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1 Peter 2:5 NASB

you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

What are the “spiritual sacrifices” Peter is referring to?

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  • “A Spiritual Sacrifice” sounds like it could be a spiritual application of “turning the other cheek”. Like to not curse back if someone curse you, but instead submit a blessing back. (Rom 12:14) Commented Apr 7 at 13:17

3 Answers 3

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Prayer, Praise, Holiness and Fasting these are some of the spiritual sacrifices.

Prayer

Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. (Psalm 141:2 AKJV)

Praise

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. (Hebrews 13:15 AKJV)

Holiness

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:1–2 AKJV)

Fasting

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Psalm 51:17 AKJV)

Related to fasting Isaiah 58:3-7 the does and don't while fasting!

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    @ There is nothing like letting scripture interpret scripture! Especially on this important aspect of Christian life. Us theologians have nothing to add...just a lot of catching up to do with prayer and praise.
    – ray grant
    Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 22:29
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Before answering, we should note that the community of Christians that compose the "Kingdom of God" is, according to Peter (Quoting Ex 19:5, 6):

1 Peter 2:9 - But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

Thus, every Christian is a priest with Christ as our Great High Priest (Heb 13:15, 1 Peter 5:1-5), and, every priest must have something to offer (Heb 8:3).

The NT explicitly lists the spiritual sacrifices (1 Peter 2:5) that the Holy Nation of Priests must offer:

  1. Heb 13:15 - Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that confess His name.
  2. Heb 13:16 - And do not neglect to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
  3. Rom 12:1 - Therefore I urge you, brothers, on account of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
  4. Eph 5:2 - and walk in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave Himself up for us as an offering and a sacrifice to God, into an aroma of a sweet smell.
  5. Phil 4:18 - I have all I need and more, now that I have received your gifts from Epaphroditus. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.
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The OP question uses two words critical to understand: ‘spiritual’ and ‘sacrifice’. For modern, Western people, the Biblical word ‘sacrifice’ is unknown (it’s not used in its Biblical sense). And the word ‘spiritual’, in its modern popular usage, has a wide range of meanings, and I suggest that none of them are the Biblical meaning. The modern meaning component of ‘immaterial’ is part of the Biblical meaning of ‘spiritual’, but it’s only one component, and not the most important one. Given the fact that this lack of intuitive understanding permeates are culture, it’s no wonder that such an excellent, and yet basic, question is asked.

Let me take ‘sacrifice’ first.

Biblical ‘sacrifice’ is when a living being suffers harm, potentially to the point of death, in order to cover or remove sinful failure or the effects of sinful failure from someone else. This is quite different than “I sacrificed for the company by letting my vacation time lapse.” Or even, “My spouse and I decided to sacrifice our vacation savings this year and give the money to the missionary we support.” This is not to say that such activities are not commendable. It’s to say that the harm wasn’t really harm and sinful failure was not directly addressed. Though, I think one could easily say that missionary giving is heading the right direction since relief from the impact of sin would be the natural result of such giving. We need to keep in mind that the “spiritual sacrifices” phrase, or more specifically, the ‘sacrifices’ word, is used in 1 Peter where phrases like, “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you” (NASB) are also used. There’s a context within the minds of the original audience that Peter is writing to (though, in an oral culture, it was much closer to “talking to”). It’s not a comfortable thought, but pain is directly involved in Biblical sacrifice.

‘Spiritual’ is the much more difficult word to define. So, I’ll just state what I believe and offer some supporting texts: ‘spiritual’ is an adjective which modifies its object so that the object is viewed as relational. The way I come at this is to ask the question, “What does spiritual look like when its visible?” That question can be answered by answering the question, “what is the fruit if the [Ss]pirit?” Galatians 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Every element is relational in nature. And the reference to ‘law’ is relational, not individualistic. In our very highly individualistic culture, several of these activities are assumed to be personal. But, notice that Paul’s statement is in the context and builds on 5:13-15:

For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. [the emphasizing of the relational nature is mine]

Notice again the reference to ‘law’ in both quotes, law being the covenantal stipulations of how to relate to one another within a community (Torah, if you like--interestingly, the NASB capitalizes ‘law’ in verse 13). I’ve wondered if the use of κατά (‘down against’) in verse 23 reflects the idea that the law (the thing that arbitrates or mediates relationships) doesn’t hinder (as in ‘push down’) or “push back against” the fruit of the [Ss]pirit. Saying, “the fruit of the [Ss]pirit is free to do its thing,” may convey the meaning more clearly. The Law doesn’t hinder relationships.

Additionally, 1 Corinthian 12:1 starts a major section (chapters 12-14). It starts with, Περὶ δὲ τῶν πνευματικῶν (Literally: “Now, concerning spiritual things”). What follows in the next 3 chapters has everything to do with people getting along with people, especially as it relates to the clear communication of truth in a multi-lingual environment like the highly cosmopolitan Corinth.

The point I’m making is that ‘spiritual’ is ‘relational’ in its nature. It’s not a synonym, but a major component, I think the major component is ‘relational’. It’s like it’s a way to describe not only what’s in people, but what’s between people.

So, what’s “spiritual sacrifices”. The answer is related by the whole rest of 1 Peter; I encourage the reader to read through 1 Peter with what I say here in mind. But, we can stick to the immediate surrounding text and get a sufficient answer. Verse 5:

you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood,

What does a priesthood do? Carry out sacrifices (as defined by the Bible, see above). And, these sacrifices are carried out in a ‘spiritual house’. That is, in a metaphorical building that is relational in nature, each stone in the building relating to the other stones so as to form a building. And these stones are ‘living stones’. They are metaphorical stones that live and breath and walk among people. And there’s a chief stone, the corner stone, which is the foundation stone that all other parts of the building take their cue from. Even today, in house carpentry, one single corner is chosen from which all other supporting members index off of. That was the function of the chief corner stone. So, Christ is our pattern. Peter here in this text reflects the same message as told by Paul in Philippians 2, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” Well, what did this Jesus do? He dealt with the sins in other people by taking the pain on himself. He is the exemplar of effectiveness in this arena.

Notice what Peter goes on to say (this is a very good description of what it means to “spiritually sacrifice.”) Notice who the example is. And think through this text in terms of sacrifice, and sin, and relationships and what the metric is for commendable behavior. 1 Peter 2:18-24:

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are harsh. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person endures grief when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you would follow in His steps, He who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being abusively insulted, He did not insult in return; while suffering, He did not threaten, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself brought our sins in His body up on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by His wounds you were healed.

I’ll finish by quoting Peter’s summary in 2 Peter 3:8-9, 17-18. Notice how it syncs up with the “fruit of the spirit”, different words, but same thought.

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, loving, compassionate, and humble; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you would inherit a blessing. ... For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all time, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;

“Spiritual sacrifices” are the relational activities that take on the pain caused by other’s sin with the purpose of bringing about growth in people’s lives.

I should probably add that the text doesn’t imply being a pacifist rug-mat. There’s the solid expectation for spiritual growth and to bring people to God. For instance, he says that government is, “sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” Our actions are not to foster a narcissistic attitude or action in the society around us. I think that’s why Peter addresses several reciprocal relationships in his letter (eg wife and husband).

Well, that’s a hard to swallow answer; it’s difficult for me to write it. It's ironic to me that Peter calls it "milk of the word." But, I think it’s exegetically sound.

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