notes on first peter two

When we gather on Thursday evening we will read the second chapter of the First Letter of Peter. Come with your questions and insights. Here are some questions to consider as you read …

In chapter one Peter refers to having received “a new birth into a living hope”. In chapter two he continues the metaphor, saying: “like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation – if you indeed have tasted that the Lord is good.” In what ways might the church in our time be akin to a newborn infant? Or not? This spiritual milk is the opposite of drinking in “guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.” What are the qualities of Christian community formed when fed on a steady diet of God’s spiritual milk? Does this feminine metaphor for God surprise you? What metaphors for God do you find most powerful?

Here Peter makes reference to Psalm 34, verse 8 (“O taste and see that the Lord is good”). When have you tasted the goodness of God? When you consider the five senses of sound, sight, smell, touch and taste which do you find bring you closest to knowing God’s goodness? Or is your experience of God’s goodness a more intuitive “sixth sense”?

Peter invites the church to “come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” We are invited to think metaphorically of the church as a building. When Peter writes there are no such things as church buildings. After seventeen hundred years of the church’s identification with all manner of church buildings most people hear “church” and immediately think of a physical place, not of a spiritual reality. What difference might it make to hear the word “church” and think first of the people who are the “living stones” that make up the spiritual house? Does it make a difference to think of one another as small stones that make up the spiritual building that is the church rather than as the people who enter into the building called the church? If we are the church building, who enters the space our life together as “living stones” creates as a sanctuary? Who is this spiritual building for?

Peter reminds the community that this spiritual house has as its cornerstone (or, keystone) Jesus Christ who was rejected by the builders – the stone masons (he quotes Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22). In verse eight he speaks of (in Greek) “the scandalous rock” over which many stumble. In Jesus God intends to build a new community (an “ekklesia”) and yet finds this building project to be a scandal to those who seek to construct a proper godly community. In what ways might God’s intention for a new community in Jesus scandalize the church in our time and place?

In verses nine and ten Peter famously declares “the exiles of the Dispersion” (I Peter 1:1) to be “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. 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.” This is one of the root texts that informed the Protestant Reformation’s emphasis on the “priesthood of all believers.” This doctrine asserts that every baptised person, every Christian, is a priest. What do you make of this? What is the role of a “priest”? In what ways might you be serving as a priest? In what ways are we as a congregation called to be a communal priest?

When Peter turns to advice on how to live as “aliens and exiles” within the Roman Empire he emphasises living “honourably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honourable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge” (vss. 11-12). Peter encourages the early church to find ways to, while living a new way of life, accommodate to the surrounding culture whenever possible so as to change the mind of those who consider Christians “evildoers”. What advice would you give to Christians who live in a cultural climate that considers Christianity an insidious and dangerous movement that should be eradicated?

Slavery is taken for granted as a given in the political, social and economic structures of the 1st Century. Peter advises Christian slaves to endure suffering – just and unjust - for the sake of the gospel’s proclamation in that cultural context. Over the centuries Peter’s advice has been marshalled as evidence in defence of the institution of slavery in a variety of cultural settings. How do you think such specific passages are to be interpreted in the light of changed circumstances and understanding? In what ways might the whole canon of scripture (Old and New Testaments) provide an interpretive frame within which individual passages such as this are weighed and understood?

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