Several years ago Warren told me about a man in the hospital. The man was in and out of consciousness in his hospital bed. On one occasion when he came back into consciousness and saw his wife sitting there by his bed side, he motioned for her to come close. And he whispered these words. He said, “You’ve been there through it all. You were there when I was fired from my first job. You were there when I lost the business that we started. You were there when we lost the house. And you were there when my health began to fail. And here you are now.” And he said, “You know what?” She said, “What?” “I think you’re bad luck.”
Well, like that man we’re all familiar with trials, difficulties, adversities, challenges in life. But bad luck is not at all the perspective we’re given in scripture of our trials and especially not in our text for this lesson.
We’re going to pick up in I Peter 1 and look at just a couple verses about the trials we encounter in life. Let’s read the text first, I Peter 1:6-7, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ“.
Did you notice in verse 6 that there are two words that don’t seem to go together? The word “rejoice” and the word “trials”. And there’s no word in the sentence to negate one of them, like “rejoice not” or “no trials”. No, in that sentence there is rejoicing and trials together at the same time in the same people. Is that really even possible? There are other words when you see them together that you go, “Ahhh, nah, those don’t really fit together.” Airline food, is an example. Is it food? That’s disputable. Pretty ugly… Freezer Burn… Who came up with that? Rap Music… Government worker… Microsoft works. And there are several other examples. They’re like rejoice and trials. Isn’t rejoicing what we do when we’re not having trials, when life is pleasant and easy? And griping and complaining is what we do when we’re having trials? But Peter says, as Christians, we can and should greatly rejoice while experiencing trials.
Now, what kind of trials is he talking about? Is this really relevant to us and our trials? Notice the word toward the end of verse 6…
“… various trials“. That comes from a Greek word that means many colored. It indicates that Peter does not have in mind here just a certain kind of trial. No, what he says here applies to the many different colors, many different forms of trials that people encounter. What he says here applies to many different kinds of trials; like not finding a water source on your property though you’ve spent a whole bunch of money and time drilling two very deep wells or losing your spouse, etc. These are just different colored trials. This applies to battling cancer. This applies to being the butt of jokes at the office. This applies to teenage trials and parental trials and marriage trials and the trials of being a single person and middle age trials and the trials of getting old. It applies to small ones, big ones, short ones, long ones. It applies to your trials and mine. It says that whatever we’re going through, if we’re Christians, we have reason for rejoicing.
But what if what’s going on in your life hurts really bad physically or emotionally and you can’t escape the pain? What if you can’t stop hurting or grieving? Then does this still apply to you? Can you rejoice before the pain goes away? Is it possible for joy and grief to reside together in the same heart? Well, we are complex beings, created in the image of a complex God. As there are many paradoxes true of God, this is one that can also be true of us. I think there can be both joy and grief in the same heart at the same time.
Because notice another word toward the end of verse 6. In my version it’s the word…
“distressed by various trials.” Or your version might say, “grieved by various trials“. The word means caused pain, made sorrowful, made to suffer. Peter had in mind in this verse, people who cannot escape their grief and pain. And yet at the same time, they also greatly rejoice.
It’s a way too common misunderstanding that if you’re a strong Christian then you don’t experience grief, that you’re just all smiles even when the world is falling apart around you. That’s not true. And telling people that if they just had greater faith they wouldn’t feel bad at all just makes them (wrongly) feel guiltier. I think grief is often a natural, appropriate, healthy human response.
Did you know, Jesus felt grief a lot in His life? Isaiah 53 describes Him as “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” And I think of Scriptures describing the inner agony of Jesus as He neared the time when He was to go to the cross. John 12:27, as He knew it was only a day or two away, He said, “Now my soul has become troubled.” Then the time grew very close in the Garden of Gethsemane and He told His disciples, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; stay here with Me and keep watch” (Matt 26:38). He was in such emotional pain as He anticipated what was coming that He felt He was going to die before He ever got to the cross. But you know something else Jesus said to his disciples that very same night? John 15:11, after teaching them some things to prepare them for when He was no longer with them, He said, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” In emotional agony He still had this deep seated, inextinguishable joy.
