October 6, 2019
How do we navigate a broken world, seemingly more broken by the day? I mean, it’s obvious we live in a broken world, that things do not work rightly. And I’m not talking politics, although we could. I’m not laying our national brokenness at the feet of the Republicans or the Democrats. I’m not talking science and environmentalism – laying it at the feet of global warming or climate change – fossil fuels and hamburgers. I’m not talking capitalism and socialism, although I certainly have my own thoughts about that. I’m not talking the Constitution and Second Amendment – gun violence and assault rifles, although some would no doubt like if I would. I’m not necessarily even talking about mass murders, abortion, racism, equality, etc., although we would be getting closer to the core issue of our collective brokenness.
No, I’m talking about the brokenness of humanity from the beginning of time. In the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve, created in the image of God with freedom of choice, used that freedom to disobey God, they plunged humanity and this world into sin and its corresponding wholesale brokenness. That is, sin and all sin drug in with it – sickness, evil, disease, darkness, death. Even creation itself is subjected to futility, Paul tells us, waiting for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed.
But until that revelation, things are broken, not working rightly. It is the story of the Bible – the story of all stories – the meta-narrative. God created this world perfectly, and placed people into a perfect environment. But we rebelled, plunging us into ruin and destruction. But God, because of His great mercy and love toward us, did something about our lost, pitiful and hopeless condition. Get it, He created, we rebelled, He stepped in to redeem – through the work of His Son. And we await the consummation of all things, when all will be made right.
Read the first two chapters of the Bible, and the last two. In the first two, humanity is in a perfect Garden, walking with God. In the last two, there is a new Garden, a new creation, when God will once again dwell with His people – where there will be no tears, no death, no mourning, crying or pain. Those things will have passed away, all will be made new. And for that we long.
But we are in the in-between. Between the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, and His glorious return. And the world is still broken, all the while, opposing the remedy – the good news Jesus died to bring. And so we, with creation, groan, awaiting final redemption. And we, like the souls under the altar of Revelation 6, ask, how long O Lord? In the meantime, we trust, we love, we follow, we believe. And it is that hope that keeps us going. But here’s the question for the morning: do we just grin and bear it? Do we just put up with brokenness and sorrow and pain and loss and sickness and death? With ridicule, opposition, suffering, and persecution? Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows my sorrow? Or does God have something else in mind? Why are we still here in this mess? Is there a purpose to all this?
And so, maybe you are here this morning, barely putting one foot in front of the other. It could be family challenges, relational, health, financial or job challenges. It could be opposition for your faith, which is actually what Peter addresses in his letter. And so you dragged in this morning, hoping the music – the pounding of the drums, the depth of the bass, the strumming of the guitars, would cause all your troubles seem so far away, at least for the moment. A word from the Lord, a welcome from a friend, a hug from a brother or sister in Christ. Before you go back out to brokenness and the darkness.
I want to encourage you this morning with this truth – Jesus is coming back, and at the revelation of Jesus Christ, when the sons and daughters of God are revealed, all will be made right. In this we hope. And that hope is so great, we can actually find joy, right now.
We’ve begun a study of I Peter. The Apostle Peter is writing to believers in Asia Minor who are struggling for their faith. And he writes to encourage them – to remind them of the great salvation they have. That Jesus is coming back, so…do more than endure. Rejoice. You’ll remember last week we saw that I Peter 1:3-12 is one sentence in the Greek that can be easily divided into the following three parts:
- Praise for Salvation (3-5)
- Suffering in Salvation (6-9)
- Prophecy of Salvation (10-12)
Last week, we looked at verses 3-5. After reminding his readers in his salutation that they were chosen by God the Father, sanctified by the Spirit, and sprinkled with the blood of Christ; after offering them a blessing of grace and peace, he breaks into this praise for great salvation:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,
5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
God is to be praised, because He caused us to be born again to a living hope, an eternal inheritance, and a future salvation. This is great news. But there is a cost – because all that…is promised, even guaranteed, in a broken world – in which we live in the in-between. And so, Peter goes on in our text this morning, verses 6-9:
6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,
7 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;
8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,
9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.
You see, it doesn’t seem like we just grin and bear it. It doesn’t seem like we just keep a stiff upper lip. Sure, there are times we groan. There are times when we don’t know what to pray, and the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings to deep for words. There are times we grieve, we mourn, we experience the pain and sorrow of the loss of living in the in-between. But the overall characteristic of our lives is this: in this we greatly rejoice. The outline of the text goes like this:
- There are Trials in Salvation (6)
- Resulting in Proof of Salvation (7)
- And so we Persistence in Salvation (8)
- Receiving the Outcome of Salvation (9)
Look at verse 6 – in this you greatly rejoice. In what? Lots of discussion, but most agree this refers back to what we looked at last week. This great salvation in which we’ve been given a living hope, an eternal inheritance, and a future salvation. And so, we bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who according to His great mercy caused us to be born again. In this, we greatly rejoice. The word only appears two other times: in Luke 10, where Jesus greatly rejoiced when the seventy He sent out to do gospel ministry came back with a good report. And, it appears in verse 8 – you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible. We’ll come back to that.
