This outline continues a series preached in 2002. For my own edification (and hopefully yours), I’ve restudied the passage and made some improvements to the outline.
Worship has been a controversial topic in recent years. In some ways, the degree of controversy is a good thing: much of it arises from people genuinely striving to do what they believe to be God’s desire—that is, to properly honor God’s name and, at the same time, properly involve and engage God’s people in that activity.
Clearly, much of the controversy has also arisen from philosophies of ministry or outreach that, among other errors, improperly relate the interests and desires of the lost or immature to the worship life of the local church.
Peter’s teaching in this portion of 1 Peter is an excellent corrective. It helps us frame the question of acceptable worship correctly, understand the bigger picture, and ask the right questions to evaluate our present-day options.
What the Scriptures reveal to us here is that proper worship is so important to God, He has gone to immeasurably great lengths to raise up a people who are even capable of producing it.
1 Peter 2:4–10 (ESV)
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.”
7 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,” 8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 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.
I would like you to note with me three features of acceptable worship in this passage.
Feature 1. Acceptable worship is God-defined.
When we consider the idea of “acceptable” or “proper” worship, the question comes quickly to mind: acceptable to whom? In these times, the answer is no longer obvious, and we must frequently return to it: God—not believers, and certainly not the lost—decides whether worship is acceptable.
Two purpose statements dominate 1 Peter 2:4-10. Everything else that happens in the passage supports the one purpose expressed in these two statements.
- 2:5b – “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God”
- 2:9 – “that you may proclaim the excellencies”
(For the Greek scholars, the two statements are not precisely parallel. The first is an infinitive and the second is a ὅπως clause, identical in function to the more common ἵνα clause. The two are thematically parallel.)
Feature 2. Acceptable worship is deeply obstructed.
Why can’t human beings worship God just any way they please?
Several years ago, I interviewed the president of Mosque not far from where I live. I was preparing for a seminar on Islam and wanted to get some perspective from a real, live local Muslim. Much of our conversation focused what Islam really is, what its essence is. Eventually, my Muslim friend—in assessing our differences—put a slightly different spin on an old cliché. “There are many buses to Chicago. We do not all have to get there on the same one or by the same route.” In other words, you all worship God your way, and we worship God our way, and they are both good ways.
Most of us immediately feel strongly that he is wrong, but why? Our text shows us why.
Note that each of the two purpose statements has a being statement attached to it.
- 2:5 – “you yourselves … are being built up … to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices”
- 2:9 – “but you are … that you may proclaim”
Both these being statements emphasize that God has acted to bring about a change, and 2:10 brings the point into sharper focus.
- 2:10 – “once you were … but now you are …”
- 2:11 – “once you had not … but now you have …”
When we draw all this together, we can see what the deepest and most basic barrier to acceptable worship is. God has brought about all this change (and is still bringing about more change) because in ourselves we are not even capable of worshiping God rightly. The biggest barrier to acceptable worship is us—our nature as fallen, condemned, corrupted, and rebellious beings.
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. (Psalm 5:5)
Remember Cain and Abel (Gen. 4) as well as the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18). In both cases, someone’s worship was accepted and someone’s was not. The most basic difference between them was the condition of the worshipper.
Feature 3. Acceptable worship is God-enabled.
In several statements and key terms, our passage reveals that God has graciously acted to correct our deeply-rooted incapacity to worship Him rightly. And in that context we also find the solution to our deepest worship problem.
a. God is graciously building us up. 2:5 “being built up”
Peter reveals a progression from what we were before to what we are now, but he doesn’t do it in sequence. He starts with where believers are now: “being built up.” He intentionally doesn’t say who is doing the building up. The emphasis is on the fact that we are not doing that to ourselves—not really.
We find here also what we are being built up as: “a spiritual house, a holy priesthood.”
b. God has graciously given us Christ. 2:5b-2:6 “through Jesus Christ”
How is it possible that we are being built up to offer spiritual sacrifices that are “acceptable to God”? Only through what God Himself has provided: “through Jesus Christ.”
To help us fully appreciate the point, 1 Peter 2:6 provides some OT context (from Isaiah 28:16).
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.”
c. God’s gracious worship-enabling work is received through faith. 2:7 “so… for you who believe”
We might be tempted to think we have achieved the ability to worship properly by our own cleverness, but Peter puts the spotlight on the truly pivotal factor. In 2:6-7a we find “he who believes” and “you who believe” in sharp contrast with those are disobedient to the gospel and “reject” the “chief cornerstone” and, as a result (2:8) stumble, “being disobedient to the word.”
Faith—humble, repentant trust—is what connects us to God’s worship enabling work.
d. God is carrying out His own plans to produce a people who worship Him rightly. 2:9 “but you are a chosen…”
Not only is the ability to worship God rightly dependent on a gracious transformation by God, but the initiative to bring this about wasn’t our doing either. The stumblers of 2:8 were “appointed” for that, and we who are changed were also “chosen” for that.
We need to resist two distractions here: a debate about predestination and a debate about whether the church is “the new Israel,” etc. The passage reveals two other truths—very clear ones—we’re supposed to see:
- Our inability to worship God rightly is so profound, we didn’t even know we needed to fix anything. God acted graciously to raise up right worshipers.
- Our inability to worship God rightly is dramatized in the history of the Old Testament (2:9b) people who were the “chosen generation … royal priesthood… holy nation… special people.”
There’s a temptation to say that the Mosaic covenant was an attempt to raise up right worshipers, but it didn’t work. In reality, it worked perfectly in several ways: one of them was to reveal to us just how stiff necked, self-wise, and ultimately idolatrous we are by nature.
e. God has graciously given us the opportunity to get worship right. 2:10 “now you are God’s people … now you have received mercy.”
Whether all, some, or none of God’s promises to Israel are now going to be fulfilled in the church instead is an important question, but is not the question that should occupy us here. Rather, our question is, will we who have currently received the mercy of being God’s royal priesthood properly “proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness”?
In the words of 2:7 we have received a great “honor”! How are we handling it?
A few practical implications of this passage:
- We are more prone to worship improperly than properly. Though God has completely reoriented believers in relation to Himself, we’re still human—and humans love to get worship wrong. We are changed people but we are still being built up (1 Pet. 2:5).
- Worship is completely God’s business, from top to bottom. At no point in the process is our personal enjoyment, satisfaction, or “experience” the determining factor for what constitutes right worship.
- If even the judgments and desires of Spirit-indwelled new creations are not prominent in rendering acceptable worship, how much less are the aesthetic values, tastes, whims, or fads of our unbelief-dominated culture!
Just as humble trust in Christ and the gospel brought us to mercy and made us people capable of acceptable worship, humble trust in God’s wisdom (the wisdom that is foolishness to the “experts,” 1 Cor. 1:27) must drive the manner in which we worship.