By Spencer D Gear
What would happen if you did not water and fertilise plant sugar cane? It would die or be badly stunted in its growth.
What happens if you don’t give a new-born baby the correct food? He or she will become malnourished and may even die?
What do you think will happen if you don’t provide baby Christians with the correct spiritual food? A deformed, immature or malnourished believer will result. It’s the same for all of us who believe and need to mature in Christ.
Peter (if I say Paul instead of Peter, you’ll know I mean Peter, won’t you?) began chapter 2 with an appeal: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (2:2-3).
To these persecuted believers, Peter wants them to grow up in their faith. To mature in the faith, he teaches all new-born believers 4 things in vv. 4-8:
1. Come to the living stone (v. 4);
2. Know how you, as living stones mature (v. 5);
3. You will never grow up in the faith unless your foundation is solid (vv. 6-7);
4. Unbelievers stumble at this very point of the foundation (v. 8).
Throughout this passage the “you” to whom Peter speaks is not to “you” as individual single believers but to “you” (plural, collectively) as the people of God. This is important because we Westerners are so individualistic and we must get rid of such thinking if we are to mature as believers. You and I need one another – the body of believers.
We think that we can survive on our own. That is not Christian thinking. We need each other and we will never grow up at the people of God without the loving discipleship and care of the whole body of believers.
It’s a big ask to move us in our thinking and actions from individuals to the whole people of God. It would happen very quickly if we were in a persecuted society like China, North Korea, the Muslim world (Christianity is entirely forbidden in Saudi Arabia), Burma, the Sudan, you would quickly learn that you will never ever survive in your faith if you think that Simon & Garfunkel sang the truth: “I am a rock, I am an island” (Simon & Garfunkel n.d.)
Peter uses some down-to-earth images to describe life for the believer:
- Newborn babies craving milk (2:2);
- Stones to build a house (2:5);
- A capstone rejected by builders (2:7).
These are not literal statements; they are figurative images. They refer to everyday things but point to some spiritual message, just like this first expression.
A. If you are to grow up in your faith, you need to come to the living stone (v. 4)
This is obviously speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ but it is a paradox to speak of Him as a living stone. Stones are dead objects. What’s the point of this kind of language? It’s figurative. We see this elsewhere in the Bible:
- When Jesus told the parable of the landowner, the vineyard and the tenants, he referred back to Psalm 118:22-23, as we see also in this passage: “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.”
- This same verse from Ps. 118 is quoted in Acts 4:11 when Peter spoke to the Sanhedrin rulers, elders and teachers of the law, including Annas the high priest, in Jerusalem.
What is Peter trying to get across? To grow in your faith, you must have your foundation correct. That is,
1. Christ, the living stone (2:4)
Peter’s name, petros, means “rock” but Christ is “the stone” in this verse, but he is the stone and the rock in v. 8. As we will learn soon, not just any old pebble, but the cornerstone, the foundation stone.
If you want a solid foundation for life and its many challenges, you don’t want shifting sand for your foundation. I saw a photo on the Internet of a 4-wheel vehicle that had been left on the sand on a Fraser Island beach? The owner returned to this newish vehicle and it was on its side with the salty water flowing in and around it, and half covered in sand.
To grow up in the faith, you need Christ, the stone, for your foundation. No ordinary sand or soil will do. Obviously I’m speaking figuratively about Christ, the stone.
But Christ, the stone, has an adjective of qualification. He is “living.” The stone is alive. The NT refers to him as “living water (John 4:10-11) and “living bread” (John 6:51). Here he is the living stone because of His resurrection from the dead. He’s the foundation of our lives but he’s no dead Saviour. He’s alive, through his resurrection from the dead.
However, this living stone, the foundation of new life for believers
2. Rejected by people
This is utterly tragic. The one who is to be the foundation of all of life and especially of the Christian life is utterly rejected by the unbelieving world. There is unbelievable hatred towards Jesus among Aussies. If you don’t believe me, try raising the subject of Jesus as the only way to salvation and heaven among your secular friends and see what you get. Some not only reject Him, but also abusively treat Jesus with some of the most blasphemous words and acts.
BUT, in spite of the way they humiliate Jesus and you, this living stone is
3. God’s chosen one & precious
Peter repeats the wonderful Christian teaching of election (being chosen by God). Do you remember what these believers were called in I Peter 1:1? God’s elect! God’s chosen people! Here, Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord, was not killed by some plan of Judas Iscariot and Pontius Pilate. Oh yes, they were involved.
