“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”1 Peter 2:1-3
God’s Word is Necessary for Spiritual Growth
Though mortal life is short, the Word of the LORD endures forever and directs believers’ path, leading them to eternal life. Earlier, Peter said Christians’ lives should match their high calling in Christ. To make this happen, they are to prepare their minds for action. They are to live a life of obedience, self-control, and genuine love for one another. To enable loving one another as Christ loves us, believers must rid themselves of attitudes and habits harmful to others and themselves – be rid of all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.
Believers are to replace attitudes and desires which draw them into evil with new attitudes and desires derived from the Word of God which will keep them on the path of righteousness. Believers are to yearn for the spiritual nourishment of the Word of God like a newborn babe craves its mother’s milk. In this way believers will be nourished to grow up into salvation becoming mature with attitudes and actions pleasing to God. Peter is not saying his readers are all babes in Christ. The implication is that all believers, whatever their spiritual age, are to crave the spiritual nourishment of the Word of God in a way similar to the intensity with which a new born baby craves its mother’s milk. It is never too late to become closer to God.
“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. 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.’”1 Peter 2:4-6
Living Stones in a Spiritual Building
Verse 4 begins a new section (2:4-10) in which Peter uses extensive OT imagery to demonstrate that New Covenant believers (Jews and Gentiles) are in fact a new “people of God.” They possess all the blessings of OT Israel but in increased measure. He uses the metaphor of “living stones being built into a spiritual house.”
To whom is Peter referring in the phrase “As you come to him”, and what does it mean “to come to him”? From the flow of the letter it is clear that he refers to believers coming to our Lord Jesus. Since Peter is writing to believers already born again into a living hope, he cannot be referring to the experience of initial conversion. What he means here is drawing near to Christ through spiritual growth. Believers grow spiritually from the ministry of the Holy Spirit as they study God’s Word, as they fellowship with God through prayer, as they fellowship with God’s people, and in general as they are obedient. Peter says that Christ is a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God “chosen and precious.” Believers too are living stones, chosen and precious to God, being built into a spiritual building with Christ as the living corner stone. Those who believe in Christ will never be put to shame before God.
For believers to come close to Christ means they side with Him. Siding with Christ means they will experience opposition from those who reject Him. Christ, the living stone, chosen by the Father, is the chief cornerstone of the church. Christ is Himself building His church of believers who function as living stones. The church is superior to the Temple which, though beautiful and holy to God, was made of perishable dead stones.
Believers are like living stones, being built by Christ into a spiritual house having the imperishable beauty of holiness and faith. Believers are a holy priesthood offering sacrifices under the influence and power of the Holy Spirit – sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Peter talks more of living stones in verse 2:7-8.
“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. 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.”1 Peter 2:7-10
Honor versus Stumbling
Far from being put to shame before God, those believing in Christ have honor before God. Peter’s first readers are born-again believers. Therefore they will not be put to shame but will share in the chosen and precious status of the cornerstone in whom they trust. Unbelievers disobey the Word and stumble, as they were destined to do.
In contrast to unbelievers, believers are a people chosen by God, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who belong to God. In thanksgiving for being joined with Christ, believers declare the praises of Him who called them out of darkness into His wonderful light.
Believers proclaim the excellence of Christ who called them out of darkness. Christians once were “no people” and “had not received mercy.” They were scattered members of every tribe and race, all under condemnation for sin. But, through Christ Jesus they were granted the highest privilege in the universe – to be adopted as children of God – not by any merit of their own. They deserved only judgment. All their privileges derive from the undeserved favor of God.
“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”1 Peter 2:11-12
Citizens of Heaven, Sojourners and Exiles in this World
Peter reminds believers they are citizens of heaven, exiles and sojourners in this world. During mortal life, believers are indeed in this world, in this world but not of it. Passions of the flesh wage war against our souls. Giving in to sinful desires hinders both growth in Christ-likeness and in witnessing to the lost. Believers are to maintain such good conduct that even if unbelievers accuse them of evil deeds, it will be obvious it is a false accusation. Let your good deeds be seen by the world to the glory of God.
If a believer’s conduct does not honor Christ, unbelievers encountered will not believe when they tell about their living hope in Christ. Believers’ lives are to be honorable and Christlike. While evangelistic outreach should be done with careful attention to the culture in which it is being carried out, it should never cater in a permissive way to the lifestyles of the unconverted.
