Virtually everything we read last week from 1 Peter 1 was to do with the future, because Peter was praising God for the great future hope his readers have entered into by being born again of God’s Spirit. And the great future hope they have entered into is the hope of the resurrection of their bodies from the dead and of inheriting eternal life in the presence of God — an inheritance which can never perish or spoil of fade and which is kept in heaven for all who believe. That’s the great hope we’ve entered into; that’s the great hope we have received: that Jesus as Christ died and was raised, so all who believe in him will be raised to live for ever and ever with God. And whoever has that hope wants to praise God just as Peter wanted to praise God for his kindness to sinners like us. So, verses 3 to 5 are about the future and about the great future hope which we have been given.
Verses 6 to 9, however, are different. Verses 6 to 9 are about the present. They’re about the here and now. They’re about our life here on earth while we wait to receive what we’re hoping for. And this is clear from verse 6 where Peter begins:
In this you greatly rejoice….
With those words, he’s referring to what he’s said in verses 3 to 5. So: In this — the hope of the resurrection and everlasting life in God’s presence — in this you greatly rejoice. And then he adds:
So, he’s turning from rejoicing over what awaits us in the future, to what we experience now. And what do we experience now? Well, listen to Peter:
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
It’s a very different experience, isn’t it? We rejoice over what awaits us in the future; we rejoice and praise God for the great future hope he’s given us; we rejoice in those things; but right now, in this life, in the here and now, we’re suffering grief in all kinds of trials.
I’ve said before that Peter was writing this letter to encourage believers who were suffering for their faith. But this is the first time he mentions their suffering. However, it won’t be the last time he mentions it, because in every chapter of this short letter, he says something about what they were going through. Let me remind you of some of the references. There’s verse 12 of chapter 2 where he mentions how the pagans, the unbelievers, were accusing his readers of doing wrong, even though they had done nothing wrong. Then, in verse 20 of chapter 2 he writes about suffering for doing good; and he says in verse 21 that to this — suffering for doing good — to this you were called. In verse 9 of chapter 3 he implies that his readers were suffering evil and insults; their neighbours were accusing them of all kinds of things. In verse 17 of chapter 3 he again refers to suffering for doing good. In verse 1 of chapter 4 he reminds his readers of the example of the Lord Jesus who suffered in his body; and he tells his readers to have the same attitude so that they too will be prepared to suffer in body. In verse 4 of chapter 4 he refers to how their unbelieving neighbours regard them as strange for trying to live a holy life. And in verse 12 of chapter 4 he tells his readers not to be surprised at the painful trial they’re suffering as though something strange were happening to you. It’s not strange for you to suffer, Peter was saying; it’s to be expected. And then he refers in verse 14 of chapter 4 to being insulted for Christ and to suffering for being a Christian. And in verse 9 of chapter 5 he encourages his readers to stand firm in the faith and to remember that other Christians around the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
Throughout this letter, Peter refers to the suffering of his readers, and the trials they were going through because of their faith in the Saviour.
So, it’s clear that they were suffering. But what does Peter say about it? What light does he throw on their suffering in the here and now? Well, the first thing we should note about what he says about suffering is that it takes different forms. Peter says:
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
So, he refers to all kinds of trials, to various trials. Believers may suffer in diverse ways. Peter’s original readers were suffering persecution; but it’s not the only way believers suffer in this world.
One of the bits of advice I gave to Roland while he was here is that you never know what’s going on behind a front door. You think you know a family and you think everyone in the family has got it all together, and everything is fine. And then you go through the front door and discover that there’s something going on which is breaking their hearts or which is keeping them up at night or which makes them weep. There’s some trouble, or trial, or sorrow, something frustrating, something that causes them despair, something that causes them heartache. So, there might be something going on in the family itself — between the parents or with the children or other relatives — which causes them to suffer grief. Or there’s something going on with neighbours or friends which causes them to suffer grief. There’s something going on at work or at school or college which causes them to suffer grief. There’s something going on with their health which causes them to suffer grief. There are things from their past which cause them to suffer grief. There are things about what might happen to them in the future which cause them to suffer grief. Or there’s been bereavement in the family, and maybe years have passed, but it still causes them to suffer grief. I reckon that nearly every one here knows what I’m talking about. And for those who haven’t suffer grief yet, bear in mind that’s it will happen sooner or later.
And it’s important that we remember this. If you read some books about the Christian faith, or listen to come preachers, you’d get the impression that the Christian life is all glory now. The church is going to rise up and transform the world around us and it’s going to be great. And God is going to enable me to do great and amazing things to transform the world around me. And he’s going to fill my life everyday with great and glorious and wonderful things. Some preachers like to make out it’s all glory now. But if you read the Bible you’ll discover that what we can expect as believers is to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. There’s glory to come when Jesus Christ returns. And it’s going to be unimaginably glorious. But right now, in the here and now, we shouldn’t be surprised by the painful trials of this life.
