Metaphors motivate. Metaphors are memorable. Metaphors helps us talk and live (George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By). The Bible is full of metaphors, and many metaphors are used to describe God’s people. Years ago Paul Minear traced the many images of the church in the New Testament (Images of the Church in the New Testament). He found over 90.
In chapter one Peter called Christian exiles to live in hope (1:3-12), live in holiness (vv. 13-21), and live in love (vv. 22-25). In chapter two Peter moved from mandate to metaphor. He called the exiles to live like newborn babies, to live like living stones, and to be God’s special possession.
1 Peter 2:1-3
The word for babies in this passage is the normal word for infant. That metaphor is not always used positively in the New Testament. Remaining on milk means that Christians are not maturing (Hebrews 5:11–6:8). Remaining in spiritual infancy means that Christians are susceptible to false doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). But this passage used the metaphor positively by likening our growth in Christ to a craving for (longing for; desiring earnestly) spiritual (logical; reasonable) milk.
The purity of this picture is retained by putting away five sins. Believers are more likely to crave pure spiritual milk if they rid themselves of malice (badness), deceit (guile), hypocrisy (play acting), envy (jealousy; pain when good is viewed), and slander (bad speech). When believers crave spiritual milk they will grow up in their salvation (i.e. mature in Christ) and they will experience (taste) that the Lord is good (kind). This last phrase draws upon Psalm 34:8 and is used to describe what coming into Christ is like in Hebrews 6:4.
1 Peter 2:4-8
This is the largest section of our text (and thus the emphasis for the lesson title). “Stones” has to be plural because there are two stones described here. One is Jesus, and one is collectively spoken of as God’s people (i.e. the church).
Jesus is called a living stone. Stones do not live, but by virtue of his indestructible life, this stone does. Believers are told to come to him. His rejection by men, his election by God, and his preciousness and significance for the Father’s purposes are all underlined here. God laid (placed) this living stone down in Zion (a word with many nuances meaning everything from God’s people to the temple to Jerusalem, etc.) as a cornerstone (foundation stone, verse 6) and a capstone (the normal word for head is used in the reference in verse 7). In other words, this stone is the top and bottom of it all. So profound is Jesus the living stone that people will stumble over him (i.e. his exclusivity will cause people to decide against him) and be a rock (huge boulder) that makes people fall (feel scandalized because they do not accept the power of the cross, 1 Corinthians 1:21). The reason that these people fall over the rock is because they do not believe and they disobey his message (word).
If Jesus is the rock, the church is little stones. But because Jesus lives, the church also lives as living stones. Peter says three things about these “little Christs” (Martin Luther’s phrase to describe Christians). First, they are being built into a spiritual house (i.e. firmly planted in the church). Second, they are a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices (i.e. they officiate for God in the world). Third, they are never put to shame (i.e. they are honored by the one whose voice really matters). To underline these truths Peter drew upon rich Old Testament passages (e.g. Isaiah 28:16; 8:14; Psalm 118:22).
1 Peter 2:9, 10
Babies crave milk. Stones are used in buildings. But property remains a possession. That’s what Peter emphasized in this last metaphor. Drawing upon images from Isaiah and Exodus (particularly chapter 19), Peter reminded these Christian exiles “whose” they were. As God’s property, they were a chosen people (race), a royal (kingly) priesthood, a holy nation (a set apart ethnicity). These were their name tags, their identity, their labels, and their handles.
But with privilege comes purpose. As God’s special possession they had the privilege of declaring the praises (excellencies or surpassing greatness—only appearing here and in Philippians 4:8 and 2 Peter 1:3, 5) of the one who called them (i.e. God). They shifted from darkness to light. They shifted from being wandering nomads into being the people of God. They shifted from not having received mercy to having received it. Hopefully these metaphors will motivate us to build up the church by offering our lives to God.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.