METAPHORS FOR CHRISTIANS: A STUDY OF 1 PETER 2:1-12

Written on: November 30, 2023

Article by: Chad Ramsey

A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes one thing as if it is another. Metaphors help us understand lesser-known concepts by comparing them to known truths. David used a metaphor when he famously wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1). In that statement, he was comparing God’s relationship with him to the relationship a shepherd has with his flock. The statement was used to emphasize God’s ability to provide for and protect His people. It helps us understand the kind of relationship the Lord is willing to have with His followers.

Metaphors are used in the New Testament to help describe the church. For example, Paul told Timothy: “These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15). In this statement the church is said to be “the house of God” and “the pillar and ground of the truth.” Both comparisons help us understand something about the church. As “the house of God,” the church, like the temple, must be a place of worship characterized by holiness; as “the pillar and ground of the truth,” it must provide the basis from which truth radiates. Elsewhere, the church is compared to a body (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 1:22-23), a flock (Acts 20:28), a bride (Ephesians 5:22-33), and a family (Ephesians 3:14-15). The analogies drawn between the church and these known concepts help us better understand the purpose and identity of the church.

In 1 Peter 2:1-12, Christians are described in three specific ways: as newborn babes (verses 1-3), as precious stones (verses 4-10), and as sojourners (verses 11-12). Each description helps us appreciate an aspect of our identity as God’s people. Like newborn babes, we must seek to grow and develop. Like precious stones, we are extremely valuable, because we “are now the people of God” (verse 10). Like sojourners and pilgrims, we are not at home in this world and therefore should not live for it. All three comparisons were helpful to individuals whose faith was being “tested by fire” (1 Peter 1:7), and they continue to be needed today. Those who face persecution must grow spiritually, lest they become too weak to go on. Those who face persecution must realize their value to God, lest they become discouraged. And those who face persecution must focus on the ultimate goal, lest they become entrapped in worldly pursuits. Whether we ever have to endure physical opposition to our faith, these are lessons we should learn.

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Newborn Babes (1 Peter 2:1-3)

Those who have obeyed the truth (cf. 1 Peter 2:22) are supposed to live differently from people of the world. Stressing this point, Peter noted that we are to remove “all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking” from our lives (1 Peter 2:1). These sinful behaviours are characteristic of unbelievers, but such should not be true of Christians.

The sins Peter warns his audience about all impact relationships in one way or another. The phrase translated “all evil speaking” (1 Peter 2:1 NKJV) is also rendered “all slander” (ESV). Rather than sinning against and harming one another, Christians are to “love one another fervently with a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

The transformation from malicious to loving behaviour requires growth. Because Peter wrote to those who had “been born again” (1 Peter 1:23), he compared them to “newborn babes” (1 Peter 2:2). This comparison is important, for it reminds us of both our need for growth and the dependance we must have on God’s word. We must, as Peter noted, “desire the pure milk of the word” in order to grow (verse 2). Our desire for the milk of God’s word is made stronger when we develop an appreciation for His gracious plan (1 Peter 2:3).

Precious Stones (1 Peter 2:4-10)

Those who long for the nourishment God’s word provides will seek to develop a relationship with His Son—Jesus Christ. Encouraging this, Peter wrote: “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious” (1 Peter 2:4). That Jesus is under consideration is made clear by the Old Testament passages quoted in verses 6-8 (cf. Isaiah 28:16; Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 8:14). He is indeed a “living stone” because death could not hold Him!

Followers of Jesus are also described as “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5). This designation reminds us that we can enjoy eternal life because He lives. Those who unite with Jesus “are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). The metaphor calls to mind the temple and the worship that takes place therein. This does not mean the church is identical to the temple, for there are differences, as Guy N. Woods recognized. He wrote: “In this spiritual house—the church—there is a ‘holy priesthood.’ Here the figure changes from a building contemplated as a structure composed of many stones to a house occupied by servants. The servants are designated as priests. Under the law of Moses the priests constituted a special class empowered to officiate in worship. Inasmuch as all Christians are authorized to engage in the worship of God, all Christians are priests, and thus together constitute a priesthood of believers. This priesthood is ‘holy,’ because its members have been separated to the sacred purpose of worship before the altar of God” (A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles, Volume VIII, 58). Those to whom Peter wrote correctly recognized Jesus as the precious stone that He is. Because of this, the believers are also precious (1 Peter 2:7 NASB). According to Woods, “The preciousness of the stone of the foundation is acquired by the ‘living stones’ (children of God) which rest upon it” (60).

Unlike believers, those who rejected Jesus and crucified Him failed to recognize His worth. This was not unforeseen. Instead, it was prophesied (1 Peter 2:7-8). So Peter wrote: “They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed” (verse 8). This does not mean the disobedient had no choice. Rather, it means they chose the wrong path. In contrast, believers are described as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Sojourners (1 Peter 2:11-12)

Having affirmed the relationship Christians enjoy with Jesus, Peter reminded his audience of their temporary status, both on earth and among those who persecute them. He described them as “sojourners and pilgrims” (1 Peter 2:11 NKJV), “aliens and strangers” (NASB), or “foreigners and exiles” (NIV). Regardless of the translation, the terms convey that Christians are in a temporary situation.

Given their status as sojourners, Peter urged his readers to “abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Because time is limited, we must serve the Lord rather than destructive lusts. When we behave properly, we make an impact on our community. Those who do so are able to withstand the critical examination of outsiders. In

fact, Christians who live properly not only deflect the attacks of the world but also give critics a

reason to “glorify God in the day of visitation” (verse 12). This occurs when enemies of Christianity are led to consider and obey its demands by the godly lives of the faithful (cf. Matthew 5:16).

Conclusion

From our study of the metaphors used in 1 Peter 2:1-12, we learn three important lessons. First, spiritual growth is not optional. Each Christian should desire to feed upon and grow from God’s word. This will not occur if we fail to read, study, and meditate upon Scripture. Neither will it occur if we fail to properly apply what we learn. As the psalmist declared, God’s word must be a lamp to our feet and a light for our path (Psalm 119:105). As James wrote, we must “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). Second, our value is derived from Jesus. Because He lives, we can live. We become “acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). Consequently, we delight in being “His own special people” (verse 9). Third, this world is not our home. Whatever trials or struggles we face here are temporary. Paul made this point when he wrote: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Because we are “sojourners and pilgrims” (1 Peter 2:11), we must live for more than just the present moment.

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Woods, Guy N. A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles, Vol. VIII. Nashville: Gospel

Advocate, 1970.