The Rock is not a Stone, and the Stones are not THE Rock
A workman of the Lord requires still another character feature. This we would call stability—a workman needs to be emotionally stable. Many before God are truly solid and firm, whereas many others are careless, unstable, and double-minded, and who oscillate according to their environment. This undependable nature does not stem from any lack of a desire to be trustworthy but from an unreliable character. Such individuals change with the weather. They are not solid. Yet God requires those who would serve Him to have a firm, reliable, and unshakable constitution.
In the Bible we can find one particularly easily shaken man. We all know that man to be Peter. But before examining in detail the weak, vacillating, and unreliable nature of Simon Peter’s character, let us first consider a number of encouraging passages of Scripture that can give us all some hope in this area of concern now under discussion. First of all, we read:
Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Who do men say that the Son of man is? And they said, Some say John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But who say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. (Matt. 16.13-16)
Now on the basis of 1 John 5.1a (“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God”) and 5.13 (“These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God”), we can assuredly say that Peter would not have known those things he uttered in his confession to Jesus at Caesarea Philippi unless he had touched the life of God; for note the very next verse: “Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven” (v.17). Please be aware of the fact that people may be with Jesus, even sitting with Him and walking with Him, but they will never know who Jesus is until such inward knowledge as Peter received is revealed to them by the Father who is in heaven.
Now let us pay close attention to verse 18a. Jesus continued by saying: “And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter [Greek, Petros, stone], and upon this rock [Greek, petra, rock] I will build my church.” We ought to realize that the true Church of God is not a shaking entity. For the Church, as our Lord declared here, is built on the rock. Let us keep this rock in mind as we pursue our discussion further.
Here in Matthew 16 the Lord would seem to be touching indirectly on what He had spoken about on another occasion as recorded in Matthew 7. There He tells us that a person had built his house upon the sand; but then the rain descends, the floods come, and the wind blows, and that house is smitten; and it suddenly falls. But another person, Jesus went on to say, had built his house upon the rock; and though, as before, the rain descends, the floods come, and the wind blows, and these things beat upon that house, it does not fall (see vv.24-27). So that when the Lord subsequently declares that He will build His Church upon the rock, He shows us that His Church, like the house that is built upon the rock, will never fall. However much the rain may descend, the floods may arise, and the winds may blow, the House of God will not fall. Rains descending or not, floods coming or not, winds blowing or not—none of these constitutes any problem to this spiritual House. For it is built upon rock; and consequently, the Church is stable, fall-proof, and unshakable. Such is the basic nature of the Church.
Note, too, that when Paul wrote to Timothy, he called “the house of God . . . the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3.15). The Church is like a pillar which is fixed firmly and cannot be shaken. It does not matter much if one shakes a chair, but to shake a house is of great concern. The fundamental nature of the Church is that it is built upon the Rock which is stable and unshakable. All the children of God who are built upon this Rock are stones. Peter himself wrote in this very same vein much later in his first letter: “ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house” (2.5a). Each and every brother and sister is a living stone being built upon the Rock. So that in this construction, whatever is underneath is that which is above. Whatever the foundation is it is the same kind of material that the superstructure is, and vice-versa.
In the Church there are no bricks, only stones. By sharp contrast, the tower of Babel had been built with bricks, for it had been constructed by men working with imitation stones. But in the Church there are no bricks, nothing of man-made imitations. The Church is built upon the Rock. Each one of us is like a stone before the Lord. And these stones are built together to be a spiritual House. So that we can very clearly see that the Church of God has this basic nature of stability.
