Stone on stone

The Saturday evening post on 1 Peter was delayed, but not forgotten…

Experience with the goodness of God (now that you have tasted… in 1 Peter 2:3) keeps us wanting more, and so we move closer (2:4). As we do, the Lord ‘builds’ us. The language connects with Peter’s earlier remarks about maturity, extending them in two directions–but before we consider those, let’s notice another metaphor.

Peter describes Jesus as the living Stone, drawing from Psalm 118:22. The ‘rock’ imagery is frequent in Scripture (see Daniel 2:45, Isa 8:14, 17:10, 26:4, 51:1), but Peter chooses a different word here. Stone is a building element, a component prepared as part of an intentional structure (‘rock’ is the larger, rougher, more ‘untouched’ version). Both words were available to Peter once he took Ps 118:22 as his text, but stone opens the possibility of creating another metaphor, and that seems to be the apostle’s aim. He’s interested in the building fashioned by those who come to Jesus, noting that it is constructed out of living stones. Living stones, because these people are like Jesus, the living Stone.

Like Jesus. Peter tells us that this is true and calls us to a lofty goal all at the same time. Can we live up to this? Live into it? And what happens as these stones are stacked, fitted, placed so as to form walls? What sort of building emerges?

Peter calls it a spiritual house, which identifies both the material and the purpose of its construction. We’ve looked briefly at the material; now the purpose, which is to fashion a place where God can dwell, a temple that God occupies. The OT had made clear that God’s presence cannot be contained in a structure built by human hands, but this is a spiritual house, put up by the Lord. This takes place on a personal level, we know, as each believer upon receiving Spirit, becomes a dwelling place for the Lord; here Peter extends that idea to speak of the collective body (another metaphor) and the way it is inhabited by God.

We’re meeting here another reminder that when we focus on differences (what some groups call ‘distinctives’) more than similarities within the Church, we miss God’s intention for His own. Peter’s idea is of a single house, not many.

And then Peter shifts his image, from a residence to a function. The British ‘House of Lords’ or Hogwarts’ Gryffindor ‘House’–these uses of the word convey Peter’s idea of a group with common cause that engages in activity side by side. That activity? Offering spiritual sacrifices, because this spiritual house is also a holy priesthood.

Again the language seems too lofty; some of us are uncomfortable with the notion of being priests. But Peter insists: what he says here he will repeat in 2:9. To grasp what lies behind the word, we need some OT background–that tribe set apart, their exclusion from physical property in favor of the Lord as their inheritance, the commitment to serving the Lord 24/7/365-1/4. Priests helped the community function: they were the public health officers, court officials, keepers of tradition, guardians of orthodoxy. They brought sacrifices, too–a topic worthy of more comment, another time.

Peter’s point? Several: that upon coming to the Lord, you are fashioned by the Lord into what is pleasing to the Lord; that together with others of similar faith, you form a single building; that your purpose is a priestly one, such that you face God in service and also occupy an important position with respect to the wider community; that you recognize how, as a person in whom God is at work, you resemble Jesus. You are, without being irreverent, a chip off the old block.

Peter will pull more from Ps 118:22; for now, let’s linger with this: that we are like the One we approach, especially as we grow up in our salvation (2:2); that God has a purpose for us and is actively at work in and on us, shaping us to become what will bring God glory; that we have work to do as well–priestly work–and we do not want to stray far from that. And this curious point too, added by Peter–that the One we worship knows rejection; Jesus was acquainted with grief, and made all manner of uphill climbs. We, however, do not despise Him for this, or leave Him for a better option. For us, this Stone is precious.

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