I think it’s like having a baby. The pain of labor is terrible, and you’re crying and screaming because she’s squeezing your hand so hard and she won’t quit screaming and you’ve been up for 24 hours and nobody has offered you anesthetic. And I hear it’s pretty bad for the mother too. And yet at the same time in that misery there is this joy that it will be over soon and your baby will come into the world and you’re about meet him or her.
There are primarily two bases for joy in our grief and trials. The first basis for joy is what’s said in verses 3-5, what God has done and is doing for us who are Christians (which we looked at last lesson). And you notice in verse 6 he says…
“In this [referring to what was said before] you greatly rejoice…”
I’ll just briefly remind you of it since we talked about it last lesson. Going through trials does not change the following reality if you are a Christian. According to His great mercy, God has worked in our lives to cause us to be born again. He won our hearts, He motivated us to repent and to be baptized into Christ, and He drew us to Himself, brought us into His family. And He gave us a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. He gave us something to live for and share with others and look forward to. And He made us heirs of an inheritance that will never perish or be defiled or fade. And right now He’s watching over us and at work to protect us from becoming entangled in sin once again, keeping us on the right path so that on the last day we will be saved from the judgment that’s coming on the world, and given our inheritance. When you comprehend a bit of what that means and it registers with you and you know it’s true, then you can rejoice whenever you think about it even in those times when you’re hurting.
The second basis for joy here is what he says about our trials (the nature and purpose of our trials). And he says four things about them, two in verse 6 and two in verse 7.
First about our trials in verse 6 he says…
They are only for a little while.
Now, how could he say that? Surely he knew that some of the Christians to whom he was writing had trials that were lasting as long as some of ours. Some of us have been going through a difficult situation for a year or ten years or more. Maybe you’ve been in a miserable marriage or working under an unreasonable boss or battling health problems for what seems like a very long time
How could Peter say they’re only for a little while? I think because Peter had in mind the length of life we have in Christ… eternity. Imagine when we’ve been there 10,000 years, we’re going to look back on our life here and you know what we’re going to say? We’re going to say, “I sure wasn’t on that earth and dealing with those problems very long. That was indeed only a little while.”
The second thing about our trials, also in verse 6, he says…
They are necessary.
That’s unusual perspective, because what do we so often say when something goes wrong in our life, when some new unexpected difficulty arises? We say, “Oh, I so don’t need this right now! I do not need this!” Peter says, “Yes you do.” If you are distressed by trials it’s because it’s necessary. You need it. You have to have it. It is the only way for some certain good to be accomplished.
It’s like how you may need to take your medicine to get better. Or you need to eat to live. Or you need to exercise to stay in shape. You need your trials for certain reasons.
Now in verse 7 are two of the reasons that you need your trials. Number one, you need your trials because…
They refine you.
Peter uses the analogy (in verse 7) of an ancient goldsmith and his smelting furnace. A gold looking piece can be fake gold or it can be mixed with impurities that lower its value and beauty. So a goldsmith would put it in the fire and melt it and the impurities would either burn up or rise to the surface of the melted gold and then he’d skim them off the gold. And then he’d keep it in the fire a little more and then skim off some more impurities, and keep it up until it was really high grade gold.
Have you noticed how times of difficulty have a way of bringing to the surface, impurities, spiritual weaknesses, and character flaws that were hidden in our hearts? And when we’re aware of these we can repent.
When do you become really grumpy and talk ugly to your spouse or stew in anger or jealousy toward someone? When things aren’t going your way, it brings a lack of love to the surface. When do you see that you’ve been thinking way too highly of yourself? When God lets you do something humiliating. When do you see that you’ve been ungrateful? When you lose what you had?
Listen to these Scriptures:
- Psalm 119:67, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word.” Affliction purged him of his waywardness.
- Psalm 119:71, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.”
If you’re a parent you most likely understand this. You get this. When your kids start to stubbornly defy things you have asked them to do, (if you’re a good parent) at some point you’re going to give them some consequence. Kids sometimes need a trial.