What I want you to notice is this is great joy – great rejoicing, that springs from within and is not dependent on outward circumstances. That’s important – these people were suffering. You see, circumstances can bring us momentary happiness. I can be happy the Mountaineers won last week, but that happy only lasts until they lose. I can be happy I got just what I wanted for Christmas, until it breaks our gets too small to wear or becomes outdated. I mean, how many of you still have a flip phone, or an Iphone 4? External stuff and even events can bring momentary happiness – and that’s great. But joy springs from our eternal salvation God purchased through the gift of His Son – and nothing will ever change that. My joy springs eternal.
But notice, you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials. Look at each word or phrase because they are incredibly important. You greatly rejoice, even though. Meaning, in the midst of everything that is going to follow, you still greatly rejoice because of what has come before. We don’t go through life forcing ourselves to smile and be happy – we go through, despite life’s inevitable challenges, with great joy. We, Christians should be the most joy-filled people, because we of all people have the most for which to be joyful. Even though…
Even though now, for a little while. How long is a little while? I don’t know – however long the trial lasts. But, what if it’s a lifetime? It might be – but, what is a lifetime of 60, 70 or 80 years compared to eternity? That’s what Peter means here. The little while isn’t necessarily days or weeks or months. It’s a relative term – in terms of what awaits – this eternal salvation – it’s a little while. Paul says the same thing in II Corinthians 4:
16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.
17 For momentary, light affliction [in chapter 11, Paul is going to talk about his momentary light affliction, and it was terrible] is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison [you see, it’s relative – compare this life with all its challenges to the life to come],
18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen [that’s going to become important in verse 8] are eternal.
And so, as followers of Christ, we face distressing, various trials – if necessary. What does he mean, if necessary? It means trials are not necessarily the lot in life of all believers all the time. We’ll see they come with a purpose for believers – they are not haphazard, and not without direction and control of the sovereign hand of God. And He uses such trials to mature, perfect, refine, and humble believers. So are they necessary? James says it this way:
2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials [exact same words Peter uses],
3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
We may face various trials that bring distress, but through them all, God is faithful, and faithfully performing His purposes in us. But, what does Peter mean by various trials? A careful reading of the book makes clear he is talking about opposition or persecution because of your Christian faith. It is for doing good in the name of Christ, it is for sharing your faith in Christ. It is not necessarily the result of living in a broken world. It is not necessarily experiencing what everyone experiences because we live in a broken world. Sickness, disease, death. It is because we are Christians and live like Christians. Look at some verses in I Peter:
2:12 – Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
2:20-21 – 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, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps…
3:14, 16-17 – 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed… and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. 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.
4:12-16 – 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you;
13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.
14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
15 Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler;
16 but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.
That’s enough – I think we get the point. The various trials in I Peter have to do with persecution and opposition for our faith – for doing good in the name of Christ, for sharing Christ with sinners. But this begs a couple important questions which we will come back to throughout our study.
First, why is it we in the West have not suffered much, if at all, for our faith? I would suggest some thoughts. It is true much of the West was Christian, if you will, in the past, and as a result, Christianity was widely accepted and respected. That doesn’t mean all or even most were Christians, it just means Christianity was acceptable. And so, it was okay to name the name of Christ – and many did. It was almost seen as a family value.
But things have changed, and Christianity is not so much in the mainstream – but it is still widely tolerated. But that’s a key word – tolerated. Inasmuch as we stay in our lane – not seeking to promote morality, impose our morality, or proselytize, we’re fine. You see, two of the key words in our new Western culture are tolerance and pluralism. We should tolerate everyone – even if our faith does not. And there is a sense in which that is true – but tolerance does not mean affirmation. While you may have the civil right to your own moral choices, that doesn’t mean I have to affirm those choices. And that’s where we can, and do, get into trouble and run afoul of this strongly held cultural value.
The other key word fits with that – it’s pluralism. Pluralism is, of course, the idea that many faiths lead to heaven – to God. The problem is, Christianity is exclusive. It claims that Jesus and His work on the cross alone reconcile people to God. Christians are then not pluralists and therefore seen as intolerant. You see, we do proselytize – we call it evangelism – because we believe Jesus is the only way to God – He alone is the way, the truth, and the life. And because we love people, we tell them the good news of Jesus – which includes bad news – that people are sinners and need Jesus. And that gets us into trouble – opposition, and I believe ultimately, persecution.
