Intro: In light of the recent intense persecution of Christians in different parts of the world (such as in Iraq and Syria … and beyond), we are reminded not only to pray for our brothers and sisters, but also to show our solidarity and support them in anyway we can. This short devotional is written for their honor. It is also a reminder for us (who live comfortably in the US) that like them we are God’s living stones. The term “living stones” surely sounds cool, (maybe) hip, and honorable. Yet do you know that it’s packed with a caveat? Are we ready and willing to carry the name? – Eko Ong, SDG!

1 Peter 2:4-5 “As you approach toward the living stone that is rejected by men, but chosen and precious before God, you, as living stones, are also built – a spiritual house – into a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices {which are} well-accepted by God through Jesus Christ….”

First Peter starts with a cultic theme. Written to Christians who were scattered in Asia Minor, Peter addressed them as the elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by sanctification of the Spirit, for the purpose of obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. An act of consecration with sprinkling of blood for God’s special purpose originates from the Old Testament priestly ritual as well as the inauguration of Sinaitic covenant by Moses (Exod 24:6-8). At that time, the nation Israel was confirmed as a people of the covenant. Israel was chosen to serve God and live in holiness.

So Peter starts his letter with affirming the elect status of those scattered Christians. This letter was primarily written to encourage those saints to endure suffering as they lived in holiness as good witnesses of Christ. Peter regards the suffering of Christians as sharing the suffering of Christ. In this sense suffering for good is onto glory, grace of God, and a cause for rejoicing (1 Pet 1:6-12, 2:18-25, 4:12-16).

Peter pictures the resurrected and reigning Christ as the living stone. Although rejected by men, this stone is chosen and precious before God. By association, such an honorable status should be endowed to Christians as well. Here lies the contrast between the honor-and-shame system of men and of God in reference to the living stone. Yet the relation between the living stone and the readers proceeds beyond that between an object of worship and worshippers. We are also likened as living stones, building materials for a “spiritual house” which is God’s temple. “Spiritual house” refers to the corporate identity of Christians as the temple wherein the Holy Spirit dwells (cf. Paul in 1 Cor 3:16). But in what sense are Christians living stones? As the life-giving Spirit (1 Pet 3:18) indwells the temple that is being built by God from those stones, it imparts life on them.

As a corporate body, Christians are not only built into a spiritual temple, but also a holy priesthood. This composite picture allows us to see our corporate identity as both passive (God’s temple, a place where service is performed) and active (priesthood, tasked to perform service). Together we form a holy priesthood that is tasked to offer spiritual sacrifices to God. Yet those sacrifices (performed in the temple) are acceptable to God only through Jesus Christ, the chosen living stone, and the consecrating act of the Holy Spirit which indwells the temple (1 Pet 1:2, 2:5). Only through our association with the living stone which is shamed by men is the holy priesthood honored by God.

Such a corporate nature of the holy priesthood does not imply priesthood of each individual Christian as often taught in modern (and individualistic) evangelicalism. This exclusively corporate designation may add an additional emphasis on the unity of those Christians in Christ and the Spirit. Although they were scattered throughout Asia Minor, they were one temple of God and one holy priesthood. This corporate solidarity could become a source of consolation as they experienced suffering for the sake of their faith.

But why the suffering and how is it related to Christians – being the living stones of God? In 1 Pet 4:17-19 which is preceded with Peter’s encouragement for suffering on behalf of Christ’s name, Peter teaches the following: “For the time for the judgment begins from the house of God. And if it is first from us, what will be the outcome of those who disobey the gospel of God? And ‘if the righteous is barely saved, where will the ungodly and sinner appear?’ Thus let those who are suffering according to God’s will entrust their soul to the faithful creator in doing good!”

