He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock,
And established my steps.
Psalm 40:2 (NKJV)
1 Peter 2:11 (ESV) Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
In a book titled, Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, Kenneth M. Pollack writes, “Finally, the Syrian high command failed to recognize a priori that they were facing a guerilla opposition and so would have to train their troops in counterinsurgency operations and structure their moves accordingly.” In other words, the Syrians failed to recognize that they had an enemy that was fighting to take control of their government, and that the enemy would use fast moving, small scale attacks to break them down.
This is the same danger we can find ourselves in as God’s people. Our enemy looks to “wage war against [our] soul.” They use small scale attacks to break us down, and most of those attacks come from within, from “the passions of the flesh.” We are “sojourners and exiles” in this world. We are constantly living on enemy grounds and need to recognize the constant danger our souls are in if we let our guard down for even a moment.
Later in this same letter Peter writes, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 ESV) This enemy never sleeps. He never stops. He never gives up. Our tendency can be to believe we have reached a time of cease-fire and put our guard down. The moment we do, the enemy pounces. Unguarded, we find ourselves looking up from the ground yet again wondering what hit us. We must come to grips with this reality – there will be no cease-fire on this side of eternity.
Yet, while Satan is seeking someone to devour, he knows that we have all of the wiring necessary to self-destruct. It is the “passions of the flesh which wage war against [our] soul.” That is, we don’t need Satan to take us down, we can take ourselves down just fine.
“The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit,” (Galatians 5:17 ESV) they are never neutral. They are seeking to take us down from within. Our battle is fought internally, by the Spirit. If we “walk by the Spirit… [we] will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16 ESV) Here is a simple phrase to help us with this war: starve the flesh; feed the Spirit. It is in this way we will find victory within.
We are at war. Every day is a battle. Fight.
1 Peter 2:10 (ESV) 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.
In the story of Oliver Twist, an orphaned boy, stuck in a workhouse, eating gruel and receiving no love is eventually taken in by a wealthy man to not only receive a home, but an entirely new class. The former “nobody” is now a “somebody,” and not because he earned it, but because of the love of a generous man.
Each of us stood as Oliver Twists in the cosmic scheme of things. We had no home and no name. “Once [we] were not a people.” That is, in God’s estimation, we were not a people, “but now [we] are God’s people.” And that only because “[we] have received mercy.”
As we stood apart from God, indeed as God’s enemies (Romans 5:10), we were a mass of loners. Though we found reasons to huddle together like penguins seeking warmth, we were still loners. All of the rallies, games, and causes in the world could not take away that heavy truth in our hearts. We were created for fellowship with God. Without that fellowship with God we live life attempting to fill that nagging loneliness that only a relationship with God through Christ can fill. We look to other groups, friends, lovers and even our own children, all the while recognizing that even if we should be loved and surrounded by everyone in this world that lonely feeling would not go away.
But then came Christ. As we looked left and right, up and down, inside and out to fill the lonely hole in our hearts, Jesus Himself rose up and called us by name (John 10:3). Jesus did not call our name because we had out performed those arounds us. No, He called our name simply because of the love the Father chose to lavish us with (Ephesians 2:4-8). He not only called our name, but when we responded to that call He adopted us into His family and called us sons and daughters (Ephesians 1:5).
In Christ, we are no longer loners. More than that, we are a part of God’s eternal family. We call Him Father (Romans 8:15), and we call one another mother, brother and sister (Matthew 12:49-50). Wherever we may go in this world we find ourselves amidst family because of the mercy of God.
In an eternal plot twist, we who began alone have found ourselves adopted into the largest family in all of creation.
1 Peter 2:9 (ESV) 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.
We complain about politicians and the little they do for us as our elected representatives. We listen to news reports about the periods of silence in congress with resigned frustration. At the end of the day, we already know what is going to happen when we elect someone to represent us – they are going to do little representing of the people and much propagating of themselves.
