A Case of Corporate Honor (I Peter 2:4-10)
Passage: 1 Peter 2:4–2:10
New Life in the Same Old Place
A Case of Corporate Honor
I Peter 2:4-10
March 22nd, 2009
Way of Grace Church
I. Surrounded by Corporate Dishonor
If you turned on the television or radio this week, or looked at a newspaper, you would have inevitably seen or heard something about the financial giant AIG and the controversial bonuses they handed out to many of their employees.
If you aren't familiar with the details, this very common corporate practice caused such an uproar because AIG had received billions of dollars in government aid in order to keep the institution afloat. Americans asked, "How can a corporation that needs government funding turn around and hand out $152 million dollars in bonuses?" Many thought, "the only bonus that AIG's employees should enjoy is the opportunity to keep their jobs, right?"
Of course, trying economic times such as these have brought to the forefront many instances of corporate dishonor. From "golden parachute" payouts for retiring CEO's to lavish parties for financial institutions that are supposedly struggling to keep their doors open, we've witnessed a variety of situations in which corporate foolishness has been extremely pronounced.
The fact is, we are becoming less and less surprised by instances of corporate dishonor.
But this morning, I want us to look at a rare case of corporate honor. In fact, it is a case of corporate honor that is unparalleled, not only in American history, but in the entire history of the universe.
Turn with me this morning to I Peter 2, verses 4 through 10. If you were with us last week, you may remember how the Apostle Peter encouraged his readers to put away those sins that poisoned their relationships with one another and to long, like newborn infants, for the spiritual milk that only God can give.
Peter does not explicitly identify this milk for us. It may refer to God's word or God's grace or God's Spirit or new life. Whatever it is, chapter 2, verses 2 and 3 make it clear that this milk enables us to grow up into salvation as we taste again of the Lord's goodness or kindness.
II. The Passage: "So the Honor is for You" (2:4-10)
But like we talked about last time, verse 4 reveals that the "Lord" mentioned in verse 3, the Lord whose goodness we've tasted, is none other than Jesus Christ.
So let's go back to I Peter 2:4 and find out what God goes on to reveal about this salvation, this deliverance, this rescue that we have through Jesus.
A. A People of Spiritual Worship (2:4, 5)
Look with me at verses 4 and 5:
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
So once again, as we talked about last week, our longing for pure spiritual milk seems to be connected to the "coming to him" that we see here at the beginning of verse 4. Our longing for spiritual milk is only satisfied by Jesus.
The verb "to come" in this verse is actually a participle, so it may be better translated as "coming to him". This coming to Christ is not a one time event. It is a habit. It is a continual practice.
But notice how Jesus is described here. He is described as a "living stone". Now why, we should ask, did Peter choose to describe Jesus as a living stone? Well, Peter will go on in verses 6 through 8 to make this clearer, but notice in these verses that Peter quickly moves from Jesus as the "living stone", to Jesus' followers, who are also described as "living stones".
What we're going to see in verses 4 through 10 of chapter 2 is that Peter is continuing the train of thought that he began back in verse 22 of chapter 1, where he called his readers to love one another. His focus in this section of verses is decidedly corporate.
Now, when we hear the word "corporate" today, most of us immediately think of things like "corporate greed" or "corporate America" or a "corporate jet". We think of the kind of corporations that one finds in the business world.
But the word corporate, at its root, is related to the Latin word for "body". The dictionary defines the word in this way: of, relating to, or formed into a unified body of individuals.
This basic definition is the reason we might describe what's happening here this morning as a time of ‘corporate worship'. That phrase doesn't mean we're here to worship Citibank or Microsoft. No, it means that we are worshiping, not alone, but as a unified body of individuals.
And that's what Peter wants to remind them of in these verses. They may be ‘elect exiles', as Peter labeled them in 1:1, but as they come together to Jesus Christ, they are living stones that are, one-by-one, being built into a spiritual house. What kind of house? A house where we, as priests, offer up spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus. So the spiritual house Peter is talking about here is, in fact, a spiritual temple.
All of these images paint for us a picture of spiritual worship, don't they? We are both the temple and the priests, and through Jesus we have access to God; we have the ability to bring spiritual sacrifices to Him.
What are these spiritual sacrifices? Paul speaks of offering our bodies up as a living sacrifice in Romans 12. Hebrews 13 speaks of "praise" and "doing good to others" as sacrifices.
Whatever Peter has in mind, these sacrifices are simply a way of describing our spiritual worship as God's people; worship that Jesus described in John 4 as "worshipping in Spirit and in truth".
B. A People of Foretold Honor (2:6-8)
But look at how Peter goes on in verses 6 through 8 to show why He depicted Jesus as a "living stone" in verse 4. Listen to verse 6:
6 For it stands in Scripture: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." 7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone," 8 and "A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
What Peter has given us here is three Old Testament quotations all connected by the term "stone". The first quotation in verse 6 is from Isaiah 28 and tells us about God's cornerstone. This is where Peter found the adjectives "choice and precious", which he used in I Peter 2:4.
