“This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold – gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away – and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” – 1 Peter 1:6-7 (NET)
Peter knew he was broaching a touchy subject when he wrote his first Epistle. It deals with a major reason for the Christian blues. Trials. So he begins by first reminding us of God’s amazing gift of salvation. In the opening verses he writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.” Many get confused by the two passages because Peter initially says that our “living hope” will bring us “great joy” and then immediately says that we’ll “suffer for a short time in various trials.” Suffering is nothing to sneeze at so while this may appear to be a contradiction, it’s not. Paradoxical, perhaps, but not contradictory. The New Testament scriptures often describe the Christian condition as a concurrent combo of feeling happy and feeling beleaguered. Those not wanting to hear that assessment need to get back into their Bible. “…We must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” (Hebrews 2:1) Anyone who tells you that surrendering your life to Christ marks an end to your troubles is describing a fantasy world that has no basis in scripture. Jesus implied that to follow Him is to travel a rocky path and He wasn’t kidding. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “There is nothing for which one should thank God so much as the honesty of the Scriptures. They give us the simple truth about ourselves and about our life in this world.” Therefore we must come to grips with reality. Peter was saying we’ll have peace in our hearts but at the same time we’ll be grieved, upset and disturbed by what we have to go through as followers of Christ. Paul wrote about this dichotomy in 2 Corinthians 4, “We are experiencing trouble on every side, but are not crushed; we are perplexed, but not driven to despair; we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are knocked down, but not destroyed…” The point is that since this dualism is inevitable we Christians need to maintain a balanced perspective and not allow the negative side of the equation to drag us into depression.
A believer is far from immune to the vicissitudes of life. Pain and sorrow will visit and it’s okay for a Christian to grieve and mourn when they do. It’s unnatural if we don’t. “Jesus wept” as did His Apostles during their times of imprisonment, loneliness and betrayal. Paul never tried to hide his sufferings but he also expressed that we possess something that enables us to rise above whatever befalls us. We’re not expected to deny our anguish but rather to endure it for the sake of Christ. You may ask, “Why so?” The answer is found in our “various trials.” The original Greek refers to them as being “manifold,” or multi-colored. That means our trials will come in as many shapes, sizes and hues as we can imagine. As for the folks Peter was addressing, their trial of the day was persecution. He indicated that believers, by default, are going to be misunderstood and he was encouraging them to take the high road regardless. He wrote in chapter two, “Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul, and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears.” It’s no secret that we’re viewed as fanatics and/or oddballs and people tend to make their disdain of us evident. They don’t like what we’ve become and they let us know it. We see it all through the Bible. In 2 Timothy 3:12 Paul wrote, “Now in fact all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” The closer we are to our Lord the more problems we invite into our life. Paul devoted his life to healing, teaching and encouraging others as he spread the gospel yet he had to endure torture and scorn for doing so. Why? Because he belonged to Christ and the world to this day hates Jesus with a passion. Christians make unbelievers uncomfortable and they wish we’d go away. Peter knew all about that stuff. Chapter 4:3-4 reads, “For the time that has passed was sufficient for you to do what the non-Christians desire. You lived then in debauchery, evil desires, drunkenness, carousing, drinking bouts, and wanton idolatries. So they are astonished when you do not rush with them into the same flood of wickedness, and they vilify you.” Nothing’s changed in almost two hundred decades. The general populace still chafes at those who try to live holy and righteous lives.
Christians will know rejection first hand. If not they should check their credentials. When I finally surrendered my life to Christ some of my close friends and family members suddenly didn’t want to be so close anymore. In their eyes I’d become one of those people. A Jesus freak. A big reason many folks come to Celebrate Recovery for a couple of meetings and then stop is because their peeps find out and they ostracize them as if they’d joined some weird cult. Discrimination comes with the territory and you can either handle it or you can’t. It’s what Peter’s flock was dealing with and he wanted to help them in their struggle against prejudice. One of his suggestions was to seek understanding as to why this was happening to them. He plainly states, “…you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials.” Notice he says that you may have to suffer. Therefore it’s not a given. Yet, in terms of your spiritual growth, trials will always prove beneficial in the long run. In other words, there’s a definite purpose for a Christian to be tested by trials. They’re good for us and for that reason, whether we like it or not, God has ordained them to occur. Thomas Watson wrote in 1663, “A sick-bed often teaches more than a sermon.” Now, before you accuse me of being a predestination advocate (I’m not. I’ve come to concur with Norman Geisler’s view as presented in his fine book, “Chosen but Free.”) it’s vital we comprehend what the New Testament writers stress repeatedly in the Epistles. When you accept Christ you put yourself under the authority of God and He has a definite plan in mind for you that stretches into eternity. He doesn’t have one for non-believers. They’re on their own. God intends to make all of us perfect like His Son and, in my case, that’s a daunting task for sure. With perfection as the ultimate goal it should be no surprise that “various trials” will be encountered.
