3. Being God's Chosen People (1 Peter 2:4-12)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (22:00)

'St Peter Healing the Sick with his Shadow,' by Masaccio (1401-1427?), the first great painter of the Italian Renaissance. This is part of a series in fresco for the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence (about 1427). It depicts an event in Peter's life described in Acts 5:15.
'St Peter Healing the Sick with his Shadow,' by Masaccio (1401-1427?), the first great painter of the Italian Renaissance. This is part of a series in fresco for the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence (about 1427). It depicts an event in Peter's life described in Acts 5:15.

In this passage Peter is explaining to his readers just how special they are to God. Up to this time, the Israelites were God's chosen people, but now those who put their trust in the Messiah are the chosen ones.[54] We're going to explore what this means by examining several analogies that Peter gives us:

  1. God as the mighty Rock
  2. A spiritual temple made up of living stones
  3. A holy priesthood
  4. A chosen people

Living Stones in a Spiritual Temple (2:4-5)

Many Old Testament passages talk about God as a mighty Rock and Fortress.[55] Peter (whose nickname means "Rock") calls his readers to this concept of God:

"As you come to him, the living Stone -- rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him -- you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (2:4-5)

"House of God" is often used in the Bible as the tabernacle, and later, the temple.[56] Notice how the "Living Stone"[57] here refers to Jesus the Messiah.

We also "like living stones" are built into a spiritual temple. This theme of Christians being collectively the temple of God built upon Jesus, the chief cornerstone, is found elsewhere in the New Testament.[58] "Built into" is the Greek verb oikodomeō, "to construct a building, build."[59] Jesus spoke this same word to Peter when he said, "I will build my church!" (Matthew 16:18).[60]

Notice how Peter describes the Living Stone:

  1. Rejected by men. If we follow people's opinions we're likely to reject a lot of blessings God has for us.[61]
  2. Chosen by God, that is "hand picked."[62]
  3. Precious to him -- "of great value" to God.[63]

A Holy Priesthood (2:5)

Now the analogy moves from a holy temple to a holy priesthood.

"You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (2:5)

Though it was God's initial desire that all his chosen people, the Jews, might be priests (Exodus 19:5-6), their fear of God was not met with faith, so they asked God not to speak to them directly (Exodus 20:19), but through Moses. Apparently, as a result, an order of priesthood was set up, starting with Aaron, Moses' brother, his sons, and their descendents. The priests acted as mediators between the people and the holy God, assisting with the sacrifices and presenting them before the Lord. It was a high and holy calling.

But in the New Testament, God chooses a new people, a people of faith, and once more calls us all to be priests. "Priesthood," which appears here and in verse 9, is the Greek noun hierateuma. A "royal priesthood" means "a priesthood of royal rank or in royal service" and refers to Exodus 19:6; 23:22.[64]

To understand how we Christians are to function as priests, let's examine each of the keywords in the latter part of verse 5:

"... offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (2:5b)

  • Acceptable to God. "Acceptable" is the Greek adjective euprosdektos, "(easily) acceptable, pleasant, welcome," here "pertaining to being capable of eliciting favorable acceptance, acceptable."[65] Our sacrifices are acceptable only when offered through Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest.
  • Spiritual. "Spiritual" is the Greek adjective pneumatikos, "having to do with the divine spirit, caused by or filled with the divine spirit, pertaining to/corresponding to the divine spirit."[66] We worship God through the Spirit, as Jesus said we would (John 4:23-24).
  • "Offering" is the Greek verb anapherō, "to offer as a sacrifice, offer up," specifically a cultic technical term.[67] We deliberately and consciously offer up to God our worship.
  • "Sacrifices" is the Greek noun thysia, "that which is offered as a sacrifice, sacrifice, offering."[68] In the Old Testament the priests offered cattle, sheep, goats, birds, grain, incense, etc. In the New Testament the offerings are spiritual, from the heart.

Historically, these verses describing all Christians as priests made a great impact under Martin Luther who sought reform in the Roman Catholic Church. Rather than a select order of priests in the Church, he came to see a vision of all of God's people being able to relate to God directly through the medium of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:8-16) -- "the priesthood of believers."