The Apostle Paul said he would be all things to all people for the sake of the gospel, but he in no way meant he was willing to pervert or distort the gospel. The gospel is so simple it can be correctly presented and understood in any culture. The setting can be as varied as a clearing in an African jungle with drums playing or a cathedral in Europe with an organ playing Bach. The techniques and language necessary for presenting the gospel in an understandable way vary with culture, but the gospel itself is truth delivered for all time and cannot change. Yet the gospel is so deep that a lifetime of study cannot cover all its facets.
Conversion of Unbelievers
Because conversion requires regeneration, God Himself is the only One who can convert an unbeliever. There is no other way for an unbeliever to become a believer. God graciously allows believers to be involved in the process of evangelization. The Holy Spirit uses gospel preaching, teaching, and witnessing, but participating people are only means never causes. Too many times seekers are given a watered down or distorted view of the gospel which seemingly allows a person to be “in Christ” and yet maintain their unbelieving lifestyle – no necessity for repentance or turning away from a sinful past to a future of obedience. That is a false gospel. The unconverted need living bread and unadulterated truth. They must not be offered pretty stones of untruth instead.
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,] whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”1 Peter 2:13-17
Show Everyone Respect and Submission Where Due
With these verses, Peter transitions to the topic of submission. This is not a favorite concept of many people. Believers must, of course, first submit to God. Then, Peter says believers should submit to the authorities of government and other human institutions, implying that submission should be done with willing hearts. When Peter wrote this letter during the reign of the Emperor Nero, the situation for Christians within the Roman Empire was tenuous at best. Peter’s instruction was a very radical admonition. The immediate reason (2:15) for his admonition to submit willingly to government authority appears to have been to counter the accusation that Christians were being disloyal to the emperor and loyal to a different king. Furthermore, it was claimed that Christians were in general difficult, a rebellious lot who desired to overthrow the government. By openly demonstrating voluntary submission to government authority, maybe Christians could show they are good citizens and not social rebels and misfits.
An Aside on Submission
Submission is a Biblical concept that needs careful definition and thought. The Greek word translated as “be subject to” is a military word that means to “place under rank” or “to be deferent to higher rank’s authority.” In the military there is of course a hierarchy of authority or rank, each rank with defined authority over lower ranks. Authority is applied and flows from the top rank to the lowest in an orderly fashion. Structured authority is essential to accomplishing complex goals.
Recognizing God’s Authority
Biblical submission is an active recognition of God’s authority in the lives of believers. It begins with submission to Christ. Being higher in an authority structure does not imply inherent superiority nor does being lower in an authority structure imply inferiority. Positions of higher authority are grounded in definition of the degree and breadth of accountability of lower positions to the higher, as well as a division of labor based on suitable personal attributes and experience.
An Example of an Authority Structure
To see how authority structure functions, consider a military example. Suppose in an ongoing war, a general officer decides that the next step in a campaign should be to conquer a certain city. He develops a broad strategy for using certain units and weapons under his authority to conquer that city. He assigns subordinate officers with suitable experience the task of working out details and devising tactical operations to accomplish the strategic goal. Tactical plans are developed, necessary supplies gathered. The general approves the plan. Necessary orders are written and distributed. At the appropriate time, soldiers led by officers carry out the tactics. If successful the general’s strategic goal is accomplished. Cooperative obedience is necessary at each level of authority. Furthermore, at each level of the authority structure there must be someone in charge to make final decisions if agreement cannot be reached by discussion.
A Broader Viewpoint
Consider this: God has an overall purpose or strategy for His human creatures. Ultimately, over a span of time of duration unknown to us, a holy nation of such size that no man can number them, composed of people from every tribe and tongue, is to be called, regenerated, sanctified, gathered to God, and glorified. That’s the strategic goal and it will be accomplished.
In carrying out His strategy God has chosen to involve people. Our Triune God is in overall control. Within the Godhead there is equality of attributes and a unity of will but a division of labor or function. The Father purposes and plans, the Son carries out plans. The Father “sends”, the Son goes from the Father (Galatians 4:4, John 3:16, 3:18, 5:19). The Father creates “through” the Son and all things come “from” the Father “through” the Son (John 1:3, 1Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 1:16, Hebrews 1:2).
