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1 Peter 2:1-17

Roger Hahn

The call to holiness of 1 Peter 1:13-25 climaxed with a command to love each other. Verse 23 spoke of the readers being born again or born anew. The context of the command to love each other is the Christian community, the body of Christ, the church. "New borns" are not notorious for their ability to love others and to function well in a community. Thus, the final section of chapter 1 has set the stage for instructions about growth in Christ. 

That growth would move in two dimensions. First, there would be the need for the maturing and spiritual development of individual readers. Second, there would be growth in awareness of the importance of the body of Christ for Christian maturity. So it is not surprising that Peter's concern for instructions on the Christian life continue in the opening verses of chapter 2. His concern is expressed in both the positives and negatives of the Christian life that contribute toward growth. That interest in growth then leads him to a discussion of the church as the people of God in 1 Peter 2:4-10.

The concern for holiness that appeared in chapter 1 continues, but it shifts in focus in 1 Peter 2:11-3:12. The social dimensions of holy living and their implication for the readers increasingly become Peter's main concern. The material in 1 Peter 1:13-2:10 was in the context of Christian community but it was directed primarily toward the relationship of any individual in the community with any other person in the church. The section on social holiness deals with relationships with specific institutions. Peter specifically will deal with relationship with the government, with slave owners, and within marriage.

Avoiding Evil - 1 Peter 2:1-3

First Peter 2:1-3 continues the emphasis on holiness from chapter 1 with both a negative and a positive perspective. Verse 1 describes the negative aspects that must be eliminated if a wholesome community of believers is to develop. Verse 2 then calls for the growth in spirituality that makes verse 1 possible and makes Christian community possible. Most English versions contain a negative command in verse 1 such as "put away" or "rid" and a positive command in verse 2 such as "crave," "long for," or "desire." In this way the two commands seem to be parallel in structure and importance to each other. The Greek text has only one command, that of verse 2. The verb of verse 1 could be translated "after you have rid yourselves" or "by ridding yourselves." This means that the command to long for the pure, spiritual milk is the main idea. Verse 1 is subordinate to it. Peter's goal was spiritual growth. Avoiding worldly attitudes is the requirement or means for being able to grow spiritually.

Verse 1 begins with therefore. The genuine love for each other that he had commanded in chapter 1 could not develop when motives and practices opposite of love continued among the readers. Peter then lists five "love-spoiling vices that Christians must lay aside" (Marshall, p. 62). Malice is the first. It is a general term for badness or wickedness. It both introduces the other four terms and has the specific content of ill will. Such ill will destroys fellowship; the desire to hurt other people cannot be allowed to remain among believers. The word deceit or guile is the deliberate attempt to mislead other people. The Greek word was also used for bait used in fishing or trapping. Peter warns against all or "every kind of deceit." This deals with more than just lying. Any and all attempts to mislead another from the truth undermine our ability to love them and for them to love us.

Hypocrisy, envy, and slander are all plural in the Greek text. The plural is another way of saying every kind of hypocrisy, all expressions of envy, and any form of slander needs to be laid aside. If we harbor any of those attitudes or practices we will find ourselves unable to genuinely love. Our English words hypocrisy and hypocrite are produced by replacing Greek letters with the corresponding English letter. A hypokrite was an actor in Greek. Thus anyone who plays at church and godliness is practicing hypocrisy. That is why some translations use the word "insincerity" or "pretense" to translate the word. Nothing destroys the unity and fellowship of a group quicker than the discovery that one member has been insincerely acting as if he cared and wanted to belong when he really did not.

Envy appears in Romans 1:29 and Galatians 5:21 as characteristic of the sinful motives of Gentiles or people who live according to the flesh. It undermines contentment and eats away at the affirming relationships that are basic to unity and fellowship. The word slander translates a word only used here and in 2 Corinthians 12:20 in the New Testament. It literally means "talking down" or "bad-mouthing." We cannot talk negatively about other people and expect to enjoy Christian fellowship.

Not only do the vices of verse 1 militate against Christian unity and a sense of community, they also prevent growth. All five vices reflect an attitude the opposite of love toward others. Lack of love for others inevitably destroys our ability to love God. Thus spiritual growth requires putting away those evils.