But Jesus, the living foundation, was a member of the Godhead from eternity, but he went to death for our sins and was raised for our justification, not by some plan of the Roman Empire or the Jewish authorities, but Jesus was chosen by God to take the royal road to death and resurrection – for our sake.
And that is precious!
4. Let’s tease out some applications of this point:
a. Since Christ is the living stone and He lives in every believer (“Christ in you, the hope of glory”, Col. 1:27), how can you relate to the living Stone? How can you get to know Him better?
There are at least 3 ways:
(1) Through prayer. Do you spend time in prayer with the living Stone daily?
(2) Heb. 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” If you want to know the living stone, you must spend time with God in reading and listening to God through the Bible. Do you have a regular plan of spending time in God’s Word and listening to Him – really listening?
(3) Remember Elijah on Horeb, the mountain of God, when the Lord appeared to him (I Kings 19:11-12):
The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by”.
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. (NIV).
Have you heard the “gentle whisper”, the still small voice of God? God speaks this way when we are in prayer; sometimes when reading the Word, sometimes when we are open to God’s direction. Listen for the still, small voice of God.
b. One other application here: When you share the Gospel with unbelievers, there will be some who respond in faith, but do not be surprised when many reject. The living Stone, Jesus, chosen by God, is rejected by people.
If you are to grow in the Christian life, this passage teaches us a second way:
B. If you are to grow up in your faith, you are to be like living stones being built into a spiritual house (v. 5)
Peter is still talking about stone, but the imagery has changed. He has moved from Christ, the solid foundation to believers who are
1. Living stones
Will you please come back to the English class room for a moment? Dare I invite you to come into the English grammar class with my English teacher, Johnny Baird, at Bundaberg State High School? He would tell you that you need to clearly know the difference between the active voice and the passive voice of a verb.
For example, if I were to say that “I built the house” that’s a verb in the active voice. I am the one doing the building. But if I say, “I am being built into a house” it is the passive voice of the verb “to build.” With the passive voice, something is being done to you by something/someone else.
This is important here because 2:5 says you, as new Christians, are having something done to you by someone. You, the living stones, have God as the agent and He is building the spiritual house with God working on you (Kistemaker 1987, p. 86). This has led to the New English Bible translation, “Come, and let yourselves be built, as living stones.” NRSV, “Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house”(similarly in the RSV, ESV, GNB, Phillips).
The life-giving principle in believers comes of Jesus who is alive and well and living in and among all Christians. “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
Did you get a hold of that? You are living stones because of Christ being in you. Is your hope eternal glory? I hope so!
Peter describes believes not just as living stones but also as
2. A holy priesthood
I’ve heard some unfortunate comments from evangelical friends of mine towards the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox churches who call their clergy, priests. Is it correct or not to speak of a pastor as a priest. Are these other churches biblical or not in calling preachers and pastors, priests? We’ll get there in a moment.
In the church, we use the phrase, “the priesthood of all believers.” Some call it “every member ministry.” Ministry is not limited to pastors and Bible teachers. By this we mean that “every true Christian is a priest in the household of God” and is thus able to minister in the gifts that he or she has received from God.
John Calvin wrote this: “It is a singular honor, that God should not only consecrate us as a temple to himself, in which he dwells and is worshipped, but that he should also make us priests” (Calvin n.d.).
Every person who is truly a Christian believer is a member of this “holy priesthood.” Thus, it is wrong to say that only the clergy of certain denominations are priests. All true Christians are priests and members of “a holy priesthood.”
Why holy? All priests are “dedicated to God and separated from the world” (Kistemaker 1987, p. 87).
What is this “spiritual house” of the holy priesthood? Again it’s a metaphor where Peter speaks not of physical stones “but the individual members form the household of God (Eph. 2:19-22; I Tim. 3:15; Heb. 3:6; 10:21). This metaphor conveys the idea of a community of believers who as a holy priesthood present living sacrifices” (Kistemaker 1987, p. 86).
What is the ministry of this holy priesthood? See v. 5.
3. To offer spiritual sacrifices
- Acceptable to God
- Through Jesus Christ
What does that mean? Think of the OT priest of Israel. The NT believer (the holy priesthood)
has no need to offer sacrifices to remove sin and guilt, for ‘Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people’ (Heb. 9:28). A member of the priesthood of all believers, then, offers sacrifices of gratitude to God for the redemptive work of Christ. That is, he [or she] presents to God “a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name” (Heb. 13:15) [Kistemaker 1987, p. 87].