Q1. (2.5) Christians often look at their relation to God as consumers, delighting in what God does for them. What is the mindset of a priest towards God? What actions does this mindset inspire in you?

What Is Spiritual Worship?

Just what kinds of offerings do we offer to God? Here is an enlightening though incomplete list.

  1. Obedience. When we obey God in the way we live, we worship God. "Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God -- this is your spiritual act of worship" (Romans 12:1) Jesus made it clear that he desires not just outward obedience, but obedience from the heart (Matthew 6:1-5). The Psalmist captures this idea so well! "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer." (Psalm 19:14)
  2. Financial Gifts. "I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God" (Philippians 4:18. See also 2:17 which refers to the Philippians' offerings.) "And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased." (Hebrews 13:16)
  3. Proclaiming the Gospel. Paul talks about his call "to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering (Greek prosphora) acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:16).
  4. Praise. "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise -- the fruit of lips that confess his name." (Hebrews 13:15). This last verse paraphrases an Old Testament passage: "Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips" (Hosea 14:2, KJV). The NIV and NRSV translate it "the fruit of our lips," but the NIV alternate reading brings out the true meaning: "offer our lips as sacrifices of bulls." The Old Testament priests offered literal offerings; we New Testament priests offer praise as our sacrifice.

However, the theme of the spiritual core of sacrifice is alive and well in the Old Testament. Here are a few examples:

"Those who bring thanksgiving (Hebrew todah) as their sacrifice  honor me;
to those who go the right way
I will show the salvation of God." (Psalm 50:23, NRSV)

"I will praise God's name in song
and glorify him with thanksgiving (Hebrew todah).
This will please the Lord more than an ox,
more than a bull with its horns and hoofs." (Psalm 69:30-31)

"Do I eat the flesh of bulls,
or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving (Hebrew todah),
and pay your vows to the Most High." (Psalm 50:13-14, NRSV)

Q2. (2:5) If your praise is primarily for God's benefit, not your own, how should you be offering praise?

Rejecting the Messiah (2:6-8)

Now Peter returns to the theme of the Jews rejecting the Messiah. He quotes several scriptures from the Old Testament which point to this:

"For in Scripture it says:

   'See, I lay a stone in Zion,
   a chosen and precious cornerstone,
   and the one who trusts in him
   will never be put to shame' (quoting Isaiah 28:16).

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

   'The stone the builders rejected
   has become the capstone' (quoting Psalm 118:22),


   'A stone that causes men to stumble
   and a rock that makes them fall' (quoting Isaiah 8:14)

They stumble because they disobey the message -- which is also what they were destined for." (2:6-8)

Peter is repeating Scriptures that Jesus himself had used to explain the Jews' intransigence.[69] These verses were also found in the preaching of the early church.[70] I'm not going to spend much time on these verses, but want to move on to who God calls us to be.

The New People of God (2:9a)

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." (2:9)

We've already looked at the idea of priesthood in 2:5 above. Here Peter adds to the idea of a "holy priesthood" the concept of a "royal priesthood," "a priesthood of royal rank or in royal service."[71] We serve the King!

Chosen people. "People" (NIV), "generation" (KJV), "race" (NRSV) translate the Greek noun genos, "a relatively large people group, nation, people."[72]

"Nation" ethnos, is similar, "a body of persons united by kinship, culture, and common traditions, nation, people."[73]

The KJV has a striking translation of the next phrase, "a peculiar people." NIV translates it as "a people belonging to God." NRSV puts it, "God's own people." The word is peripoiēsis, "that which is acquired, possessing, possession, property," used here and in Ephesians 1:14.[74] The word "people" here is the Greek noun laos, the common word for "people," here referring specifically to the people who have a special relationship with God.[75]

I've heard people joke that the reason they are "peculiar" is because the Bible says they are. But the meaning here is "God's own special, set-apart people" -- not peculiar "weird."

"God's own people" contains two ideas: (1) that we belong to God exclusively, and (2) that we belong to others who are part of this people.

Q3. (2:9) What actions and attitudes should this idea of being part of God's own people inspire in us?

