Rejoice In The Gospel

1 Peter 1:6-9 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. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Some of you have heard of the Igiby family. They are the main characters in Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga. The tale begins as Peterson describes a number of challenging situations the Igiby kids are forced to endure. For instance, they live under the oppressive rule of some pretty vile creatures known as fangs. Their mother requires them to do extra school work which none of their other friends have to do. The oldest, Janner, is constantly expected to be responsible for his extremely irresponsible younger brother, Tink. Perhaps hardest of all, their father died when they were all very young—too young to remember him at all—but their mother and grandfather won’t tell them anything about him, including his name!

What makes matters even more difficult is the fact that the kids don’t understanding why the things around them are as they are. In many ways the Igiby children’s entire lives are marked by questions and mystery and uncertainty and frustration. Virtually everything about them is controlled by something invisible to them—they know it’s there because they feel it at every turn, but they cannot see what it is. Eventually, though, the Igiby children learn the reasons for these things and it all makes sense. What was once confusing and burdensome becomes glorious and joyful.

In some ways that’s the context of 1 Peter as well. In it Peter teaches that the knowledge of Jesus and his work is meant to control every aspect of a Christian’s existence, even though he is invisible to them. Like the Igiby children, Peter writes, Christians are to live their lives based on things they cannot see.

Again, that’s Peter’s point in 1 Peter 1:8 when he says, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory…”.

Peter’s letter calls his people to live their lives based on something invisible to them—Jesus Christ.

What we find in vs.6-7, then, is an example of just this type of faithful response. Because of vs.3-5, where Peter briefly describes the nature and saving work of Jesus (the one who they cannot see and have not seen), God’s people are overwhelmed with joy. They are rejoicing in the fact that God is their Father, that Jesus is their Lord, that God’s mercy is upon them, that they have been born again, that they will be resurrected from the dead, and that they will receive an inheritance in heaven that is beyond imagination. That is, they have chosen to live their lives not based on the visible, challenging circumstances around them, but based on the invisible person and work and promises of Jesus.

It is my hope that God would use this sermon to grant all of us the will and strength to live in the same joy based on the same invisible realities even in the face of the same suffering. And it is my prayer that we too would live by faith, understanding some of what we experience through the bible’s explanations, but not all of it. Let’s pray.

Remember, this entire letter is mainly intended to encourage the Christians under Peter’s charge (and then the Church at large, and then us) to remain faithful even in the midst of persecution and suffering. The letter is filled with reminders and encouragements and challenges and rebukes. That is, this letter is mainly about how to honor God even when life is hard.

Our passage for this morning is an encouraging passage. The Christians to whom Peter is writing are already walking in faithfulness in their suffering and Peter means to encourage them in it. He also means to explain on a deeper level why God is allowing them to endure such difficult circumstances and why their response is glorifying to God.

And so we need to ask, for what faithfulness is Peter praising his readers? Or how are the Christians walking in faithfulness? Look at v.6. Having laid out the basic tenants of the gospel in vs.3-5, Peter affirms his readers because “in this” (that is, in the truths he’s presented in vs.3-5) they are overjoyed even while things are crashing down around them because they believe in the invisible gospel of Jesus Christ.

Peter goes even further in v.8. He describes the nature of their joy. The believers, though suffering, “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.”

Can you imagine yourself praising God like that if you were sent to jail for proclaiming the gospel? Can you imagine yourself filled with inexpressible joy in the gospel even if you were driven from your home and family because of it? That’s what Peter’s readers were doing and Peter wanted to encourage them in it and strengthen them for it. Their joy needed to continue even if their suffering did too.

The question we all ought to be asking next is “how”. How do we come to a place where we can rejoice in such circumstances? How do we gain the strength to persevere in it? Ultimately, how to we gain the kind of joy in suffering that is able to endure in any circumstances, pleasing to God, inexpressible, and “filled with glory”?

Ultimately the answer to each of these is the will and work of God. He must work or we will always fail. Remember that, Grace. It is not by our strength or will that we believe the gospel and it is not by our strength or will alone that we continue to believe the gospel. We need God’s grace. Without it we’re ruined.

But Grace, remember also that the good news of the gospel is that God will bring grace and help to all of his people. He who began a good work in us will see it through to completion. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. He who justifies also sanctifies and glorifies. We have all of God’s saving grace or none of it.

Again, then, how do we come to the point where we are able to rejoice in the gospel even when our circumstances are dire? By the grace of God.

