v.5 Take note of Peter’s assumption, so common among the writers of the NT, that the worship of the ancient church, the temple, the Levitical sacrifices, and so on were evangelical worship. We can use the language of that worship to describe what we Christians do today. In its essential nature divine worship has always been the same, has been offered according to the same principles, and differs from epoch to epoch only in outward forms, forms that were understandably adjusted to serve the new situation when Jews and Gentiles together, far from the Holy Land were also worshipping the Lord. Of course, soon there would be no temple and, in the nature of the case, that worship, which Jewish Christians, including the apostles, had continued to participate in, was no longer possible.
For the second time we examine this important passage in the second chapter of First Peter. We considered it last time, two Lord’s Day evenings ago, for the emphasis it places upon the corporate character of our Christian lives, for the axe that it lays to the root of our far too individualistic conception of the Christian life. We look at it this evening for the other of its central themes: the primacy of worship in the Christian life.
Surely no one can read this passage carefully and with an interested mind without noticing the emphasis Peter places on how God’s grace to us in Christ has turned us into a worshipping community. This is what God’s salvation has made of us:
“…you yourselves 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…
“…you are a royal priesthood…that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Indeed, in this paragraph, from v. 4 to v. 10, the reference to our being made a holy priesthood in order to offer worship to God, is what rhetoricians refer to as an “inclusio.” An inclusio, as you know, is a phrase or sentence or statement made at the beginning and the end of a passage by which an author identifies his theme. Inclusios are found frequently in the Bible, written as it was in a day before tables of contents or chapter headings or italicized type. A famous example would be the book of Ecclesiastes which famously begins and ends with the identical statement. In this way the author indicates that the entire book is about this theme: “Vanity of vanity, all is vanity.” What we have here, as in many other biblical examples of the use of inclusio, is a single paragraph that is set off by similar statements at the beginning and the end. As frequently is the case the statements are not precisely identical, but they are sufficiently similar clearly to bracket the paragraph and to serve to identify Peter’s theme, or subject or emphasis. Since v. 11 really begins a new paragraph rather than ending the paragraph begun in v. 4, it is all the more the case that vv. 4-10 are about how those who believe in Jesus Christ are worshippers of God. We were saved by Christ to worship God!
In this grand account of what it means to be a Christian Peter says at the beginning and again at the end that God’s purpose in choosing us, in redeeming us through Christ, in granting us the new birth, and in calling us to faith in him is that we might worship God. In the first case, at the beginning, it is offering sacrifices to God – the language of the OT (this passage is full of that OT language and imagery and that reminds us that the ancient worship of Israel was evangelical worship, which we would know anyway because Jewish believers, including the apostles, continued to participate in that worship until the destruction of the temple) – and in the other it is declaring the praises of God. But in both cases and very obviously the idea is that of worship and, indeed, of the same worship. The emphasis, as we said last time, falls on the corporate worship of the church. The Christian from first to last is viewed as part of a community of faith and his or her actions as the actions of an entire household, people, priesthood, and nation. Of course, the corporate does not invalidate or make unnecessary the individual offering of worship. Far from conflicting with one another they serve one another. He or she worships best in church who has worshipped in private and vice versa.
Now we are perhaps inclined to make too little of this because we are so familiar with this language. But stop and consider. Things we do repeatedly, the activities of our religion that form the very structure of our lives, as does Lord’s Day worship, must be thought about, thought carefully about from time to time. Otherwise we will perform our rituals by habit and without the engagement of the heart. So think about this question: why should it be that our great purpose in life, still more why should it be God’s great purpose in our salvation that we would become a worshipping people? Why doesn’t Peter say that God saved us that we might live forever, as the Scripture elsewhere says, or that we might do good works, as Paul writes in Titus? He could have said any number of things that would have been true. But in this great summary, Peter, and the Holy Spirit behind Peter, said that we were saved to praise and worship God.
In a famous passage in his Reflections on the Psalms C.S. Lewis confessed to having had for a time some real trouble over this. Was God vain? Did he save us because he wanted to have some people around him always singing his praises? That seemed to him unworthy of God. We despise people who are always seeking praise and we despise the people who know what such people want and give it to them nevertheless. We have names for them: sycophants, boot-lickers, yes-men. None is a compliment; each is a slur. It was a stumbling block when Lewis noticed that often in the Psalms especially God seemed even to demand praise from his people, and even seemed to require it as a condition of his blessing them. For example, in Psalm 50:23 we read: “The one who offers thanksgivings as his sacrifice glorifies me; I will show the salvation of God.” Sometimes it is turned around and the psalm writer seems to be saying that if God would do this or that for him, he would give him praise in return as in Psalm 54: “Save me, O God… [and] with a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name.” That sounds suspiciously like God demanding our praise and our promising to give it if God will do something for us. Surely that is not the Christian spirit!
