You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house. –1 Peter 2:5

While we can easily think of the church as the family of God (Ephesians 3:15), the household of faith (Galatians 6:10), the household of God (Ephesians 2:19), and the house of God (1 Timothy 3:15), it seems odd to think of ourselves as stones in that house, particularly living stones Jesus referred to building his church (Matthew 16:18), but he is also named as both the foundation of the church (1 Corinthians 3:11), and its chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). We see in 1 Corinthians 3:12 that in building his church Jesus used “precious stones.”

A precious stone is an understandable image, for we have all seen or possessed such stones, diamonds in particular, but whoever saw or possessed a living stone? What is more inanimate than a rock or stone? A living stone is an oxymoron, something like “thunderous silence.”

But that is the point of the imagery, drawn first from prophecy: “Behold , I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation” (Isaiah 28:16). While the prophecy originally applied to Israel as a foundation for all nations, the apostle Peter applies it to Christ, and, impressively, describes him as “a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious” (1 Peter 2:6). Then there is Psalm 118:22: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” Jesus quotes this in Matthew 21:42 and applies it to himself.

There is the tradition that when the stones were cut for Solomon’s temple there was one stone that did not appear to fit anywhere, so the builders rejected it and laid it aside, only to discover at last that it was the cornerstone to the entire edifice. Jesus is saying that he is that rejected cornerstone, and Peter, who quotes the same passage, not only applies it to Jesus, but refers to that cornerstone as a living stone: “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious” (1 Peter 2:4).

This stunning truth allows the apostle to go on and say, “You also, as living stones, 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 apostle is drawing a contrast between the old temple and the church as a temple of God. The old was a physical house made up of literal stones; the new is a spiritual house made up of living stones; the old offered up animal sacrifices; the new offers spiritual sacrifices. The old had an inanimate cornerstone; the new has a living cornerstone, Jesus Christ himself.

By living stones Peter is referring to people who make up the community of faith — a living, loving people whose faith is as firm as granite rather than the cold, dead stones that compose temples made by human hands. This spells out the nature of the church. When a stone lies separately it is useless, but when built into a structure it finds purpose and destiny. The church is not made up of free-lance Christians who do their own thing and go their own way, but “living stones built into a spiritual house” of sisters and brothers, who, as the community of faith are bound to each other and work together in love. There is no such thing as individual Christianity. The church is the body of Christ, members one of another (1 Corinthians 12:27).

And you will notice that we are living stones, not living bricks. The picture is unity in diversity, not conformity by sameness. Stones come in diverse shapes, forms and sizes, while bricks are alike. Some stones are round, some triangular; some are roughly hewn, while others are smooth; and some are even square. There are two towns in Illinois near each other named Normal and Oblong. A notice in one of the local papers announced “Normal Boy Marries Oblong Girl” It is that way in the family of God. We can no more see everything alike than we can look alike. But we are all as living stones bound together in a spiritual edifice with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone.
-Leroy Garrett lives in Denton, TX