Guarded Christian Living: A Strong Faith at the Right Time
1 Peter 2:1-8
Turn to 1 Peter 2. Likely one of our greatest challenges in life is that of getting along with people. Sometimes when you go for a job interview a question is asked, what are your people skills? Any of you who have been in some kind of retail or customer service know that much of your job is often trying to keep people happy. When I was first married, I was a produce manager in Stratford. And I would go in at 6 am and get the counters aced for 8 am when the store opened. And people would come in a mess everything up. People! You know the customers who would skim through the leaf lettuce or those who would pull the bananas apart. That is some of you! Well in our passage this AM Peter is going to focus on relationships, as well as make a dividing line in regards to salvation. And if you have the sermon notes this morning to help us with this I have tried to show this dividing line, as Peter will address first, believers, which I have called new believers; and maturing believers; and then the non-believer. So let us a first look at what I have called the new believer.
“Therefore, laying aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”
1 Pet 2:1-3 (LSB)
- The New Believer
Notice Peter’s address is to the somewhat “corporate” responsibility of Christians in their relationship with one another, and I believe we see a little use of little sarcasm. Verse 3, “if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” In other words, he says, Christian don’t act like this, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord, and obviously you have. I mean we might do this with our kids. “You might want to clean up your room,” or “be on time getting ready for church,” if you have appreciated your Mom’s good supper she gave you last night. But I also notice a little caution here in Peter’s words, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. In other words, it might be good to think through your salvation, to make sure that you actually have tasted the kindness of the Lord. For Peter does not pull any punches in his two books. Turn to 2 Peter 1:10:
“Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and choosing sure.”
2 Pet 1:10a (LSB)
In other words, be certain that you are saved. For there would be many in Peter’s day who claimed to know Christ, yet who fell away. And there are many today who have made some kind of acknowledgment of Christ, yet have walked away from the Lord. Now these are not people who have been saved and lost their salvation. No, these are people who have made a claim for Christ, but it has proven over time to be a false claim.
So Peter begins with a negative challenge by addressing (vs 1), what to lay aside. And notice these are all in connection with “relationships.” He begins by saying to lay aside all malice, a word that also carries with it the idea of wickedness or evil intent against others, a desiring for someone’s hurt, an unwillingness to forgive, or holding a grudge against someone. Then deceit, meaning to deal dishonestly with someone, not giving all the facts, finding out that what someone said was not entirely true, being deceptive. Then hypocrisy. This can be described as an actor with a mask. Not allowing others to know the real person you are. Pretending to be something better than you are. Secret behavior that does not align with what a person actually claims to be or claims to believe. Next, envy. Resentment of others, bitterness. A person’s relationships often lead to conflict and grudges. This person’s friendships usually do not last too long. Finally, slander, gossip, backbiting. Purposely trying to make someone else look bad or worse than they are, trying to downplay the character of someone else
And all these characteristics: malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander; are all ways of elevating self over others and expecting much of others, while giving yourself much grace. If we saw these characteristics in a little child, we would be quick to say that child needs to grow up. So again, Peter concludes this thought with this understanding, that the person who can resist such negative behavior, is the person who has truly known, understood, experienced, tasted what? The kindness of the Lord. That among the real hardships of Christianity, knowing, the kindness of the Lord, allows us relationally to live well with others.
Now the other command, a positive one, which Peter gives here to the new believer is in verse 2:
“like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”
To long for the milk of the word. We know that newborn babies cannot go too long without milk, they cannot be away from Mom for very long. That word “long” emphasizes the idea of desiring or deeply longing after. We might say a thirst for the Word of God. Now we do not experience thirst to the degree of our ancestors, yet when camping at the Pinery, sometimes you walk across those hot sand dunes you get just a small taste of this. Sometimes on those really warm days those dunes can get so hot. My brother-in-law and I used to have a “hot sand contest,” not that I am competitive or anything, and we competed to see who could walk on the hot sand the longest in bare feet. Of course, we have matured since then. But can you imagine, say, the children of Israel traveling through the desert, hot sand, dry air, with absolutely no moisture, and then coming across a freshwater spring? It would be all you could think of. And this is to be our thirst for both God and His Word, a thirst that becomes evident to those we live with. David, who knew times of great thirst, as we know from some of his adventures running from Saul wrote:
“O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land without water.