A difficult thing for a Christian to accept is that God lets bad things happen to us for our own good. We’re his children and, like kids, we must learn a lot of things the hard way. Hebrews 12:7 reads, “Endure your sufferings as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline?” We’ve all seen what happens when a youngster who’s never held accountable for their behavior grows into an adult and it ain’t pretty. The same applies to our spirituality. If we don’t do as God has instructed He’ll correct us because He loves us. I’m not saying that every one of our troubles is heavenly orchestrated but the truth is that many of them are. Another way to look at trials is to consider that our Father may be preparing us for difficulties ahead that might otherwise crush us. Look at Joseph. You think you got a bum deal? He was an innocent but his brothers detested him so they tossed him into a cistern and then sold him as a slave. In Egypt he endured injustice and imprisonment for years on end. Yet when you read his story in full you can’t help but see that God was preparing him for greatness. The same goes for David and Paul. God put them through lesser trials so they could better handle the large ones. It’s a matter of trusting our Father in heaven to do whatever is necessary to get us in shape. He sees what’s coming and prescribes what we’ll need in order to meet the challenges we’ll face. And what we’ll always need is strong faith. Faith strengthened by adversity. That’s why Peter wrote “Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold – gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away – and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” Faith is everything. That’s why it’s more precious than gold. Metals eventually vanish whereas faith is forever. And God wants our faith purified. So, like gold, it must be put to the fire in order for the impurities to be removed. Peter says if that’s what’s done to a perishable element to refine it then just imagine what has to be done with our all-important faith. Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Faith is this extraordinary principle which links man to God; faith is this thing that keeps a man from hell and puts him in heaven; it is the connection between this world and the world to come.”
Consider it this way. Because there are degrees in the quality of our faith, it must be perfected. In the early stages of our belief there’s a lot of our sinful nature still hanging around. Those ugly aspects of our human personality must be sloughed off as we grow in faith and trust. We may argue “I’m good, I don’t need refinement by fire” but God knows better. If we’re not prepared we’ll find ourselves standing on quicksand when the storms hit. The bottom line is that the more hardships we experience the more we learn to trust God. Check out Abraham. God ran him through the ringer but in the end his trust was unconditional. He learned to believe when there was no reason left to believe. Blind faith is what God seeks from us. I recall my first time flying. It was an overcast day but when we broke through the clouds I saw the sun was shining in a clear blue sky. Just because I couldn’t see the sun didn’t mean it wasn’t there. We’re expected to be like Job and say “Even if he slays me, I will hope in him.” Sometimes it comes down to forcibly putting one foot in front of the other. Trials will also foster patient endurance in us. Patience must be learned before it can be applied so it’s essential that God puts us in positions to employ it. When all is said and done, how you emerge from your trials will “show the proven character of your faith.” Once gold has been purified it’s labeled genuine. Once faith has been proven it’s labeled holy. Steadfast endurance throughout our trials will certify our faith as authentic in the eyes of God. Examine the life of any of the respected saints. They stood tall through every emotional and physical hurricane that slammed into them. Other believers whose seed of faith sprung up in thin topsoil blew away. The proof’s in the pudding. We should look at everything that happens to us as an opportunity to display our unwavering faith and trust in what we cannot see or touch.
If all this trial talk causes you to get depressed take heart. Notice that Peter says these trials will only last “a short time.” Trials are not constant companions of a Christian. God gives and takes away. His timing is precise and He knows when we need to grow in maturity. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it.” Never forget that God loves you with what Brennan Manning insightfully called “a furious longing.” He’ll never hand you more than you can handle. He’s not out to abuse you. Remember, there’s a huge difference between a spanking and a beating. God’s trials last only “a short time.” You’re safe in the everlasting arms so rest in the knowledge that He’ll see to it that nothing comes between you and Him. When the trials come reflect on and cherish the “great joy” you’ve experienced in your Christian walk. Say to yourself what Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” It may not be easy, but do it anyway. He will forever be our God. Philip Yancey wrote, “The alternative to disappointment with God seems to be disappointment without God.” Peter continued. “By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that is into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Yes, we may feel overwhelmed and broken by tragic events but in the midst of them we’re to resolutely rely on our faith to see us through. God is good. All the time.
Christ is coming back in glory. Count on it. No matter what we face in our earthly existence there’s a great day looming and we’ll be ready for it if we’ve been building a sturdy foundation of faith. On that day all will be revealed for what it truly is. 2 Corinthians 5:10 tells us, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.” Indeed, there’s a day of reckoning coming and on that day acknowledgement will be given for how staunchly we applied our faith during our times of trial. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:3, “So for me, it is a minor matter that I am judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.” Paul left all the judging to God, knowing he’d be treated fairly. We should all look forward to that day because our faith will be proven pure due to our trials and we’ll attribute that purity to God. He will be glorified first, not us. We’ll see that God knew what he was doing every step of the way and everything we went through will make sense to us. In Job 42 God promises that He’ll finally right all the wrongs. The bonus is that we’ll get our own moment of glory when Jesus turns to us and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your master.” There may have been grieving and angst involved in the journey but we’ll find we survived with our souls intact. It will be so worth it all. As Revelation 7:17 informs us, “…the Lamb in the middle of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” This is how and why we should willingly face trials. We’re in God’s hands and nothing can snatch us away. Trust that He knows what’s best whether we understand His methods or not. He loves us more than we can possibly fathom. As the praise song goes, “Your love never fails/it never gives up/it never runs out on me…” Amen to that.
(Inspired by the sermons of Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book “Spiritual Depression.”)