What if we turned the spotlight inward? Peter makes it clear that, as disciples of Jesus Christ, “[we] are a chosen race,” an elected people. Even more, we are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” God has chosen us, or elected us, to be all of these things “that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.” How are we doing in our elected office?
Peter makes clear here is that we did not become God’s people on our own. We did not work our way up the ladder to our heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20). No, we were “chosen” by God to be His. As Paul writes, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:4-5 ESV) But for what purpose?
It is easy to subtly convince ourselves that we were chosen by God simply for our own salvation. Our “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” becomes just that – personal. In one sense that is good. Our relationship with God needs to be our own; not our parents. Yet, in a broader sense, our faith was never intended to be personal. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16 ESV) We need to be sure that our personal faith is only personal in the sense that it is indeed our own. Beyond that, it needs to be anything but personal.
1 Peter 2:7-8 (ESV) 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.
As a rebellious teen, the sight of a police officer made me angry. They were in the way of the things I wanted to do. They were the reminder that I was accountable to someone other than myself. I can say that I actually hated police officers. Now, at 35 years old, as a law abiding citizen, father and husband, I respond differently when I see a police officer – I feel a sense of gratitude. They are in the way of those who would look to harm me, my wife or my children. They are the reminder that someone is watching out for me. To the rebellious me, the police were a stumbling block. To the law abiding me, the police are a great blessing.
Peter speaks this way when it comes to Christ. For “[us] who believe,” putting our faith in Jesus is an “honor.” We are grateful for who He is and what He has done. “But for those who do not believe,” Jesus is “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” And the reason is plain, “They stumble because they disobey the word,” they are rebellious, “as they [are] destined to [be].”
Jesus said Himself that He didn’t “come to bring peace but the sword.” (Matthew 10:34 ESV) He came to divide man right down the middle. Those who believe, and those who don’t. Those who love Him, and those who hate Him. I am grateful to be in the category of those who believe – of those who love Him.
We are all rebellious by nature. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside… no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12 ESV) I was acutely aware of my rebellion against God. “But, God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved [me], even when [I was] dead in [my] trespasses, made [me] alive together with Christ… For by grace [I] have been saved through faith. And this is not [my] own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:4-5a, 8-9 ESV)
I was destined to stumble over my own disobedience too. Yet Christ rescued me from that destiny and gave me a new one. He offers the same to all who would believe on His Name.
1 Peter 2:6 (ESV) 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."
My father used to have a sailboat called a Snipe. It was a fast boat. As a child I was terrified to be in it. When the wind caught the sails it would go almost completely sideways and I would stiffen like a board, crying out, “Stop! Stop! Stop!” I didn’t trust the boat. If I had though, I would have had some thrilling memories.
The “stone” that Peter is referring to is Jesus. He is the “cornerstone” upon which everything else is built. But only those who “believe in him” will see that He is “chosen and precious.” They will “not be put to shame.”
For many, the thought of trusting in Jesus is like the thought I had of trusting the Snipe on the water. This is going to end poorly. Similarly, our lack of trust in Christ lead us to miss out on some of the greatest blessings.
When we think of Peter walking out on the water toward Jesus, we focus on Peter and his lack of faith leading him to sink. But what if we turned our focus where it belonged – to Jesus. “But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, "It is a ghost!" and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid." (Matthew 14:26-27 ESV) Jesus can walk on water. “And Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.” (Matthew 14:28-29 ESV) Jesus can make you walk on water. “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, "Lord, save me." Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:30-31 ESV) Jesus holds on to us when we doubt. “And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." (Matthew 14:32-33 ESV) Jesus is truly God.
Because of his trust in Jesus Peter had one the most thrilling experiences of his life – he walked on water! What are you missing out on by not trusting in Him?
1 Peter 2:4-5 (ESV) 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.
I remember cheerleaders used to make a pyramid, and then one would do a fancy jump off of the top into the arms of a small group below. It was always fun watching the “wiggler” in the middle. You knew that if that little girl’s arms gave out, the whole pile was coming down.