Ps 63:1 (LSB)
Christian, here is the necessity of anyone in ministry who reads the Word of God, who memorizes the Word of God, who desires to teach their children the Word of God, who desires to teach a Sunday School class the Word of God, or the one who desires to preach the Word of God, to long for the pure milk of the Word. Important that pastors study and prepare each Sunday, that they are well informed and have been taught well. But Peter reminds us here of the primary starting point, they need to be teachers who themselves, “long for the pure milk of the Word.” Moms and Dads, we can teach our children the intellectual truth of the Bible, the stories, the facts, only if we know them. Therefore, we must know God’s word, and the better we know the Word of God, the better we can teach the Word of God. Yet, we can only teach our children the inspiration of the Bible, the depth of God’s Word, the complete necessity of the Scriptures, if we ourselves long for the pure milk of the Word.
This instruction too is tied together with vs 3, “if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord,” as there is such a connection of passion for the Word of God with those who also are well aware of the goodness of God. Because there is a great chasm between the so-called Christian who knows the truth of the Bible; with the Christian who knows the truth of God’s Word, while at the same time longs for the pure milk of the Word, and lives with a joy because of an awareness of the goodness of God. And this often does not have anything to do with “success,” for it is sometimes those who have found themselves in the most difficult of circumstances that cling so much to the Word of God, as well as rejoice in His kindness. What the new believer must lay aside and what he must long for?
Secondly, Peter addresses the maturing believer:
“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. For this is contained in Scripture: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, And he who believes upon Him will not be put to shame.’ This precious value, then, is for you who believe.”
1 Pet 2:4-7a (LSB)
Interesting that Peter uses the term “coming to Him.” This would signify the person who has given his heart and life to Jesus Christ. We might use the terminology of trusting Christ as my Saviour and Lord. Another biblical term would be found in John 1:12, “But as many as ‘received’ Him.” It is important for us to understand that we as Christians have responded to the call of Christ and that we have come to Christ. For what did Jesus say in a sermon regarding coming to Him, that whoever puts his hand to the plow does not look back. When I was in my late twenties, I had a job opportunity in a management position in Cambridge. My boss recommended me to his boss. When I first started, I was staying in an apartment while Anne and our four little guys were home in Chatham. After a few days I realized that I did not want to stay and I remember calling Anne, somewhat beside myself. Well to make a long story short, I was able to get in contact with my old boss, and he said he would be glad to have me back. That was a hard decision for him because his boss was not very happy. Well years later, now in my mid-forties, I have been accepted to begin full-time ministry up in Blind River, I can still remember as I was driving up alone to start work leaving Chatham, having some second thoughts. And I kept saying to myself, Mark, you are not turning back. My former experience taught me this.
This is what we are doing when we come to Christ. We have decided something that we are not going to change our minds, we are not even going to look back. This is the importance of believer’s baptism because basically, it declares to a group of people that I have decided to follow Jesus, and there is no turning back. And what is turning back for the Christian? Well, it could be completely denying one’s faith. Looking back could be anything that does not align with my determination to follow Christ. Young person, Christian adult, whenever you compromise your faith, you are actually looking back on your decision to follow Christ. Yet the Christian has chosen to step out from the crowd and has chosen to follow Jesus Christ.
Now our passage here says that we come to Him as a living stone. And the analogy of the living stone is that Christ has become the cornerstone of the church. In fact, to make it even more forceful here, a living corner stone. So this reminds us that Christ is both the Head of the church, the Corner Stone; as well that Christ is the resurrection and the life, the living Corner stone. And we see here the conflict of those coming to this Living Stone. One, while they will be precious in the sight of God (vs 4), yet two, they will be rejected by men (vs 4). And the more I view the Christian landscape in the western culture, I believe that one of the greatest challenges for us in the coming days will be that of rejection, because (vs 4) they reject Christ, therefore they will reject the followers of Christ.
