“Refined By Fire” 1 Peter 1:1-9 April 24, 2011 Easter
This morning we’re beginning a study of 1 Peter that will take us through summer.
The Apostle Peter wrote two short letters from Rome to Christians scattered
throughout the Roman Empire.
Those letters are called 1 and 2 Peter in the New Testament.
You can study them separately because they deal with different issues.
I preached on 2 Peter a number of years ago,
and I’ve always wanted to preach on 1 Peter and this seems like the right time.
Before we begin, I need to give credit where credit is due.
I’ve gotten tons of insight and help from two sermon series on 1 Peter—
one by Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC,
the other by Robert Rayburn, pastor of Faith Presbyterian in Tacoma, Wash.
I’m passing on to you lots of the good things I’ve gleaned from these men.
Let’s jump right in.
INTRO: I want to tell you two preacher stories. These are both true.
I know both men. They are Presbyterian ministers. I’ve changed their names.
Bob went to seminary with me. When he got out of seminary he got a church
in a little town in his home state. He and his wife were so excited.
They had just had their first child, looking forward to putting down roots
serving this little congregation, loving the people.
But Bob soon discovered that there was one man in the congregation who was
the wealthiest man in the county, the biggest giver in the church.
And he was the real decision-maker. He wanted to control Bob.
It started with little things, but there came a point where Bob had to say no
and that brought them into conflict. The man began a push to get rid of Bob.
And even though lots of people liked him, this man had the influence—
and out Bob went.
Here’s the point I want to emphasize: As hard as it was on Bob and his wife—
through all their tears, all their anger—came out better, sweeter, more patient. Even able to talk about this man without any animosity and pray for him.
Second story is about a pastor named Jim. He was older than Bob, had served in
other churches where he was successful. He was smart and talented.
He was called to a church whose founding pastor had retired after over 40 years.
Now, everybody knows it’s tough to follow a minister who has been there that long.
You always have lots of criticism. I don’t know if thought talent would shade.
But when it came, he did not handle it well. He went on the attack.
He was a letter writer and an emailer. These letters would emerge from the
pastor’s study blasting his critics. These rounds of emails would be churned out.
He finally resigned, and took the Sunday of his resignation to get in digs.
And even after he had left and gone to another church in another state,
he continued to send letters and emails until the Presbytery had to tell him to stop.
Why is it that two people can go through basically the same ordeal or tragedy—
but one comes out bitter, cynical, and guilty—a sour person, life ruined?
But the other person, who went through the very same trial,
comes out softened, humbled, willing to help other people, with sense of purpose?
I know you’ve seen that before. Two people go through the same thing—
a divorce, or the loss of a child, or a battle with cancer, or a bankruptcy—
the same furnace, the same fire—one comes out ashes, the other pure gold.
That’s what 1 Peter is about.
Peter wrote this letter during Nero’s reign.
He wrote to Christians who were going through suffering and were about to
go through more. The letter is about how to handle the troubles and trials of life.
And the image Peter uses in the letter to describe troubles, trials, sufferings is fire.
It’s in verses 6 and 7. These are the theme verses of the letter. Let’s read again:
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
He says it again in chapter 4:
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery trial you are suffering,
as though something strange were happening to you.”
And five more times in this brief letter, Peter mentions sufferings
of various kinds. He envisioned the Christian life as a furnace.
Some people think: Wait a minute!
I wasn’t expecting the Christian life to be a furnace.
The A/C might break down for a day or two. I might get a little overheated.
But I shouldn’t have to go through fiery trials.
That’s why I became a Christian, so God would keep me from those things.
But Peter says, No—it’s something more profound than that.
God’s not going to keep you always out of the furnace. .
Sometimes you’re going to go through fire, but instead of burning you to a crisp—
it’s going to refine you like pure gold.
In the Christian life, sufferings and glory are bound up together
because that was the pattern of our Lord’s life.
Jesus Christ came to glory through suffering, he was made perfect through
suffering—as the book of Hebrews says. And we follow his pattern.
First the cross and then the resurrection on Easter morning.
That’s the point of 1 Peter. We have a God who through suffering came to glory.
And as followers of Christ, each of us have our own path through suffering.
And only through that can we come to glory.
