STUDIES IN FIRST PETER
"In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 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" (1 Peter 1:6-7, NASB)
More and more, the pattern of Divine reasoning is becoming apparent to me. When the Spirit moved holy men to address the saints, He had a focused interest in their spiritual stability. Therefore, one of the primary things unfolded to believers is their present status in Christ Jesus-who they are, and what God is currently accomplishing in them. When believers are not sure of who they are, or when life becomes confusing to them, they become weak, and more easily fall prey to their adversary the devil. In view of this, the Spirit spends considerable time grounding our faith, and assuring our hearts that God is for us. When He comments on both the pleasant and unpleasant circumstances of life, He consistently does so from a heavenly point of view. Earthly, or fleshly, views are always debilitating, weakening the soul and opening the door for the entrance of both doubt and fear. Your own experience in the faith will confirm this to be the case. Now Peter, himself a fellow-sufferer, is used of God to show us what is being accomplished in us in the crucible of affliction. As we receive this word, the cup of life is sweetened, and we are able to successfully negotiate through life's most difficult circumstances.
REJOICING THOUGH BRIEFLY TRIED
"In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials" NASB The "this" in which we "greatly rejoice" is the whole of salvation that has just been mentioned. It includes (1 The election of God, (2 The sanctification of the Spirit, (3 The multiplication of grace and peace, (4 The New birth, (5 A Living hope, (6 An incorruptible inheritance, (7 The keeping power of God, and (8 A salvation ready to be revealed. It is difficult, if not impossible, to conceive of a more blessed condition.
The rejoicing produced by the embrace of these things is not ordinary. We "greatly rejoice" in the awareness of these unparalleled benefits. The word used here is avgallia/sqe (ag-al-lee-ahs'-the) and means feeling and expressing supreme joy. This is the same type of joy Jesus pronounced upon those suffering for righteousness sake. "Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven" (Matt 5:12). It is also the type of joy with which Jesus was anointed by the Father (Heb 1:9). John the Baptist leaped in his mother's womb with this type of joy (Lk 1:44). Early believers experienced this following their response on Pentecost (Acts 2:46). This is also the type of joy believers will have when they stand before the presence of the Lord in the day of judgment (Jude 24).
This is an irrepressible rejoicing that leaps over the boundaries of hardship and grief. It causes suffering ones to sing at midnight (Acts 16:26). Abraham had this type of joy, as Jesus said, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56). The word "exult" better describes the joy of reference. This emphasizes the expression of the joy, or the impact it has upon our whole person. This joy can provoke loud shouts (Ezra 3:5), singing (Job 29:13), and leaping (Lk 6:23). Joy thus rises like a mighty giant to supplant grief and sorrow.
And what produces this dominating type of joy? It is not something that is poured upon us, causing us to laugh uncontrollably under an irrational and irresistible power. Whatever you may think of such a phenomenon (and it has no Scriptural precedent), at the very best, it is vastly inferior to the type of joy in this text. The act of rejoicing itself is not the point, but the consideration that provokes it: "IN THIS you greatly rejoice." When we ponder what we have experienced in Christ Jesus, it becomes exceedingly apparent that "He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4).
But note the environment in which this joy is revealed! It dominates when, "if need be," we are "distressed by various trials." What a remarkable thing, that joy and distress, or "heaviness"KJV can be experienced simultaneously: distress in the flesh, but joy in the Spirit. And, we are not dealing with happenstance. The trials are only "for a LITTLE while," and "IF need be." Trials are not easy, as the testing of both Job and Abraham confirm (Job 1-2; Gen 22:1-15). There is grief, distress, and heaviness associated with them. We willingly undergo the testing, however, knowing the objective of our God.
Notwithstanding, our trials only come "if NEED be." By this He means God does not try us needlessly or without design. We are comforted by the knowledge that God has determined to do us good. As it is written, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future"NIV (Jer 29:11). If this was true of Israel, much more it is true of those in Christ Jesus. No trial comes your way that is not NEEDED-"if need be!" Oh, how easily this can escape the attention of the best among us! It is possible to respond to trial by murmuring, as the Israelites in the wilderness-a response against which we are warned (1 Cor 10:10).
The brevity ("little while"), hardship ("distress" or "heaviness"), necessity ("if need be"), and endless variety ("various" or "manifold") of our trials may appear to be more than we can bear-but they are not! A due consideration of the "great salvation" in which we are participating, together with the prospect of its completion, will cause us to leap for joy in the midst of it all. It appears to me that there is a dearth of this type of joy among professed believers. Methinks this is the result of a lack of emphasis on the salvation of God. Let us seek to awaken souls to who they are and what they have in Christ Jesus!
THE PROOF OF YOUR FAITH
" . . . that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire."NASB Right here, a devastating blow is dealt to the notion that men are secure in Christ independent of personal effort and diligence (i.e., "Once saved, always saved"). Men may take faith for granted, but God does not-and He knows all! Men may settle for a simple confession of faith, but God will not. He puts us to the test to see if we will hold to that confession in the heat of the furnace, the threat of the flood, and the barrenness of the desert. What person who believed was not put to the test? Whether in Noah, Abraham, Moses, the Prophets, or all those who followed, faith was tested.
The purpose of our trials is not to make us squirm, but to test, or prove, the faith we profess. It is one thing to say we believe, it is another thing to believe under stress, when the circumstances appear to contradict that we are the sons of God. When we are tried, it is not because God is not sure about us. "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His" (2 Tim 2:19). But there are other spectators in this matter. We are compassed with a great "cloud of witnesses" who, in some way, behold our manners (Heb 12:1-2). We have also been made a "spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men" (1 Cor 4:9)-not to mention our Lord. God is given great honor and glory by the joyful survival of His people!