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are of the same spiritual substance, have one will, are equal in power, and each person is omniscient. Because they are always of one will, agreed in all things, it isn’t necessary to have authority structure within the Godhead. The division of function is something the three persons jointly will – their will being the same will. The incarnation was willed by the Godhead. During the incarnation Jesus had a human will which He willingly and totally submitted to the Father. In John, Jesus says that He does nothing that He does not see the Father do. He also says He and the Father are one, and if you have seen Him you have seen the Father. Peter tells believers that submission to authority is the will of God for us and that we are to submit willingly, following the example of our Lord Jesus. In fact, Peter constantly reminds us that Jesus is to be our example.
Authority Structure on Earth
In order to limit confusion, to promote orderliness in human affairs, and to allow complex tasks to be accomplished, God established a hierarchical authority structure on earth. In Matthew 28:18, Jesus says, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. Jesus is at the top of the hierarchy. He delegates authority to governments on earth, to the leaders of the church, and to the heads of families. Further delegation distributes authority throughout society. In the Church Christ appointed some Apostles, some prophets, some preachers of the Word, and others as teachers, elders, and deacons.
Live as Servants of God
All believers live their mortal lives on earth remote from their true home in heaven. Believers are temporary residents of specific nations here on earth, but they are eternal citizens of heaven. On earth they are embedded in an unbelieving culture with people all around them who embrace unbelieving philosophies, unbelieving ways of life, and an unsympathetic attitude toward believers.
Peter says, live as servants of God (2:16). “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (2:17). These few words are easy to say, but they require us to balance things that are extraordinarily difficult to balance. We are to honor and respect all people regardless of their godless lifestyles or attitudes of hate toward Christians. What does it mean “to honor” an enemy, to honor some who hates us, to honor someone who thinks we are fools to believe in God. That is a difficult question.
While believers are to honor everyone, they are to love their brothers and sisters in Christ unconditionally. For one thing, that means differences in doctrine must be dealt with in a loving manner. Wars have been fought over doctrine. People have been tortured and burned at the stake over doctrine. How could that be? The burning passion of believer’s for their particular interpretation of Scripture seems to overwhelm the command for believers to love one another. Let it not be so. Dispute interpretations, give reasons for your beliefs, but do not assume that you and only those like you are right in all things. Only God is right in all things! Many will be shocked in heaven when they find out how wrong they have been in their doctrine.
Reverence God, Honor the King
Believers are to reverence God, obey His will as supreme, but must also honor the king no matter how evil he may be. Without the ministry of the Holy Spirit, this combination of duties is an impossible task. Believers are never to use their freedom in Christ to cover-up evil. As we attempt to live according to God’s principles, we necessarily live in a state of significant tension between dishonoring Christ and dishonoring our government and its leaders.
Summary of verses 2:13-17
Believers live as exiles in this world but have been called by God, as a part of His overall strategy, to be His ambassadors to unbelievers and to honor and cooperate with fellow believers. In carrying out this role, Peter urges hopeful, honorable behavior in spite of opposition and/or persecution. Sometimes believers will be despised for their faith but that does not eliminate obligation. In striving for honorable behavior believers are to submit to the authority of civil government for the Lord’s sake (render civil obedience to Caesar). We are to honor the government for what God intended it to be, not for what it might be at any given time. Believers are to be model citizens. God is the fount of all authority. Exercise of power on earth is by delegation from God whether recognized as such or not. This delegated power is accompanied by responsibility and accountability to God.
If government violates its ordained purpose, it may become necessary for believers to obey God’s clear commands even if it places the believer in opposition to the government (Acts 5:24, 29). When Daniel and his three friends refused to obey the king’s dietary regulations, they disobeyed the law. But the way they did it proved they honored the king and respected the authorities (Daniel 1). Peter and the other Apostles faced a similar problem when they were told to stop preaching in the name of Jesus shortly after Pentecost (Acts 4-5). They refused to obey, but they did not cause a rebellion or in any way question or deny the authority of the Sanhedrin. They submitted to the institution but refused to stop preaching. They showed respect to these Jewish leaders even though they were opposed to the gospel.