Epistles: 1 Peter 2 – Special Roles for Special People
Peter has just reminded his readers that humans have only a fleeting glory, but “the word of the Lord stands forever” (1 Peter 1:25). Since only spiritual values last forever, Peter advises us to put away old ways and seek something new:
“Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 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” (2:1-3). We should abandon our old approach to life, and seek from God the strength to live a different way.
Peter said that we have been born again (1:23), and he now builds on that metaphor by saying we should desire spiritual nourishment as eagerly as babies desire milk. Now that we have begun our experience with God, we should want to become more mature.
A special people
Where do we get our spiritual nourishment? We get it by going to Christ: “As you come to him, the living Stone — rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him…” (verse 4). Peter got this metaphor from Jesus himself, and in verse 7 he quotes Isaiah 8:14, as Jesus did (Matthew 21:42).
Peter adds to the metaphor. Since Jesus is the living Stone, believers are “like living stones…being built into a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5). But he quickly switches to another metaphor, saying that the believers are becoming “a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (verse 5). This supports the doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers.” Every Christian has access to God through Christ, our mediator.
Peter now gives biblical support for the concept of Christ as a living stone. In verse 6 he quotes Isaiah 28:16: “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.” Jesus is the cornerstone, and those who trust in him will never be condemned (Romans 8:1).
To believers, “this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, ‘the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’” (1 Peter 2:7, quoting Psalm 118:22). Although God chose Jesus as the cornerstone, most people rejected him.
Peter also quotes Isaiah 8:14: “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” Christ continues to be a cause of offense, a Savior who is rejected — and it should be no surprise that some people reject and persecute his followers.
The people who reject Christ “stumble because they disobey the message — which is also what they were destined for” (1 Peter 2:8). Just as the readers were chosen for obedience (1:2), God also planned for some to disobey. But their resistance is not necessarily permanent — Peter holds out hope in 2:12 that some will be converted. Words such as “destined” do not always indicate eternal results.
In contrast, believers “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (verse 9). Peter gives to the church titles that God once gave Israel (Exodus 19:6) — the highest titles existing in that society. We are chosen to praise God. This refers to worship, but in context, it most likely refers also to evangelism. The God who rescues us from darkness offers the same rescue to others.
“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” (1 Peter 2:10, quoting Hosea 2:23). Just as we received mercy, others can as well.
How then should we live?
Since we are a special people, with a special role, we are also called to have a different way of life. Peter gives another exhortation, reminding readers of their social status: “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (verse 11). Sinful desires are an enemy of spiritual health, but they can be resisted.
One goal of good behavior is to put the gospel in a good light: “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” (verse 12; see also Titus 2:8; 1 Timothy 6:1). Whether for good or for bad, the message is often judged by the behavior of the messengers.
As part of good behavior, Christ wants us to be law-abiding citizens: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13-14; cf. Romans 13:1-7). Peter is giving general advice, not an absolute rule. If rulers command a sin, we should not obey.
“For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people” (verse 15). God wants us to respond to persecution with good behavior, not rebellion. Let our faith be seen as harmless.
We are free in Christ, “but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves” (verse 16). Grace is not permission to be selfish (Galatians 5:13). We are not slaves of society and are not obligated to follow its customs. Rather, we should obey God, and he wants us to “show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor” (verse 17).
Advice to slaves
Just as Peter advised citizens to submit to government officials, he also advised slaves: “Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh” (verse 18).
Peter does not want anyone to think that the gospel is a disguise for slave rebellion. Centuries later, however, the opposite need arose. As societies change, Christians need to discern when to adapt and when to resist.
“For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God” (verses 19-20). God takes note of our suffering, and he will compensate us for it.
Unjust suffering is nothing new, and should not be too much of a surprise. “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ [Isaiah 53:9] When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21-23).
Jesus shows us that if we suffer unjustly, we should not retaliate or make threats. Rather, we are to trust in God. However, the example Jesus set is also that when other people are suffering, we try to do something about it.
Peter then digresses with comments about Jesus, quoting phrases from Isaiah 53:4-6: “‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’ For ‘you were like sheep going astray,’ but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25).
Our sins were placed on Jesus, and our mortal wounds were healed by his unjust suffering. The purpose was that we would turn away from sin and live in a right way. Once we were cut off from God by our sins. But due to his mercy, we have been restored. That was the healing that we needed most of all.
Things to think about
- What steps am I taking to pursue spiritual growth? (verse 1)
- In what ways do I declare God’s praises? (verse 9)
- Is the “respect” we show in our culture different from the “respect” shown in the Roman Empire? (verse 13)
- How is modern employment different from ancient slavery? Does it make a difference in the way that I submit? (verse 18)
- If suffering is commendable, should we try to avoid it? (verse 20)
Author: Michael Morrison, 2005, 2011