Lewis, of course, came eventually to see that it was right for men to praise God for he is truly praiseworthy, admirable, and deserving. But more to the point, he realized that his fear had to be misplaced since, as the Bible makes emphatically clear, God certainly does not “need” our praise or crave it in some selfish or vain way. As God himself tells his people when they imagined that they might ingratiate themselves with Him by such praises, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you!” That is from the same Psalm 50 I cited before.
But, in particular, his problem with this concentration on the obligation of worshipping God dissolved when he noticed that as a matter of fact the world rings with praise. Praise and worship in human life are actually the overflow of enjoyment and appreciation. People praise their lovers, their sports heroes, their local teams, their favorite authors, actors, movies, plays, books, food, weather, even politicians. Why, Lewis realized, should he deny to God’s people, in regard to what is supremely wonderful and valuable, what they and all other men delight to do about everything else that they value and prize? He also noticed that the crankiest and most small-minded people were the people who praised and gave thanks the least and the most balanced, happy, and large-hearted people praised the most. Indeed, he concluded, praise, when you think about it, is only inner health made audible. [p. 94] In his own words Lewis concluded, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.” [p. 95]
That is wonderfully insightful and helpful, though I think more could be said. I don’t think the first and foremost explanation for this concentration on praise, either in the Bible or in human life, is precisely the one that Lewis has given. I think it is rather that praise is the most perfect and complete expression of love. Indeed, it is not too much to say that according to the Bible praise is love. We rightly measure the love a husband has for his wife by the words of praise and appreciation he speaks to her and about her. We measure the love a father has for his children by the words that he speaks to them that communicate in one way or another his affection, his gratitude for them, his delight in them, the value he places upon them. We all want to believe that we can love our children just as much in other ways because we find it so easy to fail at this most important form and manner and method of love. Silent husbands and fathers defensively point to other things they do for their wives or children, but we know better and the wives and children themselves know better. There is little love if there are few words of praise and appreciation and delight. The voice is connected most directly to the heart and out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. And what thoughtful man has not learned the valuable lesson that it is by the speaking of love that love grows!
Praise looms so large in the Bible, worship is the greatest purpose of the Christian life, because love looms so large in the Christian life, both the receiving of love and the giving of it in return, love for God, love for wife or husband, love for children or parents, love for brothers and sisters in Christ, even love for one’s enemies. We were saved by love and saved to love. Love is the great purpose of our redemption: that we might love God and enjoy his love, that we might live in love. To say that God saved us to praise him is to say that he saved us to love him – it is as simple as that. The love we offer to God we offer precisely because we actually love him. It is not intended to make up some need he had – he lived for eternity without us! – but because love is a compulsion in the Christian soul. Love delights God, who is himself Love, and we love to delight him because we love him. And who can deny that such love is good and right, ennobles a man or woman’s life, and brings blessing to those around him or around her?
This, I think, is why so few Christian people stumble, as Lewis did, at this concentration on worship that we find in the Bible. There is an instinctive recognition that it is a good thing, a right thing, even a necessary thing, because praise and love go together and we all know, because we are made in the image of God, that love is the very best thing, the purest thing in all the world. Don’t take this universal recognition for granted. Evolution cannot explain this fundamental characteristic of human life and experience, this longing for love in its purity and power. Nothing requires that kind of love for the survival of the species. Only a personal God can explain why we are this way and why sin is always fundamentally an attack on love.
But there is something more here, of course. There is something wonderfully and practically important about this concentration on worship as the end and purpose and fulfillment and completion of our Christian lives. For if this is what God has saved us for, obviously it is what we ought to be giving ourselves to, devoting ourselves to, making of supreme importance in our lives. Can anyone possibly deny that love, more deeply felt and more often and powerfully expressed, would be good for us and good for others? But we struggle to do this, don’t we? Every Christian does to some degree and most of us to a great degree. The struggles of life and life’s pleasures alike press in upon our attention and draw it away from God and his greatness and goodness.
I remember a long walk up and down our Colorado mountain valley several summers ago, talking with the faithful pastor of the Baptist church in Cripple Creek where we worship when at our Colorado cabin. As we often do we talked about the challenges of his ministry in that small town now given over to casino gambling. Perhaps you will not be surprised to learn what his great question was, faithful pastor that he is? It was this: how should he deal with people in his church for whom the “Godward” part of their lives was but merely one among the many interests to which they gave themselves, and, frankly, seemed at times hardly even the most important of those various interests? How should he deal with people who want this or that to be done in the church, or who complain about this or that, but who themselves will attend the Lord’s house only fitfully in the summer because they love to camp and who have little time for the Lord’s work because they are so consumed with other things? It is a common problem, is it not? It is a problem any faithful minister faces constantly in his work.