Peter begins his treatment of growth by assuming that his readers are like newborn babies. This comparison arises naturally from his reference to being born anew in 1 Peter 1:23. But it also allows him to make an important point. Not everyone likes to be nourished, but growth requires nourishment. Babies, however, do like nourishment. Most newborns are passive about everything but getting their nourishment. They enthusiastically go after milk. What Peter wanted is that enthusiasm for the spiritual nurture that is necessary for growth. It is significant that he does not command growth nor does he command that they take spiritual nourishment. The imperative is that they desire the nourishment that will lead to growth. Marshall (p. 63) points out that Peter wants his reader to "not be like children who eat mild puddings - which they don't really like - because they have been repeatedly told by their mother 'It's good for you,' but more like children who consume ice cream, with gusto." May God whet our appetite for spiritual nourishment.

That nourishment is pure, spiritual milk. The word milk is part of the figure of speech that goes with newborns. The word pure is a play on the word "deceit" or "guile" in verse 1. It literally is "without deceit" or "without guile." Thus the idea of pure is genuine - not thinned down milk.

The word that the NIV and NRSV translate as spiritual is more difficult to define. The Greek word is logikos and it is the word from which English derives "logical." It is only used in the New Testament here in 1 Peter 2:2 and in Romans 12:1 where it modifies "service" or "worship." The King James Version uses the meaning of "logical" in Romans 12:1 when it translates "reasonable service. To speak, however, of logical or reasonable milk here in 1 Peter 2:2 does not make sense.

Logikos is derived from the Greek word logos, which means "word." As a result the King James Version translated 1 Peter 2:2, "desire the sincere milk of the word." Whether one understands "word" as a title of Christ, as appears in John 1:1, or as a reference to Scripture, or as a reference to Christian preaching the meaning would be clear. Be enthused to nourish yourself on the milk of the word who is Christ or on the milk of the word of Scripture.

Since a similar meaning has been difficult to place in Romans 12:1 most modern translators have chosen spiritual as a term that would fit in both 1 Peter 2:2 and Roman 12:1. While it may be appropriate it is most likely that the meaning of spiritual milk is the "word." The context of 1 Peter 1:23 suggests that it is the living and enduring word of God and verse 25 implies that it is the word that was preached among the readers. Thus the nourishment for Christian growth is the word of the gospel - about Christ and found in Scripture.

The purpose of desiring such "spiritual milk" is that the readers may grow up toward salvation. Salvation is used in the New Testament to describe an event of the past when believers were saved out of darkness into light. It describes a present reality in which we grow and live. It also describes the final and complete deliverance from sin, the world, and the devil that is still future. The present and future meanings grow out of the past event of being saved. It appears that Peter has the future aspect of salvation in mind in this verse. He "is probably thinking of salvation as complete deliverance from sin and its consequences, and then the full growth of love. Toward this goal Christians should be growing" (Marshall, p. 64).

Verse 3 quotes part of a line from Psalm 34:8, "Taste and see that the Lord is good." The first word of verse 3 in the Greek text can be translated "if" or "since." It appears that the quotation comes from Peter's thinking about newborns eagerly desiring the milk of the word. As a natural connection his mind went the phrase from Psalm 34:8. Since you have already tasted and discovered that the Lord is good, the command to long for more spiritual nourishment should be an easy command to obey. The fact that Peter talked about desiring the word in verse 2 and tasting the Lord in verse 3 reflecting a common New Testament understanding. The purpose of reading Scripture is to come face to face with the Lord.

The People of God - 1 Peter 2:4-10

The idea of spiritual growth being compared to the growth and maturation of a child has advantages and disadvantages. One of the disadvantages is that it can be seen as a purely individual matter, while spiritual growth always takes place in a community of believers. Part of Peter's concern was the individual spiritual growth of believers. He was also concerned with the spiritual growth of the churches to which he was writing. We tend to think that individual spiritual growth is most important and that the corporate spiritual growth of the body of Christ cannot happen until individual growth takes place. Peter would have seen both as happening together and both causing the other. For that reason he turns from the figure of speech of newborn babies to the figure of speech of the church as a building.

Verses 4 and 5 form a single sentence in the Greek text and the main subject and verb are in verse 5, you are being built into a spiritual house. (It is important when studying 1 Peter 2:4-10 to know that every "you" is plural - "you all.") Verse 4 states the condition that must be met if the readers and we are to be built into a spiritual house. It is as we are coming to Christ that we become part of the building God is constructing [some translations make this an imperative]. The Greek word coming not only meant to approach but it also carried overtones of worship. As we come in worship before Christ we will be built into a spiritual building.