Here, surprisingly, Peter views the judgment of believers and unbelievers as a single event! Suffering on behalf of Christ is therefore seen as judgment. Yet this judgment is not God’s condemnation of Christians. Instead it is aimed at consecrating them just as God’s temple and holy priesthood would be consecrated. In 1 Pet 4:1-2 Peter says that “…the one who suffers in flesh has ceased sinning so that he may no longer live in the lusts of men but in God’s will for {his} remaining time in flesh.” Not only is the temple purged and sanctified, but also the priesthood and the sacrifices through the sprinkling of Christ’s blood and consecration of the Spirit (cf. 1 Pet 1:2). Such an ongoing act of purging carries a present redemptive function for Christians so that they may be prepared for the severity of God’s judgment upon humankind on the last days.

On the last day, those who believe in Christ will be vindicated as God’s chosen and holy people. Yet those who disobey the gospel in their unbelief against Christ will experience the severity of God. The suffering of Christians is expected to be severe yet they are still saved as the faithful creator preserves them. So the day of final judgment will be the day of salvation for those who now suffer on behalf of their faith in Christ. But for those who now disobey the gospel of God, where will they be? Their severe and final judgment is in fact guaranteed through the present suffering of God’s people. Behold, this is the goodness and severity of God’s judgment according to Peter.

Once Jesus, the head cornerstone who became the rock of offense for those who rejected him (1 Pet 2:8), called Peter “the Rock” upon where he would build his church. Yet the Rock once stumbled upon the cornerstone when the path of suffering and rejection was made known to him. Then Jesus exposed Peter’s failure in seeing God’s building plan. Deep down in Peter’s mind was men’s building plan. Jesus called Peter the Rock a stumbling block. Yet Jesus prayed for Peter so that he might not be sifted out. Finally Peter apprehended God’s building plan as he witnessed the suffering, death, and resurrection of the head cornerstone.

In the gospel according to modern evangelicalism, having “faith” in Christ is often presented as a fire insurance policy. It offers an escape from a fiery ordeal (cf. 1 Pet 4:12) of the “end-time tribulation” and a rapture into a “heavenly home” for those who “believe” in Christ. As Christ has suffered for sins once for all (1 Pet 3:18a), the efficacy of Christ’s suffering is taken to mean that severe suffering is not characteristic to those who have become parts of God’s spiritual temple. Yet 1 Peter teaches us that the judgment begins in the house of God. Therefore we should not be surprised by suffering as it is a sign, and in fact a gracious confirmation, of our election in Christ. Through suffering, the house of God is being sanctified so that it may offer spiritual and acceptable sacrifices to God. It is then being prepared for the last day of reckoning when those who disobey and stumble upon the gospel of God experience his severity.

Indeed, suffering produces endurance, endurance character, and character hope of the glory of God which will not put us to shame (Rom 5:1-5). Like Peter, Paul believes that Christians will be co-glorified with Christ if they co-suffer with Christ (Rom 8:17). Thus he desires to know Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his suffering (Phil 3:10). For Paul, Christ is also the stone whom God put in Zion that caused unbelieving Jews to stumble (Rom 9:33). In the same vein, Paul urges Christians to offer their body as a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice to God through their non-conformance to this aeon (Rom 12:1-2). So election onto suffering as a Christian sacrifice is not only in the gospel according to Peter, but also the gospel according to Paul, and in fact the self-denying, cross-carrying, and God-obeying gospel that is preached throughout the canonical Gospels.

Therefore, the modern evangelical motto of “salvation is God’s free grace” must be preached together with the biblical motto of “salvation is election onto spiritual service and, moreover, onto suffering.” While this composite motto may decrease church attendance and hence be considered as a poor sales pitch, it is indeed the gospel of Christ in a nutshell. This is succinctly illustrated with Peter’s pictures of living stones and royal priesthood. Through this, Christians may indeed follow the footsteps of their Chief Shepherd (1 Pet 2:21) who was once the sheep led to slaughter. Likewise, they are living stones which are acceptable to God as they are joined together with the precious cornerstone upon whom the disobedient stumble.





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