A little while
The second thing we should note about what Peter says about suffering in verse 6 is that it is only for a little while. It’s only for a little while. Now, when we read that we might assume that Peter is saying that whatever suffering they were experiencing would only last a short time before coming to an end. You know: For the next year or two, you might have to suffer for Christ. But eventually it will blow over and things will be fine. But that’s not really what he means. Go back, for a moment, to the previous verses and to what he said about our great future hope. What are we hoping for? What are we expecting? Well, it’s the resurrection of our bodies and everlasting life in the presence of God That’s our great hope.
And this great future hope we’ve been given is based on what? It’s based on the Lord’s resurrection from the dead. Do you remember that from verse 3? That’s the basis of our hope; that’s the source of our hope: just as Christ died and was raised, so all who believe in him will likewise be raised. So, that’s the basis of our hope.
And when will we receive what we’re hoping for? Well, Peter refers to the salvation which is ready to be revealed in the last time. In other words, on the last day, when Jesus Christ returns.
Now, if you put all of that together, you’ll see that Peter has in his mind the period of history which runs from the Lord’s resurrection in the past to the Lord’s return in the future. That’s the period of time that’s he’s got in his mind; and that’s the period of time he’s thinking about when he refers to ‘for a little while’. It might seem a long time to us, because it’s already been 2,000 years since the Lord’s resurrection; and he still hasn’t returned. However, compared to eternity, compared to being with the Lord for ever and for ever, 2,000 years is only a little while. It’s only a little while.
So, for this little while — for this brief time between the Lord’s resurrection in the past (which is the source of our hope) and the Lord’s return in the future (which will mean the fulfilment of our hope) — for this little while, believers can expect to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
And just to confirm that, think about Peter’s life. Not long after the day of Pentecost, Peter, along with John, were arrested for preaching about Christ. And though they were released, the Jewish Sanhedrin threatened them and warned them not to preach about Christ again. And then, of course, in Acts 12 we read again that Peter was arrested and put into prison. So, at the beginning of his life as a believer, he suffered for the sake of Christ. And then, the history books tell us that eventually, Peter was condemned to death by the Roman Emperor Nero and crucified. And so, he died for the sake of Christ. And you see, the point is that, throughout his life as a believer — from the beginning of his life as a believer to the end of his life as a believer — he suffered for his faith in the Lord Jesus. It’s not that he suffered for one or two years, and then his suffering came to an end. It went on throughout his life.
And the same can be said for Paul. From the beginning of his life as a believer, to the end — and again the history books tell us that he was a martyr for the faith — Paul suffered for the faith.
When Peter says our suffering is ‘for a little while’, he means that throughout the period from the Lord’s resurrection in the past to his return in the future, believers will suffer grief in all kinds of trials. But compared to the glory to come, compared to being with God for ever and ever, our suffering is only for a little while.
The third thing we should note about what Peter says about suffering is slightly obscured by the NIV. Let me read you how the ESV translates verse 6:
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.
The bit I want to focus on are the words ‘if necessary’. The NIV translates it: ‘you may have had to suffer grief….’ ‘That’s one way of putting it, but ‘if necessary’ is another way of putting it. And the point of these words is to show us that suffering is not something that happens by chance or by some impersonal force of nature acting upon us. It’s not fate. No, whatever trials we face are in some way God’s will for us which he sends into our life only when necessary. In fact, Peter repeats this idea more clearly in verse 19 of chapter 4 where he refers to those who suffer according to God’s will.
Why would God cause us to suffer? Why would he sends trials into our life? Well, if you’re a believer, then you can be sure of one thing: it’s not because he hates you; it’s not because he’s your enemy who wants to hurt you. No, for those who believe, God is no longer the judge who condemns us, but he’s become our loving heavenly Father who cares for us. You can be sure of that one now.
Now, if you’re not a believer, then it’s a different matter; and whatever troubles he sends into your life are a foretaste of the eternal punishment you can expect to suffer unless you repent and believe in the Saviour. That’s something you can be sure of; and so you need to repent and believe so that you are saved from the coming wrath of God.
But for the believer, you can be assured that whatever troubles God sends to us, they’re not sent because he hates us and wants to hurt us. No, since he’s our living heavenly Father, who is altogether wise, we can trust that he knows what he’s doing and that he was some good reason for sending these troubles into our life.
So, why might it be necessary? What is it for? What good can suffering do? Well, this is what verse 7 is about. Listen again to Peter:
These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Gold is valuable. When the Apple Watch came out last year, you could pay something like £350 for the aluminium model; or almost £10,000 for the gold model. Same watch; the only difference was one was made of gold and the other was not. Gold is valuable; and many people love gold jewellery; and many people would love to own blocks of gold.
