During a panel discussion at a pastor’s conference, a well-known pastor was asked what he had done to build his church. The questioner wanted him to share insights into successful church growth. The pastor claimed he had done nothing to build his church. Surprised by the answer, the questioner pressed the pastor to say more. With such a large and prominent church, surely the pastor had done something to build it up. The pastor held his ground. He had done nothing to build up the church. “I didn’t know that was my job,” he added. “I thought it was Jesus’ job to build the church.”
The church does not grow by anything pastors or members do. The Lord builds the church. Matthew 16:18 says, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus did not say, “I will build your church.” And Jesus did not say, “You will build my church.” The church belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone builds the church.
How does the Lord build the church? 1 Peter 2:4-5 answers: “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Christians scattered throughout the Roman Provence of Asia Minor faced growing religious intolerance. It would soon become genocidal persecution when the emperor, Nero, determined to cancel Christianity from the Roman Empire. The Apostle Peter wrote this letter to call the church to live in hope in a hostile society.
1 Peter 2:4-10 marks a transition from the conduct of the saints to the communion of the saints. It is also a transition from practical exhortations to doctrinal explanation. This section explains the nature and function of the church. It begins with a statement about how the Lord builds the church.
1 Peter 2:1-3 commands Christians to grow up by changing their ways and attitudes. The basis of Christian maturity is that we are a part of the church the Lord is building up for his glory. You need to grow up! You cannot grow up by yourself. You become a mature Christian as a part of the church the Lord builds. 1 Peter 2:4-5 teaches two foundational truths about how the Lord builds the church.
The Process by Which the Lord builds the Church
The process by which the Lord builds the church is stated in verse 4: “As you come to him.” This little word, “come,” is simple yet significant.
- The work of Christian discipleship is stated in one word: “Go.”
- The life of Christian discipleship is stated in one word: “Follow.”
- The start of Christian discipleship is stated in one word: “Come.”
When I was a boy, the same invitation song was sung in Sunday school each week: “Come to Jesus.”This is how lost people are saved. Matthew 11:28 says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” John 6:35 says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Hebrews 7:25 says, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”
You must come to Jesus to be saved. But when Peter speaks of coming to him here, it is not a call to salvation. 1 Peter 1:1 describes the recipients of this letter as “elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” In 1 Peter 2:3, Peter assumes his readers have “tasted that the Lord is good.” Verse 4 is a call to communion, not a call to conversion.
This is how the Lord builds the church: “As you come to him.” Him refers to verse 3: “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” To be saved is to taste the goodness of the Lord. This saving taste of divine goodness increases your spiritual appetite.
How do we enjoy more of the Lord’s goodness? Verse 4 says: “As you come to him.” Everett Harrison notes: “No other faith can claim a living founder who has passed through death and has risen to a triumphant station at God’s right hand there to be continually available to the immediate fellowship of each one who trusts Him.”
- Sinners are nothing without Christ.
- Saints are less than nothing without Christ.
We come to him for all we need. Verse 4 calls Christ “a living stone.” A living stone is a building stone. Ancient buildings were stone buildings. Construction began by cutting a cornerstone. The rest of the stones were then cut to align with the cornerstone. The proof that Christ is the cornerstone of God’s eternal plan of redemption is the fact that he is a living stone. A dead stone makes perfect sense. A living stone is a paradox. Christ is the living stone because of his resurrection from the dead. Romans 6:9 says, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” Jesus is a stone that has life, is life, and gives life.
Isaiah 55:8 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” Man and God’s clashing perspective are most evident when it comes to Christ.
The human perspective of Christ. Verse 4 calls Jesus “a living stone rejected by men.” “Rejected”means “disapproval after testing.”
- It is one thing to be rejected without consideration.
- It is another thing to be rejected after due process.
Israel spurned the messianic claims of Christ. The ministry of Jesus fully validated his true identity. Yet John 1:11 says: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” In Acts 2:23, Peter declared, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Jesus was the living stone that was rejected by men. Verses 6-8 explain: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builds rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”
The divine perspective of Christ. Verse 4 describes Christ as “a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious.” This verse reports two views of Christ. These two views are not equal. Men reject Christ. But the human verdict about Christ is overturned by the supreme court of divine authority. In the sight of God, Christ is chosen and precious. “Chosen” stands in direct contrast to “rejected.” The stone was cut to fit the building. It was delivered to the construction site. The builders rejected it, concluding it would not fit the structure. But the rejected stone chosen by the architect was foundational to his building. God chose Christ. And God has chosen us in Christ. Likewise, Christ is “precious” in the sight of God. He is greatly honored, highly prized, and extremely valuable.
