It USED TO BE that the church’s values were the same as those of Australian society. (A good percentage of people at least attended church. Most kids went to Sunday School and school Scripture. Churches were the focus of community life. The opinions of Christian leaders were respected. Shops and businesses were closed on Sundays. Abortion was illegal. The majority of weddings were in churches, performed by ministers. Divorce was difficult. Marriage was accepted as being between a man and a woman. Boys were boys and girls were girls.)
But not anymore. We can’t even PRETEND Australia’s a Christian country. It may have a Christian HERITAGE. But today, Australia is THOROUGHLY SECULAR. And Christian opinions aren’t just ignored, they’re widely ridiculed and criticised.
But perhaps that’s not a bad thing. Especially if it means we have to go back to the Bible. And examine WHO WE ARE in God’s eyes. And then HOW HE WANTS US TO LIVE in the world.
How should the church relate to the world? One mistake is to circle the wagons. (Form little communities, cut off from everything). Some denominations do THAT. The OTHER mistake is to just blend in. (To conform our opinions and behaviour to those of the world. To ignore the Bible, to the point we’re indistinguishable from everyone else). And some denominations do THAT.
But, in these verses, Peter would give us a DIFFERENT answer. On the ONE hand, he says, you DON’T belong. You’re fundamentally DIFFERENT. But on the OTHER hand, you DO belong. You belong to GOD. You’ve come to JESUS. And that means you have A WHOLE NEW IDENTITY AND PURPOSE. To live IN the world. To LOVE it. And LIVE GOOD LIVES. And commend Jesus to people. To be IN the world, but not OF it. To be salt and light.
Who you are (4-10)
How should the church relate to the world? Peter begins by looking at WHO THE CHURCH IS, v4-10. And then, in v11-12, he commands WHAT WE SHOULD DO.
We might want to jump STRAIGHT TO ACTION. (WHAT WE SHOULD DO). But it’s only when we get to verse 11 that we find A COMMAND. (Something to DO.) Everything that comes BEFORE that, v4-10, are descriptions about WHO WE ARE.
Because, for Peter, it ALL BEGINS WITH WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT. It begins in the MIND. Remember back in Ch 1 v13? “Prepare your MINDS for action. Be SELF-CONTROLLED. SET YOUR HOPE FULLY on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christian is revealed.”
He says the same thing, over in Ch 4 v7. The end of all things is near. Therefore be CLEAR MINDED AND SELF-CONTROLLED so that you can pray. And only THEN does he goes on to give the practical instructions 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
For Peter, WHO YOU ARE comes before WHAT YOU DO. INTEGRITY before IMPRESSIONS. CHARACTER before CONGRATULATIONS.
It’s something professional FOOTBALL and CRICKET teams are realising with various scandals recently. They now talk about TEAM CULTURE. About PERFORMANCE being secondary to PERSONALITY. Being PART OF A TEAM. Being a decent human being. Being willing to fit in, and learn and share. If a team can get THOSE things right. Then THE RESULTS WILL FOLLOW.
But PERSONALITY before PERFORMANCE was a song Peter was singing long before sports psychologists came up with it. WHO YOU ARE determines WHAT YOU DO.
And he begins by describing the main difference between THE CHURCH and THE WORLD. And it’s all to do with the ATTITUDE TO JESUS. V4, As you come to him, the living stone – rejected by men, but chosen by God.
On the ONE hand, the church is JOINED to Jesus. But on the OTHER hand, the World REJECTS him. To the world, Jesus is a figure for philosophical or historical study. He’s a myth, or harmless and irrelevant, or a lunatic. But we’ve COME to him. V7 says he’s PRECIOUS to us. The world looks at Jesus hanging on the cross. And they see FOOLISH DEFEAT. A disappointed, broken man. But WE look at him, and see a POWERFUL SACRIFICE. God come in flesh, in willing, loving submission to death.
And the image Peter uses/ is Jesus is A LIVING STONE. He’s got a few Old Testament prophecies in mind. From Isaiah 28, Jesus is God’s chosen and precious cornerstone. The foundation of a building. But then Peter adds to that image. When Christians COME to him. (When they TRUST him), v5, THEY’RE LIVING STONES TOO. Because they’re joined to Jesus, THE living stone.
And then, God builds us into a SPIRITUAL HOUSE. Just like a bricklayer builds a wall. So God’s building US. He’s GROWING us and UNITING us. And he’s using Jesus as the foundation stone. The first stone laid – straight and square and strong. And so the REST of the building rises solid and square. Because each other stone is connected to the cornerstone. That’s the CHURCH.
