Be glad about this, even though it may now be necessary for you to be sad for a while because of the many kinds of trials you suffer. Their purpose is to prove that your faith is genuine. Even gold, which can be destroyed, is tested by fire; and so your faith, which is much more precious than gold, must also be tested, so that it may endure. Then you will receive praise and glory and honor on the Day when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6-7
Service Members are trained not to complain out loud when things get tough. That is considered sniveling and is strongly discouraged. Regardless, when going through tough times, it can be very tempting for anyone to surrender to circumstances, lose faith, and start complaining.
The last few years have been anything but normal. Do we find ourselves complaining and sniveling more than usual these days? Do we feel like we are in tough times? Perhaps we have prayed like Tevye in the famous musical Fiddler on the Roof when he looks at God and says, “I know we are your chosen people, but couldn’t you choose someone else once and awhile?”
Years ago, Dr Robert Schuler, a megachurch pastor, authored a book called, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” I found it to be rather a good book, but it reminded me of the deeper truth written by the Apostle Peter. According to Peter, the only thing that lasts longer than tough times is true faith. A Christian with true faith in the Lord can soldier on through anything.
In this 1 Peter passage, the church is facing persecution and testing. Some believers are beginning to question whether God could allow such suffering or pain. If we have ever cried out to God, “Why me? Why now? Why this? How long?” then we can identify with the Christians to whom Peter is writing. In verse 6, Peter says that while we should rejoice in our salvation, for a little while we may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. By ‘little while,’ of course, Peter means that when compared to eternity, our suffering is just a momentary blip on the screen of our eternal life.
“What?” we ask, “I don’t remember being told that when I became a Christian! I thought that once I accepted Jesus into my heart that my life would be a flow of relatively happy events, with a small bump once and awhile to keep me reasonably humble!” To that immature thinking, Peter offers a sobering truth: we will have tough times, yet tough times never last, but true faith does.
Peter goes on to tell us two simple things in this text: the reason for tough times, and the rewards of true faith.
The Refiners Fire
First, we learn the reason for tough times. Peter says that we are in possession of something of extreme value. What is it? It is pure, true, uncompromising, unwavering faith. Therefore, true faith must be allowed to shine in the light, and to not be corrupted by sinful or worldly influences.
In verse 7 Peter likens true faith to gold. It is interesting that raw gold nuggets are ugly; there is no beauty to them. The reason is that gold, as an element, bonds with the other less valuable elements that exist around it. But gold has an extremely high melting point, around 2000-degrees Fahrenheit. When gold is subjected to such intense heat, the other impurities burn away. The more the impurities burn away, the more beautiful the gold becomes, and the softer it becomes. Twenty-four karat is pure gold with no impurities and is so soft that it easily yields to the skillful hands of the master artisan or jeweler.
So why would our loving Father expose us to the refiner’s fire? It is because he wants us to enjoy Him. But if we are to enjoy Him to the fullest, we must have true faith in Him, unpolluted by doubt or the things of the world. He wants us to see the true treasure that lies buried in our hearts. The refining process is not a punishment. God does not allow this refining process in order to humiliate us, or to make us feel like losers. Rather, our Lord allows it because our faith, no matter how great or small, is too precious to be corrupted, too valuable to be locked away, because scripture tells us that without true faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). This faith refinement process Peter implies, should make us uncomfortable, but not discouraged. For if when all the doubt is burned away, we are left with just a tiny nugget of faith the size of a mustard seed, Jesus said that that is all we need to order the largest mountain to jump into the sea (Matthew 17:20). Tough times don’t last, but true faith does.
A Reward Worth More Than Gold
Secondly, once Peter has shown us the reason for tough times, he then tells us the rewards of true faith. One of my favorite movies is Chariots of Fire. It is a true story of two British Olympic runners: Harold Abraham who ran for a purpose; and Eric Liddle who ran as a calling. Eric Liddle was a Christian, who would later go on to be martyred for his faith as a missionary to China. At one point, as Eric was training in the hillsides near his home, he was approached by his sister. She did not approve of his running and questioned why Eric did all this training instead of doing evangelism. Confused, Eric explains his belief to his beloved sister: “God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” Likewise, when our true faith is revealed, we feel the pleasure of our God, because we are more genuine with Him. When the impurities have been burned away from our faith, we are ready to shine for the Lord, to be used by Him, to mature in Him, and to glorify Him. In fact, God is so happy about our true faith that Peter tells us in verse 7 the three rewards that await those of true faith at the coming of the Christ.
The first reward of true faith is that Jesus will praise us. This means that we will receive His approval. We will hear words like, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” As children of God this approval should appeal to us. I remember one time when my daughter was little, she asked me if we could go outside and play a game of catch. Once outside, she threw me the ball, I caught it, and threw it back to her. She caught it and just stood there. I told her to throw it back to me. She frowned and said, “No, daddy, you’re not doing it right. I want to play catch. You know! Where you throw it, and I catch it, and you tell me what a great job I did!” Jesus tells everyone of true faith what a great job they are doing.
The second reward of true faith is that Jesus will give us glory. This means that He will mark us as having great distinction, like the crown of righteousness promised to all true believers when they enter glory. We know how powerful that can be. In his book, Refined by Fire, LTC Birdwell, a devout Christian, recounts his ordeal at surviving the Pentagon attack on 9/11 with burns over 60% of his body. I was the chaplain who ministered to him and had the privilege to hear his stories. He relates the story of a special event that happened to him the day after he was admitted to the Washington Hospital Center. While Birdwell lay in his bed, covered in bandages, he was visited by President George W. Bush. The President spoke with him for a short while, then stood at the foot of the bed facing Birdwell. The President raised a salute. Birdwell, realizing what was happening in spite of his medication, tried to salute back. He raised his severely burned right arm about 15 inches, and then dropped it. The president, with tears in his eyes, dropped his salute, and then moved to the next patient. Birdwell would later tell me he knew he would live despite all the odds, because His God never left him, his wife never left him, and his commander-in-chief saluted him. There is something motivating about glory. Jesus salutes all those of truth faith.
The third reward of true faith is that Jesus will honor us. That means that he will show us respect. This was so important that James and John argued over it when they wanted Jesus to name them to sit at his left and right hands in glory (Mark 10:37). Peter says that such honor is reserved only for those of true and tested faith. By honoring God’s son, God’s son honors us. He gives us life abundantly.
Those are the two great points of Peter in today’s text: the reason for tough times, and the rewards of true faith. We who are true Christians will have our faith tested, not out of cruelty, but out of God’s infinite and eternal love for us. Our faith will be refined to expose its purity, so that we can be of greater use to God. And every day, and in the end, our Savior will offer praise, glory, and honor to those who are genuine.
I heard a story of a man who was watching a refiner of gold. The refiner kept turning up the heat, until at last, the curious onlooker asked him, “How long do you need to keep that fire burning?”
The refiner replied, “Until I can see my reflection in the gold.”
Peter reminds us that our Lord wants the world to see His reflection in our lives. To that end Peter also makes this great promise to us: Tough times never last, but true faith does.
Rev. Art Pace
CH (COL-ret), USA