This past Sunday at GFC we began a new series in the book of 1 Peter called ‘A Holy People Living Wholly for God.’ One of the themes that’s immediately apparent in this letter is that of suffering. Peter is clearly writing to Christians whom he expects will undergo trials. The suffering for them, to this point, is not extreme or absolute. Rather, they are ‘grieved by various trials.’ Some are worse than others, all are different, none are fun.
Peter reminds them of their salvation (1 Pet 1.3-5) and tells them that in light of their salvation they can still rejoice despite undergoing hardship (1 Pet 1.6). Apart from their salvation itself (with a certain future hope of an inalienable, glorious inheritance), there are at least three reasons given by Peter why Christians can rejoice in their trials. Though many of our circumstances are different, all of his reasons still pertain to us today.
1. Whatever trials I have are necessary
These are Peter’s words: ‘In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved…’. In other words, you have not been grieved by anything that is not necessary. Peter began his letter by reminding them that they had become ‘elect exiles … according to the foreknowledge of God the Father’ (1 Pet 1.1-2), indicating that all their sufferings in this life, like everything in their lives, had been ordained by their Father who loves them. Here the same holds true. Whatever a Christian suffers, it is necessary. God the Father does not discipline his children or call them to suffer on a whim. When he calls them to this it is necessary for their good, according to his wisdom.
So whatever you are suffering right now, here is one reason to have joy: God the Father, who loves you, deems it necessary. It is not meaningless, but full of purpose.
2. Whatever trials I have are for proving my faith
Sometimes we are tempted to think that my sufferings are intended to break us. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. Peter says your trials are ‘so that the tested genuineness of your faith’ may be seen (1 Pet 1.7). When God ordains trials in your life, they are not to break you, but to prove to you and to all onlookers that your faith is genuine. The trials are just the fire which refines your faith and makes it more pure. As your faith is purified it becomes even purer, more enduring, more precious.
So whatever you are suffering right now, you can remember this: even in the trials, God is proving and purifying your faith which is the very thing which guarantees your inheritance (1 Pet 1.4-5). Through trials our living hope grows stronger thus giving us even more joy.
3. Trials will result in praise, glory, and honour
The tested genuineness of our faith (while something to find joy in) is not an end in and of itself. Rather, our tested and proven faith has a result: praise, glory and honour (1 Pet 1.7).
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself to whom the praise and glory and honour go? Our gut instinct is obviously to respond that all praise and glory and honour go to God alone. But I think Peter is getting at something different here. Compare these other texts:
For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. (Rom 2.28-29)
Therefore do not pronounce judgement before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Cor 4.5)
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1.12)
And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Pet 5.4)
Isn’t that mind-blowing? Somehow in the wisdom of God it pleases him to crown us for our genuine faith, even though our faith is only upheld by his power (1 Pet 1.5).
So if there was ever a reason to rejoice in trials, here it is: When my faith is proven genuine it will result in praise and glory and honour from God! Can you imagine anything better than that? Can you imagine anything more joy-filled and humbling than that?
A joy greater than circumstances
Of course none of these things make suffering easy. The trials themselves are never joyful, nor are we specifically to find joy in the circumstances of the trial (as if we delight in pain). But we do have joy in this transcendent reality: the trials are necessary because our all-wise heavenly Father has ordained them for the proving of our faith, that we might receive praise and glory and honour from him. And of course, as we receive it, we will reflect all of it back to him as the one who upheld our faith by his power.
Our joy is not found in the trials, it is found in a hope and a future that is greater than our trials. God is working all things for our good.