We all know the playground rhyme - "Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people." And equally, we all know, that the church is ultimately not the building but rather the people - the building is just a very useful resource and meeting point. But here in this 2nd chapter of 1 Peter we have the people of God described as the building itself in order to draw out some practical and motivational teaching – God is building His church – the people are the church and we are living stones because we have life abundant and eternal in Christ, the Living Stone; Jesus is the Cornerstone who holds us all together and to whom we must align ourselves because He sets the standard which is most pleasing to God (1 Peter 2:4-7).
Peter, as he writes to these churches scattered through Asia Minor, is concerned that as Christians facing the threat or reality of persecution from the surrounding society, that they understand how they must live but first and foremost, who and what they are: their identity forms the foundation of their purpose and destiny. Y’know if you are a teacher then you know you are supposed to teach; if you are a builder then you know you ought to build; if you are an artist then you know you’d better get on with painting something. Our identity (our understanding and perception of what and who we are) informs what we are about; our purpose.
New life in Christ changes everything!! – not just eternal future salvation but identity and purpose and outlook in the here and now, every day!! Life is different in Christ; different from what it was before, different to what the world expects! It’s not my skin colour or my background or my gender or my job or my surname or the place where I live that ultimately defines me. As a Christian what defines me is God – and my relationship with Him.
As we read on in 1 Peter 2:9-10 and look again at 2:5 to we learn that, unlike a typical house, we are not supposed to stand still; Christ commissions us to be on the move and at work for Him. Jesus is The Rock and we have a role!
In v.5. Peter says, we are “being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood…” Maybe you’ve heard those words a hundred times and more and maybe they don’t excite you or stir up any sense of wonder or excitement within you; but for the Jews in the mix of Peter’s original readers this teaching was a shocker; a game changer; scandalous to any Jew who would reject Jesus as Messiah. Central to the OT people of God was the temple in Jerusalem and the priesthood who served there – that ornate spiritual house and that ancient system of priests were among the most exalted concepts, and traditions of Judaism. Of all the places, throughout the world, the place where God would dwell was in the temple. And the most honoured people amongst God’s people were the priests who had the privilege of serving in the shadow of God’s presence; God’s temple; and standing in His presence.
But that was the Old Testament – in Christ it’s all change – we now have the New Testament. The focus is no longer upon one building in Jerusalem or priests from the ancient tribe of Levi. In Christ Jesus these concepts have been upgraded and transferred over to every single follower of Jesus. The people of God in Christ are now God’s temple; we are now the priesthood (who serve under Jesus our Great High Priest).
One of the implications of us being the temple; this spiritual house is that we don’t need to have a building to meet in, in order to call ourselves a church or to meet with God. As the old hymn goes, “the church is wherever God’s people are praising…” (D’y’know that hymn? – I used to sing it as a boy…)
The church is wherever, God's people are praising, singing God's goodness, for joy on this day. The church is wherever, disciples of Jesus remember his story, and walk in his way.
The church is wherever, God's people are helping, caring for neighbours in sickness and need. The church is wherever God's people are sharing the words of the Bible in gift and in deed.
The Church is wherever God's people are seeking,
to reach out and touch folk wherever they are;
conveying the Gospel, its joy and its comfort,
to challenge, refresh, and excite and inspire.
“wherever…” – scattered all over Hillingdon Borough and beyond through the course of the week; wherever 2 or 3 are gathered; that’s how house groups work, that’s how one on one prayer times work, that’s how evangelism works. We don’t have to meet in a particular building on a particular day of the week to call ourselves the church; because we are the building, the spiritual house – the temple that God the Holy Spirit is dwelling in – He’s in each of us in Christ; isn’t that remarkable. Surely we can’t just shrug our shoulders at that and say, “so what?”
Jesus said, “Go and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:19-20) – actually a correct rendering of the Greek is “as you go…” – as you go …to church? As you go about your business (as the church), as you go about your day, wherever you are …as you go, make disciples … and He will be with you / us!! Does that change how you see your Monday or your Tuesday? - how you view your task in the office or standing on a railway platform, or in the staffroom or as you go round Sainsbury’s? As one saying goes, “Most people put more energy into going to church than to being the church”.
We could look at this another way - what kind of house are we to be? A bungalow, a semi-detached, a cottage? There's talk here of us being a holy and royal priesthood so certainly the temple is in mind. But there is also a sense in which God wants us to be a lighthouse …that shines brightly in the darkness with the light of the Gospel and with the light of God's holiness. This mention of us being a priesthood in v.5, and reiterated in v.9 sounds religious but in practice it isn't really. It isn't anything to do with dusty, mechanical ritual. We don't have to wear ceremonial robes or wear a mitre; we don't need to wave incense about or sit in confessional booths.
The work we do, the services we provide, the attitudes we apply, the choices we make as we go about our daily lives - these are all part of our sacrifice; our offering to God.
We know that nothing we do or say could ever earn us salvation; we're not trying to earn salvation. Salvation is only provided by the grace of God afforded by Christ's death – the ultimate sacrifice!! Our offerings, which we give for the honour of God, are purely an expression of the relationship we now have with Him. Peter frames it like this in v.9, our purpose is to “declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light”.
There’s a Spanish phrase which is used a lot on TV and film: “Mi case es su casa” (my house is your house) - how marvellous it is to be invited to live with God our Creator! To be a part of His house – which is a really grand design – (‘cos it’s His design and it’s for His glory!) What mercy has been poured out upon those who come to Him in Christ. What amazing grace and incredible opportunity: to become all that we can be, to know our place and identity in the world, to serve God our Creator and to tell the world about Him.