Living Stones

hazy-water

We’ve been examine the roles of stones in the Bible through our last couple of lessons. Two weeks ago, my dad kicked things off by discussing stones as memorials and as symbols or permanence. He emphasized how we have a covenant with God written on our hearts as in stone that is unchangeable and unbreakable. Then Steve talked about us having a foundation made of stone. That foundation is built in faith, and its cornerstone is Christ.

Today, we’re going to start in I Peter 2:

So rid yourselves of all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, desire the pure spiritual milk, so that you may grow by it for your salvation, since you have tasted that the Lord is good. Coming to Him, a living stone — rejected by men but chosen and valuable to God — you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Upon the rock of Christ, we are His building materials. We are the living stones that make His temple.

Smooth Stones

In I Peter 4:2, Peter says that Christ was rejected as a cornerstone, and the same can be said of each and every one of us. You see, good building stones are rigid. They are carved. They have sharp corners, but this is not how we are to be. Later in this same chapter, Peter says that we should be submissive people, that we should never return evil for evil, and that we should always love and honor others — even when we don’t feel they deserve it. We are stones that are smooth, not rough. We are strong without being abrasive.

We are this way because of our Father’s love for us. John 4:14 and John 7:38 both record Jesus saying that fountains of living water will flow within those who believe, and Isaiah 58:11 says those who follow after God will be like a spring that never runs dry. In other passages, we can find God’s love described as rivers and streams. It is a perpetual flow that surrounds and engulfs us. What happens to stones in such a current? They are worn smooth.

Held Together By Faith

There’s a problem with stones that are shaped by nature rather than man: they are difficult to build with. You have to have something that holds them together, or they’re just going to fall apart. For us, that supporting material is our faith. Ephesians 4:4 tells us we have been called to be one body in one Spirit. We have one hope, one God, and one faith. It is that which fills in the gaps that might separate us. Our faith unites us and makes us one in Christ.

This means we cannot let anything in that tears our unity apart. Staying in Ephesians 4, Paul says, beginning in verse 31, that we should rid ourselves of shouting, bitterness, and wrath. When divisive attitudes come between us, they chip away at the mortar holding us together. When we promote pride and personal agendas, we chip away at that mortar. Instead, as verse 32 points out, we should be kind, understanding, and forgiving. This helps strengthen the bond of unity between us and holds us together as Christ’s church.

Submissive but Strong

When God’s love washed over us and we dwell in unity, certain aspects of our personalities will erode away. We cannot help but submit to the way God’s love shapes us. It will make us less abrasive. We become smoother. Isaiah 64:8 puts it in terms of clay. He shapes us and molds us in his way as the currents of a river shapes the rocks it passes over and through. That process may be gradual, but it is a powerful force. Consider that the Grand Canyon was shaped by a river. How much more can God shape us if we let Him?

For His love to shape us so completely, we have to submerse ourselves completely. Think about Peter as an example. More than once, he finds his way to Christ through water. In Matthew 14:22, Peter falters when trying to reach Jesus, but he deserves this much: he got out of the boat. He leapt toward Jesus even when it seemed unrealistic. In John 21, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter finds water between himself and His savior, and he throws himself in again, swimming to the shore to be with Christ. We should be like that. We should be so completely immersed in Jesus’ teachings, His examples, and His love that we let it overwhelm and shape us into something new and beautiful. We retain inner strength and conviction, but all of our outward roughness is washed away.

Finally, I Peter 2:4 describes us as valuable stones. In verse 9, Peter calls us a royal priesthood chosen by God. After we are reshaped by God, we may not seem to have great value to the world, but we were and will always be greatly valuable to God. He wants us to be with Him. He wants us to trust in Him as Peter looked to Christ for salvation. He wants to shape us into something individually better than we were and then collectively build us into something even greater. In that effort, we should be united in faith, hope, and love. We should be strengthening each other as we let God strengthen us. This is what it means to be living stones.

lesson by Robert Smelser

Idolizing Opinions

idols

Last time we looked at idols, we talked about how self will can be an idol. One of the ways our self will can take over is when we value our own opinions over God’s word. It’s about adding and subtracting from God’s word or becoming more focused on things we think will make us a successful congregation rather than being close to God.

These priorities might tell us to change our focus, to stray from the worship God wants so that we can fill seats. It might look like changing God’s word to make ourselves feel better. It might even be putting more faith in preachers or church leaders than God Himself. We can be like Saul in I Samuel 15 where Saul tries to justify changing God’s commands when conquering the Amalekites. He said it was for God, but the truth was that it was for himself.