For we have passed a time when the Christian view when spoken is rarely accepted. We are at a time when the Christian view when spoken is not be heard today. But we are entering a time when the Christian view will not even be allowed to be spoken! So to grow and mature in my faith, I need to crave the blessing of God more than the blessing of man. In other words, I must be convinced that standing for Christ will ultimately be better for me. Are you convinced of that? Because that will not be easy, but that is the battle, In other words, when I make choices, when I determine which direction I am going to go, am I going to choose the praise of God or the praise of man?
And what is making this so hard is that this is not just going against the “bad guy,” but it is now going against the mainstream culture. It is not just going against the “wrong,” it is now going against the “right,” or at least what the culture is saying is right. And when we go against the culture, we are going to be rejected with yes, by those who are obviously wrong, we know that, because it is so black and white, that’s the easy part. But we are also going to be rejected by those who appear to everyone else to be good and right and kind and caring. So that is the risk in serving Christ, as we will find ourselves more and more on the outside looking in on society, and we will become less and less understood. Our arguments that might have had some bearing in the past, will no longer have any kind of sway. And more and more, we will be made to look somehow less loving, and less kind, and that we are just plain wrong, and that will eventually cost us.
But, if we do continue to follow Christ, and don’t just take my word for it, but listen to what Peter says, (vs 4) “we are precious in the sight of God, (vs 6) “you will not be put to shame,” and (vs 7) “a precious value to God.’ Do you believe that young person? That by believing in Jesus, that by standing up for Christ, you will not be put to shame. The world will try to shame you, absolutely, but not God, who will be the Cornerstone of your life both for now and in eternity. This reminds me of a verse you all know, Matthew 25:33, “well done, good and faithful” … servant? No, well done, good and faithful slave (doûlos). Well done, for you are willing to face the rejection of men. Well done, for desiring the approval of God more than the praise of man. Not because you were stubborn, not because you have a dislike for unbelievers, no, well done, for you were willing to face the rejection of men, because you are a slave of Christ, well done. Well done, when temptation comes your way, and you chose to be obedient, well done. Well done, when the kids at school say one thing or the guys at work say this or that, and you lovingly disagree because the Bible says something else, well done. You struggled with some doubts in your faith, but you persevered, well done.
Because as a Christian, you are therefore part of the spiritual house in which Christ is the Cornerstone, and as Christ is a Living Stone, you too have become living stones. “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in Me will [also] live.” So this becomes our heart, doesn’t it? That we would be growing, maturing believers. Because there will be much that will want to come against you. For sin will want to steal that well done from you. The world system will come after you to take away that well done. And Satan will do everything he can to cancel that well done.
And remember Peter is focusing much in this passage about relationship. And therefore, he grabs a hold of this team concept: living stone[s], spiritual house, and spiritual sacrifices. So, because of this focus on community, it is my responsibility to live a committed life for your sake. And you need to live a committed life for the sake of your children, family, fellow workers, and neighbours. We all need to live committed lives for the sake of each other, as I am responsible for you and you are responsible for me. For all of us are living stones, we are all part of a spiritual house, as the thrust of Peter’s message is that you and I have been specifically chosen by the Lord Himself to be part of a spiritual house, a church congregation that represents Christ to the world.
Because look at the contrast here:
“but for those who disbelieve, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, This became the very corner stone,’ and, ‘A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this stumbling they were also appointed.”
- Pet 2:7b-8 (LSB)
Do you see this believer? Do you see this young person? There are two sides here. Yes, there is the “he” who believes upon Him side. But, there is the “he” who is the rejecting side. Peter, is there no group somewhere in-between? Is there not room for a so-called “Christian” that sort of stumbles along with a foot in each side? Apparently not. I purposely highlighted in your notes the starting point, the newborn babies in baby blue. I had to choose between pink and blue, but the last two new babies here have been boys. And in my family, our grandkids, the girls were ahead 8-5. But it is now 8-7, as the boys are now making a comeback! And then in the white, those who believe, what we have called the maturing believer. Yet look at the middle of vs 7, he writes, “but.” There are also those who are disobedient. That is why when I first took this passage, it struck me as such a black and white passage.