"The proof of your faith," or "the trial of your faith" is a most intriguing theme. The test is not of the measure of the faith, but of the genuineness, or authenticity, of it. Thus, the NKJV and NRSV read, "the genuineness of your faith." The NIV reads, "that your faith ... may be proved genuine." There is a sort of intellectual assent that parades itself as faith. But it is no faith at all, for it cannot stand under the fiery testing of God. It did not come from God, and thus cannot stand under stresses sent by God! To put it another way, faith is verified in the "various trials" of life. Although you already know this, denominational affiliation will not sustain the soul in trial, affliction, or tribulation. By "sustain the soul," I do not mean merely survive, for men who worship idols have endured great difficulties in the name of their false gods. Real faith keeps trusting in God and looking to the future, even when heavy burdens seem to say there is no benefit in doing so.
The spirit reminds us that gold is tested by fire, and gold is not eternal, but "perishable." Something that looks like gold, may not be gold at all. And even if it is, it may contain many impurities that significantly reduce its worth. Thus it is tested by a fire that impurities cannot endure, even though the gold can do so. It is the test that confirms what is really gold. So it is with the trying of our faith. Faith can no more be destroyed by trial than gold can be fire. It endures the test, even being purified by it. In confirmation of this, James says, "the testing of your faith produces patience," or endurance (James 1:3). That is, faith keeps going even when obstacles are thrown in its path!
The confirmation of faith is more significant than the verification of gold that perishes. It is a grand discovery, indeed, when one finds his faith is real! Angels rejoice over such confirmation, as well the "spirits of just men made perfect," into whose fellowship we have come (Heb 12:23). If the souls of the martyrs realized their blood had not yet been avenged, what must they know of their brethren that remain in the world (Rev 6:9-10). Are not the occupants of heavenly realms challenged to praise God upon the fall of the wicked as well as the stability of the righteous (Rev 12:12; 18:20; 19:5,7).
Suffice it to say, there is such a thing as genuine faith. It stands up under all manner of trials, and does so to the glory of God. It sustains the believer in all circumstances, and does so while the individual rejoices in hope of the glory of God (Rom 5:2). Our salvation includes the possession of this kind of faith-which is really the only kind there is. There is, after all, only "ONE faith" (Eph 4:5). That faith survives on the Lord's "threshing floor" (Matt 3:12), where things that are NOT acceptable are purged, and what is acceptable remains. Such testings are, as our text affirms, necessary, or "need be."
THE RESULT OF FAITH SEEN WHEN JESUS COMES
" . . . may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." NASB The objective of our salvation extends beyond time. Salvation brings abundant provision for now, but is by no means confined to the present. We must not allow a notion of salvation to be entertained that accentuates the here and now. Faith not only produces blessing, it also brings trial. That trial confirms the genuineness, or authenticity of faith-but it does more than that. The objective of the intercession of Jesus and the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to prepare us for the coming of the Lord. If we do not stand in that day, we have gained no advantage whatsoever. The "revelation of Jesus Christ" is the ultimate trial! A spurious or imagined faith will not be able to survive "the great and notable day of the Lord" (Acts 2:20). Further, from one perspective, the very purpose of salvation is to ready us for this inevitable revelation. This disclosure is a Divine determination, and has been made known to us. "Jesus Christ: which in His times He shall show, Who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords" (1 Tim 6:15). In order to ensure our faith stands the test of that revelation, the Lord orchestrates preliminary trials for us here.
The strength of this verse is remarkable. Faith-a tried faith- will "result in praise and glory and honor" when the Lord Jesus is "revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thess 1:7-8). That will be the greatest "fire," and thus the greatest test. But God is not willing to simply leave us to our own devises, as it were. He has declared, "he that endureth to the end shall be saved" (Matt 10:22). But that will not be left to mere chance, or the frailty of human strength. The Lord will build our confidence through "manifold temptations." He will reinforce our conviction, develop our confidence, and stabilize our hope by putting us in the "furnace of affliction" (Isa 48:10).
These three things-"praise, honor, and glory"-are to be experienced by the saints. These do not refer to our activity, as in praising the Lord, honoring Him, and giving Him glory-although we will surely do all of that. These refer to God's exceeding great reward to believers. As far back as 1 Samuel 2:20, God said, "for them that honor Me I will honor," and there is no greater way to honor God than by a robust faith. God's honor involves the Divine and public assessment, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matt 25:21). Such "honor" is to be sought by men, as indicated in the words of our Lord: "How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?" (John 5:44). Jesus promised, "if any man serve me, him will my Father honor" (John 12:26). The spirit spoke of eternal life being given to those who "seek for glory and honor and immortality" (Rom 2:7). The people of God are distinguished from the children of men, among other things, by being destined to receive "praise from God" (Rom 2:29; 1 Cor 4:5). When Jesus comes, He will be "be glorified in His saints" (1 Thess 1:10). It is then, and only then, that we will be "glorified" as He has determined (Rom 8:30; Col 3:4).
And what is it that determines these blessings will be consummated in us? It is true, it will be by Divine appointment, but not ONLY by Divine appointment. It is through "various trials"that God is bringing our faith to these determinations. Trials are preparing us, burning out the moral and spiritual dross that cannot enter into glory. They also strengthen the determination of believers, showing them they do not belong to this world and causing them to long for "the world to come." Unlike the flesh, faith flourishes in trial. It does so because its eye is set on the future, and not the present. Faith brings a persuasion to the soul that "that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:38-39). The Lord has determined this can ONLY be known in the ordeal of testing. It will never be realized by mere human analysis or adopting a creed, however sound it may be. Thus we see the truth confirmed, that trials are working for us (2 Cor 4:17).