When Christ saves us, he doesn’t save us and then leave us alone. He brings us into his family. He makes us part of his church. This new community has a unique identity, function and purpose all of its own.
Spurgeon once called the church, “The dearest place on earth.” You might be thinking, “I wonder what church was he talking about?” Your experience of the local church has been anything but dear or sweet. You’ve been burned. You’ve been hurt.
I get that. I understand that. That’s because the church is made up of sinners. And sinners sin – they hurt other people. But if we only view the church its faults, we’re going to give it up and not want to come back. We need to see it the way God sees it.
The Apostle Peter gives us a beautiful picture of the church in 1 Peter, chapter 2:
“And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (verses 4–5)
Picture a building – a house. But it’s not a physical house; it’s a spiritual house. There are stones that make up the building, and one of those stones is very important; it’s foundational. And in this house are a whole lot of priests offering up sacrifices. So where did Peter get this imagery from? Answer: The Old Testament priesthood.
But it’s all been changed. It’s become obsolete. It was only a shadow of what was to come. God has replaced it with something entirely new. And what was the first thing he did? He put down the cornerstone. That controls everything. It sets the building square. If the cornerstone is off, so is the whole building. What was the cornerstone God put down? Jesus Christ.
Jesus is God’s chosen cornerstone for the new temple – the people of God. He was rejected by men – specifically the builders (verse 7). Who are they? The spiritual leaders of Israel. They looked Jesus over; they did their examination, but he didn’t measure up. So they cast him aside as useless. They crucified him. They put him to death. And what does God do in response? He raised Jesus back up. And He placed him down as the cornerstone upon which he will build his new community – men and women from every tribe, nation and language who have been brought from death to life.
Now stay with me here – Peter says in verse 4, “and coming to Him, a living stone…” Who’s the living stone? Jesus. He is the resurrection and the life. He has the power to impart life. Then Peter says, “you yourselves as living stones…” This is precious. A stone, sitting alone is lifeless. But when it’s put in proximity to THE living stone, it comes to life. And when all these living stones are put together, they become the living temple of God.
Do you see the implications of this? If you are a Christian, you belong to a spiritual building, and that building is the church. You are one of those living stones. God has cut and shaped you for a specific purpose. There is a place for you that no other “stone” can take. And what is that special purpose? Peter tells us there in verse 5:
“…you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Now, according to the book of Hebrews, we don’t need a priesthood; Jesus has fulfilled that role. We don’t make sacrifice for our sin anymore. The sacrifice once and for all was paid for on the cross of Christ. We don’t need anyone mediating between us and God. Jesus is our mediator.
So, when Peter uses the term “priesthood”, he cannot be talking about the unique role given to Jesus. He’s talking about our ministry to God and to one another. He’s talking about our service. Each and every one of us has received a spiritual gift and that gift is to be used in some way to build up other believers. That’s your priestly ministry. That’s your sacrifice. But we have another function as well – look at verse 9:
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
You’re a priest in the temple in the sense that you offer up yourself for ministry in the body of Christ. Your sacrificial service builds up others and honours God. But you also have a priestly role outside the temple. You are to proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. You are to tell people about God. You are to tell them how wonderful and loving and kind and generous and gracious and awesome he is. You are to tell them the great things he done for you – he has redeemed you, forgiven you, and raised you to new life. You are to tell them that they can know this God too.
This new community we are part of – this spiritual house, is no ordinary community. It is a picture of gospel-transformation. When the world sees us relating to each other; when they see how we treat one another, serve one another and care for one another, they see gospel transformation in action. And yes, sometimes it’s going to get messy. Because real life is messy – right? And we don’t like our failures and weaknesses being exposed.
I had some of my failures and weaknesses exposed in an elders meeting a few weeks back. It was getting near the end of the meeting; we’d covered some tough issues. And then, completely out of the blue, one of the elders questions the validity of something I was doing. I thought to myself, he’s questioning what I’m doing. Who does he think he is? He must be an idiot. And then the guy next to him actually agrees with this and then adds his two cents in. Oh, how about that – we actually have two idiots in our midst. And then someone from across the table says, “Well in the bible, we see they didn’t do that.” Now someone is quoting Scripture at me. That’s three. The conversation goes on and I get so frustrated I can’t even pray. I mean, I’m in a real bad way. Community gets messy. Community is confronting.
I woke up the next morning and I know I have to do business with God. And the Lord says to me, “Who’s in charge here? Whose church is this? Do you think it’s your church? Do you think it’s all about you? Who raised you up? Who put you where you are?” I melted. I said, “Lord, forgive me. My heart is so full of pride.” I wrote to the elders that day and confessed my pride. I said God called me to serve you and I acted like a tyrant. I asked them to forgive me.
Now if that hadn’t happened; if we had an eldership where no one questioned anything and everyone just kept the peace, that would never get addressed. My sin would never have been exposed. But it did get exposed. And it was for my good, and for the good of our church. God is in the process of reshaping me. If you are a living stone, he’s reshaping you. But he can’t reshape us while we are in self-protective mode. He needs us rubbing up against other stones.
The good news of the gospel is God fully knows us – even in our darkest moments; yet he loves us more than we can ever imagine. So that means we don’t have to put on a façade; we can be our real selves. If am truly accepted by Jesus, I don’t have to put on a show for others approval.
Community can be tough and it can get pretty messy. But with God in control, and his grace always active, we can’t really lose – can we?
Note: this post is based on a message I preached called “The Gospel in Community.” It the third part of a series which unveils our new mission and vision at Grace Church. You can listen to it on our website here.