RPM, Volume 16, Number 3, January 12 to January 18, 2014

The Glorious Joy

By D. Marion Clark

1 Peter 1:6-9
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 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 honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

In our previous chapter we looked at the living hope into which Christians are born. That hope is possessing the inheritance of the kingdom of God, of dwelling with God forever — a day that will come when Christ returns. Peter reflects further on what this inheritance entails and how it should be affecting our lives now.

Suffering Joy

How this hope should affect Peter's readers can be summed up simply: it should cause them to have joy in their lives. They should "greatly rejoice." Actually, he doesn't say "should;" he says they "do" rejoice. And they rejoice in spite of having to suffer. As he says, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. What were this grief and these trials?

By "grief," Peter is not speaking of the emotion of grieving but of the actual pain or suffering inflicted upon the person. It is the same kind of grief one child says to another, "I bet your parents are going to give you a lot of grief for breaking the…" (Parents, fill in the blank!) The believers are getting grief in a variety of ways.

What are they? Slander is one. In 2:12 Peter says, Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong… In 3:16 he writes, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. Again, in 4:14: If you are insulted because of the name of Christ…

We talked about this at the beginning of the book. Remember that the Christians were the followers of an upstart, alien religion that threatened the established, civil religion of Rome and Greek culture. The Jews at least had a venerable religion, and though they might be despised, there was an understanding with officials that allowed them not to be punished for their stubborn refusal to pay homage to the common religious rites. Christians, at best, were regarded as followers of a Jewish heretical sect. Jewish believers were alienated from their Jewish neighbors for their faith; Gentile believers were even more alienated for adopting a religion completely incompatible with their heritage. Why should non-Jews raised in good religious society reject what that society had always practiced?

There is slander; there would be ostracism, i.e. being shunned. There would have been even threats to livelihood and physical well-being. Thus, Christian slaves are instructed how to respond to beatings (2:18ff). Christian wives of unbelieving husbands are encouraged not to give way to fear (3:6). All of the believers are told in 4:14 to not fear what others fear.

Probably, the Christians are not facing outright persecution from the government, at least in a sustained manner, but they are receiving the type of prejudice and indignities such as minorities tend to face in a culture that fears and does not understand them. It is a precarious position, because at anytime violence could break out such as the Jews have faced in different lands at various times. There is uneasiness even when the moment is peaceful. You are different; your ways are strange; you refuse to do what is recognized as good religious practice.

In verse 7 Peter helps his readers to understand what is going on behind these trials. They are indeed just that — trials, intended to test and to prove their faith. He does this by comparing and contrasting faith with gold. To paraphrase Peter: "You know how a goldsmith purifies gold? He places the metal in a crucible, a pot that can withstand high temperatures. He places the crucible over a fire so intense that it turns the metal to liquid. The dross that is mixed in with the gold then rises to the surface. The goldsmith skims the dross off, leaving the now pure gold. The trial of fire removed the dross and now proves the purity of the gold. So it is with your faith. These trials may be severe. They may cause you grief; but if your faith is a genuine faith, all that will be lost is your dross and the result will be a only a purer faith."

Peter does not intend for this illustration to be the end-all explanation for suffering. He is not dealing with the questions of why some suffer more than others. He is not equating the amount of suffering with the amount of faith. He is simply conveying the teaching of the scriptures, that our sufferings, if received rightly, make us stronger and better. As James tells his readers:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (1:2-4).

Glorious Joy

But Peter doesn't let things rest there. His message is not reduced to "cheer up, your sufferings produce character." Many a person would happily reply, "Give me less character" if there were nothing more. But there is more. This genuine faith results in something far more — praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Peter is speaking here of Christ's return and what will take place then. We spoke last week of being saved now and yet our salvation not being complete. We are saved from the guilt of sin, yet we sin. We are saved from condemnation, yet we still suffer from the effects of a fallen world. We experience suffering, we experience disease, and we experience death. When Christ returns, our salvation will be complete and there will be no sin, no effects from sin, no illness, not even death.