So what does that path look like? In verses 6 & 7, the theme verses of Peter’s letter,
are three great truths. Three stepping stones for walking through the furnace.
I’ll give them to you as we go.
MP#1 You can’t face suffering without good doctrine.
I know that sounds strange, but that’s where Peter starts.
You’ll never be able go through the furnace and come out like gold
unless you know a lot of good, biblical doctrine.
Look at verse 6 again. Peter says: “In this you greatly rejoice . . .”
In this what? What’s he talking about?
What’s the “this” you must be able to rejoice in when you are suffering?
Well, “this” refers to everything that Peter has said just before in verses 1-5.
And verses 1-5 are a remarkable summary of Christian doctrine.
You could build a whole seminary on these five verses.
Everything God has done for your salvation is summarize here in shorthand.
It starts with the way Peter addresses these Christians
in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. What does he call them?
“God’s elect, strangers in the world.”
Christians are people who have been elected. You’ve been chosen.
So who elected you? Who chose you? Did you choose yourself?
“Chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.”
What does that mean? God knew you, he loved you, he chose you before creation.
He planned your destiny. He determined to save you before you were even born.
Oh my goodness! Am I talking about predestination?
We’re five minutes into the Easter sermon and I’ve used the P-word.
This can’t be good for our visitors. But please stick with me.
I know Christians have lots of disagreements over election and predestination.
If you want to start an argument among Christians, just bring that up.
We’re going to look at this in more depth next Sunday.
And I don’t have all the answers. Things about predestination perplex me.
But no matter where you are on this, put your objections aside for a moment
and look at the big thing Peter is saying. Your doctrine must be all God.
This is where you have to start—by believing that before creation
God the Father knew me and chose me. He elected me.
Then, after God the Father chose me, what did God the Holy Spirit do?
Chosen “through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.”
To sanctify means to set apart as holy, set apart for a special purpose.
The Holy Spirit sets you apart as a person belonging to God.
Why? Chosen “for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.”
God chose you and set you apart so that you would obey Christ.
God didn’t choose you because you obeyed Christ,
he chose you so that you would obey Christ. Once again, he took the initiative.
He sprinkled you with blood of Christ. To sprinkle is to consecrate, set apart.
Then Peter moves on to the specific work of Jesus Christ:
You’ve been given a new birth—you’ve been born again through resurrection.
You don’t birth yourself, this is something God does.
He says you’ve got an eternal inheritance in heaven being kept for you.
Once again, you don’t create your own inheritance, it’s created for you.
And you’re being shielded by God’s power all through your life so that you
will receive all that’s been promised to you on the day of judgment.
You don’t shield yourself, keep yourself safe. It’s done for you.
Peter says look at your salvation in all it’s complexity. All the parts, all facets.
Study it, know it, and rejoice in it because God did it all. It’s all God’s grace.
These are things you have to know and rejoice in when going through the fire.
Christian life is more than doctrine, much more. But it’s not less than doctrine.
You’re never going to understand suffering and get through it until you gain
a solid understanding of God’s grace in every part of your salvation.
I have some friends who grew up in a church that taught that when it comes to
salvation, God does his part and you do your part, and that’s how you are saved.
So what happens when you apply that doctrine to suffering?
God does his part and when you do your part—then you’ll be blessed.
If that’s your doctrine, can you rejoice in that when going through fiery trials?
Of course not. Because when things fall apart in your life, it’s your fault
for not having enough faith. Your fault for not doing your part.
One time one of their children got very sick and there was the possibility of
a life-long disability from the illness. They were going through a fiery trial.
But instead of a confidence in God’s great mercy, cast down over their failure.
What if you understand and believe that your life as a Christian from first to last—
from before creation to the day of judgment and to all eternity is a work
of God’s grace. What if you believe—God chose me, God sanctifies me,
God sprinkles me, God is getting ready for me, God is keeping me.
God has saved me for obedience, not because of my obedience.
Do you see how that changes everything? Everything.
Even if you feel terrible, even if you are cast down,
you know even your suffering is God’s great mercy—
even your fiery trial is somehow part of his plan.
Do you know what you believe? Do you know the Bible?
Do you have a grasp of good, sound doctrine that is full of God’s grace?
Do you really believe it? Are you preaching it to yourself?