The Church was intended to be like one of those pyramids, in a sense. It was not meant to be an assembly of disconnected people singing songs, listening to a message, giving it a rating and going home; but rather “living stones [that were] being built up as a spiritual house” together. As each person “come[s] to [Jesus]” they are meant to be plugged into a local expression of that spiritual house – either to fill in and strengthen its structure or to increase its size. And together, they act as “a holy priesthood,” representatives of God, “offer[ing] spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Unfortunately, the view of the Church has greatly diminished these days. A non-committal generation has arisen and passed its values down to an even greater degree, and church has become the Sunday morning vendor for good feelings and fun. If you don’t like what one vendor has to offer, simply find the one that meets your needs. What has been lost is the reality is that God intended His people to come together and rely on one another like a pyramid, with Christ at the top. It was intended for the believer to bring their gift to build up the church, not the church to build up the individual. He has gifted us individually to add to the body (see Romans 12:3-8) for the benefit of the collective body, not the individual (see Ephesians 4:11-16).
This even happens in ministry as different ministers pull themselves out of the structure to pursue their ambitions, leaving holes in the structure they leave behind. Rather than “present[ing] their bodies [indeed even their dreams] as a living sacrifice,” (Romans 12:1 ESV) they offer up their previous church as a sacrifice to their ambitions.
Waiting for the positive in all of this?! Let’s see the local expression we belong to as it was intended – a pyramid in which we are one among many stones relying on one another and headed by Christ. Which stone are you? The body is counting on you to play your part.
1 Peter 2:2-3 (ESV) 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.
When something tastes good you go back for more. At least… I do. Pringles, or as my children call them, Prinkles, aren’t lying when they say, “Once you pop, you can’t stop.” That’s true for me with a number of foods. I had a friend of mine share with me that this was so true for him with Sour Patch Kids that he ate them until his tongue was bleeding! True story!
Peter, using the imagery of a newborn, calls believers to “long for the pure spiritual milk,” God’s Word, “that by it [they might] grow up into salvation.” That is, that they would not remain babies in Christ, but would grow and mature. And, “Like newborn infants,” believers would desire God’s Word “if indeed [they] have tasted that the Lord is good.”
First, let me dispel an erroneous understanding we could walk away with if we are not careful. We do not earn our salvation or work for it in any way. When Peter speaks of believers “grow[ing] up into salvation” he is speaking of them growing up into the salvation they have already attained. It has an already-not yet tone to it. There is a suit of holiness in their closet, purchased for them at the time of their salvation. It is theirs and they cannot lose it, but they don’t yet fit into it. They need to grow into it.
Second, let’s take a brief look at how we grow into the spiritually mature believers God has created us to be (see Ephesians 2:8-10). This happens as we feed on God’s Word, the Bible. Without a daily feeding on God’s Word we starve spiritually. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4 ESV) We don’t just need a physical breakfast in the morning, we need a spiritual one. We cannot live off of concerts, conferences, retreats, Christian radio and church services. Without a regular, personal and balanced daily meal in God’s Word we cannot be healthy disciples.
The Spirit, who comes to dwell in us at the moment of our salvation (Ephesians 1:13) – when we are born again (see John 3) – hungers for the Spirit, who inspired the very Words of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16). As a baby longs for the milk of its earthly mother, so a believer longs for the sustenance of their Heavenly Father.
1 Peter 2:1 (ESV) So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.
The mouth is the most powerful, and most underestimated weapon on the planet. It was through enticing words that sin was brought into the world. It is through words of provocation that wars and fights are started. It is through careless words that hearts are broken and relationships are destroyed, deals are broken and lives are taken. The mouth is a powerful weapon.
God knows this, and for that reason He inspired Peter to call the church to their first action of holiness by holstering their weapons. “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” Every one of these things comes out through the mouth like a bullet. Making the mouth like the barrel of a loaded gun.