What else does a priest do? Live a life of holiness that reflects what Paul said to the Romans, to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice, offering thankful service to God (Rom. 12:1). Such sacrifices to God are only possible through Christ because we need to be righteous in Christ because all of our own good works as like filthy rags (Isa. 64:6).
4. Let’s apply this to us!
Please pause with me a moment: What spiritual sacrifices did you make last week? I am not talking about refusing to go to the pub, the pokies, drinking alcohol or visiting the movies. That’s the farthest thing from my mind.
- What thankful service have you given to God? In praise of Him? In ministry to somebody in need?
- How have you denied yourself this last week? What have you denied so that you can worship and minister to the Lord?
- Where have you been able to minister in Jesus’ Name last week?
There is only one kind of Christian who will stand against the opposition and persecution of a secular society. They are the “living stones” who are built on the foundation of The Living Stone, Jesus Christ Himself.
Do you love Him? Are you embarrassed to own Him in public? Will He know you when you meet Him at death or the Rapture as one who is a “living stone” who offered Him spiritual sacrifices throughout your Christian lives? Will these “living stones” in this church gathering be known for how they offer “spiritual sacrifices”?
Firstly, this passage teaches that if you are to grow up in your faith, you are to be like living stones being built into a spiritual house (v. 5)
C. You will grow up in your faith if you stand firmly on what the Scriptures teach (vv. 6-7)
Peter, as an inspired writer of Scripture, could have written this Scripture, based on the fundamental authority that God told him through a divine revelation, and Peter wrote Scripture that was “breathed out” by God, according to 2 Tim. 3:15-16.
But that’s not what Peter did. God directed him to tell us exactly why Peter gave us these instructions. In vv. 6-8, Peter lays out the scriptural foundation for what he has just given us.
Note the words: “For in Scripture it says . . .” (NIV). “It is contained in the scripture” (KJV). Peter quotes from Isa. 28:16:
For in Scripture it says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”
It should go without saying that when we want accurate information about life and salvation we should go to the Scriptures. Many don’t. They think there is more value in secular psychology.
There’s a definite trend against knowing and living according to the Scripture in the liberal church (we’d expect that). But I’m deeply concerned about the entertainment level in some flourishing evangelical churches that is drawing people and preachers away from preaching the Word.
It’s so important what Peter did. To lay the foundation for Christian growth he went to the Scripture. For him, it was the OT and he would not have been able the carry a nicely bound KJV or NIV under his arms. Imagine what it would have been like to have to read and carry papyrus (a dried mat made from a reed) and velum, made from animal skins!
When Peter turned to the Scriptures for an example from Isaiah 40:6-8, he found a figure to emphasise that “Christ is precious [there’s that word again] and tested cornerstone” (Clowney 1988, p. 84). Edmund Clowney explains:
In the building technique from which the figure is drawn, the cornerstone of the foundation would be the first stone to be put in place. Since both the angle of the walls and the level of the stone courses would be extended from it, the cornerstone must be square and true. Large and precious stones were cut for the foundation of Solomon’s temple (Clowney 1988, p. 84)
In the OT Scripture, it states that God
1. Lay a stone in Zion (2:6 here)
We have learned that the “stone” is Jesus Christ, so Isaiah 28:16 was a Messianic prophecy, predicting the coming of Jesus. This stone, Jesus, was laid in Zion. What does that mean? What is Zion?
Since the day of Christ, Zion (or Sion in KJV) could represent:
- “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” as in Heb. 12:22;
- It can refer to the people of Israel in quotations from the OT (Rom. 9:33; I Peter 2:6);
- The physical city of Jerusalem (Matt. 21:5; John 12:15); or
- The literal mountain on which Christ and his followers will stand when Christ returns (Rev. 14:1) and Christ will go forth from this mountain to rule forever (Rom. 11:26; cf. Ps. 132:13-14).
Christ was born in the Jewish race, so Zion in I Peter 2:6 probably refers to the people of Israel. Christ will be a stone amongst this people. What kind of stone? V. 6 says in the NIV that he will be a
Jesus, the foundation cornerstone, from whom we gain the direction for life, impacts believers differently from unbelievers.