To US, Jesus is A FOUNDATION FOR LIFE. But the world REJECTS him. And Peter finds a couple of Old Testament prophecies for THAT, TOO. V7 quotes Psalm 118, he’s the stone the builders REJECTED. Wrong size or shape or colour or strength. So they throw it in the scrap heap.
And then, v8 quotes Isaiah 8. He’s a stone that causes men to STUMBLE. He’s the rock on the footpath you trip over as you walk along. When people disobey the message they hear about Jesus, when they reject him, they’re tripped up. They miss out. They’re rejected and judged by God.
But we’ve COME to Jesus. We’ve TRUSTED him for our forgiveness and salvation. And that means, v6, in the words of Isa 28, rather than STUMBLING, we’ll NEVER BE PUT TO SHAME. The Christian won’t be DISAPPOINTED. We won’t miss out on what we HOPE FOR. Life might be tough – probably WILL – but God will prove faithful in the end. Despite the way things appear at the moment.
And that’s another difference between the church and the world. God’s attitude to us. God REJECTS those who reject Jesus, the living stone. But look at that what he thinks of HIS CHURCH. It’s a little phrase hidden there at the end of v5.
Verse 5 describes what the purpose of God’s spiritual house is. To be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices
He’s using the LANGUAGE of Israel’s temple system. But what the church does/ looks nothing like temple sacrifices once a day in one place. God’s interested in obedience in ALL OF LIFE. As we read the REST of the letter, we find out what spiritual sacrifices are. It’s not burning candles, or sacrificing animals. What God wants to see is LIVING YOUR LIVES in reverent fear (1:17). It’s ridding yourself of malice and deceit and envy (2:1). It’s abstaining from sinful desires (2:11). It’s submitting to earthly rulers (2:13). It’s slaves submitting to their masters (2:18). And husbands being considerate of their wives (3:7). And then, ch 4 v9, it’s offering hospitality and using whatever gift you have to serve others. And then, in 4:11, the MOTIVATION:
If anyone SERVES, he should do it with the strength God provides, SO THAT IN ALL THINGS GOD MAY BE PRAISED THROUGH JESUS CHRIST. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
They’re the spiritual sacrifices offered in this spiritual house.
But did you notice that last little phrase in v5? “Acceptable to God/ through Jesus Christ” Lives lived in grateful obedience of Jesus, done with the motivation that God might be praised through Jesus, are ACCEPTABLE TO GOD. Isn’t that incredible!? He’s PLEASED with them. Not because they’re PERFECT. But they’re acceptable THROUGH Jesus. Because of what JESUS has done.
On the ONE hand, God’s destined the disobedient to stumble over Jesus, v8. But on the OTHER hand, he’s chosen THE CHURCH for something ELSE. V9. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God,
God’s chosen them to be a PRIESTHOOD BY ROYAL APPOINTMENT. The king’s own priests. A holy nation who belong to God. They may be scattered all over the place, and from different language and racial groups. But they’re UNITED as GOD’S people.
Each of the descriptions comes from an Old Testament description of ISRAEL. Like back in Exodus 19, God chooses Israel, then brings them out of Egypt to the foot of Mt Sinai. And he says to them, v6. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’
The Jews knew EXACTLY who they were, and how they fitted into the world. Chosen by God, a kingdom of priests. Representing God before men, and men before God. And Peter’s point is that these New Testament saints belong together, and belong TO GOD, just as much as the Jews.
And just like God chose ISRAEL for a purpose, he’s chosen THE CHURCH for a purpose, TOO. To be a royal priesthood, who (second half of v9) declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. He’s called us and saved us/ TO LIST HIS VIRTUES. To describe his qualities. To HIGHLIGHT HIS HIGHLIGHTS. We’re to RESPOND to God’s action, with ACTIONS OF OUR OWN. God’s spoken his call to US, we’re to speak our praise about HIM.
That COULD mean declaring it TO GOD HIMSELF. And that’s CERTIANLY in view. That’s what WORSHIP IS.
It could mean declaring his praises TO EACH OTHER. There’s certainly a place for encouraging each other by reminding ourselves of God’s actions. Like we’re doing this morning. Through reading the Bible together, and praying and singing. There is something enormously encouraging and joyful about singing words like these to each other:
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off, my heart was free
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee!