This emphasizes the Old Testament verse, “choose you this day whom you will serve?” In other words, which side are you on? The believing obedient white side, or the unbelieving disobedient black side? And I am not preaching some kind of Christian perfectionism here. No, but this is a decision of whom I will serve. This is the Christian that when he disobeys, when he sins, quickly comes before the Lord and asks Him for His forgiveness. Remember, this is Peter writing, who upon denying His Lord, wept bitterly. Though he sinned, there was no question in Peter’s heart of whom he served. So verses 7b-8 describe the non believer, as we see here the state of the non-believer. He has rejected the Corner stone, he has rejected Christ. It says here that Christ has become a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense. There is a wall that is being built between the unbelieving world and the believing world, when normal rational thinking is being rejected. I said in our men’s study the other day, is there such a thing as a level-headed thinking non-Christian? That he would see the wisdom of the Bible? Is there? Well there doesn’t seem to be. And someone else in the group responded that we are beginning to see the truth of Romans 1, where God has begun the process of “giving them over” so that they are unable to see. Therefore, may we not underestimate the blindness which is being placed our society.
Do we still need to make rational arguments for the Bible and Christianity? Certainly, we do. But even if our argument is perfectly articulated, and makes complete sense, can the non-believer accept that argument if he is blinded? No. So what can we do for the blind? The unbeliever? Besides to give them the truth and to live the life before them? Pray, pray, “Lord, would You take away their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh? Lord, would You drop the scales from their eyes, so that they are able to know and understand the truth of the gospel.” And we need to love them, and pray for them, and have compassion for them. As Paul wrote, that we would:
“… not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may give them repentance leading to the full knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”
2 Tim 2:24-26 (LSB)
Look at the end of verse 8:
“They stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this stumbling they were also appointed.”
One group, those who are chosen, those who are precious in the sight of God. The second group, those who are appointed to stumble. Two groups, black and white, for this is what the Bible teaches.
Well let me leave you with some closing thoughts regarding our responsibility in this.
One, the RESPONSIBILITY to put away. There is a great responsibility on our part through the work of the Holy Spirit to put away the sins of the heart, the anger, the bitterness, the dislike, the impure thoughts. The Apostle Paul also spoke about wrath, anger, malice, slander, and abusive speech, and said, Christian, you need to consider these things as dead.
Two, the RESPONSIBILITY to desire God’s Word. Know that our influence is not only a knowledge of the Word, but that the truth of God’s Word must become our daily thirst and passionate desire. That its truth would both draw us to tears, and would draw us to rejoicing.
Three, the RESPONSIBILITY of being chosen. Chosen before the foundation of the world among millions of people, to serve JC and be part of the mission, the spiritual house. He has called us to be part of.
Four, being chosen or appointed does not negate RESPONSIBILITY. Understanding that some are chosen and some are not. However, though beyond our human understanding, this still means that from my perspective, I must surrender my life to Christ. And those who are appointed to stumble, it still means that they are completely responsible for their rejection of Christ.
Finally, the RESPONSIBILITY to pray for the lost. That we would have a heart that would plead with God for the unsaved. Some have called this the “power of prayer.” But, as Rick Baker said, there is no power in prayer, because Muslims pray. But there is power in the true God we pray to. Lord, would You convict the hearts of those who reject the Corner Stone.
Let’s pray. Lord, the Scriptures are clear, the truth has been made known to us, and the dividing line is either those who believe in Christ and those who do not. And those who believe have a great responsibility to live that kind of life, a life that discards wrong character, and embraces the people of God and His ministry. So, may we here at Elim do this well, so that some day when we stand before our great God, You will say, “Well done!” And all God’s people said, amen.