3. For believers who continue to trust in Christ
Note 2 things for them in vv. 6-7:
Firstly, they will never ever be put to shame. Do you mean to say that there could be the possibility of shame when people face Jesus one day? There most certainly will be for unbelievers who will be shamed, but for those who continue to trust in him they “will never be put to shame.”
The ultimate shame would be to face God when a person dies and be shamed by being send to hell forever and ever. There is so little preaching on hell these days. Please note what Jesus said when he spoke about separating the sheep from the goats at the end of the age. Matt. 24: 46, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Eternal punishment, hell, for the damned is as long as eternal life for the righteous believers. Eternal! Forever and ever.
Believers who continue to trust Christ alone for salvation will never be put to shame by being sent to hell.
Secondly, to believers, Jesus, the stone is precious.
Please note something very important here at the beginning of v. 7 in the NIV. It’s a simple statement: “Now to you who believe.” The KJV reads, “Unto you therefore which believe.”
Sounds ho hum to us, but in the Greek language it means: “You, you who continue believing” (Kistemaker 1987, p. 89). Or to put it in Aussie colloquial language: “Hey you! Listen I’m talking to you! This is not for those who make a once off decision and then forget about God. This is only for those who continue to live the Christian life until God takes them to glory. Do you get it?”
To those who continue to believe throughout their lives, the stone is precious. How come? Precious means “respect” or “honor.” (Arndt & Gingrich 1957, p. 825). If you don’t respect Jesus, if you don’t honour Him, if you don’t consider Christ’s life, death and resurrection are not precious for the believer, something is wrong with your Christian life.
This is why I cringe inside me whenever Jesus Name is blasphemed or profaned. When people use His name in vain and treat him as a commoner who can be used as abused, something inside of me rears up against such degradation of my Saviour. Why? He is precious to me – because of my relationship with Him and because of what he has done in saving, justifying, propitiating, redeeming, this wretched sinner. Do you love Him? Do you honour and respect this Jesus Christ? Is He precious to you?
If he’s precious to you, you’ll want to tell others about him, proclaim His gospel and defend the cause of biblical truth.
There’s a flip side to what I have just been preaching.
4. For unbelievers who reject Christ, the stone
- The Christ becomes a capstone of rejection (v. 7), AND
- The stone of stumbling offence
On 8th July, it was the 265th anniversary of the preaching of one of the most famous sermons of all time. God used this sermon to start the New England Great Awakening in the USA. It was in 1741 at Enfield, CT, and was preached by the colonial American theologian Jonathan Edwards. The sermon was titled: 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.' In it he preached: "It is nothing but [God's] mere pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlasting destruction. However unconvinced you may now be of the truth of what you hear, by and by you will be fully convinced of it" (Edwards 1741).
Firstly, the Christ becomes a capstone of rejection for unbelievers. V. 7 is a quote from Psalm 118:22. The NIV translates as "capstone"; the KJV "head of the corner." The KJV is the literal translation. Christ is the chief cornerstone of the foundation of the building but when unbelievers reject him, what happens? See v. 8 For unbelievers Christ becomes a means of stumbling and a rock that makes them fall. This is unusual language but the message is straightforward:
Peter is Peter Drucker who was a secular, Jewish management guru. This led the Editor of the Northern Landmark Missionary Baptist magazine (August 2006) to comment, “In other words, the purpose of Warren’s visit was to help Jewish Rabbis to learn how to build membership in their religion which rejects Christ as Saviour. Is this an appropriate role for any Christian minister of the Gospel ?”  saying “that we either put our faith in Jesus, the foundation stone, or we dash our foot against it” (Kistemaker 1987, p. 90).
- Why do they stumble and fall? Simple. They disobey the message. What message? The Gospel! Simon Kistemaker puts it beautifully:
The reason for their stumbling is that they have chosen to disobey the Word of God. Their disobedience arises from a heart that is filled with unbelief. In other words, the sequence which Peter delineates is unbelief, disobedience, and downfall which eventually lead to ruin. Unbelievers, then, meet God in Christ as their enemy because they have chosen to be a friend of the world (James 4:4) [1987, p. 90].
Please note the concluding phrase of v. 8: "Which is also what they were destined to do." Note the sequence Peter gives here in vv. 7-8:
In v. 7, Peter contrasts the differences between believers and unbelievers;
- Then, he states that unbelievers reject Christ, the stone;
- From a human perspective, this verse stated that unbelievers disobey Christ’s message, but finally . . .