Honoring God, Honoring Self

While our commands are different than Saul had, the problem can be the same. We can justify altering God’s word by saying we are doing it for Him while we are really focusing on self. We can look for a congregation to join based on our own standards rather than God’s. If our congregation is tailoring everything to my needs, then I might have an idol I’m pursuing.

When we see so many different teachings about salvation, baptism, communion, divorce, and accountability, it’s evident that not all of them can be correct. Yes, there will be some differences between how worship might look from group to group. We might have a few different practices and traditions, but the core of our message should all be the same. The inconsistencies arise because we want to measure God’s word by our own standards instead of His.

Sure of Self

We can be very sure of our selves, and that’s a sure way to begin straying from God’s word. We have to be continually examining ourselves and our beliefs against the standard set down by our Lord and Savior. I John 4:1 – 6 warns us against simply believing something because it’s being taught by someone — even if it’s someone we like. We should test all that we teach and hear against the revealed word.

God’s word challenges us. It challenges our assumptions. It challenges our beliefs. It challenges the core of our identities. It tells us that we need to set self completely aside to be like Him, and, when we are setting our foundation in Him, then we can be sure of His relationship with us. As John says numerous times in his first letter, we can know that we know Him. When we come to Him on His terms, we can truly be sure.

Engaging in His Word

Ephesians 4 calls us to a unity in spirit and faith. We should not be dividing ourselves over our personal takes on God’s word. We should not be dividing based on our personal enjoyment of worship or study. We should be unified in His word, in His love, and in His faith. When we have that unity, we will automatically be more invested and engaged. John 4:24 calls on us to worship spiritually and in truth. If we remove one of those, our lives of worship fall short.

What is your priority when deciding how you are going to teach and interpret God’s word? What is your priority when you worship? Our God should be our first and only priority. This challenges us to be honest with ourselves. It challenges us to change ourselves rather than His word. It challenges us to make ourselves something new. When we add or subtract from His message, we are trying to craft God in our own image. Rather, we should be remaking ourselves in His.

lesson by Mike Mahoney

The Philippian Letter: Chapter 4

philippians

Through our studies of Philippians we’ve looked at our lives in perspective of the hope of salvation. We’ve talked about what it’s like to try to be like Jesus. We’ve looked at our goals and measured them against Paul had for his spiritual growth. Finally, we’re going to look at the joy we should have in Christ and the way prayer and thanksgiving can help us attain that deep spiritual joy.

Unity in Love

As he closes this letter, Paul once again makes an exhortation for unity. He reminds them and us of God’s providence and and he encourages to rejoice. Paul instructs us to seek unity and agreement with one another for the sake of the gospel on multiple occasions. For example, in 1 Corinthians 1:10 Paul writes:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

We see this again in Philippians 4:2 when he encourages us to again find agreement in the Lord. He dissuades us from quarrels and divisions that can drive unrest and lead us away from our focus on being Christ-like. He specifically calls out a couple of Christians named Euodia and Syntyche, who are involved in a disagreement, and he asks a dear friend to intervene and assist them in settling it. The same focus on unity is asked of you and me today. Let’s not let the things of this world get in the way of our focus on doing God’s will.

Contentment in God

The latter part of the chapter sees Paul direct us to focus on the contentment only God can supply. This can be tough, and it’s easy to get focused on self in such a way that we become discontent. There have been times in my own life when I’ve felt like God is ignoring me or has left me to fend for myself. Paul confronts times of weakness like that beginning in verse 12.

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Skipping down to verse 19:

My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever.

Paul reminds us of God’s care for us and His desire for us to find contentment with what He has supplied us. Paul certainly didn’t go about preaching what some call a prosperity gospel. He faced more struggles and trials than any of us are likely to face in our Christian journeys.

A Higher Perspective

Has anything happened that ruined your day or week, or even month? I once thought I was on a sure road to promotion in the company where I was working. I finished my first large project and was looking forward to the rewards from that venture when I was unexpectedly laid off — one week before Christmas. That sure ruined my month.

But it’s hard to compare experiences I’ve had like that to the struggles that Paul had. Starting in II Corinthians 11:16, we see Paul talk about imprisonments, beatings, near-death experiences, torture, going hungry and sleepless, being shipwrecked, and more. And at the end of that passage, he talks about the concern he has for the well-being of all churches. He rejoiced with confidence in God. He didn’t shy away from the challenges or threats he faced.

What’s your focus? What are you thinking about as you go about your day — when things are great or when you are facing struggles? Do you dwell on the problems or find contentment and hope in Christ? I’d encourage you to reread through Paul’s experiences in life and take note of how he views things. Having a perspective like his can change our lives and lead us down a path of greater contentment and joy.

lesson by Aaron Kadel