1 Peter 1:6-7 – Rejoicing and Grieving (II)

 

Peter's first letter

 

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1:6-7)

We’ll now pick up where we left off with verses 6 and 7 of chapter 1. To lead things off let’s begin with my opening comments to part one. So in our previous study, the first of two posts for our present passage, I wrote;

In verses 6 and 7 of chapter 1 I mentioned that we’ll see two apparently contradictory characteristics of the Christian life. What are those characteristics that Peter highlights in these verses? Well, firstly, he speaks of our rejoicing: “In this you greatly rejoice”. He then goes on to speak of our grieving: “though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials”. They seem to be quite contradictory dispositions. They seem to be at odds with one another. They seem to be mutually exclusive. How can you be rejoicing if you’re grieving? How can you be grieving if you’re rejoicing? These verses show that the Christian can and should be characterised by both rejoicing and grieving. That comes about as a result of the curious position that we find ourselves in as believers in Christ in this present world.

Perhaps you’ll remember that Peter was writing this letter to believers in Christ throughout a number of Roman Provinces in the area to the south of the Black Sea that was known as Asia Minor and is now modern day Turkey and he described them as “scattered, elect sojourners”. That is a description that applies to all Christians during their time as believers in this world. It speaks of the reality of our present situation. That reality is that we are no longer at home in this world. As believers in Christ our citizenship is now in heaven so, for the time being, we are away from our heavenly home. We’re living here, so we are in the world, but we are aliens so we are not of the world. That description, “scattered, elect sojourners” implies both rejoicing and grieving. Knowing that we are “elect” surely suggests great cause for rejoicing but being told that we are “scattered sojourners” suggests that there is also plenty of scope for grieving.

In verses 6 and 7, Peter spells out this apparent contradiction more clearly. That we are to be characterised by both rejoicing and grieving is more than an implication or a suggestion. Both are genuine realities for the Christian in this life.

So, we will once again take up the task to look at these verses under two main headings:

For our previous post: Christians really rejoice now

And for this post: Christians genuinely grieve now

Having seen that Christians really rejoice now we must go on to take note of the apparently contradictory assertion that:

 

Christians genuinely grieve now

We see this because Peter goes on to say: “though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials”. The ESV and NKJV have “you have been grieved by various trials”. Some versions have something like “you may have to suffer various trials” but the Greek word used here always refers to the emotion of grief rather than the suffering that causes grief. For instance, in the context of Jesus telling His disciples about His forthcoming death, we find the same word in Matthew 17v23: “They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life. And the disciples were filled with grief”.

We find the same word again in 1 Thessalonians 4v13: “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope”.

So, Peter was speaking of suffering grief or of being grieved. Suffering grief seems to be inconsistent with “greatly rejoicing” doesn’t it? Peter even seems to acknowledge that it seems to be inconsistent by saying “though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials”. The sense is that they rejoiced even though they suffered grief. They rejoiced despite suffering grief. Given that they “had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” it’s a surprising thing that they “greatly rejoiced”. The very fact that Peter highlighted the apparent contradiction between rejoicing and grieving shows that what he had in mind was genuine, painful grieving. What Peter has in mind is not a minor irritant that somehow gets lost in the midst of our great rejoicing. No, it is genuine grief.

Paul spoke of knowing such grief.

In 2 Corinthians 6 he listed many of the sufferings that he had endured and then in verse 10 he went on to describe himself as being “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing”. The Greek word that has been translated there as “sorrowful” is the same word that has been translated as “suffer grief” or “been grieved” in 1 Peter 1v6. So, Paul experienced the apparent contradiction of genuine grief and real rejoicing. How we need to make sure that not only is our rejoicing real but also that we are not ashamed of genuine grieving as though it is inconsistent with rejoicing and somehow sub-Christian.

Let us consider five important things about this genuine grief:

The producer of genuine grief

The perspective of genuine grief

The principle behind genuine grief

The purpose of genuine grief

The product of genuine grief

 

The producer of genuine grief

What causes Christians to grieve? Well, Peter went on to indicate the immediate producer of such grief because he went on to speak of suffering grief in “all kinds of trials”. Our grief stems from trials. It’s easy to think in terms of “trials” referring to specifically “Christian problems” such as persecution and I’m absolutely sure that it would include that. Later in the letter Peter refers to suffering that is a specific consequence of being a believer in Christ and of living for Christ. Look at 1 Peter 4v14-16: “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name”.