From God's perspective, these unbelievers were destined to treat Christ this way.
5. How can you put this into practice this week?
a. What is your view of the Bible? Is this a largish book that is important to some people in the church, but it’s just another piece of literature? Is it just 1,653 pages to wade through (length of my NIV)? Or do you know, believe and live by what the Scriptures say? Is this your commitment to the Word: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 1so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)?
b. Is Jesus Christ the true cornerstone of your life – the foundation stone by which all other constructs are judged? Do you know what this means? When it comes to understand the violence in our world, you go to Jesus Christ for the only diagnosis and solution. What about social evils like abortion and euthanasia? Are you going to the civil libertarians or feminists for your understanding, or do you depend wholly on what God says? What about how we treat one another in marriage? Marriage? Aren’t defacto relationships better? Who are you serving? You will grow in your faith only when you stand firmly on what the Scriptures say. How do you treat the elderly in your family, in our community? What’s God’s view?
c. Continue to proclaim Jesus as the only way to eternal life, remembering all along that there will be many unbelievers who find the living Stone, Jesus, a stumbling stone. Expect rejection of the Gospel in evangelism, but don’t give up witnessing. How long is it since this church ran a deliberate evangelism outreach to this town and community? I’m thinking of something like Christianity Explained ; Two Ways to Live ; Introducing God ; or Evangelism Explosion . Does reaching people for Jesus really matter to this church?
d. What do you plan to do to help people grow in their faith? How will you disciple new Christians? What’s your plan? I see too much of “anything goes” in the church, when it comes to the need for discipleship and how people grow.
e. We face another problem. Too many of us are in a rut and comfortable with our Christianity. Imagine what would happen if the financially and socially disadvantaged started coming to our church. It just might lull us out of our lethargy as we helped them meet their financial, social and living needs. What would happen if a couple of outspoken homosexuals came here? Would we reject them or love them into the kingdom, making sure that they understood the gospel and the need to grow in faith? Are women who have had abortions welcome here? If families come with unruly children, what will you do?
So, how are Christians to mature, to grow-up in Jesus?
1. Come to the living stone, Jesus, rejected by people but He’s precious to God. He’s precious because there is no other way of salvation that God has provided. Acts. 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Why is this? Your sins condemn you to hell and you need a blood sacrifice of eternal worth to God to provide forgiveness for your sins.
Muhammed won’t do it; neither will the Mormon Joseph Smith; nor Charles Taze Russell of Jehovah’s witnesses; nor any other religious leader. Only one person shed his blood for our redemption and was raised again for our justification. He was the one and only Jesus Christ.
2. You will mature when you as a group of believers live as living stones, offering spiritual sacrifice to God. You offer sacrifices of praise and gratitude to God in thankfulness for the once-for-all sacrifice for sins by Jesus.
3. You will mature as believers when you stand firmly on the authoritative, inerrant Word of God which proclaims that Christ is the foundation cornerstone. He is precious to you.
4. For believers, the Christ who is precious to them is a stone of stumbling to damnation for those who refuse to believer the Gospel and are destined to damnation.
Next time, we’ll consider what that means, from 2:9-10:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (NIV).
 Available from: http://www.christianityexplained.com/ [9 July 2006].
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Arndt, W. F. & Gingrich, F. W. 1957 (transl. & adapt. W. Bauer), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago (limited ed., Zondervan Publishing House).
Calvin, J. n.d., transl. & ed. J. Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids, MI, Available from: http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/comment3/comm_vol45/htm/iv.iii.htm [cited 8 July 2006].
Clowney, E. P. 1988, The Message of 1 Peter: The Way of the Cross, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England/Downers Grove, Illinois, USA.
Edwards, J. 1741, ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God’, July 8, Available from: http://www.ccel.org/e/edwards/sermons/sinners.html (Accessed 8 July 2006).
Kistemaker, S. J. 1987, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and of the Epistle of Jude, Evangelical Press, Welwyn, Hertfordshire.
Rosemond, J. 2001, John’s Weekly Column, December 2, ‘Unearned praise leads to Mediocrity’, Available from: http://www.rosemond.com/ [cited 8 December 2001].
Simon and Garfunkel n.d., “I am a rock,” LyricsFreak “S”, Available from: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/s/simon+and+garfunkel/i+am+a+rock_20124809.html [cited 8 July 2006].
Copyright (c) 2007 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 October 2015.