Peter’s letters can be summarised by “as you are holy, therefore live holy lives”. This chapter is no exception to that message. There are a couple of interesting things we can learn from what Peter is saying though. Let’s have a look at that.
We can split this chapter up in two parts:
v.4-10: Who you are
v.11-25: Putting that into practice
Who you are
The English language is a very powerful language, in the sense that there are many words that mean almost the same thing, allowing us to bring a huge shade of meaning to our daily vocabulary. The one thing that I sometime struggle with is that the word “you” can be both singular and plural, which is at the same time very powerful and confusing. When you read a passage like this it is so easy take it as a personal letter, however every time Peter writes ‘you’ he uses the plural form of the word. In verses 4-10 Peter talks, in essence, about how we are like Christ, not as individuals (though that is true as well), but together. If you put verses 4-5 into the first person they read like this:
“As we, together, come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, we ourselves, together, 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.”
And verse 9 reads like this:
“But we, together, are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that we, together, may proclaim the excellencies of him who called us, together, out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
The corporate aspect is obvious from the words used in the rest of the sentence, yet we so often, probably due to our individualistic worldview, interpret it in a personal way. A house does not contain just one stone, but many, and together they form the house. A chosen race is a group of people with a common ancestry (God is our father), together picked out for a purpose. A royal priesthood is a group of people who, together, are responsible for worship and intercession on behalf of those around them. A holy nation is a group of people united together, under one government (King Jesus). And a people for his own possession, is a group of people, sharing a common language and culture, who belong, together, to him. So though it is very important that you, individually, know who you are in Christ, we, together, also need to know our corporate identity.
Putting that into practice
The rest of the chapter shows us how to live out the identity established in the first ten verses.
v.11-12: Display holy and honourable conduct, so that when (not if) you get accused of evil doing, your life speaks for itself and is a witness to God.
v.13-17: Submit to earthly authority. This involves keeping the law of the land, and praying for the government at every level (not against them). Live free, honouring (especially those in authority), and loving, so that your good deeds are undeniable.
v.18-25: Peter makes a long drawn out point explaining why we also submit to those in authority who we don’t agree with, who are not good and just, and he tells us not just to submit, but also to love and to honour. When we suffer because of doing good then we really show who we are. By conduct like that we please God, grow to be more like Jesus, and are a witness to those who don’t know Him.
As I said in the introduction: like the whole of this epistle, we can summarise this chapter as “Live holy lives, because you are holy.” So, live according to who you are.