect as propitiating Him, but in its believer-ward aspect as bearing his sins- his sins, and not the sins of everybody.

Moreover, He bore our sins in His own body. He was definitely our Substitute. We had sinned in our bodies, and having become a true Man, apart from sin, He bore our sins in His holy body as a sacrifice for sin. This He accomplished on the tree, for it was exclusively in His death that atonement was effected. He did not bear our sins during His life, but in His death, and we are healed by His stripes as Isaiah 53 had also declared.

But then He bore our sins and delivered us from the stripes that our sins deserted, not in order that we should go on in our sins, but rather that we should henceforward be dead to the old life of worldly corruption and the sins which it entailed, and now live unto practical righteousness. Our sins have been atoned for and dismissed as to their judicial sentence, in order that we should be delivered from the practice of them and from their power.

This verse may be helpfully compared with the truth set forth in Romans 6. There sin is in question-sin as a tyrant and a master-here sins. There we are to reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. Here we are to be dead to sins and live unto righteousness. In both cases the cross of Christ is that from which all flows, but Romans 6 is the believer taking up the reckoning of faith in his experience. Here it is the practical result which follows. The consistent believer becomes as a dead man to all the sins that formerly pleased him, and he lives now for the will of God which is practical righteousness. And this because of the fact that the One who died for him as the Lamb of sacrifice now lives as the Shepherd and Bishop of his soul. We were indeed "as sheep going astray"-a last reference to Isaiah 53-but now we have a living Shepherd to lead us in the paths of righteousness for His Name's sake.