But, then, we all know that, because we know it is our problem too, always and in every way it is our problem, yours and mine. We know we have been saved to do everything we do to the glory of God, we know that we have been remade – an extraordinary thing – and that we have been enrolled as members of this kingdom of priests that we might declare the praises of the One who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light. But, when we look within ourselves, we are ashamed to admit that such a holy purpose far too often does not dominate our thoughts or actions in any obvious way.
We are too busy with the press of daily life to give much thought to the glory of God. We are too concerned with our reputations to speak openly before many people about God’s wonderful light and the hope that lies within us. We are too bowed down by the weariness and disappointments of life to raise our eyes to heaven and praise the redeemer who is now there interceding for us. Or, we are so beguiled by the pleasures of life, dazzled by its attractions that, God forgive us, the praises of the Holy and Triune God seem rather paltry in comparison.
Now, every faithful Christian here this evening knows the truth of what I say. It is the very nature of our sin to put ourselves before the Lord, to praise ourselves above him. Knowing our failure in this respect is not the problem. We listen in guilty silence to our own indictment. So I do not want to spend my time convincing you and me of our fault. Nor do I want to spend time arguing that the praises of our Redeeming God ought to be more the center and the daily business of our lives as Christians. We already know that. Love teaches us that, gratitude teaches us that, honor teaches us that.
I want rather this evening to leave us with this one thought. That, as is true of all of God’s purposes in our lives, and all of his commandments, and all of our duties as Christians, there is more goodness for us in what God wills than there is for him.
A book I often return to is a collection of the obiter dicta, the occasional sayings of John Duncan, the famous “Rabbi” Duncan of 19th century Scottish Presbyterianism. First a missionary to Jews in Hungary, with some outstanding converts to his name, including Alfred Edersheim the great Christian scholar of Judaism in the time of Christ, then a professor of Hebrew, and always an extraordinarily perceptive theologian and master of the Christian life, Duncan was famous for his “sayings,” observations that were so pithy that they stuck forever in the mind. The original edition of this collection of sayings was entitled Colloquia Peripatetica, Latin for Conversations While Walking Along.” The Banner of Truth republished an abridgement of the original edition under the title Just a Talker, Duncan’s self-deprecating description of himself. When asked why he hadn’t written books, he replied, “I’m just a talker.” I have often quoted Duncan to you because he was possessed of both real theological genius and a gift for the apt expression. He could condense a great deal of profound thought in a few memorable words. For example, one that I long ago wrote into the margin of my Bible at Romans 7:14-25, concerns the misery of Christians who find themselves still so much under the thumb of their sins, as Paul described himself still to be in those famous verses. Concerning that misery Rabbi Duncan simply remarked: “A prisoner of war is not a deserter!” Many statements like that you will find in this collection of Duncan sayings.
But in thinking about 1 Peter 2:4-10 there is another saying of John Duncan that comes to mind. “As long as I am thinking of Christ, I am happy.” It hit me that this is right, and more so than I often realize or stop to consider. “As long as I am thinking of Christ, I am happy.” I might not be giddy, I might not be wearing a great smile on my face in the midst of the difficulties and troubles of my life, but thinking about who he is and what he did long ago and what he is doing now and what he is going to do makes me happy, gives me peace, and clears my mind. Let me explain that further.
I was recently dipping once again into Andrew Bonar’s Memoir of Robert Murray McCheyne, which Spurgeon thought was the greatest of all Christian biographies. It is fascinating to read again of the days of revival in McCheyne’s church in Dundee. And I was reminded again how it is that when God’s people come face to face with Christ himself, as they do at such times of the powerful working of the Spirit, everything else recedes into the background. Not in a bad way, but in a very good way. People who live in times when the Spirit of God is mightily astir in the church, people who walk in the sunshine of God’s grace, think long and deeply and deliciously about God and Christ and his redemption, I say, such people rejoice with a joy we rarely experience in the forgiveness of their sins or contemplate the joys of heaven or rejoice in the goodness of holiness with a passion that we can only long for for ourselves. They are, in other words, happily preoccupied with divine things. I’ve met people at certain times in their lives when that would be a perfect description of them. They are, in that moment in other words, what Peter here says every Christian is in principle all of the time: a living stone, part of a royal priesthood, declaring the praises of him who called them out of darkness into his marvelous light. Every Christian is such a living stone in the wall of a temple, every Christian is a worshipper of God, only some at some times are more so than others.
