So far in the passage Peter has presented four great consequences of God’s work in us: great mercy, great confidence, a great inheritance, and great protection. But as I noted in the previous post, he’s just getting started.
In the next verse he identifies another consequence, one that should not surprise us, at least initially: Wherein ye greatly rejoice (1P 1.6).
In what? In the salvation mentioned in verse 5—the certain, final salvation toward which God’s protection is ultimately keeping us. That’s certainly something in which we can rejoice.
But the verse doesn’t end there, and what it says next surprises us:
Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations (1P 1.6).
At the moment, Peter says, we’re “in heaviness” (“you have been distressed” NASB; “you suffer grief” CSB // ESV NIV). Now, who on earth would rejoice under those circumstances? Has Peter lost his mind? Does he really mean that we can rejoice in the midst of trials? Especially trials such as Peter will describe in this epistle: “suffering wrongfully” (1P 2.19), suffering as Christ our example did (1P 2.21), suffering “evil” and “railing” (1P 3.9), suffering “for righteousness’ sake” in “terror” (1P 3.14), when “they speak evil of you, as of evildoers” (1P 3.16), suffering a “fiery trial” (1P 4.12), being “reproached for the name of Christ” (1P 4.14)?
How can he say this?
I note that Peter is in a position to speak knowledgeably about this; he is “a witness of the sufferings of Christ”(1P 5.1), and he knows that suffering awaits him at the end as well (Jn 21.18-19).
In an act of grace, Peter doesn’t leave us in the dark; he tells us why we can rejoice in suffering:
- First, these hardships are temporary; they are “for a season” (1P 1.6).
- Second, they are necessary—“if need be” (1P 1.6). That is, they are not random or purposeless; they are accomplishing something in us; specifically,
- They test the quality of our faith (1P 1.7); they show us how we’re doing in the trust department. I’m sure that you occasionally are completely surprised by some reactive word or action that you demonstrate under stress. I am, and I’ve written about that before. We need those experiences to direct our growth; if we don’t know we’re sick, we’re not likely to buy the prescription.
- They purify that faith, the way a fire purifies molten metal (1P 1.7). As the weaknesses and imperfections are brought to the surface, they can be dealt with and removed. To put it bluntly, the trial makes us a better product.
- Because the trials are more than we can deal with naturally, they drive us to Christ for grace and strength, thereby demonstrating our faith in him and strengthening in us the habit of seeking him first (1P 1.8). In so doing, they demonstrate the genuineness of our faith and thereby strengthen it. In truth, then, the trials aren’t the direct cause of our rejoicing; our rejoicing is in Christ, and our trials, by driving us to him, drive us to the source of our joy.
- Let’s not pass over an important phrase in this passage: Whom having not seen, ye love (1P 1.8). Underlying our reaction to our trials—our rejoicing in our trials—is the world-changing fact of a loving relationship. Another accomplishment of trials is that they reinforce the solidity of our relationship with Christ, just as a difficult experience in a marriage—injury, illness, death of a family member—can strengthen the marriage bond well beyond that experienced by those with light, easy lives.
We rejoice when we are in the embrace of Christ. It should be no surprise, then, that we can rejoice when trials come. As Spurgeon supposedly* said,
“I have learned to kiss the waves that throw me up against the Rock of Ages.”
* I have been unable to find this quotation in Spurgeon’s writings. If any reader can, I’d be delighted to know where it is.