So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
In their previous lives, they had room to backbite, gossip, and lie. Sadly, I have seen too many churches where the people gather, not to worship the Lord, but be part of a social club. In situations such as that people do tend to assemble into cliques, to one up one another, and try to be in the elite circles of the church, synagogue or club by clawing their way to the top. Slander, gossip, and maliciousness are disguised with phrases like, “pray for so and so, she’s been going to the liquor store again…” or “I’m not sure so and so is up for that job, he’s been busy with the secretary lately…” The house of the Lord can’t come together and honor God if we’re competing against each other for honor.
The exiles were a new people in a new situation and they couldn’t treat worship at the temple, learning at the synagogue and fellowship with the congregants the way they did before. They were no longer merely worshippers at the Temple, members of the synagogue, or neighbors to one another, they were now new creations, the Body of Christ, the House of the Living God, and the Temple of God. They had to put all that stuff away and live in a new way and seek God in a new and genuine way. It was up to them to long for the pure spiritual milk of the Gospel, the Apostles’ teachings, and the truth of the Scriptures. It was up to them to work together and seek the Kingdom of God and be fed by the Word of God through the Holy Spirit.
They knew God was good and they believed Jesus was the Messiah. They had suffered for Him, they were suffering for Him, yet they still had to be reminded that they needed each other now that they were worshipping God in Spirit and in Truth not in works and laws. Part of worshipping God in the way He prescribes includes loving our neighbors the same way we love ourselves, caring about them, being aware of their needs, and considering them as important as ourselves. Unity is integral to the worship of loving God first and loving neighbors as ourselves. It is not what we are used to in our old lives; we live a new life in the Kingdom of God. We are the city of God now, not the world. Ephesians 4:17-25 reads,
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
We are told to build one another up (1 Thessalonians 5:11). We are the Temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16). He has chosen to live in us and so we have to build on a good foundation, with bricks or stones of truth and love which will not crumble when a storm comes or the earth shakes. The foundation we build upon is the Gospel. This is the truth of who Jesus is and what He does. The bricks of this House of God are the further revelations we receive, the understanding of God, our relationship with Him, our identity in Christ, the faith we are given and demonstrate, and the gifts we are given and use.
In the Lord so much of what He teaches us is multilayered and the second layer of this teaching is that not only are we individually the Temple of God, we are collectively the Temple of God. In this case, the bricks of our temple are one another, and we want each brick to be strong, well-formed, and in the right place of the building to withstand wind, rain, tornadoes, fires, and earthquakes. Peter uses this metaphor to describe our Lord Jesus. Verses 4-6 tell us,
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Jesus is the living stone the rejected stone that became the cornerstone. He is prophesied as so in Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22. Jesus described Himself this way in Luke 20:14-18 in the end of the parable of the wicked tenants
But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’?
18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
Jesus was always part of who God is, He was always with God. He was in the Law, He was in the Prophecies, He was in every part of Scripture as the Word of God, God’s manifested will. Yet, Israel built their religion without Him, they tossed Jesus out and built a religion based on the Law and the traditions they created to uphold the laws. They took the Spirit of God out of the Law, they removed the relationship and love with the Father, kept the law and the rituals, and added rules and traditions. They built a beautiful house for God, but in building the temple, left Jesus out of it.
The thing they ignored was that by doing so, they removed God and their religion no longer had a firm foundation, the cornerstone was gone and so their temple had nothing to stand on. The Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. by Titus son of the Roman Emperor Vespasian when Rome capture Judea. God’s presence was no longer in the Temple, He now indwelled Believers. Israel had rejected Him. He became the cornerstone of His people, the followers of Christ, the Believers of the Gospel. The spiritual temple had been destroyed years earlier when Jesus died on the cross, the Spirit of God left the Temple as the veil was ripped, and three days later Jesus resurrected as the Temple rebuilt in Jesus, the first stone, the cornerstone of the living temple of God (John 2:19, Matthew 27:51).
And we too get to be like Him, living stones being built up as a spiritual house! What awesome news for the exiles of Jerusalem who must have missed all they had lost in their old lives. The Temple, the priests, rabbis, beautiful rituals, tradition, and culture were part of where they once called home, their new old lives. But the hope and promise of their new lives was so much better! So is ours! We are like living stones, part of the house of God, and not only that but we are the holy priesthood in that house! We don’t require a special person to make a sacrifice to forgive our sins, worship the Lord, or seal a promise. As a God appointed holy priesthood, we can worship Him directly through the sacrifice of our lives and are acceptable to God because of Jesus, not us. Romans 12:1-2 says it this way,
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect
What a privilege! The world may live a life that they think is free, but they are not. Jesus, the cornerstone who establishes and upholds us the house of God, is offensive, obfuscating, and obstructive to them. They cannot understand the simplicity of the Gospel because they cannot understand what godly true love is, how He can have such grace and be so merciful. They are deaf to the message and hear only the judgement of accusations that do not come from God but their own enslaved hearts. Verses7-8 read,
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
That is why they persecute, that is why they accuse us of hypocrisy and hate. They truly cannot believe it is not us judging them, but the conviction of the Holy Spirit judging them when they see Jesus lived out in us. Rather than repent at that conviction, they feel judged and accuse of hate because they cannot be stones in the house of God and a holy priesthood if they are not willing to give their lives to Jesus. But you and I, Believer, we have been accepted. Verses 9-12 read,
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.
It is crucial that we remember who we are in Christ so we remember our mission in Christ. We are Gospel bearers. Our lives, our words, and our choices all speak to who Jesus is. Our value to God and our behavior as royalty, priests, a nation set aside for God, and His very own people are revealed in the way we carry ourselves. Royals are magnanimous. Priests minister to God. God’s very own love like God’s very own. Living stones build up and hold up. We were once in that dark place, that ignorance and did not know who Jesus is, who God is, and who we could be, but now we do. Now we are in that marvelous, admirable, excellent, wonder-filled light. We don’t have to behave like those lost in the world, we are found, we are the Temple of God, the house of God, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. We know better, we have received mercy; we are saved and no longer need to live selfish hedonistic lives.