Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 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 2:1 - 10 (NRSV)
The King James Version translates “God’s own people” as “peculiar people”. That fits some of us rather well…don’t you think?
Peter calls us a “spiritual house” built up from little stones, who are modeled after the Cornerstone, The Rock (Jesus). He says we were once living in darkness – the darkness of sin – but God called us out with light, Jesus, who came into the world to bring light to people steeped in great darkness. Our purpose as disciples of Jesus is to pursue that light.
Peter says we are chosen, royal, and holy; now he didn’t say that to give us “bragging rights”. Rather God chose to set us apart for His own purpose; that purpose is for us to tell the world about Him, by the way we live, and by the way we love. And that is the issue this morning – the way we live and the way we love.
There are two major considerations for the way we live
1. Growing as part of Christ’s body
Peter said God’s requirement for followers of Jesus was to “put aside” malice, guile, hypocrisy, envy, slander, etc, and grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ. That phrase “putting aside” indicates something that is done “once-for-all”. It’s like taking off a garment, laying it on the ground, and never again picking it up. In other words, we don’t just cut-back on our malice and hypocrisy – we give it up altogether!
If we are to become an exemplary part of the Body of Christ it will mean laying-aside all self-centeredness. I have known some saved people who are mean-spirited and just plain “hard to get along with”. Instead of letting the grace of the Lord Jesus transform them into mellow and gracious people, it seems the longer they live, the more demanding they become. They make life miserable for everyone around them.
How can you prevent that? You can do what Peter said:
Come to him, a living stone, 1 Peter 2:4a (NRSV)
The phrase “come to Him” indicates a habitual approach. Peter said we are to grow by [habitually] taking in the sincere milk of the Word. That’s how babies grow…they take in nourishment at every opportunity. They eat habitually!
Is prayer and Bible study habitual with you? As a pastor I have often been in the privileged position of watching the last number of months, days and hours of people who are getting ready to exit this world. One of the surest signs that the end is near is when the person refuses food. An appetite is required for health.
My friend, if you want to be faithful to the Lord Who died for you, your appetite for growing needs to be fed. If you don’t, it’s a sign you’d rather live close to spiritual death than robust Christian life!
Our way of living as part of the body of Christ at Mt Zion United Methodist Church is to grow by feeding on the Word of God, and...
2. Learning to fulfill God’s Commandments
Jesus gave a summary statement of the 10 Commandments:
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:37a - 40 (NRSV)
Jesus said that if we want to know what God expects, love Him with everything you’ve got, and do that for your neighbor as well.
Peter also gave a pretty graphic and interesting picture of what it means to fulfill God’s commandments. He told about how God had used the life and ministry of Jesus to be like a cornerstone.
A cornerstone is the most important one laid in a foundation. If it is crooked, the whole building will be like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. But Jesus isn’t flawed in any way; He is the perfect cornerstone. As His followers, therefore, we are the bricks that build the spiritual house of God. But it all lines-up according to the cornerstone…everything hinges on being like Jesus.
What does it mean to be a spiritual house of God? It means we are to live obediently to all God’s claims on our lives. We are to live disciplined lives of service to others. Each “stone” or “brick” in the building of God’s house is to relate well to each other stone, so we can be a lighthouse of God’s welcoming message to the whole world.
We are to become like the chief cornerstone, Jesus. We call it becoming Christ-like; we grow into the image of Christ by following after Him. We don’t conform to the ways of the world; we are transformed by allowing God to renew us and remake us.
I served a church once where I was told that it was just a fact of life that sometimes, in order to get the church moving, the pastor just needed to “fuss” at the congregation a little in the sermon, and that will do it.
Now, without fussing over that, let me tell you why I won’t do that. I will not presume to take away your responsibility to respond to your Savior. If all you are waiting on to serve God is a little parental-like scolding, you are asking me to be God, and that position is already filled.