But it’s more likely Peter’s thinking of declaring his qualities to those who DON’T know them. Declaring them TO THE WORLD. We’re to declare the praises of the one WHO CALLED US OUT OF DARKNESS INTO HIS WONDERFUL LIGHT. Who most needs to hear about Someone who can do THAT? Someone who’s in darkness!
Imagine you’re part of a large group of people trapped in a cave. Days go past. You can hear rescuers searching for you. Eventually a small group of you investigate a narrow passage. And rescuers, with the bright lights and strong ropes and confident plans, find you and lead you to safety. Who would you want to list their virtues to? Firstly, to the RESCUERS THEMSELVES CERTAINLY. But who next? Those who’ve been rescued? Or those who were still lost in the dark? It’s obvious, isn’t it? You wouldn’t sit around in freedom outside the cave, talking to each other about how amazing the rescuers are. You’d be yelling back down the tunnel. “Come this way. Here’s the light. Here’s rescue. There’s strong hands, and good gear. And first aid. COME THIS WAY! That’s declaring the praises of those who rescued you out of darkness!
- What to do (11-12)
Finally, in v11, we come to the first INSTRUCTION. We’ve seen a description of WHO THE CHURCH IS. Now we’re commanded WHAT TO DO.
11 Dear friends, I URGE you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to ABSTAIN from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 LIVE SUCH GOOD LIVES among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
First thing to notice, even in this command, it comes out of a description of who we are. As aliens and strangers. As tourists and immigrants. It’s a summary of everything he’s just said. You DON’T FIT IN. You’re DIFFERENT. (YOU come to Jesus, others REJECT him. You’re a royal priesthood, a holy, chosen nation, called for a special purpose.)
So… BE different. There’s a NEGATIVE command. And a POSITIVE one. First, the NEGATIVE. ABSTAIN FROM SINFUL DESIRES that war against your soul. Abstain has the idea of keeping your distance. If you’re only a tourist, that makes sense.
Last year when we were in Thailand, we visited some local food markets. And while there was delicious food, there was also food we wanted to steer well clear of. All sorts of crunchy insects to eat. Crickets and cockroaches. And various bits of pig you don’t see too often in Australian butchers. And then there were the chillies. I love chillies, but I reckon I’d need to steer clear of THIS MANY chillies. They’d really war against my digestion!
That’s the way we’re to think about sinful desires. The passions of the flesh. For pleasure, and greed, and power. They look attractive. But they DAMAGE your SOUL. They scar it, and wound it. God’s called you instead to be passionate about DIFFERENT things. About declaring the praises of him who called you out of darkness!
That’s the NEGATIVE command. Look at the POSITIVE command in v12. Peter URGES the church to “Live such good lives among the pagans.” Notice firstly, we’re to live AMONG the pagans. It’s literally IN the nations. We’re to be a holy nation IN THE NATIONS. We’re not to separate into a little holy huddle. We’re to go to work in regular jobs. And play regular sport. And go to regular parties. And go on holidays. We need Christian doctors and miners and builders and teachers. Christian lawyers and policemen and zoo keepers. Christian artists and academics and scientists. We’re to live AMONG the world.
But we’re not to BE the world. “Live such GOOD lives”, v12 says. Be DIFFERENT. Be salt and light. In v9 we’re DECLARING the PRAISES. Here we combine those words WITH ACTIONS. They have to go together. Words have no power if our lives don’t back them up. What a tragedy when our non-Christian friends say to the hypocritical Christian, “I can’t hear what you’re saying. Because your LIFE is speaking too loudly a different message.”
A GOOD LIFE is the spiritual sacrifice we offer as royal priests. It’s generosity with our possessions and our time and our compliments. It’s purity in our thoughts and actions. It’s humility and forgiveness and acceptance in all our relationships. It’s honesty and hard work in our worklife. And if we’re living like THAT. When our critics look for a weakness. An inconsistency. A mistake. When they attack us for holding a different opinion to us. Their words won’t have any bite, because they’ll miss the target. And they’ll, grudgingly, admit there’s something DIFFERENT about you. And you’ll EARN THE RIGHT to speak about the excellencies of the One who called you out of darkness. And who offers the same rescue to THEM.
How should THE CHURCH relate to the WORLD? Not by SEPARATING, and ESCAPING the world. And not by ACCEPTING and WELCOMING its temporary and empty way of life. But by being a HOLY nation as we live IN the nations. By WORD and by DEED offering the spiritual sacrifices of priests by royal appointment, so that the world might see Jesus in us, and glorify God. May it be THAT WAY with US!