God’s in control of my life from first to last. Jesus did it all for me.
It’s all grace. It’s all God’s mercy.
Well, Peter covers all the bases in this wonderful letter—
this will be a good summer for all of us studying these things.
That leads us to the next stepping stone for walking through the furnace.
This has to do not so much with what we believe, but with our experience.
MP#2 Grief and joy are mingled in the Christian life.
Vs. 6 again: “In this you greatly rejoice (there’s the joy), though now for a little
while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials (there’s the grief).
It’s so easy to miss what Peter is saying here.
He doesn’t say:
You rejoice because you’re no longer grieving.
You grieve for a time and when that passes, then you have joy.
No, he says you are rejoicing now and you are grieving at the very same time.
These two opposites—grief and joy—
exist together and are experienced together in a Christian’s life.
This really is so strange that even many Christians get it wrong.
They think that once you receive Jesus as your Savior you might experience
trials and troubles, but you don’t really feel them.
They don’t really get to you. You soar above them so they don’t pull you down.
I had a friend who went to a Christian college that believed this.
They had a rule at this college—(Now this is really weird, and I probably
shouldn’t tell it because it makes other Christians look bad.)
But there was a rule at this college that you had to smile all the time.
And if you didn’t smile, you would get a demerit.
Because the idea was—Christians are supposed to be joyful always.
Rejoice evermore. So if you are full of joy, then trouble doesn’t bother you.
But the Bible shows over and over that Christians don’t just experience
suffering and trouble—as Peter says, we grieve over it. Deeply affected by it.
When Job lost his children and his wealth he tore his clothes, shaved his head,
heaped dust on himself and sat in an ash heap weeping for days on end.
He would have certainly been expelled from my friend’s college.
They would have said: He’s lost the victory. He doesn’t have the joy of the Lord.
But the Bible says that in all this Job sinned not.
And that’s exactly what Peter is saying. Grief, real grief. Sorrow, tears, groaning.
Feeling it so deeply in your spirit that it affects your body.
Crying yourself to sleep. No appetite. Being worn out emotionally.
And in that grief, you are able to rejoice.
This is so strange, it’s so counter-intuitive that Peter doesn’t even try to explain it.
He just describes. In verse 8 he describes it as an inexpressible and glorious joy.”
It’s inexpressible. You know it’s there. You know it’s real.
It creates effects on the surface of your life that can be seen from time to time.
But it’s so deep in your soul that it lies hidden most of the time.
It’s down at the deepest level where God is at work on the new you.
It’s down in your heart God is changing and out of which flow the issues of life.
Listen to the way Dr. Rayburn expresses it:
“I cannot describe this joy to you exactly, but it is that wonderful warmth that the Christian feels on his back when, in the midst of a terrible storm, he discovers the glory of God is still shining on him. I found this true in the sadness of my sister’s death almost two years ago. Such an appalling loss for everyone who loved her, her family especially. Such a genuine tragedy in human terms to die so young with so much left undone. And yet, there it was—the joy, capital J—the glorious beautiful knowledge of God and heaven, of the gospel and Jesus Christ, of eternity stretching away before us where all of the present sorrow would be forgotten. This joy does not hold back the tears, it does not deaden the pain—it transforms them rather into a sorrow and a grief that is pure and does no harm, that can be experienced without guilt and without despair.”
Let me read that last sentence again!
“This joy does not hold back the tears, it does not deaden the pain—it transforms them rather into a sorrow and a grief that is pure and does no harm, that can be experienced without guilt and without despair.”
Tim Keller expresses it in a unique way:
He says that Christians should be both happier and sadder than other people
because of the Gospel. The more you know the Gospel, the more you see sin.
The more will see the brokenness of the world.
And through the Gospel you know you are totally loved by God.
So you have the emotional freedom to admit and see the sins and failings in your
own life and grieve over them.
Without the Gospel, without an assurance of God’s love for you in Christ,
you live in denial. You can’t see or admit how bad things are, how bad you are.
But when you know you are totally loved, can see bad things and grieve.
God says: I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
If the Gospel hasn’t softened you so that you grieve more, then it hasn’t sunk in.
Jesus was a man of uninterrupted peace, but he was a man of sorrows and
acquainted with grief. He wept at Lazarus’ grave.