Now following upon all this, the Lord then makes this declaration: “and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16.18b). As we have seen, this unshakable thing of which the Lord speaks is called the Church. Its foundation is Rock which is something unshakable and firm, and its building or superstructure is of like material—that is, of stones—which is likewise not to be shaken. But if all this be true, then how can the ministries in the Church be found so often to be shakable and unreliable? This is the very matter we intend to talk about in our discussion from this point forward. Do please be very clear here that we are not discussing the matter of the Church; rather, we are going to deal with this matter of the ministers in the Church. When the Lord told Simon, “Thou art Peter,” He meant, “You are a stone.” Peter here represents all the ministers in the Church. All who work and serve must be stones. Though these stones are not as massive as the Rock, they nonetheless bear the same nature as the Rock which is that of firmness and unshakableness. Here, therefore, we see that a minister must also not be shaken, for is he not a stone? Yet we all know only too well that unfortunately too many are shaken and unreliable. And this is the very problem we hope now to address.
Proceeding further, we note that the Lord continued in His teaching by saying: “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16.19). The promise the Lord gives to the Church is also given to Peter. For please note that while in Matthew 18.18 (and cf. v.17) we see this promise given to the Church, here in Matthew 16 it is given to Peter personally. All this indicates that our Lord views Peter as a minister of the Church. The Lord gives him the keys of the kingdom of heaven that he may open its door. And we believe that following the Lord’s resurrection and ascension Peter did indeed open the door of the kingdom of heaven—first on the Day of Pentecost and later in the house of Cornelius. He opened the door to both the Jews and the Gentiles.
Now as Peter—that is, as a stone—he can use the keys. But whenever he is not a Peter, that is to say, not a stone, he cannot use the keys. Today, not all who are called Peter are really Peter, just as not all who are called Israel are strong. A person’s name may indeed be Israel, but he is still a weak person. Here is a man whose name is Peter; to him the Lord gives the keys. When he is really Peter, when he is truly a stone, he can use the keys. Whatsoever he binds shall be bound, and whatsoever he looses shall be loosed.
Hence, the acceptable inward constitution of a minister is found in his stable character. This is a fundamental requirement. When a person is wavering, he cannot be a minister before God, nor can the Church follow him. Some brothers and sisters have this underlying defect in character. They are easily shaken, always changing, ever oscillating. They are not stable and solid before God. Such people cannot serve the Church because they are not able to stand firm, and consequently they will be prevailed upon by the gates of Hades.
Thank God for using Peter as an example in His word. God looks for such a man whose nature is the same as that of the foundation of the Church. The one who ministers must be a solid stone. Thank the Lord for choosing Peter as a sample, thus assuring us who later follow that He is able to transform us into such stability even as He eventually did in Simon Peter. This man here is indeed called Peter, yet he does not look like a Peter. His name is truly “a stone,” but his personality is like flowing water that constantly shifts its course: sometimes he is resolute, at other times he is vacillating; sometimes he is strong, at other times he is weak. The Lord puts him before us in order to teach us that before anyone is dealt with by God, his temperament is rather irresolute. Before he becomes a stone he cannot use the keys, neither is he of any special use before God. Not until his weak disposition is dealt with by the Lord can he be used by God.
We thank the Lord that human character may be changed. It is not something unchangeable. Like Peter, a vacillating person can be transformed into a stable person. Under the burning light of the Lord, your tongue can be so purified that though you were by nature talkative you now become a man of few words. Under the reproach of the Lord, the laziness of the slothful dies out. When the Lord cursed the fig tree, it withered from the root. For where the Lord’s reproach and curse is, there is withering and death. If you have not met the Lord deeply, you may be able to live on in a happy-go-lucky manner. But once you have truly met Him, your flippant nature is shriveled up. By the touch of the Lord’s light, whether it comes by listening to the preaching of God’s word or through the open reproach of a brother, you are undone. At the reproach of the Lord, you come to your end.
What we are therefore saying here concerns the formation of character or, more accurately said, the reconstruction in character. Many have a weak disposition, one which is inattentive, cold or lazy, but when they are met by the Lord, they shrink under God’s enlightenment. How gracious the Lord is in selecting Peter; else all the weak and wavering among us will consider themselves to be hopeless. Our Lord chooses a man, names him Peter, transforms him to be a stone, then puts the keys of the kingdom of heaven into his hand and brings him to the Church.