Verse 4 also provides an important description of Christ. He is the living stone. The following phrase and its fuller quotation in verse 7 show that Peter derived the concept of Christ as stone from Psalm 118:22. The word living shows both the resurrection of Christ and his ability to give life to us. Christ is also rejected by men. The fact that Jesus was crucified in a cooperative effort of Jews and Romans and that his followers were being persecuted as this letter was written shows the truth of Peter's comment. In contrast to human rejection Christ was chosen and precious in God's sight.

Since Christ was a living stone and the readers have come to him then they too are living stones according to verse 5. It should be noted that the word for stone throughout this section is not the same as the word for Peter. Petros was a rock or rock formation protruding from the ground. The word stone in these verses is lithos which meant a stone already cut or dressed for use in building. As living stones we are being built into a spiritual house. The builder is God; Jesus is the foundation; and we are the building blocks carefully being constructed into a house for God.

The word house is often used in Biblical language for a temple. Paul had used similar language to describe the church in 1 Corinthians 3:9-17 and Ephesians 2:22. These passages are the basis of the New Testament doctrine of the church as a temple of God. The New Testament is not talking about a church building for there were no church buildings back then. Rather, we the people of the church are living stones and God is building a living temple in which he is worshipped. The following phrase confirms this. We are also a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Verse 9 extends the idea of priesthood by describing believers as a royal priesthood, often translated a kingdom of priests or the King's priesthood.

First Peter 2:5 and 9 are the primary basis for the concept of the priesthood of all believers, a doctrine especially important to Protestants. It is also a doctrine often misunderstood by Protestants. The popular understanding of the priesthood of all believers is that individuals do not need a priest since each person can be their own priest according to the priesthood of all believers. However, this was not the intent of either Peter or the first Protestants. The priesthood of all believers means that all believers are priests. Therefore any one of us can serve as a priest for anyone else. The idea of being a priest for oneself is contradictory; it misunderstands the meaning of priest. Each of us and all of us need a priest to represent us to God and God to us on a regular basis. The priesthood of all believers means that an appointed or ordained priest is not the only priest available. We are all capable of serving as a priest for each other. Further, we are all responsible to serve each other in priestly ways.

Peter returns in verse 6 to the idea of Jesus as a stone. He quotes Isaiah 28:16, which contains a speech by God against the rulers of Jerusalem who have disobeyed but who feel secure by their own devices, the political alliances they have forged. In the speech God compared himself to a builder building a new construction in Jerusalem. He will lay a cornerstone of his own choice and of high quality. The building will stand because of its firm foundation; anyone can put their trust in it and not be disappointed.

Peter identifies Christ as that cornerstone. The church is the new building that God is constructing and it is built on the foundation of Jesus. Anyone who trusts in Christ will not be disappointed or let down. The building will hold. Peter then notes in verse 7 that Jesus is precious to you who believe. On the other hand, to those who do not believe, "The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner." Verse 7 concludes with this quotation from Psalm 118:22. Peter has turned the analogy on its head. By normal analogy, if for those who believe Christ he is precious, then it ought to follow that for those who do not believe Christ he would be "not precious" or valueless. However, that is not Peter's logic. For those who do not believe, Christ has proved to be the opposite of their expectations.

Different translations and commentators take one of three positions regarding the meaning of Christ as head of the corner. The traditional understanding is represented by the translation, "chief cornerstone." This view believes that Jesus is being compared to the first stone laid in the construction of a building. The side walls are laid in alignment with its sides and the walls are built vertically plumb to the vertical edge of the cornerstone. Thus the three dimension lines of the chief cornerstone determine that the building is straight, square, and plumb.

Another interpretation, which is less likely, is that the head of the corner refers to a capstone. This view is adopted by the NIV. It compares Christ to the final stone place on the top of the wall that protects, dresses, and finishes the wall.

A third, and least likely, view is that the stone is the keystone of an arch. This is the top, center stone in a stone arch. It keeps all the other stones from caving in. It is best to understand Christ as the head of the corner in the first sense. The church that God is building with us as living stones takes its lines and angles from Jesus. Our task as living stones is to stay in line with him.

