1 Peter 2:4-12 is one of the key passages for me in understanding what the Church is and what we are here for. As we conclude our short series looking at St Jude’s vision statement by reflecting on “Shining with God’s love in our community”, it seems appropriate that we come here.
There are hundreds of things that we could draw out of the passage. Here are three of them.
1. God makes us to be a people for others. Throughout the passage, there are loads of statements about who the church is. And all of the metaphors have a few things in common – they are all about Jesus determining our identity; every picture is something that is true of Jesus that also becomes true of us because of him. All of them are singular – they are something we are together rather than apart. But all of them are also about being there for others. Temples are there so that others can come and worship. Priests (in the Bible sense) are go-betweens between people and God. God’s holy nation and chosen people are meant to be conduits of God’s blessing to the whole world (e.g. Gen 12).
2. The light we hold out is Jesus. We’re not about making ourselves or the church look good. We’re about holding out Jesus. And some people are going to be attracted to him, and others repelled by him. But Jesus is the cornerstone – he’s the one we base everything on, and who we shape everything around.
In the present culture wars, where it is so easy to offend others, that means we need to be careful that when we as a church offend people, it’s Jesus doing the offending. Jesus offended people by going to parties with people whose lifestyles he shouldn’t have approved of, who therefore presumably found him good company. He was known for being someone who was kind and generous to those who didn’t fit in with his moral standards. People were also offended by his claims to authority and exclusivity. After all, if we say that Jesus is the king of kings, ultimately that means that all over authority is relative to and less important than his. He claims to be the only way to know the Father and to have the right to say how his people should live. And so if people are offended because we refuse to bow the knee to Caesar or agree with whatever the latest fad is, or because we say that ultimately there is only one way to God, they’d be offended by Jesus too, so that’s ok.
Now there’s an important caveat here, which is about how Jesus’ lordship works out for those who don’t follow him. If Jesus is Lord of all, should the church insist that non-Christians follow Christian moral standards? The answer is “no”. Jesus will come in glory to judge the living and the dead, but it is not the church’s place to bring that judgement forwards.
For example, the world of the New Testament was horrible and frequently cruel. In Luke 13:1-4, Jesus doesn’t bother ranting about Pilate’s evil. In 1 Corinthians 5:12, Paul writes “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? God will judge those outside.” The light we hold out is Jesus. And yes, some people will be offended by his grace and generosity, some will be offended by his power and authority. But let them not be offended by us being judgemental or jerks. Let us instead be corporately like Jesus, be a people for others. Third, let us shine with God’s light.
3. Let us shine with God’s light. V12 says “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” We should be a church that people in our community see as good news. Because when we start to look like Jesus in this world, when we shine with God’s light, then people start to see Jesus in us, and some of them respond in faith and love.
God has made us a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his marvellous light. So let’s shine with his love in our community.