- The resurrection of Christ proves he is chosen by God.
- The exaltation of Christ proves he is precious to God.
In Matthew 3:17, God the Father eulogized Jesus at his baptism: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” How are things between you and the Lord Jesus Christ? Do not reject him! Choose him as your Savior and Lord! Honor him as more precious than anything!
The Purpose for Which the Lord Builds the Church
Construction workers arrive at a worksite with different blueprints. The workers are sincere, capable, and diligent. Yet there is an inevitable lack of unity, success, or fulfillment because you cannot build together with conflicting blueprints. In too many instances, this is the way it is in the church. It is not the way the church should be.
- The Lord owns the church.
- The Lord builds the church.
- The Lord runs the church.
In verse 5, Peter uses two metaphors to describe the purpose of the church.
Christians are living stones. Verse 5 declares: “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house.” The Lord Jesus Christ is the living stone. Christians derive life from him. Through faith in the risen Savior, we become living stones. The life of Christ is the life of the church. Colossians 3:3-4 says, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
This is the transforming grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is a living stone that reproduces himself in those who believe in him. You are living stones in Christ. Christianity is not an Old Adam Improvement Society. If you are what you have always been, you are not a Christian. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Christians are living stones. This is the only place in the New Testament that describes Christians this way.
- It is a statement about our relationship with Christ.
- It is a statement about our relationship with the church.
Verse 5 says: “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house.” Living stones are not loose stones lying around separately. Living stones are built on the living stone with other living stones to build a house. Why the church? Peter says it is impossible to fulfill God’s purpose for your life as a Christian outside of the communion of the saints.
C.E.B. Cranfield said it well: “The Scriptures know nothing of an individual piety that is out of touch with the living body of God’s people.” You are not being built on the living stone if you are not being built with other living stones.
The Lord is not building just away house. It is a spiritual house for divine habitation. Church buildings often have signs to identify them as church buildings. But the church is not a building. It is the people of God in Christ. The church is not where you go. It is what you are. You were made a living stone by the living stone to be connected to other living stones to build a house for God.
Ephesians 2:19-22 says: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God build on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” The Lord indwells every believer. This personal gift is for the corporate benefit. We are living stones that are being built up into a spiritual house for God’s glory.
Christians are a holy priesthood. In the middle of verse 5, Peter shifts metaphors. We are living stones being built up as a spiritual house. Then we are a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices to God. The church is the stones that erect the temple and the priest that serve in it. D. Edmond Hiebert commented: “The spiritual reality strains the resources of language.”
Verse 5 is one of two places in the New Testament where Christians are called a “priesthood.” The other place is 1 Peter 2:9. In the Old Testament, the priesthood consisted of consecrated men. The New Testament teaches the priesthood of all believers. Every believer is a priest before God for himself and every other believer.
Priests have access to God. The worship of the Israelites was mediated through the priesthood. Only the anointed priests had direct access to God. The Lord Jesus Christ is our Mediator. 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
Unbelievers have no access to God. Ephesians 2:12 says: “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” But through the blood and righteousness of Chris, we have a new standing before God. Romans 5:2 says: “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.”
Priesthood is not only about spiritual access; it is also about spiritual duty. Verse 5 says: “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Spiritual sacrifices are not animal sacrifices. They are not sacrifices offered to secure forgiveness of sin. Only one sacrifice provides salvation. Hebrews 9:27-28 says: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
We do not need priests to offer sacrifices for sin for us. We are a holy priesthood that offers spiritual sacrifices because of what God has done for us in Christ. 1 Peter 2:9-10 says: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies 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.”
What spiritual sacrifices do we offer? Romans 12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Before God wants your time, talent, or treasures, God wants you!
A sacrifice is meaningless if it is not acceptable to God. Our spiritual sacrifices are only acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. It must be through Christ, for Christ, and about Christ. Hebrews 13:15 says: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”