Peter continues his thought in verse 8 with a quotation from Isaiah 8:14. Though Jesus has become the head of the corner despite the unbelief of those who reject him, he is also a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to them. Peter notes then that they stumble because they are disobedient to the message. To his readers who were facing persecution this was an important word. Disobedience by failing to persevere could rob them of the rich and precious relationship they were enjoying with Christ. Failure to obey could lead to eternal condemnation.

Verses 9-10 again describe the Gentile readers of 1 Peter in the language the Old Testament used for Israel. They were a chosen people. This concept is found throughout the Old Testament, but Isaiah 43:20 uses the exact words that appear here. The phrases royal priesthood or kingdom of priests and holy nation are both taken from Exodus 19:6. A people belonging to God or people of God's possession is an expression found in both Exodus 19:5 and Isaiah 43:21.

Verse 10 turns to Hosea 2:23 to describe the readers as people who were once not a people, but now you are the people of God. They are people who once had not received mercy but now you have received mercy. These words from Hosea were originally proclaimed to encourage Israel that God would redeem them from the punishment they had brought upon themselves. Peter beautifully turns the words to apply to Gentile churches. People whom the Jews called fuel for the fires of hell had become the people who belonged to God. In the final analysis the church is a community of grace. Only by God's great and gracious love for us do we exist as a community of faith. Because we have received mercy and grace without limit there must be a longing to share that mercy and grace with others.

Living in the World - 1 Peter 2:11-17

First Peter 2:11 marks a turn in direction in the letter. The concern to this point has been the holiness of his readers in relationship to God and in loving relationship with each other in the fellowship of believers. At this point the focus of 1 Peter turns outward to the world. Verses 11-12 provide a general introduction to Christian behavior in a sinful world. Verses 13-17 advise the readers about their response to the governmental leaders of their time. Verse 18 begins the treatment of relationship between slaves and masters.

This section moves beyond the religious language that church people often use to deal with real life problems. It is at this point that some readers could accuse Peter of no longer preaching, but of meddling. Because he was aware of the sensitive nature of this material he addresses his audience as beloved or "dear friends" (NIV).

Instead of a command he urges or entreats them. He begins by reminding them that they are aliens and strangers in the world. He repeats the word used in the salutation and adds a more common synonym. Proper Christian behavior toward the world cannot occur when we forget that we are aliens and exiles in this world. Though we are part of a colony from heaven, we have not come from heaven. We have been won over to the colonizing effort by the pioneer Christ. As a result the pull back to the world is stronger on us than it would be had we come from heaven to colonize here. Thus it is essential that we abstain from fleshly desires. Fleshly desires include far more than just physical temptations. Galatians 5:19-21 shows that every sin of heart, mind, and body that makes this world the standard of right and of reality is of the flesh. These desires wage war against the soul. By these words Peter reminds us that the colonizing effort is a life and death struggle.

Verse 12 reveals one of Peter's basic strategies in the face of pressure and persecution. He calls for a life of goodness that is so transparent that the accusers of the world cannot resist noticing. He dares to hope that in the face of such goodness the pagan world will glorify God on the day of his visitation. The word "visit" was often used in the Old Testament for the coming of God to his people (see The Day of the Lord). That coming might be for judgment or it might be for salvation (Luke 1:68 uses the related verb). Thus two lines of interpretation have developed. The day of visitation might refer to the final day of judgment or it might refer to a time of conversion for pagans who see the faithful lives of the readers. The concept of judgment is most frequently considered the meaning here since it fits the general tone of 1 Peter better.

The first application of the general principles of verses 11-12 appears in verse 13. Peter calls on his readers to submit to the authority of every human institution. His following references to the king (probably meaning the emperor) and to governors (presumably local authorities) show that he is thinking specifically of political authorities.

The relationship of Christians to the state has been a problem since the beginning of Christianity. Some are accustomed to placing the commands to submit to the government (found here, Romans 13:1, and Titus 3:1) against Peter's statement in Acts 4:19 that it is better to obey God than the Sanhedrin without careful consideration of the contexts. The problem in Acts 4:19 was that the Sanhedrin was commanding the church no longer to witness to Christ - a clear impossibility for any genuine believer.