And we look forward to that. I would say that we would all be happy with that. We would love a place of rest from troubles. We would be happy not having to labor to obtain the necessities of life. Peace, contentment; just the chance to be with all of our loved ones — that would more than satisfy us. And then we get to dwell with God. We will actually behold Jesus. What more could we ask?

There is more — praise, glory and honor. The commentators I use do not linger on this phrase. Indeed, while they give full discussion on the trials, they merely brush by on this reward, which seems to be an embarrassment for understandable reasons. It seems self-indulgent and mercenary to look for praise, glory and honor. It is one thing to seek peace, contentment or happiness. It is going much further to seek recognition. We don't approve of such motives in people, especially in people who profess to be Christians or who are humanitarians. Does anyone say, "I am serving the poor in hopes that I will receive praise"? Or "I am committing myself to ministering to the needy so that I may be honored"? Would we approve of a person who, when asked why he lived a life of high integrity, replied, "So I could be glorified"?

But let's think through this a little more. On one occasion my wife Ginger and I attended the 40th wedding anniversary celebration of a couple in our church in Philadelphia. Part of the festivities was an invitation for family and friends to say words about these two individuals. There was a long pause at first, and then one by one people would come up and testify of their character or the impact the two had made on their lives. This was a couple who over their forty years of marriage had given of themselves selflessly to many people, including the poor, troubled youth, and outcasts. And now, they were being publicly praised and honored. You could even say they were being glorified by the people who loved them. What you would have felt in that room was joy — joy in the people giving the praise and joy in the couple receiving the praise.

Why? Because giving praise to someone who deserves praise, and especially giving praise to someone who has had a good impact on you, makes you feel happy. Indeed, we are perhaps never more happy than when we caught up in the praise of others who are worthy of it.

And then there are those receiving the praise. As delighted as we were to praise this couple, so they were delighted in receiving it. Why? Not because they thought they were getting what they deserved, but because they were moved by the delight others had taken in honoring them; because they knew they were sincerely loved. Do you understand what I am trying to describe? They were not delighting in praise for praise's sake, but in knowing that they were loved, in knowing that the good they had done had made a difference in those whom they had loved.

It is not merely the receiving of praise that is good; it is the receiving of heart-felt praise from those who delight in you. And the more important the persons are to you who give the praise, the greater the delight you feel. That is why it is a beautiful experience to hear a father say to his child, "I am proud of you" to hear a husband say to his wife, "You are my joy." That's good praise, and it is good to delight in such praise. It is what keeps us going in life when times get tough. Especially when times are tough, we are sustained by the thought of knowing that someone dear to us is pleased with us.

This is what Peter is telling his flock. "Are you being slandered? Are you despised? Someday, as hard as it may be to believe - even seem blasphemous to believe — you will be praised by your Father and your Savior." Peter is not trying to make them prideful, to gloat over their neighbors; just the opposite. He is humbling them with the unimagined joy of receiving the pleasure of God. Someday, they each will hear their Savior say to them, "Well done, good and faithful servant." They will hear from their heavenly Father, the words spoken to his Son, "This is my beloved son/daughter with whom I am well pleased."

Faithful Joy

When will this day of honor come? When Jesus Christ is revealed. It is the day when he returns and we literally behold him in all of his glory. Until that time we live by faith. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him…

These early Christians had nothing to go on except for the promises that Peter and other evangelists had laid before them — that the Messiah had come, had died for them, risen and ascended, and some day would return. And for whatever reason that was enough not merely to stimulate religious speculation, but to embrace this Messiah as their living Savior and Lord. Peter is not referring to a belief system that these people were adhering to; he is speaking of their love. They loved Jesus Christ; they believed in Jesus Christ. Their hope in life was their hope in Jesus Christ.

