But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. – 1 Peter 2:9-12
Just today I learned that a Christian leader whom I greatly respect in many ways had fallen. At least he had resigned a number of months earlier than he had planned to. (If you want to read a brief account of that, click here.) I do not believe he fell from faith. In fact his statement indicates a repentant heart and a clear desire for the good of the church. This is still a very sad story, and a sobering reminder to us all: Be careful if we think we stand, lest we fall.
Peter speaks here of a greater lesson that can be learned from those who stumble or abandon their faith because they reject the cornerstone of faith. A cornerstone in Peter’s day was more than a decoration on the side of a building. It literally defined the building. All measurements were taken from it; it was the reference point for the entire building. Have a faulty cornerstone, you’ll have a faulty building. Reject the perfect cornerstone and you’ll have an inferior building.
Sadly, Jesus’ own people stumbled over him. They completely rejected him. They sought to build an earthly kingdom rather than an eternal one. So complete was their rejection that they had run the followers of Jesus out of the territory. Peter writes to the “elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” They are not in Jerusalem anymore – thanks to the builders who had not only rejected Christ but scattered his followers far and wide. They had made a grave mistake.
Those who were followers of Jesus, the elect, were not like them. They were the chosen nation, the people of God, the royal priesthood, chosen by God to declare his glory.
It is difficult for us today to recognize our fellowship with those 1st century Christians. We have not been scattered for our confession of Christ. We have not been rejected by our own faith community. But we, like they, are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people. We are to declare the glory of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. Whenever we conduct ourselves in a godly manner – against the grain of temptation and ungodliness – we place ourselves in a position to offer witness to God’s goodness, and thereby glorify him.
One more important thought bears expressing: This is written to and applicable to all of Jesus’ followers. There was no clerical hierarchy in Peter’s day; though there were certainly elders and pastors who had significant leadership and soul-care responsibilities. This passage is used by wise followers of Jesus to shape our understanding of the Priesthood of all Believers. All of us may bear witness to Jesus. All of us may glorify God. All of us have access to God through the cornerstone of our faith and the Church: Jesus Christ our Lord.