The Priesthood of All Believers  1 Peter 2:4-12

"We are all priests." These are the words of Martin Luther. But he did not invent this revolutionary idea. He discovered it in the Bible. When the Bible says, "You are a royal priesthood" and "He made us to be priests," it is not speaking about ordination but about every Christian man and woman. In rediscovering the gospel, Luther also rediscovered the principal means by which the gospel operates, the priesthood of all believers.

What does it mean to be a priest? It means to be consecrated to serve. That is the calling of every Christian. A Christian is to be consecrated to a royal mission. It is impossible to think of the Messiah without the Messianic people. We Christians are the Messianic people. That is why scripture calls us a royal priesthood. We share in the Messiah’s own kingly and priestly mission.

God became real to humanity when he himself became human, when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Christianity still shows its true vitality and makes it strongest appeal when it assumes the human touch and is lived out by persons. Not some impersonal message or program or organization, but Christians themselves are the primary agency through which Christ works.

Jesus said that the world is a field, he says, and "the good seed are the children of the Kingdom" (Matthew 13:8). He maintains his hold on the world through the men and women whom he reconstructs and uses as his living instruments. He calls them the salt of the earth and the light of the world. As the Father sent him, so he sends them. His cause in in their hands.

Biblical scholars have pointed out that the gulf between the clergy and the laity, which has done so much to cripple the mission of the church, has been promoted by the introduction of a fatal comma into a key passage of the New Testament which describes the church’s mission. The passage is Ephesians 4:11-12. In the King James Version it reads, "He gave some apostles and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." In the King James Version, as well as the Revised Standard Version, the perfecting of the saints, meaning believers, and the work of the ministry are separated by a comma. In the New English Bible the comma between the saints and the ministers is removed and we read, "to equip God’s people for work in his service." We see the rainbow of multi-colored ministries, all engaged in carrying out the church’s mission.

The church cannot accomplish its mission unless the high status and mission of Christian laymen are fully recovered. The word "layman" itself is derived from the Greek word "laos" which means "people." It is used in the New Testament to designate specifically the Messianic people. To be a layman, then, is the highest honor that the New Testament knows. It means to be a priest and a king, a Christ man and a Kingdom man.

The distinction between a minister and a layman is utterly insignificant compared with the distinction of being in Christ or out of Christ. Are you in Christ, a member of his body, the church, and sharing in the work of his Kingdom, or are you on the outside? That is the all-important distinction. Compared with it, all other distinctions are unimportant.  There is nothing technical or professional about this priesthood. Luther is strong in his emphasis that it gives sanctity to every calling in life.

When a Christian housewife sweeps the kitchen floor, she does it to the glory of God as much as a nun saying her prayers.

When a Christian farm laborer works in the field, he is performing as priestly a function as a bishop at the altar.

 People may be mechanics, lawyers, doctors, teachers, plumbers, or businessmen, but our life work will take on added worth if we are also Kingdom people. There is a spiritual overtone that gives true meaning and dignity to what we are doing.  Even when no direct religious activity is involved, Christian men and women radiate Christ.

The spread of Christianity in the first century was chiefly a lay movement. During the first persecution of the church in Jerusalem, "they were all scattered abroad except the apostles" and "they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8:1-4). Everybody preached the word except the apostles! Christianity spread because every single layman was also a missionary and an evangelist. They were Christians first, and businessmen, fishermen, farmers, and professional men second.

Luke, the author of Acts, is a good example. He was not an apostle or an ordained minister. He was a Greek physician whom became Paul’s faithful companion and co-worker. He was "the beloved physician" but he was above all a lay evangelist. He used his fine literary talents to put the gospel in written form and to give us the history of the early church.

What guiding principles are there for the work of the lay priests? The first principle is this: know yourself. Face yourself frankly, and don’t pretend to be something that you are not. Unless you stop bluffing and fooling yourself, you have no chance at all.   We must ask: What is there in my life that requires Christ to explain it? Too often in reciting our sublime creeds and singing our lofty hymns it is as if we had been dropped to these mountain heights from an airplane in a parachute. We have never climbed to these heights.  The first rule of the spiritual life, is to be honest with God.

The second principle see yourself as a part of a God’s great plan. This is an orderly universe. Instead of being occupied with myself, I have to learn to see my place in the big scheme of things. Our Christian priesthood is not a bootstrap philosophy. It results from standing honestly before God and saying, "Lord, what do you want me to do?" And he does have something for each of us to do.  The gospel has never been preached by anyone just like you before. This applies to all of us. The light of God’s truth has never shined through just the kind of prism that your personality and your life-situation constitute. Your heart and your head form a combination which is utterly unique and without which God cannot do a certain piece of work that needs to be done.

The third principle do something for others. Forget yourself in the service of others. Never mind whether you get paid for it or not, never mind whether you are appreciated or not. Just learn to look at life from the point of view of the needs of others. Here is the very heart of our priesthood. A Christian, as Luther put it, does not live in himself at all but in Christ through faith and in his neighbor through love. When we become consecrated to Christ, we get a new perspective. We see with the eyes of love.

We have a royal mission, a glorious ministry of reconciliation. It is our business to bring the life-changing power of Christ into the lives of all with whom we come into contact. For we are Christ men and Christ women. We are all his priests.