Indeed their joy was in Jesus Christ, because when that day of his revealing would come, so they would receive the goal of their faith, the salvation of their souls. They believed that. Their goal would be reached. They were not going to falter, because the one they believed in would not let them falter.

What is it that sustains the Olympic athlete who trains long hours for years? It is to reach the Olympics and if he or she is very good, it is to stand on that platform and receive the gold medal. That joy that awaits him spurs him on, but there is also an anxiety that is present — that he may not make it. An injury, bad luck, any number of things could cause him to fail. And what agony it is to come close and yet fail. We've seen the runners who have come up lame or simply tripped; who just didn't time properly the final jump; who even missed a heat because of a coach's error. It is awful to come so close to your life's dream and have it slip away.

But Peter comforts his people: you are receiving the goal of your faith. "Each day brings you closer until that final day when Jesus is revealed. What you hold onto by faith, you will possess fully at his coming."

Let's review from the beginning. Peter opens his letter affirming his readers that though they may be strangers scattered about in their communities, they are in truth chosen by God the Father, redeemed by God the Son, and brought to salvation through God the Holy Spirit. They have been given new birth into a living hope of an inheritance that has been secured for them. This inheritance entails being received into the kingdom of God, which will happen when Christ returns. He then encourages them to rejoice in what awaits them, even though now they are going through difficult times. These trials are only helping make their faith stronger, which will someday result in glory for them when Christ is revealed and their salvation is complete. Meanwhile, they live in joyous expectation through their faith in Christ.

Our Joy

So, how are you doing? How is life going for you? Things going well, no big problems? That's great. But for others of you, life may not be so great. You may be going through difficult, even fiery trials. At some point in time that will be the case for every person. Illness, unemployment, bad job, broken relationship, loneliness, abuse, persecution, death — any number of crises and troubles will visit us. Christians differ from no one else in experiencing troubles. Indeed, the biblical writers all agree that troubles are what we can expect. What distinguishes us as Christians is our faith. And the more we exercise faith, the more peace and joy we can have in the midst of our trials.

And, yet, though we know this, there is a sense in which Christians are worse at handling suffering than unbelievers. Unbelievers expect bad things to happen as well, and they have no problem either being resigned about them or getting angry. They can shake their fists in the air at a god they don't really believe in and not feel guilty. They can be contentedly fatalistic. Bad stuff happens. What can we do about it?

If we Christians get angry, we then feel bad about getting angry. We are supposed to love God and trust him. If we become resigned to troubles, we get down on ourselves. We are supposed to be rejoicing in these wonderful aids for our faith. We are supposed to be praising God in the midst of our trials, indeed, for our trials. So we not only suffer from trials, we suffer from our reaction to trials. If our trials were not the result of God being angry with us, he must be angry now with the lack of faith we've shown and especially for the anger we've felt towards him.

But again, remember, Peter did not write these verses to warn believers that they better be joyful in their trials or else. Nor was he simply forecasting, as some commentators think, the joy the believers will feel later when Christ returns. Peter is doing what any good motivator does — he is carrying his readers along with him in a doxology to God so as to lift their spirits and encourage them. He is stirring in their hearts the remembrance of who they are, what God has done for them and the destiny that awaits them.

Read through the whole passage. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 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 honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Don't you feel now the joy of your faith? "But I haven't shown the faith I should have."

So? It is God who has given you faith and will make it stronger through your trials.
"But I haven't loved God as I should. I haven't praised him. I've even fussed at him."

So? Do you think God cannot handle your anger? Do you think God doesn't understand your troubles and your weaknesses? Have you forgotten your High Priest?

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Everywhere we look, there is the mercy of God. Look in the past; there is the love of God shown to us in the death of his Son. Look now; there is the love of the Son interceding for us out of sympathy for our very weaknesses. Look to the future; there is the Son coming in his glory to bestow on us (can we dare believe it?) glory. That is mercy. That is love. That is a glorious joy.

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