Well, every time I read this verse I’m reminded of the episode in The Little House in the Prairie when Laura Ingels and her friend found a pile of gold in the river. And they spent days collecting it so they could take it to the bank and cash it in. And while they collected it, they dreamt of all the things they could buy because they knew that gold is so valuable; and how different their lives would be now that this had this valuable gold. Of course, it turned out to be fool’s gold; fake gold and it was worthless. But real gold, genuine gold, is valuable.
But you know what? Peter reminds us that it’s going to perish one day. Yes, it’s refined by fire to remove all the impurities and to make it as pure as possible. But even the best kind of gold, the most pure kind of gold, the most expensive kind of gold, is going to perish one day. And Peter is probably thinking about the time when the Lord returns and the world as we know it will be brought to an end. In fact, if you go on and read 2 Peter 3, you’ll see how he talks about how the elements will be destroyed by fire when Christ comes again.
So, gold is valuable; but even the best gold which has been refined to remove impurities won’t last forever. However, our faith — at least, genuine faith — will last. It will survive all the troubles and trials of this life.
In fact, all the troubles and trials of this life will prove the genuineness of our faith. That’s what Peter is saying here in verse 7. You see, the person who professes to believe, but whose faith is not genuine, will give up believing whenever troubles come. ‘It’s not worth it’, they’ll say. ‘It’s too hard’, they’ll say. ‘Life was easier without Christ’, they’ll say. But the person whose faith is genuine will continue to believe no matter what. And when they’re hard-pressed, and when they feel they’re about to be crushed by what they’re going through, and when they realise there’s nothing they can do themselves, and there’s no one else who can help them to bear what they’re going through, then the believer will look to the Lord and they’ll cling to him and they’ll discover that he alone is our refuge and strength and an ever-present help in trouble. In all their distress, the believer will look with faith to the Lord.
That kind of faith — genuine faith — will last. And it will last because it’s a faith which clings to the Lord Jesus; and the Lord Jesus is mighty and powerful and he’s able to keep us. And unlike gold which will not survive when Christ returns, but will be destroyed with everything else, the person whose faith is genuine will survive the day of the Lord. In fact, they’ll do more than survive, because on that day, the day when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, they’ll receive praise and glory and honour from God. That’s what Peter is saying at the end of verse 7. They’ll receive praise and glory and honour from God, because the Lord will greet them and say to them: Well done. Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master. He’ll say that to them, because their faith was genuine and they kept trusting in him, through all the trials of this troubled life.
So, there you are. Peter tells us four things about suffering. Firstly, the suffering of this present time is diverse. We suffer grief in all kinds of trials, and in many kinds of trials.
Secondly, suffering in this life, while we wait for the Saviour to come again, is only for a short time; it’s only for a short time compared to the joy we’ll have in the presence of the Lord for ever and for ever.
Thirdly, whatever suffering we face in this life comes to us, not by chance, but by God’s fatherly hand. And he sends it to us only because it’s somehow necessary for us.
Fourthly, suffering proves the genuineness of our faith, because true faith, unlike gold which is destined to perish, will last. In fact, it will result in praise and glory and honour when Christ comes again.
And so, this is our life. It’s a life of praise, because we want to praise the Lord for the great future hope he has given to us of the resurrection of our bodies and everlasting life in his presence. But it’s also a life of sorrow and grief because of the many trials we may have to suffer.
And, of course, when trials come, we do suffer, don’t we? John Calvin, the Reformer, says in his commentary on this passage that we’re not logs of wood. We’re not logs of wood which can’t feel anything. No, we’re human beings; and when we face trials and troubles, it affects us, and it upsets us, and it fills us with sorrow and sadness; and it makes us weep. But, of course, in all our distress, we turn with faith to the Saviour who loved us and who gave up his life for us. We look to him and he gives us the strength to persevere so that we will not give up, but will keep going, trusting in him always, until we come into his presence in glory and receive praise and glory and honour from him.
But in the meantime, since we all may suffer grief in all kinds of trials, we should therefore be sympathetic and understanding towards one another. We should watch what we say about one another and how we treat one another, so that we’re not critical and judgmental towards one another and look down on others, because they don’t measure up. Instead of criticising one another, instead of looking down on others for not measuring up, is: we ought to be sympathetic towards one another, because who knows what this person is going through? Who knows what grief he’s suffering because of some trial in his life? Who knows what grief she’s suffering because of some trial in her life? We don’t know everything about this person we’re criticising; we may not know what they’re going through. But instead of making their life harder, we should be trying to make their life easier, by being sympathetic and understanding and patient and kind and by doing something good for them. We ought to be kind towards one another; and we ought to encourage one another while we wait for our Saviour to come again.