This does not provide justification for disobeying or opposing any government that has policies that restrict Christianity or are immoral. The commands of 1 Peter 2:13, I Timothy 2:1-2, and Titus 3:1 to submit to the government and to pray for its leaders were given in the context of the persecutions and general degradation of Nero. The New Testament writers clearly thought a bad government was better than no government. They understood that God had instituted government to provide for the good order, peace, and stability of national and local life. They urged first century Christians to be part of the solution rather than part of the disorder. In virtually every case it would not be difficult for the believers to live more orderly, peaceful, exemplary lives than the governors did. Peter was convinced that the debauchery and foolishness of governmental leaders could best be condemned by moral excellence rather than verbal denunciation.

Verse 16 states another basic principle of Christian life in the word. Live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. As citizens of heaven no earthly power, person, or institution has authority and ultimate power over a Christian. Obviously this does not mean that a Christian refuses to cooperate or submit to anyone, as verse 13 makes clear. What it does mean is that we answer to God, not to human authority, and God has set us free in Christ. The problem is that too many Christians have taken the message of freedom as license to do whatever they wanted. Galatians 5:1, 13-25 shows that Paul faced the same problem. The only reliable guard against misuse of freedom is to stay in step with the Holy Spirit. Then the commands of verse 17 can be fulfilled.

 Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion

These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.

As you study each day ask the Lord to make his word come alive in your heart. Ask him to help you understand how his word should apply to your life.

First Day: Read the notes on 1 Peter 2:1-17. Look up the Scripture references that are given.

1. Identify one or two new insights that caught your attention. Describe why they are important to you.

2. Select a spiritual truth that has a personal application in your life. Describe how you see it applying to you.

3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to help you be a living stone that stays in line with Christ the cornerstone.

Second Day: Read 1 Peter 2:11-25. Now turn your focus to 1 Peter 2:18-25.

1. What is the only motivation Peter sees that could make suffering a commendable thing?

2. How does Peter describe Jesus as an example of how to respond to suffering or hostility? What aspects of Jesus' example do you find hardest to follow? Why?

3. Compare verse 24 with Romans 6:8-14. What are the negatives and positives of how to live the Christian life that come from these two passages?

Third Day: Read 1 Peter 2:13-3:12. Now focus your attention on 1 Peter 3:1-6.

1. What is the purpose of the instruction for wives to submit to their husbands? How does Peter see that purpose being accomplished?

2. Paraphrase in your own words Peter's understanding of beauty in verses 3-4. How do you discover this kind of beauty in a woman's life? How can such beauty be encouraged in our society?

3. What does Peter describe as the characteristics that would make a woman a true daughter of Sarah? What can you do help to help women be victorious over fear?

Fourth Day: Read 1 Peter 2:18-3:12. Now make 1 Peter 3:1-7 the focus of your attention.

1. Verse 7 has the words "likewise," or "in the same way," or "similarly." What teachings in verses 1-6 can be applied "in the same way" to husbands?

2. What is necessary in husband-wife relationships so that the couple's prayer life is not hindered? Why do you think the quality of a marriage relationship would affect one's prayer-life?

3. Write a brief prayer for your marriage if you are married or for the marriage of someone you care for. Ask God to enrich that marriage in such a way that both partners are drawn closer to the Lord because of their spouse.

Fifth Day: Read 1 Peter 2:18-3:12. Now focus on 1 Peter 3:1-8.

1. Read Ephesians 5:21-33. What are the differences of emphasis between the focus verses of 1 Peter and the passage in Ephesians? What additional insight does Ephesians 5:21-33 add to 1 Peter 3:1-8?

2. How does 1 Peter 3:8 relate to verses 1-7? What additional insight does it provide you for the will of God for marriage relationships?

3. Based on your understanding of Ephesians 5:21-33 and 1 Peter 3:1-8, write a brief statement of what you believe God would want husbands and wives in our society to know about Christian marriage.

Sixth Day: Read 1 Peter 3:1-12. Now focus on 1 Peter 3:8-12.

1. Compare verses 8- 9 with Romans 12:14-21. What do these verses tell you about the original readers? What do these verses tell you about yourself and your own needs?

2. Verses 10-12 quote from Psalm 34:12-16. Read all of Psalm 34 asking how verses 12-16 fit into the whole flow of thought in the Psalm. What insight does that provide you for applying them to your life?

3. Pick a phrase from 1 Peter 3:10-12 that really expresses a desire of your heart. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to help you in that area of life.

-Roger Hahn, Copyright © 2011, Roger Hahn and CRI/Voice, Institute
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