“You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5)
Being described as a “living stone” seems quite odd simply because stones are hard, dead and cold, not alive. We get the idea of stones being used to build a building, but the connection with our spiritual lives may be difficult to grasp. Perhaps that’s because while we may have respect for our church buildings, our reverence pales in comparison to that of the Jewish Christians (Peter’s audience) who were driven out of Jerusalem and scattered through Asia Minor. Peter’s original readers understood his analogy at a deeper level, especially because they were unable to even go to the temple at that time due to persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Nero. Although, still today, there are Christians in some places of the world who truly understand since they too live persecuted for their faith.
Peter’s words were a paradigm shift for the Jewish Christians in AD 63. For them, the temple was a place to offer sacrifices and make atonement. But Christ had come to replace this system of sacrifice. Peter’s analogy helped the Jewish Christians make a shift in thinking from the system of sacrifice handed to them through their Jewish heritage to understanding how Christ fulfilled that system so completely that physical sacrifices were no longer necessary. Because of this heritage, they fully understood the significance of the stones that created the temple building. They had an immense reverence for the temple building itself well as an understanding for what the analogy meant. (See Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 8:14 & 28:16.)
Barnes Notes on the Bible explains the Jewish Christian’s view in this way: “The Jews prided themselves much on their temple. It was a most costly and splendid edifice. It was the place where God was worshipped, and where he was supposed to dwell. It had an imposing service, and there was acceptable worship rendered there.” Through Christ’s sacrifice on the Christ, a new way was introduced, and the Christians of Peter’s day were asked to change their thinking toward worship, sacrifice and the temple.
Regardless of the time in history, the application is no less significant or relevant. Consider the following 5 points in terms of applying the “living stone” analogy to the Christian walk. These points, based on 1 Peter 2:4, hold true regardless of physical location or state of physical freedom.
- You are being built up in Christ. While individually every Christian represents Christ, Christians collectively – each “living stone” placed one upon another with Christ as the cornerstone – are being built up together in Christ. In other words, “all true Christians are a chosen generation; they make one family, a people distinct from the world: of another spirit, principle, and practice.”
- You are part of a spiritual house of God. The house of God is not built with stones or wood but with “living stones” that hold the breath of God. As such, these “living stones” (Christians throughout time) have an immensely greater value and thus give His house significantly more value than any physical temple or church building built by man. Together, in unity and community, all Christians create the temple of the Lord.
- You are a holy priesthood. With Jesus’ final sacrifice on the cross, the old system of sacrifice for atonement of sin was abolished. Blood sacrifices through priests at the temple are no longer required. Christians exist now as a holy priesthood and offer sacrifices of a different kind.
- Spiritual sacrifices are the result. Since blood sacrifices are no longer required, what are we to sacrifice? “The sacrifice of prayer and praise.” (Hebrews 13:15 & Ephesians 6:18)
- Our sacrifices must be acceptable in God’s eyes. Fortunately for us, God looks at our sacrifices through Jesus. Through the merits of Jesus’ sacrifice, our prayers and praises become acceptable. They come through imperfect lips and hearts, but they go through Jesus as the “author and perfector of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)
Just as the physical temple in Peter’s day was built to provide a place where priests would offer sacrifices for the people, so every Christian today exists as part of the temple of God. Prayer and praise exist as sacrifices when we offer our whole selves, holding nothing back. We realize that nothing we do or say is sufficient, but we offer what we have “with pure hearts that with the intention to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly.” (Micah 6:8)
DISCUSSION: How do you see your life as a “living stone”? What are your thoughts about the Christian walk as it relates to 1 Peter 2:4-5?
Note: This reflection was inspired by “The Building Project,” a sermon given by Rev. Steve Miller at New Hope Assembly of God.