But that concentration on God and Jesus Christ, that heart of love for him, that heart full of loving gratitude never had the effect of weakening their marriages or their families, or of making them less effective at work, or making other people less interesting to them. Quite the contrary! The more deeply and the more happily they thought of Christ and the cross, the better they loved their husbands or wives, the more affectionately they raised their children, the more faithfully they served their employers or customers, the more sacrificially they invested themselves in the lives of others, and the more appreciation they had for all that is good and beautiful in this world. We can sometimes foolishly suppose that a person can be too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good. That person actually has never existed, not for one minute in the world. The fact is, the more heavenly minded a person is, truly heavenly minded, the more his or her life becomes in every way what a human life ought to be.
And I should add this: the more a Christian’s life becomes devoted to the praise of God, the more lightly he or she carries the burdens and the sorrows of life. When God calls on us to give ourselves to his worship – the corporate worship of the church, the private worship of the individual Christian, and the daily life of worship in which the Lord is a conscious presence in all that we do – I say when God tells us that this is what he is after in our lives, he is not setting us some burden to bear, he is telling us how to walk with lightest step and with cheeriest heart in this world of sin and death. For you see, when God looms before us, when Christ and redemption and heaven fill our hearts, when we are moved and stirred by the wonder of these things, everything else takes its proper place in our lives. Things that otherwise loom too large, grow small and take their rightful place at the feet of these gigantic and eternal things, the things for which we give glory to God.
In the same way that John Jacob Astor no longer cared how the stock market was faring that night on the deck of Titanic as he said goodbye to his loved ones and prepared to meet his end, so it is with us. Just as in the face of ultimate reality the stock market doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, so in the face of Christ, his cross, his resurrection, and his coming again, so much in our lives that otherwise occupies so much space in our hearts recedes into its proper place. Robert Louis Stevenson has a character whom he describes as the sort of fellow who would be “doctoring a toothache on the judgment day.” He meant to describe the impossibly absurd detachment from reality that characterized that man. For on the judgment day, all toothaches will be forgotten. In a moment, in an instant, drunk up in an infinitely greater doom or infinitely greater joy.
I used to get headaches from time to time. I know that my headaches were never as painful as those that some of you suffer, especially you migraine sufferers. I have some sympathy because I know from my own experience how painful headaches can be, but I also know that my headaches were mild in comparison to some of yours. But I know how distracting a headache can be, how hard it is to do anything else or think about anything else when suffering that pain. But I remember reading that General Ulysses S. Grant was lying in his tent on a Sunday afternoon suffering from a vicious headache when the news came that General Lee was proposing to meet to discuss surrender. Grant’s headache was gone at the instant he received the news. Certain things are so great they overwhelm all other things, put all other things in a completely different perspective, put all other things in their place.
And so it is in the kingdom of God. Joshua may have had his worries about attacking the walled city of Jericho, but Jericho instantly disappeared from his mind when he found himself face to face with the angel of the Lord! John may have been, for all we know, weary or depressed or frustrated or confused, exiled as he had been to the island of Patmos. But when the Lord Christ in his divine glory appeared to him in a vision there, all his troubles were immediately forgotten as he was swept up into the sight of things so wonderful that they threw everything in this world into the shade.
And it is as true for distractions that come with pleasure and prosperity as from woe. As you, I have enjoyed many things in my life, tremendously enjoyed them: the experience of faraway places, the pleasure of friendships, scenes of spectacular beauty, magnificent food, the satisfactions of work, and so on. But it doesn’t diminish such pleasures to know that they are only the foretastes of things to come that will bring far greater joy; indeed it enhances and purifies them. My sister, as you remember, apparently had the sight of such things at the very moment she came to die, and death lost its sting as soon as she saw them.
And I tell you this: if you could, even for a moment, see the Lord Christ on his throne in heaven, the glory of his godhead upon him, yet still visible the five wounds suffered at the cross; if you could see the glorified saints in heaven, if you could see the fiery furnace of the glory of God, such sights would drink up all of your other pleasures and all of your sorrows up into themselves. These are the only things in all of the universe that have the power to do that, to fill your heart with love and gratitude at no loss to your other proper loves.
No, no, brethren, we are not speaking here about merely another duty. Surely we ought to praise God. He deserves our praises for ever and ever. Love and gratitude want to smother him with our praises. But the worship of God, the uttering of his praise, the offering of sacrifices of love is nothing less than the path to the fullness of life. Heaven will be purest joy precisely because there we will have hearts full of perfect love which, of course, will express itself in worship, the worship of God first and the worship of one another as well. Let us all remember God’s heart of love. He has told us how to be happy and how to make the most of life. He saved us to be happy, and the best way, the surest way to be happy is to be praising someone, and who is easier to praise than the God of love himself. And it happens that the way to that is the way of love, love expressing itself, as it always will, in worship. Write down somewhere – maybe in the margin of you Bible here at 1 Peter 2:4-10 – that wise saying of John Duncan; write it down so that you will remember it:
“As long as I am thinking of Christ, I am happy.”