I recently had the opportunity to speak at a girls' school on 1 Peter 1:6-9 and thought I'd share my talk with you.
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 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. 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, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls (NIV)
Has anyone ever seen unrefined gold? It’s recognisable as gold, but it’s all mucky, jammed together with bits of grit and dirt, not shiny and beautiful like pure gold. Most of us have probably seen pure gold – bright and pretty, it makes a lovely setting for jewellery or is a costly metal used to embody wealth. In order to get from the mucky, gritty, dirty gold which has just been dug from the ground, the gold has to be put in an incredibly hot furnace or into a crucible over a very hot flame, the impurities will then float to the surface and can be skimmed off, leaving pure gold. Imagine then, that you had something even more precious than gold. Something that would last even longer than gold, something that wouldn’t be destroyed when this world is destroyed at the end of time, but something that would last forever. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to make sure that that thing was as pure as it possibly could be, that you made sure that it was genuine and valuable? You wouldn’t want it to be fake, because then investing in it would be an enormous waste, and would be hugely embarrassing to discover it was counterfeit.
This is what Peter is talking about in these verses. The thing that is more valuable than gold and will last even longer is faith. So my first point is, trials come to prove our faith is genuine. Look down with me at verses 6 and 7. “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 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.”
Just so we’re all clear, let me explain the word “faith” – it’s a word used lots in our culture today, for lots of different reasons, but when the Bible uses the word ‘faith’ it means belief and trust in Jesus Christ as our Saviour. In fact verse 8 has a nice summary of the Christian faith, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him”
The reason Peter tells his readers how much their faith is worth, is because it explains what must be gone through to make sure it is genuine and pure. The readers of Peter’s letter have been experiencing suffering and trials. We are not told exactly what these trials are, but we are told they are “all kinds of trials”. We too, as Christians, are likely to suffer trials of various kinds. I don’t know what each of your lives are like, but there are likely to be a variety of areas; these could range from physical illness, to struggling with school work, to being thought of as uncool, because we go to the Christian meeting, or we don’t want to go out and get drunk with our friends, because we want to honour God in all we do. Trials may be feeling left out because we’re not willing to go along with the gossip or name-calling of another girl in our class, or being thought of as strange, when we don’t want to be mean about one of our teachers, because we know God wants us to be different.
In the passage we are also told that the trials have caused the readers to “suffer grief” – verse 7. The very nature of trials is that they will cause the person experiencing them to suffer. But they are not suffering because God is absent, or because He made a mistake. Indeed not, they are suffering for a reason. What is the reason? Look down at verse 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 honour when Jesus Christ is revealed”. Dick Lucas, a great British preacher said this, in a sermon on this passage, “If it’s been a really tough term, a tough 3 months, a tough 6 months in your life, it’s because God has seen gold in your life and is mining it out.” These trials have come for a purpose – to prove that the readers’ faith is the real thing – valuable and pure.
But why is it important to prove that faith is genuine and pure? This leads me onto my second point – trials come for glory. Verse 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 honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” The passage doesn’t make entirely clear (even in the original Greek!) exactly where the praise, glory and honour will be aimed, but since the sentence speaks of both us and Jesus, we can say that those would be the most likely candidates. From elsewhere in the Bible we know that all things occur for God’s glory, so it makes sense that Jesus will be glorified for keeping us standing firm in our faith, and that His name will be praised because of the things that we have gone through and continued to trust Him through. We also know that in Christ Christians will be glorified (2 Thessalonians 1v12 for example) so we can say that there will too be praise, glory and honour for us when Christ returns and our faith is shown to be pure and genuine.
What is the evidence that the faith is genuine and pure? We turn now to my third and final point – our reaction to trials proves that our faith is genuine. Let me read the passage one more time. “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 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. 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, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” I wonder if you noticed the repeated theme that tops and tails the passage? Verse 6 – “In this you greatly rejoice” and verse 9 “you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy”. Christians react differently to non-Christians when it comes to suffering and trials. Though the readers have been grieved by many trials, they also greatly rejoice.
As I said before, the very nature of trials is that they are painful and cause grief, and if they didn’t cause grief and pain they could hardly be called suffering or trials. But yet the Christian still will have a unique reaction, which will mark out their faith as genuine and pure. We will rejoice, and be filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, both in spite of and almost because of the trials.
This is not to say Christians are masochists who gain pleasure from pain, nor is it to say they are Halloween pumpkins going around smiling inanely, being happy all the time, in spite of great pain or trials. What it is saying is that the Christian knows that their trials are there for a reason, a reason far bigger than this life. Look how Peter describes their trials, “Though now for a little while.”
I wonder how long you could hold your breath for? If you told me “I can hold my breath for 3 minutes”, I’d think, “WOAH! That’s a long time”, but then again, I could ask, how long have you been at school for and you could tell me “Three weeks” and I’d say, “Not very long then?” Time is comparative. So it is with Peter’s description. The Christian has all of eternity to look forward to – their life is eternal, they will live forever in perfection after death. So compared to eternity, our life on earth is tiny! I wonder if you were little you used to have arguments, and it usually degenerated into “No,” “Yes,” “No, no, no”, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes” and so on until someone said “No to infinity,” and generally that stopped things, because no matter how long you kept saying no, it would never be as many times as infinity. So it is with trials, no matter if they last three minutes, three weeks, three years, three decades, or the whole of our lives, they are still such a tiny, tiny while compared to all of eternity.
Just to say again, this doesn’t mean for that time they will be pleasant, but when we compare that suffering to all of eternity and when we remember the awesome purpose of the trials, then we can be reassured that they are just for a little while, and we can be filled with true Christian joy.
John Piper, an American preacher says this, “Joy in Christ is the deep good feelings in loving him and believing him. It's the echo in our emotions—our hearts—of experiencing Christ as precious and experiencing Christ as reliable. It's the deep good feelings of being attracted to him for who he is and the deep good feelings of being confident in him for what he will do.” Joy is more than happiness – it’s not just going around smiling nor is it being happy all the time – it’s something much deeper than that. We can still feel joy even when we are sad and crying our eyes out. It’s quite hard to explain what it is, and even Peter says that they “are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy”.
The joy that a Christian feels even in the greatest trial will mean that they are distinctive from the world around them. Even when they are overwhelmed by the grief of loss, the pain from the death of a loved one, the seeming endlessness of a chronic illness or the utter despair of depression, even when they can hardly speak or lift a hand to praise God, a Christian can know the true joy of the future. Christians know that this trial is to prove their faith genuine and to glorify God Christians know that trials remind them that this world is not our home, but that there is a far greater hope – the Jesus who we have never met, we will one day see face-to-face, and there will be no more tears, no more crying, no more pain, no more death, nothing bad, just perfection and goodness, we will live with God, and look back on that little while of grief, knowing it was worth it and that God did know best.
So, in summary, we have seen that trials have come to prove our faith, they have come for glory and they have come to mark Christians out as different. I’m aware I haven’t covered all the issues this passage covers, nor everything about trials, so I’m very happy to take any questions.