Tested By Fire

I Peter 1:6-9

May grace and peace be yours in abundance! And blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! These two greetings, one for one another as fellow exiles and refugees, and one for God who has given us a new birth, a living hope, and an eternal inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, seem to be the over-riding theme of these nine verses that we have been exploring for the past three weeks. It is good to greet one another with a holy and meaningful greeting, and it is very good to greet God with a greeting that gives God the honor and praise and glory that he is due.

Last Sunday we explored the awesome and amazing inheritance that God is holding in store for us. Unlike any earthly inheritance that we might desire or even imagine, this inheritance will never perish, it will never become sullied up, and it will never fade away. This inheritance is kept in heaven, which is, even today, the true and eternal home for all exiles and refugees, who have, by God’s mercy, received the new birth and the living hope.

And in verse six, Peter says something to his readers that is at the same time both wonderfully profound and, in my humble opinion, totally unnecessary. He says, “In this you rejoice…” Well yeah, who wouldn’t rejoice in an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading? It makes no sense not to rejoice. This is a joyful thing. And yet, I have seen miserable Christians; persons who find nothing but fault in God and in God’s people. And quite frankly, that makes no sense to me at all. It is in total contradiction to the two wonderful greetings that are the theme of these verses: “May grace and peace be yours in abundance,” and “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” How can we be miserable when we make a habit of greeting one another and God in this way?

And yet Peter, ever the realist, presents his readers and us with an opportunity for misery. Peter says we rejoice in our inheritance, even if now for a little while we have to suffer various trials. There it is…an opportunity for misery. But Peter’s point is very clear. We rejoice, even when the opportunity for misery presents itself. Misery then, is the interloper. Misery attempts to diminish the power of the two awesome greetings. And Peter’s point is that it ought not to be able to do that. In fact, the two awesome greetings ought to diminish and even vanquish the misery.

Peter, at this point in his epistle, is quite unspecific about the nature of these various trials that his readers are suffering through. But it is not difficult for us to guess what they may be. These trials have come from without the Christian community, not from within. Peter’s readers are exiles and refugees. They’ve run away from home and possessions, for fear of their lives. Persecution from the Romans is increasing. And while we do not experience the same kind of opposition that Peter’s readers endured, we are still exiles and refugees in this world. There are outside forces at work against us all the time. And that’s OK. It is to be expected, however saddening it may be. I suppose it goes without saying that opposition should never come from within the Christian community. We know better than that.

And yet, misery from without can have a glorious purpose. It tests, and then proves our faith. As slippery and as perishable as gold is, and gold is perishable; it has no part in our imperishable, undefiled and unfading inheritance…Oh…you’ve heard that heaven has streets that are paved with gold. Revelation 21:21. Not likely. That’s John’s attempt to describe heavenly reality with earthly language. And earthly language is always horrendously inadequate. I cannot conceive that God would be so cheap as to import a perishable, defiled and fading base metal as dingy as gold into heaven, even if it was used for pavement. Look instead for pavement that will blow your socks off. It did for John.

Anyway, slippery, old, dingy, perishable gold and faith do have something in common. They both get better with the application of heat. Gold gets purer, and faith gets stronger. Peter uses the word “genuine.” And I think that’s key. Suffering has the potential to cause faithlessness, and disillusionment and disappointment. Genuine faith grows stronger under pressure. Perhaps Peter is even implying that we ought to rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that the outcome of our endurance will result in praise and honor and glory from God when Jesus Christ is revealed. That’s something to look forward to. God crowns genuine faith with praise, honor and glory. That puts genuine faith in the category of the imperishable, the undefiled, and the unfading. Faith, genuine faith, far more precious than gold, and ultimately completely unlike gold, will outlast this old, broken world, and is welcome and suitable in the glories of heaven.

Peter closes this passage with an awesome compliment for his readers that places every one of us in profound solidarity with them. He says, “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him…” It is quite possible that Peter is writing to his readers sometime around the year 64, some 30 years after Jesus departed this planet. It is very likely that none of his readers ever saw Jesus in the flesh. And yet, they have received and believed the proclamation of the good news of salvation and eternal life. And they have come to love this man whom they have never seen. They’ve overcome one of the greatest stumbling blocks of the faith that there is. And while Peter does not explicitly say it, I believe that they have overcome it because they have discovered that Jesus is present with them, albeit invisible to their eyes. They have instead, seen him with the eyes of their hearts, through faith. This is our goal. To see and to know, and to love and to believe in Jesus with the eyes of our hearts. The eyes of our hearts are, after all, imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. And in this there is indescribable and glorious joy. For we are, even now, receiving the outcome of our faith, which is the salvation of our souls. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and may grace and peace be yours in abundance. Amen.

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