Looking back, I have felt sorry for the trouble we caused James Holliman. He was our Jr. Boys Sunday school teacher. My friends and I were typical rowdy kids who couldn’t sit still. We were loud, obnoxious, disobedient, and disruptive every Sunday.
Yet, Mr. Holliman never lost his cool with us. He would calmly stop in the middle of the lesson and remind us to sit and listen. Then, he would continue teaching the Bible to us.
Although he probably thought we weren’t listening, it is funny how many times I recall things today that he taught us thirty years ago. In fact, many times, the seeds of Scripture he planted in my young mind now bear fruit when I’m preparing a sermon or writing Bible Study material.
A part of my life and ministry now rests on the ministry of Mr. Holliman and others like him. I’m sure you have several “Mr. Holliman’s” in your life who have supported, encouraged, taught, and influenced you in Christ. We all need each other. That’s why the local church is so important.
Within a congregation, God provides mutual disciple-makers who build into one another’s lives. We all have needs and we all have things to offer. And, for the believer, there is no other entity that has been ordained with the same value, role, and necessity than the local church. Only of the church did Jesus say, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
Of course, he said those words to Peter, whose name interestingly means, “rock.” Over the centuries there has been great confusion upon what Jesus meant with that statement. Was Christ saying that the church was built upon the rock of Peter? While a lesson in the original languages would be one way to clear this matter up, an easier approach would be to ask Peter what he understood Jesus to mean.
Fortunately, Peter takes up the theme in one of his letters to a young church saying, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 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” (II Peter 2:4-5).
Peter starts off speaking of Christ as “a living stone.” We know He is talking about Christ because he goes on to explain that this livings stone was “rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious.” Later, in verses 6-7, Peter refers to Jesus as the “chief cornerstone,” which is a reference to an Old Testament messianic prophesy of Christ in Isaiah 28:16.
Peter was not confused as to whom the church was built upon. Christ Jesus is the standard bearer of the church. He sets the agenda as the chief cornerstone because He purchased the church with His blood. Further, He loves and rules the church with mercy and grace.
But Peter doesn’t stop there. He goes on to tell his readers that “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house.” Did you catch that? First, Peter says Jesus is the living stone, then, he says that believers are like living stones. Perhaps Peter is using the same wordplay that Christ used with Him in Matthew 16:18 when He said, “you are Peter (rock), and on this rock (Jesus) I will build my church.”
This isn’t the only time Scripture refers to Jesus and believers using the same terminology. For instance, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” then told His listeners, “You are the light of the world.” Further, the Bible explains that Jesus is the “Lamb who was slain” and we are His “sheep.”
The point is that a relationship with Christ always conforms us to His image. We become more like Him. In this way, members of a local church are representing the work of Christ to each other and the world. And, as his spiritual body, the church embodies His ministry on earth during his bodily absence.
This is where active participation in a local church becomes vital. Peter says that all of us as living stones are being “built up as a spiritual house.” According to this word picture, we all have a place where our lives are built into one another –like stones in a rock wall. Just as your life rests on the ministry of others before you, you have an opportunity to touch the lives of those around you.
But what does that look like in the life of church members? Peter explains that we are being built together in order to be a “holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Here we find one more example of where the Bible refers to believers with the same terminology as it uses to refer to Christ. Hebrews refers to Jesus as the “Great High Priest” (Hebrews 4:14-16). Similarly, Peter refers to believers as a “holy priesthood.”
The idea behind a priest is to be an intermediary between two parties. In the Old Testament, priests are introduced as God’s chosen ministers to go between God and man. Among many of their duties, the priests would make regular sacrifices on behalf of the people.
The Hebrew writer explains that as the “great high priest,” Jesus made the perfect sacrifice (of His life) once and for all. Or, in the words of Christ, “It is finished.”
That means that the priesthood we are given as believers does not make atonement for sin in the way that Christ’s perfect sacrifice did. Rather, our priesthood is a responsibility to go between God and man with the message of the Gospel. In the same way that the Old Testament priests foreshadowed the coming sacrifice of Christ, we now look back and proclaim His sacrifice.
We do this as we proclaim the gospel to the lost. But we also do this as we proclaim it to one another. We never outgrow the gospel. It is the power of the cross which conforms us to Christ as living stones and holy priests in His service. Or, as Peter explains, “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Here are a few takeaways:
Jesus is the foundation of the Church: He sets the agenda and direction through His Word. We cannot usurp His authority. Does your church submit to His Lordship or man’s philosophies?
We have a responsibility to participate in the local Church: We are created in Christ for this role to represent Him through His body. Everyone has a stone to place in the structure –we all have something to offer. And, like any structure built with stone, if you remove one or two stones, the structure is weakened. Are you actively investing in your Church?
Our role and responsibility is centered on the gospel: Our message and ministry must never draw upon any other source but the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Does your life, and the life of your church, flow exclusively out of the gospel message or some other motivating factor?