But if Jesus is the cornerstone that Isaiah spoke of, then in what building is such a stone placed as the corner? Well, in a building constructed with other living stones; a spiritual temple grounded in and erected according to the perfection of the cornerstone.
Look at verse 7. How do we become "living stones" in this temple? By faith. By believing. If we believe that Jesus is the "cornerstone", foretold by the Hebrews prophets, that He is the only foundation that really matters in this life, we read here that we "will not be put to shame". We will, in fact, find honor.
Now, what we discover from the rest of verse 7, and in verse 8, is one of the reasons Peter is talking to His readers about their corporate identity. We know from chapter 1 that these churches were undergoing "various trials". And we know from the rest of the letter that these trials were the result of direct persecution from people that Peter describes here as those "who do not believe".
Two quotes, one from Psalm 118 and the other from Isaiah 8, reveal that this cornerstone, chosen by God, has also been rejected by men. And the consequence of this rejection is that this stone has become a "stone of stumbling" for such people. They do not believe the Good News about Jesus, they "disobey the word" as Peter puts it here, and therefore, the predetermined consequence, the prophesied result is that they stumble, eternally.
What's clear is that Peter wants to encourage his readers by reminding them that God is in control, even in the midst of persecution, even when human oppressors seem to be in control. Our destiny of corporate honor has been determined and foretold by God. And the destiny of those who reject Jesus has also been determined and foretold.
But look at how Peter goes on in verses 9 and 10 to bring his readers back to the idea he began in verses 4 and 5, back to what it means to have a corporate identity in Jesus Christ.
C. A People of Grateful Proclamation (2:9, 10)
Look with me at verses 9 and 10:
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
If their enemies wanted to make them people of shame, Peter wants to remind them that they are, in fact, a people of honor. To do that, he gives them a number of titles, titles of honor, in order to remind them of their corporate identity in Jesus Christ. If you consider yourself a follower of Christ, then listen to what Peter says about us.
Not only are we God's temple and a holy priesthood because of Jesus, as we saw in verse 5, but we are also a chosen race. The first century during which Peter wrote was just as racially divisive as any other time in history. But Peter has no interest in talking about distinctions, even between Jews and Gentiles. For him there is only one race that matters, the mulit-racial race of Christians chosen by God.
He goes on to reemphasize that this chosen race has received a priesthood, not one that is limited and exclusive as it was under the Old Covenant, but a priesthood that extends to every believer. We are, in fact, a royal priesthood because we serve under the King of kings, and worship in His kingdom.
And because of our relationship with Christ the King, we are also a holy nation. We are set apart and distinct from this world because we live, not for what we want or the world wants, but for what Jesus wants. We live for His honor and the glory of God.
This is all possible because we have been chosen by God himself; we are "a people for his own possession". We belong to Him because, as Peter puts it in 1:18, 19, we have been "ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [our] forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot."
And because God has done all this in our lives by His grace, because He has called us "out of darkness into his marvelous light", we, corporately, proclaim His excellencies. That is our response. That is the appropriate response. That is what a chosen race does. That is what a royal priesthood does. That is what a holy nation, that belongs to God does. We declare how great God is.
Why? Because our identity as individuals and as a community should ultimately be defined by one reality, by one truth: we are God's people. And that truth is simply deepened by the rest of what Peter wants to tell us in verse 10. You see, we are God's people, but at one time we were not. At one time we did not know God's mercy. But because God is so merciful, because of the mercy we now know in Jesus Christ, we have become the people of God.
Look again at the amazing titles that Peter has pointed us to as God's people. God has not simply saved you, or many "yous". He has saved a people, a people for Himself.
III. The People of God's Eternal Purposes
As we stop and look back over this section, verses 4-10, there is something else that is remarkable about this passage. There is something about this passage that takes all of these descriptions of our corporate identity and reveals how big and deep each description really is.
It may be clear from the way your Bible is laid out that there are several quotations from the Old Testament here. And if your Bible includes footnotes, then you may have noticed that there are many more connections in this passage to specific Old Testament verses.
What we actually see when go deeper is that most of this passage is directly connected to the Old Testament. If Peter is not directly quoting the Old Testament then he has adapted the language of an Old Testament verse. And if he has not quoted or adapted a specific Old Testament verse, then he has applied Old Testament imagery directly to his readers. Listen again to the passage in this light:
4 As you come to him (Psalm 34:6), a living stone rejected (Psalm 118:22) by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious (Isaiah 28:16), 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house (cf. II Samuel 7:13), to be a holy priesthood (cf. Exodus 40:15), to offer spiritual sacrifices (cf. Leviticus 17:5) acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." (Isaiah 28:16) 7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone," (Psalm 118:22) 8 and "A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense." (Isaiah 8:14) They stumble (Isaiah 8:14) because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race (Isaiah 43:20), a royal priesthood (Exodus 19:6), a holy nation (Exodus 19:6), a people for his own possession (Exodus 19:5), that you may proclaim (Isaiah 43:21) the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; (Hosea 2:23) once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Now none of this would be surprising if we only focused on the fact that Peter is Jewish man brought up in the Jewish Scriptures. Of course he would draw language and imagery out of the Hebrew Bible, since he, along with the rest of the Jewish people, believed it to be the word of God.
