on context

“So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor. And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,

‘I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem, chosen for great honor,
and anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.’

Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him,

‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’

And,

‘He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.’

They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them. But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

‘Once you had no identity as a people;
now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
now you have received God’s mercy.’” – 1 Pet 2:1-10 (NLT)

As a history nerd, and as someone who trained with the best of the best at All Souls Church in London, I can tell you that context is key.

What on earth does that mean?

This is what I mean: context is looking at where something fits in. What came before it? What came after it? Because looking at something just by itself, often doesn’t tell you very much. But if you think about what came before it, and what came after it, things will make a lot more sense. That makes sense for this passage, and it makes sense for who Christians are.

On the face of it, this passage looks… harsh, boring. It looks like it’s telling you what to do, and how to live your life. But let’s step back and look at the context. Let’s look at the story here.

Verses one and two tell us how Christians should live. Get rid of evil behaviour. Go for pure spiritual milk. Some of you will switch off just by hearing that. But hear me out – let’s look at verse three. It says ‘now that you’ve tasted the Lord’s kindness.’ Now that you have seen what Jesus has done.

This is important, because where we come from is important. And the rest of today’s passage tells us where Christians come from. Christians come from what Jesus has done. And who is Jesus? Is he the nicest guy in the world? Some bearded wise man with lots of well-meaning ideas? Some big, bad warrior king who will smite the wicked?

This passage tells us: he’s the stone that was rejected by the builders. The stone that later became the cornerstone.

He’s the guy everybody overlooked. He’s the guy that was rejected for being not good enough. And now he’s the cornerstone, he’s the part of the building that everything else is built around.

And that’s what Christians are. We’re not smarter than everybody else, we’re not better than everybody else. We’re not more forgiving, or more loving, or more loyal, or more hardworking. We are like Jesus. We were nothing, and now, because of Jesus, because of what he’s done, we’re something.

Because God keeps following this pattern in everything he does. He’s the kind of God who makes something out of nothing: he made the world out of chaos. He took Israel out of stinking slavery and made them his treasured people. He made himself into nothing by being born as a person, and from there he carried out the greatest rescue mission of all time. Jesus made his disciples out of nothing, he took a bunch of smelly fishermen, a crooked taxman and an ex-terrorist, and he made them into his followers. Jesus made his Church out of nothing, out of a bunch of losers with a death sentence hanging over their heads.

And Christians are still living that story today. We didn’t explode onto the scene all high and mighty. Just because we say ‘I love Jesus’ doesn’t make us better than other people. But this passage reminds us: remember where we come from. Remember mercy, remember grace. Remember the first time you heard Jesus tell you, ‘I love you, I don’t care what you’ve done, I want you to come home.’

Christians, remember who we are. We were once slaves. We were living in darkness. We had no hope to get out of there. Now we are free. Now we are out of the darkness. Now we have hope, but remember, remember – all this is because of Jesus. Because Jesus went through that pattern too. Something out of nothing.

And what do Christians have to do? Yes, Christians have to get rid of all evil behaviour – because we remember Jesus, we remember how much it cost him to get us out of there. Why would we want to go back?

We get rid of evil behaviour not because it makes us better than everyone else. We do this because we remember Jesus. And we do this because we want to be like him, do what he does. We want to represent other people to God, and represent God to other people, just like he did. In other words, as the passage tells us, we are now priests, each and every one of us. You don’t have to go study at seminary to become a priest. We are heavenly middlemen. Which is exactly what Jesus is doing.

But priests, remember – you’re not a middleman because you’re better than everyone else. Because, this passage reminds us – all priests, all Christians, were nothing. We were all slaves at one point. So live lives of purity, but not because you’re better than everyone else. Live lives of purity because you are now priests, because you were once nothing, but now you are something. Just like Jesus. And only because of what Jesus has done.

So that is how context makes a difference. It helps us remember that this passage isn’t about being a good person. It’s not about how you have to do this or have to do that, otherwise God will zap you with a lightning bolt. It’s about remembering who we are, where we come from.

And when you remember where you came from, who brought you out of darkness, you’ll want to help others get out of there too. You’ll want to be a priest. You’ll want to get rid of all evil behaviour. Because you remember where you come from. You remember who Jesus is.

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