However, Peter gets a bit more specific about how God means to work these things in his people—about how he means to bring his grace to us. That is, in praising the suffering saints for rejoicing in the gospel even while being persecuted, Peter offers two divinely inspired insights to strengthen the believers to persevere in their faith and joy.

Grace, pay attention to these things. We too need them. Increasingly, our lives may look like the lives of Peter’s readers. Their challenges may be our challenges. And therein, God’s wisdom and strength for them is God’s wisdom and strength for us.

Peter’s truths are not neat little coffee-mug slogans. They are instruments of war. Most of us do not yet naturally rejoice in suffering, therefore we need to fight in God’s grace to do so; to honor God even when others want us mocked or locked up or killed for our faith in Jesus. We must fight to understand them and believe them, and then fight with them—empowered by the grace of God.

Rejoice in the gospel even in times of suffering because suffering is short in light of eternal inheritance.

As you may know, Kyle and I (along with 8000+ other people) ran Grandma’s Marathon recently. I’ve come to hate Grandma’s Marathon. Here’s why: by mile 15 I was more physically miserable than I’ve ever been…and I still had 11 miles, over an hour and a half, to go. To add insult to injury, I chose to do this knowing that I had 0 chance of winning the race. I know that because shortly after my 1:35 of great agony began the winners were already done. There was pain and it lasted forever and it had no chance of producing victory.

On the other hand, I used to run track. I loved running the mile. In the mile stuff starts to hurt about a lap and a half in, but then you only have a few more minutes to endure and you’re done. There’s something remarkably powerful about knowing that your suffering is certain to be short-lived. What’s more, I regularly found a type of joy in the pain caused by running hard because I knew that on the other side of it I might win the race. There was pain, but it was sufferable because I knew it wouldn’t last long and it might lead to victory.

The first thing Peter reminds God’s people about is the fact that whatever suffering they might experience is relatively short-lived and certainly results in God’s eternal reward. In other words, Peter offers God’s strength to God’s people in the form of God’s promise that at most their suffering will be for a “little while.” And, what’s more, those who faithfully endure will receive an imperishable, undefiled, unfading, and certain reward: eternal fellowship with God, “the salvation of [their] souls”.

For faithful Christians, there is suffering, but is endurable because it is temporary and because it certainly leads to everlasting life—this is the promise and reality of God’s grace upon us.

Your boss calls you in and lets you know you’re being let go because of the “religious intolerance” you showed by evangelizing one of your coworkers…your initial reaction might be to despair…after all, you have to provide for your family…but there is help, Peter says, in remembering that this is only for a little while before an eternity of blessing.

Grace, we too rejoice in the gospel as we endure this life, and whatever lot we have in it, in the knowledge that it is short and that on the other side is certain, eternal bliss.

This, then, leads us to Peter’s second point.

Rejoice in the gospel even in times of suffering because suffering is necessary some times.

As strange as it may sound, there is a sense in which Christian suffering is necessary in this life. In fact, Peter mentions two senses in which it is necessary.

The first stated reason for the necessity of Christian suffering, is that it is useful to prove the genuineness of our faith. How are we saved? By grace, through faith in Jesus. But how do we know if we’ve really received grace and faith from God? One of the ways we can know is by looking at how we handle suffering for our profession of faith.

“…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…”

It is easy to claim to be a Christian when things are going well. It is easy to believe that we have genuine, saving faith when it isn’t put to the test. However, when we find ourselves in situations where claiming faith in Jesus’ would cost something (our health or job or family or life), we’re in a better place to really know.

In my years as a pastor I’ve seen numerous examples of both. That is, I’ve watched as people professing faith in Jesus stand firm, and walk away in moments of significant trial.

Early on in my pastoral ministry, as a youth pastor, I remember one young woman who heard we were having a service where several young people were going to be sharing their stories of coming to faith in Jesus. We were making a big deal out of it because it was an exciting time. She told us that she’d like to be a part of the service and share her testimony as well. At one time she’d been active in our church, but had later faded away to the point that she hadn’t been around at all for over a year (in any church). We told her we were glad she was interested but that we’d like to see her come back for a time before allowing her to stand up in front of the church declaring her allegiance to Jesus. At this she stormed out and vowed to never return. Years later she claimed that she was not a Christian because of that instance.

The faith of this young woman was put to the fire (albeit a very small one) and it showed that her faith was not real.