The Purpose of God's People (2:9b)

Peter uses a number of words to describe our specialness to God. But don't miss our purpose:

"... that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." (2:9b)

"Praises" (NIV, KJV), "mighty acts" (NRSV) translate the Greek noun aretē. The word means "consummate excellence or merit," "uncommon character worthy of praise, excellence of character, exceptional civic virtue."[76] Our purpose is to offer praises to God who has so dramatically saved us from darkness to light! This is our priestly role, but it also is the only appropriate way to show our gratitude to God.

Once Outsiders, Now Insiders (2:10)

Now Peter gives a scriptural example of how great this salvation is, how full of grace.

"Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." (2:10)

This verse recalls a famous passage from Hosea, one of the "minor prophets" of the eighth century BC. His prophecy was directed towards the rebellious Northern Kingdom of Israel, which would soon go into exile. To make a powerful point to his hearers, God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute named Gomer who is unfaithful to him, figurative of the unfaithfulness of God's people Israel (Hosea 1:2-3). She bears him children who God tells him to name Lo-Ruhamah, "not loved," and Lo-Ammi, "not my people" (1:6-8), again, figurative of rebellious Israel. But in a beautiful promise of the future, Hosea prophesies Israel's reconciliation with God, in which God says:

"I will show my love to the one I called, 'Not my loved one.'
I will say to those called 'Not my people,' 'You are my people';
and they will say, 'You are my God.'" (Hosea 2:23)

Peter recalls this beautiful story of God's unimaginable grace. See the echoes of it in verse 10:

"Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." (2:10)

Waging War for Your Own Soul (2:11)

Finally Peter warns us of our tenuous position here on earth.

"Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul." (2:11)

We've seen these words before in 1 Peter, reminding of our status on earth:

  • "Aliens" (NIV, NRSV), "strangers" (KJV) is the Greek adjective paroikos, "pertaining to being a resident foreigner, stranger, alien, one who lives in a place that is not one's home."[77]
  • "Strangers" (NIV), "pilgrims" (KJV), "exiles" (NRSV) is the Greek adjective parepidēmos, "pertaining to staying for a while in a strange or foreign place, sojourning, residing temporarily -- stranger, sojourner, resident alien."[78]

We are constantly tempted to conform to the values of our culture. But this we cannot do. Our values need to come from God.

We have to learn to say, "No." "Abstain from" is the Greek verb apechō, which means here "to avoid contact with or use of something, keep away, abstain, refrain from."[79]

What are we to say "No" to? "Desires" (NIV, NRSV), "lusts" (KJV) is the Greek noun epithymia, "desires," which we've already seen in 1:14 and 2:11. Modified by the word "sinful" or "fleshly" (Greek sarx), it is clear that these aren't godly desires, but ones inspired by the human sinful nature that rebels against God.

Why are we to say "No"? Because these desires and the sinful nature that inspires them is at war with our soul. This is a life and death struggle. "War against" is the Greek verb strateuō, "to engage in a conflict, wage battle, fight."[80] It is used here and in James 4:1 of struggling desires within the human soul, that is "the seat and center of the inner human life in its many and varied aspects."[81]

Q4. (2:11) Read 1 Peter 2:11 carefully. The world tells us (1) to conform and (2) that sin won't hurt us. What does Peter tell us to combat these lies? How can this reminder help us?

See Your Good Deeds and Glorify God (2:12)

The essence of Christianity, however, is not what we avoid doing, but what we deliberately do in self-giving love.

"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." (2:12)

Peter seems to be echoing his Master's words:

"In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)

Our lives may help our friends, neighbors, and relatives to be convinced of the truth of the Gospel, so that they, too, will glorify God. "Glorify" is the Greek verb doxazō, "to influence one's opinion about another so as to enhance the latter's reputation, praise, honor, extol."[82]

When will they glorify God? There's some disagreement about this verse. "Visits" (NIV), "visitation" (KJV), "comes to judge" (NRSV) translate the Greek noun episkopē, "the act of watching over with special reference to being present, visitation, of divine activity."[83] I believe that this speaks of the Second Coming of Christ.

Q5. (2:12) How can the good deeds we commit by living openly as Christians increase God's praise? How does our "blending in" detract from God's praise?