Which leads to the second thing I’ll say about this idea that we don’t suffer for our faith. First, yes, we were in the past largely Christian – or at least a Christian-affirming culture. We are no longer. So second, it’s possible we are not opposed because we fly under the radar, or, have been assimilated by our culture. Consider those two words – it is becoming increasingly challenging to not affirm certain moral practices that contradict Scripture, so many no longer hold clear biblical positions. After all, we don’t want to be intolerant. And second, to believe in the exclusivity of Christ for salvation sounds so arrogant, and so we have been silently molded into pluralistic thinking – and many have stopped evangelizing, and we use the nasty word proselytizing.
Let me be clear. We’ve not faced opposition in the past because of the widespread acceptance of Christianity. That is changing. And perhaps we are not being opposed today because we are not bold, we are timid – or, we have been assimilated into our culture – adopting non-biblical positions and not sharing our faith. So, you can fly under the radar and avoid opposition, or you can live as a fully devoted follower of Jesus and it will cost you. Then, I Peter will be for you.
Let me share another quick thought. I am suggesting the various trials in I Peter are primarily found in opposition to our faith. But what about what else sin drug in with it – that is, what about sickness and disease and demons and death? Are we suffering as believers because of sickness or demonic attack or even death? Those are great questions. Let me address the demonic attack first. Yes, Peter will tell us the devil, like a roaring lion, prowls around, seeking someone to devour. So, Christians, because they are Christians, can face demonic attack.
Which leads to the second one – what about disease? Sickness can be the result of demonic attack – see the book of Job. Or, it may be because of specific individual sin – see James 5. You see, all sickness is the result of sin and what it drug in with it. So, sickness may be the result of sin generally – we live in a broken world – or sin specifically. But again, the book of Job and John 9 makes clear that sickness may not be the result of individual, specific sin. Further, I would say that death is ultimately the result of living in a broken world filled with sin. The wages of our sin is death – but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.
But Peter is not necessarily talking about sickness, disease and death. That’s not to say we don’t suffer as Christians in that way – but it’s not his point. In fact, one of my commentaries rightly points out:
“In other words, we have been arguing that the NT takes a different approach to illness than to suffering. Where illness is mentioned, it is approached with prayer for healing, and in the overwhelming number of instances that is just what happens. The exceptions to healing are simply indications that one does not control God: prayer is still faith, not magic or human reward….But where suffering is mentioned, it is seen as part of the conflict of the Christian with the world, and identification with the suffering of Christ, and a means of developing the Christian virtue of endurance.” (Peter Davids, NICNT, The First Epistle of Peter)
Which leads to our second point – I know – I’m almost out of time, but buckle up. Why, from a divine perspective, are we opposed for doing good things in the name of Christ, why are we opposed for sharing the gospel? That is, what is the purpose of suffering? He tells us in verse 7, we are distressed by various trials “ so that [purpose clause] 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.”
God sovereignly allows trials in our lives to prove the reality of our faith. Our faith is more precious than gold – at that time, and much throughout time, gold was considered the most precious of metals. Your faith? Worth more. And just like gold is tested by metalworkers in the crucible of heat, so also your faith is tested by fire.
When gold is tested, fire is added, and impurities are burned off. So also, your faith is tested by fire, so that impurities may be burned off. Gold ultimately will perish, your faith never will. So don’t miss, much like the metalworker tests the purity and purifies the gold with fire, so also God tests the purity of our faith, and purifies it. Strengthens it.
I want you to think about something. When the metalworker puts the ore in the crucible, do you think he wants to find it impure? No, he’s hoping it proves to be of greatest value, with little to no impurities. So also, when God test us, He does so with the desire to strengthen and purify our faith. He doesn’t want us to fail the tests of faith. The word used for testing actually means, testing for the purpose of approving. Proving to you, that God is real, and your faith in Christ can be trusted.
We’ll finish with this – when your faith is tested, purified and proven genuine, it will result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ – that is, when Jesus comes back. Now, who gets the praise, glory and honor? The phrase is ambiguous. Some suggest we will receive praise, glory and honor when Jesus returns. And there are plenty of verses which indicate that – to include this book. In chapter 5, he says, “when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” Paul suggests the same idea elsewhere.
But all our faithfulness, all our endurance is to be attributed to the sovereign work of God through the Holy Spirit in our lives. So ultimately, all praise, glory and honor redounds to Him, anyway. The point is – suffering is for our testing, proving – and ultimately for our good and His glory. It’s not meaningless. You don’t have to go through life with a woe is me, nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen attitude. He knows – and He knows what He’s doing. And His gifts toward His children bring greatest joy.