No, that's not surprising. But what is surprising is that Peter applies, he directly connects these verses, in the senses that these OT verses have been fulfilled in God's work among his readers...who are predominantly Gentiles. The majority of them are not Jewish, and yet Peter, who is Jewish, is speaking to them as if they were Israel.
This is astonishing, especially in verse 9 when Peter quotes Exodus 19:5, 6. This is one of the most important passages in the Old Testament because it marked, after the their exodus from Egypt, it marked the moment when the Israelites were distinguished as God's people from among the ancestors of Abraham, and from all the people of the earth.
You see, growing up in a culture that drew such a clear, bold line between Jews and Gentiles, it would appear that Peter has a screw loose when he begins to describe this predominantly Gentile church with the sacred language of the Old Testament, language that first applied to the Israelites as a race, as a nation, as people.
Yes, Peter would seem treasonous or crazy, unless...unless he believed that through Jesus Christ, both Jew and Gentile had been redeemed and transformed for the very purpose of fulfilling the plan of God for the people of God that God himself purposed from eternity past.
Oftentimes, we forget that these descriptions from the Old Testament are given for God's people. Yes, the Israelites were called to be God's people, but these descriptions didn't apply to them apart from the calling of God. There was nothing in their DNA that deserved these titles.
So what Peter knows is that through Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross, the title "God's people" has been broadened to include all those who come in faith, Jew and Gentile. Paul described this same idea in Romans 11 with the image of an olive tree. Jewish branches and Gentile branches, but only one tree.
This incredible reality is why Peter can say in chapter 1: the prophets [like Isaiah, like Hosea] who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
This is why Paul could say along with Peter: For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
And also in I Corinthians 10: Now these things happened to them [to the Israelites] as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (10:4)
Remember what was happening with Peter's readers. They were being slandered, they were being intimidated, they were suffering at the hands of the people in their communities, maybe even the authorities. Maybe the persecution came from other Gentiles who considered them foolish for believing in some new nonsense based on Jewish myths. Maybe some of the persecution came from Jewish neighbors who considered them blasphemous for claiming to know the God of Israel through a crucified Messiah.
Whatever the source of their suffering, Peter does not want them to see themselves in terms of who they are NOT in the world's eyes. He wants their identity, he wants our identity, our corporate identity, to be grounded in the reality that we are THE people of God's eternal purposes.
Is that what defines you? Is that what shapes us a church, this reality? Maybe, like the first readers of this letter, maybe we're also tempted to define ourselves according to the lies of this world, according to false history, false politics, false priorities, false theologies.
Maybe our sense of corporate identity is built on the idea that the corporate, that those others, are all really here just to serve you.
Maybe our sense of corporate identity is built around the belief that distinctions of class and race and economics are the real basis for everything.
Maybe our sense of corporate identity is built around the modern-day pillars of consumerism and convenience.
Maybe our sense of corporate identity is shaped by the problems in our culture, by how we feel attacked by our culture. Therefore we are anti-abortion, we are anti-homosexual, we are anti-pornography, we are "anti" this and "anti" that.
Maybe our sense of corporate identity is, in fact, very corporate. Maybe we see ourselves simply as one more institution, offering a service, looking for customers, looking to market ourselves according to the wisdom of the marketplace.
Maybe our sense of corporate identity is built around the tenets of patriotism, around our belief that America is the greatest country in the history of the world.
Whatever our temptations, we must listen to what God is telling us through Peter this morning. Our identity as a people must be established first and foremost in the reality that, through Jesus, we are involved in a case of corporate honor that has no equal, that is incomparable in the annals of history. We are THE people of God's purposes.
Everything that God planned to do from eternity, everything that God accomplished in human history, everything that He seeks to do right now, everything that He will do in the restoration of our universe, He is doing through the church...through us. No ethnic heritage, no historical advantage, no cultural commonalities, no conservative battle line, no current trend, no personality trait or personal preference, no worship style, no denominational affiliation can ever, ever compare to transforming truth that we are first and foremost God's people.
We worship God in spirit and truth, and then tell the world why they should worship him as well; what they're missing because they do not worship him. We are priests who proclaim, full stop.
Way of Grace, are we being united in this glorious truth? Our One Lord, Jesus Christ, has made us God's people, in One Body, confirmed by everything in Scripture, in this One Truth, in order that we might proclaim how good, how excellent God really is. This is our One Mission.
Is our identity as individuals shaped by our corporate identity? Do we really see ourselves as part of something bigger? And is that identity shaped first and foremost by the reality that we are THE people of God's eternal purposes. What mercy! What grace! What a privilege! What a calling! What a responsibility!
And it all happens as we "come to Him" (2:4), as we come in faith to Jesus Christ. May God establish this church on the living stone who is Jesus Christ. Let's pray.