But, worse than putting me on a throne, you are putting yourself in the “disobedient child” position – won’t serve until he’s fussed-at. Obeying God’s commands should be the uppermost thing on your mind – not just because our mission statement says it – or the pastor pitches a fit in the sermon – but because the commands of God are not awful and odious; He is a loving God Who gives commands that are for our health and joy! Obey Him because you love Him, not because the preacher fusses at you once in a while! Obey Him because you’ve chosen to live that way.
So that has to do with the way we live, and also…
Rick Warren is the author of “The Purpose-Driven Life”. Before he wrote that book he wrote “The Purpose-Driven Church”. In that first book Warren says that “…the key issue for churches in the twenty-first century is church health, not church growth.
I believe Rick Warren is correct, and I say to you that the health of this church [or any church], spiritually-speaking, will determine its growth!
So, preacher, how do you determine the spiritual health of a congregation? Peter said it’s our appetite for two things…
1. Our Appetite for Missions
Appetite for missions; does that mean going to South America or Africa to be eaten by savages? No…at least not at first!
Peter said that God’s purpose in bringing us out of the darkness of sin and choosing us to be his own priceless possession was so that we would proclaim God’s mighty acts.
To “proclaim God’s mighty acts” means telling others about Jesus…proclaiming Bethlehem, Golgotha and Armageddon…
· Bethlehem – He came to us;
· Golgotha – He died and rose to save us;
· and Armageddon – He’s coming back for us.
One sure sign of a healthy church is that we not only remember we are supposed to go around telling everyone who will listen that Jesus saves, but that we actually do it!
Some folks think they cannot possibly be doing missions unless they travel at least 100 miles from home. My friends let me tell you something – you cannot possibly be ready to do missions anywhere until you are willing to talk to your neighbors.
Don’t put the cart before the horse here – you shouldn’t sign-up for a trip to Honduras or Mongolia, or anywhere, if you’re not willing to go witness to lost people under the shadow of our own steeple.
Do you recall Jesus telling us about missions, saying we would be His witnesses? He said we should go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. That is a spiral that started right where they were in Jerusalem, then worked outward to the surrounding neighborhoods, and finally spread around the globe.
That, my friends, is a circle that starts with the closest place to your own home. You don’t start with a mission to the far corners of the globe; you begin with what God has put in front of you!
We need an appetite for missions, and…
2. Our Appetite for Ministry
What is the difference between missions and ministry? Well, there is a difference, but, it is like the old song has it…love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage…you can’t have one without the other.
"Missions" is telling others about Jesus – Bethlehem, Golgotha & Armageddon. Ministry is meeting the needs of people in the name of Jesus so they will know Jesus cares for them.
Peter called us a “royal priesthood”. He was quoting from Exodus:
Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. Exodus 19:5 - 6 (NRSV)
A priest is a mediator, a go-between. The pope, who is the head priest of the Roman Catholic church, is called in Latin pontifex – bridge-builder. Ministry is being that priest, a bridge-builder between Christ and people who need Christ.
Peter asks us to look at what has happened to us.
· We have been called out of darkness into light;
· We were nobody – God made us precious;
· We were under condemnation of sin – God came with mercy.
Do you get the picture that this is all about us being totally helpless in the grip, the jaws of sin? And Jesus came to set us free.
Charles Lowery tells of …a young boy who lived in south Florida who had a bad day at school. His house was on a lake and when he got home, he just hit the water and began to swim.When he was about halfway out into the lake, he looked up and realized that he was nose to nose with an alligator. He made a U-turn and swam as hard and fast as he could, yelling the whole time.
A neighbor saw what was happening and called 911. His mom saw him and dove into the lake. The alligator and his mom arrived at the boy about the same time. There was a tug-of-war, but his mom won.
When he was released from the hospital the news media was there, and they asked to see the scars from the alligator. The young boy showed his arm where the alligator had clamped down on him. But then he told them they needed to see the scars on his other arm. Then he pulled back his sleeve and showed them the nail scars from where his mother wouldn't let go.
To be as lost as that whole picture tells us we were – and to be found in the nails-dug-in sovereign protection of God Almighty is truly an act of grace.
And for that grace there can only be one response…love. It is the act of dedicating our entire lives to His service.