However, notice that, here in chapter 1, Peter refers to “all kinds of trials” (NIV) or “various trials” (ESV). We find a similar expression in James 1v2 where we read: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds”. The point is that there are all sorts of trials that can come upon us. There is a vast array of trials that can cause us “to suffer grief” whether they take the form of opposition to our Christian faith or they are the sorts of hardships that are common to people in general as a consequence of living in a fallen world. In this life we face all sorts of trials. They come with various intensities. Some are long and protracted and some are short and sharp.

Peter is saying that all these many different kinds of trials cause us to suffer grief. There’s no suggestion that it’s wrong to suffer such grief. There’s no suggestion that we should be ashamed of grieving or that we should bring the British stiff upper lip into play and pretend that we aren’t grieving. Trials produce genuine grief. But, as believers in Christ, we also really rejoice or, as James exhorted, we can, amazingly, “Consider it pure joy” when we “face trials of many kinds”.

Let’s go on to notice:

The perspective of genuine grief

It’s the words “now for a little while” that provide the proper perspective for “suffering grief in all kinds of trials”. When you’re really suffering it doesn’t usually seem like “a little while” does it? The grief seems to go on and on and it feels as though it will never end. I once had a serious bout of pneumonia and I was off work for about six weeks. At the time that seemed to be going on forever but looking back on it now, many years later, it’s just one very tiny part of my life. What seemed to be the case at the time wasn’t the true perspective even though it felt like it. In the context of the bigger picture my bout of pneumonia only lasted “for a little while”.

Peter is saying here that our time for “suffering grief in all kinds of trials” is “now”. By that he means during our lifetime. He means here and now. He means during our time on Earth. To us, here and now, that seems a very long time. It doesn’t seem to be “a little while” at all. However, long times are relative aren’t they? If you were to say that you can hold your breath for a long time you’d probably mean a couple of minutes or so. Even top pearl divers are unlikely to be able to hold their breath for much more than five minutes. If you were to say that you’ve been married for a long time you could well mean fifty years or more. If you were to say that Britain hasn’t been invaded for a long time you would mean almost a thousand years. You see, what is considered to be a long time varies enormously depending on the context.

Well, the “suffering grief in all kinds of trials” that Peter mentions here might last for a long time in the context of our lifetime on Earth. Indeed, the whole of our lifetime on Earth could be beset by trials that cause us grief. That seems a very long time but remember what James said in chapter 4 verse 14 of his letter: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”. You see, a whole lifetime of suffering is “a little while” in the context of eternity. It is but “a little while” compared to the inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade that is kept in heaven for you.

Peter himself went on to say in chapter 5 verse 10: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast”. You see, even a whole lifetime of suffering is but “a little while” compared to “his eternal glory in Christ”.

Paul says much the same in 2 Corinthians 4v17-18 where we read: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”.

So, as Christians we suffer trials that cause us genuine grief but we are to view that in the context of eternity. When we do that we recognise that they are “light and momentary”. They are “temporary”. They are “for a little while”.

Having seen our grief with that proper perspective let us next notice:

The principle behind genuine grief

For people in the world who have no place for God in their thinking and no faith in Christ, their griefs and the trials that cause them can be very hard to bear because it all seems so random. Some people seem to suffer so much while others seem to enjoy relatively trouble free lives and that seems to be quite arbitrary.

But, believers in Christ who know the sovereign God as their loving heavenly Father cannot view it in that way. We might not always understand why one person suffers in a particular way or why one seems to suffer more than another but we must be in no doubt that there is a principle at work. We see that because Peter says: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials”. That suggests that there is a need or a necessity for suffering grief in trials. In fact, the ESV has “if necessary” and the NKJV has “if need be”.

So, the trials that we face and the griefs that we suffer as a consequence come our way because they are “necessary”. They aren’t random. They aren’t arbitrary. They are needed. Why are they necessary? Who decides that we need them? Peter doesn’t actually answer that question in our text but the inference must surely be that it is God who decides if we need trials and what kind of trials we need. Later in the letter Peter makes it quite clear that we are right to draw that inference. Look at what Peter went on to say in 1 Peter 3v17: “It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil”. You see the surprising thing that Peter is saying there. He’s saying “You don’t want to suffer for doing evil because that is shameful but even if you do good you might still suffer and, if you do, that is a matter for God’s will. It is God who will decide whether you suffer or not. It’s up to Him.”

Then look at what he went on to say in 1 Peter 4v19: “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good”. Again, he’s saying that if you suffer it is according to God’s will. The one who is your “faithful Creator” has decided that you need it so trust in Him, depend on Him, rely on Him and continue to do good.

So, Peter is making it clear that it is the sovereign will of that God determines the trials that come our way. It’s all under His control and by His design because He knows it is necessary for us.

