In introducing his first epistle, the Apostle Peter addresses a persecuted church, dispersed abroad. They were discouraged and probably confused at the persecution they were facing because of their faith. Peter opens his epistle by encouraging them to remain strong and reminds them to look to Christ, the source of their salvation and their inheritance in him, and the hope of his return to take the church with him to glory.
Peter begins with a stark reminder of the gospel and the hope of the believer in chapter 1, verses 3-5, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
He then goes on in verse 6, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” The church is to “rejoice” in the hope of the gospel, the promised inheritance of eternal salvation, even though they are “for a little while” faced with various trials. He contrasts their eternal hope with the temporal suffering they face now, causing his readers to look beyond the trials of here and now, and focusing their view on the glories of their inheritance.
Peter understands that suffering will be normal for the obedient Christian because “Christ first suffered for you, leaving you an example” to follow in suffering (1 Peter 2:21). Persecution will be a result of following Christ for the world hated him first, and therefore, will hate us (John 15:18-19), and it is to this end that the scriptures speak much of the eternal glory of God and our inheritance with Christ as a contrast to our temporary affliction.
Peter also reiterates the point of Christ’s suffering setting an example for us when he says, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God,” (1 Peter 3:17-18). Why would we not expect to suffer for doing good when Christ (the righteous) suffered and gave himself for us (the unrighteous)?
When Jesus calls us to suffer, he understands how we feel and what we are going through, as he also suffered, and he is our example in having done so. Paul says we are “fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17). Peter further encourages his readers with this exhortation, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:12-14).
So, we see suffering as a common theme in the New Testament scriptures: Christ suffered leaving us an example, and by sharing in his suffering, we also shall become partakers in his glory: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:16-17)
Daniel M. Doriani (1 Peter, Reformed Expository Commentary), notes that Peter describes our trials in five ways in vv. 6-7. “First, when compared to eternity, they are brief in duration; ‘though now for a little while.’ Second, they are varied in form; ‘you have been grieved by various trials.’ Third, they have a kind of necessity; ‘if necessary.’ Fourth, suffering proves that our faith is real; ‘so that the tested genuineness your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire –.’ Fifth, suffering will ‘result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.’ Because suffering has a limit and purpose, we can still rejoice in it.”
We must be honest and admit, that joy is probably not the first response we think of when considering facing suffering, yet we see it is a consistent New Testament theme (read Matthew 5:10-12). The same as Peter is doing in this epistle, Matthew, in his gospel, points to our eternal hope in glory as a means to endure our temporary affliction. Whenever we may suffer as Christians, we are to remember that we are safe in God’s grace, for he chose us before the world’s creation. He was faithful to grant us new birth which results in this living hope and a future inheritance that we see in 1 Peter 1:3-5. This is the grace of God, and in this we rejoice not matter what our current circumstances may be.
We see in 1 Peter 1:7 that we are to “rejoice” in our “various kinds” of trials so that “the tested genuineness of your faith… may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The trials in our lives test our faith, they prove the genuineness of our faith which is “more precious than gold that perishes.”
Gold has always been considered a precious commodity containing great value; our faith, is considered “more precious” than even gold, because gold too, like all material things, “perishes.” Our faith has eternal implications, it does not fade or diminish, it is placed in the eternal promises of God and we are “being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
Like gold, our faith is tested by fire; literal fire tests gold and other precious metals, and metaphorical fire (trials, persecutions, sufferings, griefs, etc.) tests our faith: Psalm 66:10 “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.” Proverbs 17:3 “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.” James 1:2-4 “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
We see in James 1:2-4, suffering promotes endurance and perfection of character, and the apostle Paul also reiterates this in Romans 5:3-4 where we see that we are to “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
There is great value in suffering for the Christian. Too often we seek to avoid all hardships, or when we find ourselves in the midst of them, we seek to be freed from whatever may have befallen us. Rather, we should look to our eternal promises as a means to endure through trials while entrusting our souls to our faithful Creator (1 Peter 4:19). But we can also find great encouragement and hope in the fact that we do not suffer alone, for Christ also suffered and provided and example for us (1 Peter 2:21-25).
Our faith is valuable, and God wants to refine it. Just as gold is refined by fire that burns away impurities, likewise, suffering and affliction refines our faith, which is far more precious than gold.
Our trials are temporary and ultimately have a greater purpose. This does not diminish our grief; it simply reminds us that we have an eternal hope to look forward to amidst our temporary afflictions.
Lauren Dyck is a ThB student at Forge Theological Seminary and lives in La Crete, Alberta, Canada. He is married with 4 sons and serves at Grace Bible Fellowship which is a recent Grace Advance church plant through Grace Community Church.