1 Peter: Discipleship Lessons from the Fisherman, by Ralph F. Wilson
In book form as PDF, Kindle, and paperback

In this passage, Peter has reminded us who we are -- a chosen people; a holy, royal priesthood; stones in a spiritual temple, aliens and exiles on earth. He reminds us how much grace it took for God to take us who were "no people" and turn us into his "special, chosen people." Then he reminds us to act like who we are by abstaining from sin and living good lives before those around us.


Father, so often I am self-centered. I think about my own needs and not yours. Please forgive me. Help me to think as a priest should think! Help me to live for your glory, not my own. And thank you for your great love for me and all of us. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:5)

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." (1 Peter 2:9)

End Notes

[54] On the Church as the new people of God, see Matthew 21:43-44; Romans 2:28; 9:8; Galatians 3:29; 6:16; Philippians 3:3; but also Romans 12:13-27.

[55] Genesis 49:24; Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 18, 30; 1 Samuel 2:2; Psalm 18:2, 31, 46; 19:14; 28:1; 31:2; 42:9; 61:2; 62:2; and many others.

[56] Judges 18:31; 1 Chronicles 6:48; Ezra 2:68; Nehemiah 6:10; Psalm 42:4; etc.

[57] "Stone," used in 2:1-8 is the Greek noun lithos, which is used to describe stones of various kinds -- building stones, precious stones and jewels, millstones, stones used to close graves, etc. (BDAG 595-596). Only in verse 8 is a different word used -- petra, in reference to a rock to stumble over. Lithos is used primarily of worked and shaped stones used for various purposes. Petra, on the other hand, refers primarily to "bedrock" or "massive rock formations, rock" (BDAG 809). Peter's Greek nickname was Petros, the Rock. In Aramaic he was called Cephas (John 1:42).

[58] 1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:20-22; Revelation 3:12. For more on this, see my series, "Vision for the Church," Lesson 2, "God's Presence in the Church" Ephesians 2:11-22 (https://www.jesuswalk.com/church/2_presence.htm).

[59] Oikodomeō, BDAG 696.

[60] Of course, Jesus spoke in Aramaic, while oikodomeō is the Greek equivalent.

[61] "Rejected" (NIV, NRSV) or "disallowed" (KJV) is the Greek verb apodokimzō, "to regard as unworthy/unfit and therefore to be rejected, reject" (BDAG 110).

[62] "Chosen" is the Greek adjective eklektos, which we saw in verse 1:1 (and from which we get our English word "elect"). It means (1) "pertaining to being selected, chosen" and here (2) pertaining to being considered best in the course of a selection, choice, excellent," carrying the idea of "hand-picked" (BDAG 306.) The word also occurs in verses 6 and 9.

[63] "Precious" is the Greek entimos, "pertaining to being esteemed as something of considerable worth, valuable, precious" (BDAG 340). A related word, timios, occurs in 1:19, "precious blood."

[64] Hierateuma, BDAG 469.

[65] Euprosdektos, BDAG 410-411.

[66] Pneumatikos, BDAG 837.

[67] Anapherō, BDAG 75.

[68] Thysia, BDAG 462-463.

[69] Matthew 21:42 = Mark 12:10-11 = Luke 20:17.

[70] Acts 4:11; Romans 9:32-33; 1 Corinthians 1:23; Ephesians 2:20-22.

[71] Hierateuma, BDAG, 469.

[72] Genos, BDAG 194.

[73] Ethnos, BDAG 276-277.

[74] Peripoiēsis, BDAG 804.

[75] Laos, BDAG 586.

[76] Aretē, BDAG 130. "That" (NIV, KJV) or "in order that" (NRSV) is the conjunction hopōs, a "marker expressing purpose for an event or state, (in order) that." (BDAG 718). "Declare" (NIV), "show forth" (KJV), and "proclaim" (NRSV) translate the Greek verb exaggellō, "proclaim, report" (BDAG 343).

[77] Paroikos, BDAG 779.

[78] Parepidēmos, BDAG 775.

[79] Apechō, BDAG 102-103.

[80] Strateuō, BDAG 947.

[81] Psychē, "soul," BDAG 1098-1100.

[82] Doxazō, BDAG 258.

[83] Episkopē, BDAG 379.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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