On the other hand, I remember walking with Howie Holm through his battle with cancer. Eventually the cancer lead to his death. However, I also remember seeing how, time after time, Howie remained faithful. Not only did Howie prove that his faith was real, throughout his battle with cancer his faith even grew as he learned what it really meant to cling to Jesus.

Howie’s faith was put to the fire and the testing proved the genuineness of his faith. I have no doubt that right now in heaven, confirming Peter’s words in v.7, Howie is praising God for the fact that the genuine faith, given to him by God, was far more precious than all the gold in the world.

Your ability to parent your kids is challenged for teaching them what the bible says about sin…this is embarrassing and potentially disruptive to your family…how do you endure, much less rejoice in the gospel? You do so, Peter writes, by seeing that it is necessary to confirm the reality of your faith. Knowing for certain that God’s saving grace is upon you is an awesome gift. Suffering is necessary, at times, for proving our faith to be real.

The second stated reason that suffering is necessary is that it is to honor Jesus; especially when he returns.

“…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.”

Most people were told that being a Christian meant being blessed by God. And being blessed by God, they were taught, meant God giving them whatever they wanted in this world. The proof of the truthfulness of Christianity and the goodness of God in their eyes, then, is earthly comfort and blessing. When those things are removed so is the proof of the reality and goodness of Jesus.

This is, as I hope you all know, a sick and twisted understanding of the Christian faith.

It is because of all of this, however, that when true Christians remain joyful in and faithful to the gospel in the midst of suffering, Jesus is glorified in such significant ways. Because the entire world around us is going in one direction (I’ll bless you as long as you give me what I want), it really stands out when we go in the other direction (I’ll bless you, Jesus, regardless of my circumstances).

In other words, when our faith is tested by suffering and we remain faithful, we not only show the genuineness of our faith, it also results in the “praise and glory and honor” of Jesus. Indeed, that’s one of God’s purposes in allowing Christians to suffer—to demonstrate the superiority of Jesus to all things, even life itself.

When we remain faithful in the times when faithfulness seems least likely to the watching world, Jesus’ glory is most clearly seen. Who would continue to trust in Jesus even when he allows his followers to suffer significantly? Only someone who saw that Jesus is greater than the suffering and even life itself.

Understanding that suffering is, at times, necessary to demonstrate the genuineness of our faith and display the glory of Jesus is, once again, a powerful means of God’s grace for Christians to remain faithful and joyful in the gospel when suffering comes.

When your boss fires you because you wouldn’t go along with his embezzling scam or when one of your kids gets terminally sick, how do you persevere in your delight in Jesus? You remember that “no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). In other words, we remain faithful by remembering that our suffering is temporary and that a reward beyond measure awaits us.

When your government puts you in jail for calling sin, sin, how do you continue to delight in Jesus? You remember that “This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Luke 21:13-19). In other words, we remain faithful by remembering that faithfulness in suffering brings glory to Jesus.

In conclusion I want to remind you all of a few things.

1 Peter is about how to suffer in ways that are pleasing to God. In several ways the Christians to whom Peter was writing were doing just that—suffering well. In particular, though they had been exiled for their faith, they were nevertheless praising God for and rejoicing in the gospel. To encourage them to continue in this faithfulness Peter reminded them that their suffering was only going to last for a little while and that it was, for them, for a time, necessary to prove the genuineness of their faith and to glorify Jesus.

None of this is to say that Christians ought to find joy in our suffering—that is, in the suffering itself. It wouldn’t be suffering if it were joyful. Rather, the suffering grieves us Peter says in v.6. It is wrong to pretend otherwise. Our joy is not in getting cancer or being persecuted for our faith. Instead, our joy is in the knowledge that God has great purposes in our suffering—that it is not in vein—and that no amount of it is able to rob us of our heavenly reward.

What does all of this mean? It means that suffering is a part of the Christian life. It means that we need to expect it. But it also means that there are ways to endure it that are pleasing to God and ways that are not.

Let us, therefore, stop putting all our effort into avoiding suffering and start putting it into suffering in ways that put God’s glory on display. Let’s suffer in ways that show that we value God more than life itself. Let’s suffer in ways that make little of this world and much of the next. Let’s suffer in ways that show our hope is not in comfort but in God. Let’s suffer in ways that prove the reality that for us, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Let’s suffer in ways that look different to the watching, non-believing world. And let’s suffer in ways that reflect the fact that we believe all our earthly suffering is temporary and that it is all necessary to verify our salvation and display Christ’s glory. Amen.