- Hebrews 12, God deals with us as with sons. As our earthly fathers disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, “He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
And I’ve read that in ancient times goldsmiths knew that the refining process was done when the goldsmith could lean over the pot of liquid gold and see his reflection in it. Guess when the refining process of your trials will be done? When Christ can see His image in you, when your faith is total confidence and you love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.
So we need our trials because we need to be refined, we’re not enough like Jesus yet. And second, we need our trials because…
They result in praise, glory, and honor when we see Jesus.
You don’t get the diploma in school, let alone the diploma with honors, without passing the tests. You don’t get medals in sports without competing and doing well in the events. That’s how it works in this world. And it sounds to me like that’s how it works when we see the Lord. Praise, glory, and honor are only for those who are tested and proven.
Jesus spoke of this in His parables. Remember His illustrations of a master coming back from a long journey, calling his servants to give an account, saying to them things like, “Well done, My good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:19-23). And “Master, you entrusted a “mina” to me and I turned it into ten.” “Well done good servant, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, I’m going to give you authority over ten cities” (Lk 19:15-17).
Do you ever think: “Yeah, okay, so there’s an ‘Atta boy!’ from the Lord for all Christians who are faithful through their trials and they get to go to Heaven. But I sure wish I could trade my trials for that Christian’s trials. I mean they don’t have to deal with near as much as I do, to get their “Well done” from the Lord. It doesn’t seem very fair I have these trials and they only have those trials.” We may think like that now, but I think when we see what happens on the day Jesus hands out rewards we won’t be thinking like that anymore. I think when Peter says that the proof of our faith through trials results in praise, glory, and honor, the sense of it is not you will just receive what every other Christian receives. I don’t think he’s talking about just going to heaven. The sense of it I think is that you will be given praise and glory and honor according to and in proportion to how much you were tried and proven.
You know, in that parable where the master comes back and a servant comes up to him and says, “Master, you entrusted me with one mina and see I’ve gained ten more.” And the master said, “Well done, good servant, I’m going to put you in authority over ten cities”, you know what happens next in that parable? Another slave says, “Master you also entrusted me with a mina and I’ve made five more with it.” And the master said to him, “And you are to be over five cities” (Luke 19:15ff). So one servant is given ten cities and the other is given five cities according to how they did while his master was away. If we all just get the same praise, glory, and honor, why did Jesus have them getting different rewards in the parable?
Mark 10:35-40, “James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” 36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 37 They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.” [They believed Jesus was the promised King and they wanted the top two positions in His kingdom, to be His right and left hand men.] 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking [because they had a worldly view of His kingdom. But then He said,] Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 They said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. 40 But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” Now notice first of all, Jesus appears to agree that there are these top positions in the kingdom. It’s not that we all just go to heaven and it’s all the same for us. There are positions of greater honor prepared for some. And who gets the highest positions I think is somewhat indicated by Jesus’ question, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And He means the cup and baptism of His suffering (Matthew 26:39; Luke 12:50). So there seems to be some connection between how highly God exalts us and our suffering (being tried, being proven) for Christ.
II Corinthians 4:17, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison“. Do you hear how he words that? The affliction is producing for us glory. The NIV has the afflictions are “achieving for us” glory. The ESV has the afflictions are “preparing for us” glory. It appears the more afflictions, the more we’re tried and proven, the more glory.
So maybe your trials are greater than the next Christian’s. But do you realize that’s an honor? That you are being put into a position to attain to greater glory and honor in the life to come. I don’t know about you, but that sure helps me not to be jealous of Christians who seem to have it easier than me. God knows my trials and how I’m dealing with them and He will reward me accordingly. Now, I realize that to get more honor is not the greatest motive for being faithful in your trials. Nevertheless, great glory for passing bigger tests appears to be what scripture says.
I don’t know what all you are going through, but I do know that we are distressed by various trials. I know there are many colors of trials we are dealing with and I really believe this is God’s word to you: No matter what you are going through, it is no indication that you are not in the family of God. It does not change the fact that God has brought you into His family, made you an heir, and that He is watching over you, protecting you for your salvation. And whatever you’re going through, it is only for a little while; it is necessary; it is to refine you, and it will result in praise and glory and honor when we see Jesus. And on that day if we will have persevered through our trials I think we will even thank God for them.