Recognising that there is this principle of God’s determination at work in the trials that produce our grief implies that they have a purpose. So, finally, let us go on to note that Peter went on to spell out:

The purpose of genuine grief

We see that there is a purpose in the trials that cause us grief as we move into verse 7 where we read: “These have come so that”. What have come? Clearly, it is “all kinds of trials” and we see that they have come with a purpose because Peter says they have come “so that”. God sends them with an intended consequence.

He tells us that the purpose is: “so that your faith ….. may be proved genuine”.

Other versions tend not to choose to use that word “proved” but that is the primary meaning of the Greek word in the text. We must be careful not to misunderstand it. When you hear the word “prove” you probably think in terms of establishing or demonstrating something to be true. So you might have a mathematical proof complete with QED at the end. That stands for the Latin phrase “quod erat demonstrandum”, which literally means “what was to be demonstrated”. It signifies that what was assumed at the outset has been conclusively proved to be true. Or, you might think of the court of law setting where someone is on trial. The object of the exercise is to see if their guilt can be proven. The question is: “is there sufficient evidence to establish the guilt of the accused?”

That is not the sense in which the word “prove” is being used here.

The idea isn’t that God isn’t sure whether your faith is genuine or not so He has to conduct experiments in order to gather evidence that will confirm the genuineness of your faith or otherwise. The word “prove” is being used in the sense of “proving” metals. That is evident from Peter’s aside where he says “so that your faith— of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire”.

The Greek word that has been translated as “refined” there is actually the same word as was translated as “proved” in connection with our faith. The proving of metals is the process of refining them by burning away the dross and impurities that they contain. We must recognise that before the gold is refined, it is genuine gold. The refining process doesn’t change something else into gold. There’s no alchemy involved! Genuine gold is already present but it’s not pure gold. It’s contaminated with impurities and the refining process removes those impurities.

So it is with the faith of believers in Christ.

Peter isn’t casting doubts on the genuineness of our faith. What he is doing is recognising the imperfection of our faith. It contains impurities. It’s mixed with other stuff. Mingled in with our faith there can be murmuring and pessimism and discontent. They spoil our faith and detract from our faith. There can be tendencies to trust in things other than Christ – wealth, status, popularity, personal morality. That’s the sort of dross that contaminates our faith and God’s purpose in bringing about genuine grief through “all kinds of trials” is to burn that dross away.

We see an example of that refining process at work in the life of Paul if we look at 2 Corinthians 1v8-10 where we read: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death”. You see, that’s the fire – “all kinds of trials”. Paul then went on to recognise the purpose in that by saying: “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us”. Do you see the purified gold there? The result is “that we might not rely on ourselves but on God” The result is that “we have set our hope” on what God will continue to do.

You might find yourself wondering if having your faith refined in this way is really worth enduring the genuine grief that results from “all kinds of trials”. Well, Peter says that your faith is “of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire”. The point here is that even the purest and most valuable gold will eventually perish. By earthly standards gold is very resistant to decay. It lasts for centuries or millennia even but, like all material things, it will eventually perish. In contrast, our refined faith is of eternal worth.

That brings us to the final point:

The product of genuine grief

I confess that I’ve taken the liberty of using the word “product” in order to maintain the alliteration! The word in the text is actually “result”. What is the product or result of this process of the proving or refining of our faith? Peter says that it is “praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed”.

Firstly, notice when this will happen. It’s “when Jesus Christ is revealed”. It’s when Jesus comes again and we are ushered into eternity. That tells us that God’s purposes in all of this are for the long term. We mustn’t think that a few trials will do the trick. The refining of our faith is an ongoing process throughout our lifetime and the end product won’t be realised until the return of Christ. But, what an end product! The result will be: “praise, glory and honour”.

Peter doesn’t make it clear whether this will be “praise, glory and honour” to us or to God or to both. However, elsewhere we are told that believers in Christ will receive “praise, glory and honour” when He returns. For instance, look at 1 Corinthians 4v5 where we read: “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God”.

Or, look at 1 Peter 5v4 where we read: “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away”.

Of course, the “praise, glory and honour” that we receive is to God’s “praise, glory and honour” as well because we are His workmanship. We are only worthy of such “praise, glory and honour” because He has made us worthy through the work of Christ.

So, when you’re in the depths of “suffering grief in all kinds of trials” remember that your loving heavenly Father is refining your faith and it will result “praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed”. Because of that you can “greatly rejoice” even though you “suffer grief in all kinds of trials”.

~ Steve

 

Dr. Steve Orr

Dr Orr has served the Body of Christ in the United Kingdom for many years and in various capacities (preaching, teaching, etc.,). Steve is a regular contributor to the pages of Christ My Covenant. His insights into the Word of God will serve you in your personal study of God’s Word. Learn of Christ!