Living Now with Eternity in Mind #4: Living as God’s House

As you come to him, a living stone—rejected by people but chosen and honored by God—you yourselves, as living stones, a spiritual house, are being built to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:
See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and honored cornerstone,
and the one who believes in him
will never be put to shame.
So honor will come to you who believe; but for the unbelieving,
The stone that the builders rejected—
this one has become the cornerstone
, and
A stone to stumble over,
and a rock to trip over.

They stumble because they disobey the word; they were destined for this. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Peter 2:4-10

A man was answering questions for a poll. When asked for his church preference, he said, “Red brick.” I have mixed feelings about church buildings. They can be a real blessing and they can be a real problem. Buildings constructed decades and decades ago don’t necessarily meet the needs of a congregation in 2018. At the same time, they hold history, memories, and stories. People can have very strong feelings about church buildings. People can be particular about decisions made with respect to them. Buildings can be opportunities for ministry and they can also be barriers to ministry. And I’ve heard lots of people refer to church buildings as “God’s house.”

But then I think of Paul’s words in Acts 17: The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. And if we consider our passage this morning, Peter does use building imagery. But when he does he’s not talking about buildings like the one we’re meeting in. In Peter’s day, believers didn’t have church buildings. They met in one another’s homes. Church was more like a series of large home group Bible studies.

Not only that, but in Peter’s day there were plenty of Greco-Roman shrines to various idols. Both the idols and their shrines were made by human hands. So, in Peter’s letter there is cultural critique and contrast also. It’s like Peter is saying, “The people around you worship man-made idols in man-made buildings, but you are being built into the living God’s spiritual house.” Therefore, when Peter uses building imagery he’s actually talking about the people who make up the church. In other words: us. He’s talking about what it means for us to live as God’s house—and why God wants to build such a house.

So, as we consider our passage from 1 Peter, let’s start with a question: what’s a cornerstone? A dictionary definition goes as follows: “An important quality or feature on which a particular thing depends or is based.” Think of a company that states: “Our attention to customer service is the cornerstone of our success.” This—the idea of a cornerstone—is the central image of our passage. Peter says that Jesus has become the cornerstone. Now, the cornerstone of a building controls the design of the building and holds the structure together. It’s an architectural term. In his commentary on 1 Peter, Joel Green says that the cornerstone “is the one prepared and chosen for the exact 900 angle, and so the basis for the construction of the whole building. Choosing the right corner is basic not only to the aesthetics of the building but also to its stability and longevity.”

So, isn’t it interesting that Peter here refers to Jesus as the cornerstone? And, of course, he’s the cornerstone of a spiritual building. Again, speaking of his readers, Peter puts it this way: You yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house. Jesus is the cornerstone of this house. Now, what might this mean? To start, I think of at least three things: 1. Jesus determines the design of this spiritual house. 2. Jesus builds us into this spiritual house. 3. Jesus holds this spiritual house together.

And notice how our passage starts: Coming to Him, a living stone—rejected by men but chosen and valuable to God—you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house. So, it’s as we come to him—in worship, service, and in fellowship—that we are built into this spiritual house. Becoming a spiritual house happens through our relationship with Jesus and through our relationships with one another. In other words, living as God’s house means being a Christ-centered community. Who we are as a church—as a spiritual house—is based on Jesus.

The question is: are we? Are we as a community centered around Christ? Let’s ask: What does it mean that Christ is our cornerstone? What should we look like if we’re a spiritual house built around Christ as our cornerstone?  What kind of shape is our spiritual house in? What are the signs of a stable and healthy spiritual house? How are we built into a spiritual house? How does our worship of Christ form us into a spiritual house for Christ?

In 251 A.D. a great plague struck the Greco-Roman world in which more than a third of the population died. Fear was everywhere. Those who could afford it fled to the countryside. Those who could not remained in the cities. When they went to the pagan temples they found them empty, the priests having fled. The streets were filled with those who had become infected, their families left with no option but to push them out the door.

Christian communities however took an entirely different approach. They saw it as their responsibility to love the sick and dying, so they took them into their homes and nursed them. This meant that many people recovered who otherwise would have died. And many believers died because of their willingness to love their neighbours. As one writer says: “The earliest Christians expended themselves in works of mercy that simply dumbfounded the pagans. For them, God loved humanity; in order to love God back, one was to love others. God did not demand ritual sacrifices; he wanted his love expressed on earth in deeds of compassion.” In his book The Early Church, Henry Chadwick comments: “The practical application of charity was probably the most potent single cause of Christian success.”

So why tell this story? What does it have to do with our passage and with becoming a spiritual house? Peter writes: You yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. And later in our passage he calls his readers a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

All of these images of God’s people point us to the relationship between God’s people and the surrounding world. Thinking back to the people of Israel, when they were called a holy nation and a chosen race, the people of God, it was talking about how they were called to be a light to the surrounding nations. They were called to put on display the character of their God. Joel Green, speaking about the notion of priesthood, says it refers to “the role of the community of believers in the world-at-large.” Priests have the role of representing God to others and others to God. We’re being called to be our community’s priests, representing God to them.

Let’s put it this way: we’re not being built into a spiritual house so we can feel safe and have this space all to ourselves; we’re being built into a spiritual house so other people can see it and be a part of it: and live in it. And they will see it when we live like the church in the 3rd century during the Greco-Roman plague. Living as God’s house means being a Christ-witnessing community. We are a Christ-witnessing community when we love our neighbours. William Temple once said: “The Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members.” Similarly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: “The church is her true self only when she exists for humanity.”Finding ways to love and show kindness to our neighbours, to bless our community—maybe these can be our spiritual sacrifices and the way in which we can declare God’s praises.

How would you describe the way people in the community perceive our church? Do they have a good impression or a negative one? What is God calling us to do as a community to love our neighbours? How can we get outside the walls of our church building to bless our neighbours?What might we have to sacrifice in order to love our neighbours?

In our passage, Jesus is called the living stone—rejected by men but chosen and valuable to God. Peter also says of Jesus that as the stone that the builders rejected—this One has become the cornerstone. Even when we love others with the love of Christ, there will be people who reject us and our message. We don’t reach out with the grace of Jesus for the approval of human beings. We’re not looking for affirmation from our neighbours. It’s like how if I base my personal sense of identity and security on what others might think of me, then my identity and sense of self will be very fragile and unreliable. The reason this is so important is this: if we’re going to reach out as God’s people into our community with love and compassion, we need to do so out of a deepening sense of our identity in Jesus. He is our life. Because we’re accepted by him, we don’t reach out to others to find their acceptance.

Put simply: Living as God’s House Means Being a Rejected Yet Honoured Community. As Peter says, rejected by men but chosen and valuable to God. If people rejected Jesus, people will reject us—even when we’re acting out of a Christ-like love.

And I say all of this because as a church I don’t want us to be insecure, to be half-apologetic about who we are, to have this inferiority complex where we don’t think we have anything to offer. Because we are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. And this is no small thing. This is a beautiful, wonderful, joyous thing!

Think of Peter’s words again: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Isn’t that incredible? And isn’t it—and shouldn’t we think it is—a privilege to have this role in our community? To live as the people of God showing the love of God?What do you think we have to offer as a church to our community? What makes us valuable as a church family?Why do we reach out to love our neighbours? What’s our motivation?Are we willing to experience rejection in order to live as God’s house in our neighbourhood?

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