The trouble we have with our mouth is that it is not a lone ranger. It is filled by what is deep in the recesses of our hearts. Jesus said, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart...” (Matthew 15:18 ESV) Our mouth is controlled by what is hidden within us. While we may be able to put on a good face most of the time, there is that inevitable moment where some outside pressure causes the inside to fire. We have all experienced that moment where, like an out of body experience, we hear our words being fired out of our mouths to our own dismay. We immediately regret what we’ve said. We even attempt to take them back. But with words there truly are no returns.
God’s people guard against a great many things today. Perhaps a great many that Scripture itself doesn’t even call us to guard against quite so stringently. Yet, the mouth, so warned about throughout Scripture (see especially Proverbs) seems to be taken quite lightly. We seem to have bought the lie that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names [words] will never hurt us.” Indeed they will. And unlike a broken bone, words cause damage that may never heal, and spread their damage far and wide. As James wrote, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” (James 3:6 ESV)
Let’s treat our mouths like the loaded weapons they are and keep them holstered more often.
1 Peter 1:24-25 (ESV) … "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, (25) but the word of the Lord remains forever." And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
When I was young, Nirvana was a very popular band. It was the beginning of the “grunge” era. Bands like Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilot and Smashing Pumpkins rose up quickly. Kurt Cobain, the lead singer for Nirvana, was the “grunge” icon. Sadly, all of the fame and fortune he was receiving wasn’t enough. Kurt Cobain took his life on April 5th, 1994. He was 27 years old. His life and its glory was short. The fame and fortune could not sustain him.
On the contrary, Peter, citing Isaiah, tells us that while “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of the grass… the word of the Lord remains forever.” He then describes the word of the Lord as “the good news that was preached to [the believers he was writing to].”
Our possessions, popularity and physical prowess won’t sustain us in the end. “[Our] days are like grass; [we flourish] like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.” (Psalm 103:15-16 ESV) Regardless of how healthy we are, our lives are short. “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” (Psalms 90:10 ESV) No matter how rich and famous we are, once we are gone “[our] place knows [us] no more.” Many of you likely had forgotten Kurt Cobain until I mentioned him – if you knew who he was at all.
When I share the Gospel with people I can see them “counting the cost.” Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25 ESV) They know their life will change – their pursuits and desires will shift. And for that reason, many reject the Good News as if it were bad news. But truly it is not bad news. It is an offer we can’t refuse. Jesus said, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 ESV) Our lives do change. They go from empty pursuits in a short life on earth to fullness of life with an eternal perspective and immortality – through the “word of the Lord.
1 Peter 1:22-23 (ESV) Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, (23) since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;
Regular attenders of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) stay regular because they recognize their great need for mutual accountability and encouragement. They don’t say they were an alcoholic, they say they are an alcoholic. And when they go to AA they are surrounded by like-minded people. Those who also recognize their addiction, but who desire to stay free. Those who recognize they have a second chance at freedom but know they cannot stay free alone. There is a deep bond between those who attend AA. They are grateful to be free, and know they need each other’s encouragement to continue in that freedom.
Peter is addressing those who have been set free from sin. They “have been born again… through the living and abiding word of God.” He is calling them to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” for that very reason. They “[have] purified [their] souls… for a sincere brotherly love” “by [their] obedience to the truth,” and this purification by obedience gives both the reason and the ability to love those walking alongside them in the fight to remain pure.
Every one of us, as believers set free from sin, is called to attend Sinners Anonymous – otherwise known as church. Not to earn credits and favor with God, but rather because we have already received favor from God through the forgiveness of our sins (Hebrews 10:19-23). The author of Hebrews tells us, because we have received that favor, to “… let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)
You see, attending church is not a way to pretend we are something we are not. It is the place to freely admit who we are – sinners in constant need of God’s grace. It is not a place to hide behind a false façade of righteousness. It is the place to be authentic and openly join others who need God’s grace as much as we do. We were never called to walk alone. The New Testament is replete with “one anothers” because God designed it to be a group effort – a family effort (Mark 3:34).
Go to church this Sunday and look around. That is your family. You need them, and they need you.