He wept over the city of Jerusalem.
But on the other hand, because you believe the Gospel you have something
to turn to in times of grief. You know the love of God the Father for you,
you know of Jesus love and death for you and that makes you happy.
The inexpressible and glorious joy.
A Christian is like a thermostat. When it gets colder and colder in the house—
it’s the cold that makes the heat kick on.
Grief makes you go back to your roots. It pushes you to joy.
It pushes you back to the arms of your heavenly Father.
So Peter says that you aren’t going to be able to face suffering without
sound doctrine. You have to be able to know and understand the grace of
God in every part of your life and salvation.
And he says that in this life Christians experience both grief and joy
at the same time. And it’s the grieving times that actually pushes you
Christ and to joy.
And then he says one more thing about suffering—it’s actually a little scary.
MP#3 God has a great purpose for your suffering.
Vs. 6: “Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in various trials.”
Did you catch that? You had to suffer. The troubles you go through that cause you
grief don’t happen by chance. They aren’t just bad luck.
They come into your life because you have to have them. You need them.
God has his hand in them.
John Newton said:
“Everything is necessary that he sends, nothing can be necessary that he withholds.
If it’s in your life, you need it, even if it’s bad.
If it’s not in your life, you don’t need it, even if it’s something you want.
Why is this? There’s an order in your life that comes from God.
The Father hates to see the trouble and grief in your life—what father doesn’t?
But he’s letting it into your life to teach you things.
It looks like chaos to you. It looks random.
That’s because you didn’t expect it. You didn’t see it coming.
But it’s not random to God—it’s part of his plan to refine you.
You will never learn who you are and who Christ is to you without suffering.
God sends it for a purpose.
Peter says that the purpose of trials and grief is
“so that your faith, of greater worth than gold that perishes even though refined by fire, may
be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
About a month ago I mentioned a story I had read in Darlene Rose’s book
Evidence Not Seen. And then, after I told that story, somebody in the church
loaned me some CDs of Darlene Rose speaking in a church.
That interested me and I went back and read her book again.
In case you don’t remember her story, Darlene Rose was an American woman
who went to New Guinea in 1938 as a missionary. She was 23 years old,
and was a new bride. She and her husband Russell were with the Christian and
Missionary Alliance Church.
Three years after they got to New Guinea, WWII broke out and they were
imprisoned by Japanese. Russell sent to the men’s camp, Darlene to women’s.
They never saw each other again. He died two years later.
She ended up being imprisoned for four years in inhumane conditions.
Everything she had was taken away—not only her husband, her health was
devastated by tropical diseases, her looks, as she put it “my once soft and fair skin
was mottled from the hours I had to spend working in the beastly tropical sun,”
But she had one possession she was able to keep. One reminder of her husband,
one memento of home back in Iowa. She had her wedding album.
She kept it hidden from Japanese searches. Sewn into her sleeping mat.
But as the war progressed, American planes began bombing the prison camp.
It was right next to a Japanese military post. Even though the prisoners were glad
to see American planes, many of them were killed by bombs.
Once during a bombing, Darlene and the other prisoners hid in a ditch
but their barracks was hit by napalm and burned to ground.
As Darlene was walking through the ruins, this is what happened:
“I stopped in front of where my bed would have been. There, on the top of the heap of ashes lay my Bride’s Book—my beautiful Bride’s Book that I had carried with me all these years, sewn inside my native sleeping mat. Somehow—no, not ‘somehow,’ but by my Father’s ordaining—the fingers of flame had peeled away the mat and flicked through the pages to the centerfold, where my marriage certificate was written in gold ink. I gasped . . . it was so beautiful, the bright, shining, gold ink on the black, charred page—gold, purified by fire, glittering in the rays of the late-afternoon sun. I dropped to my knees and reached out, but the moment I touched the book, it disintegrated and was gone. I rocked back on my heels and in anguish cried, ‘Lord, that was the only thing I had left! Couldn’t I have had that? Just that one thing? I covered my mouth to keep from screaming. I closed my eyes and crooned, ‘Father! O Father!’ Gently, so gently, He answered me, ‘My child, that’s what I want to do with you—make you like pure gold—even if I have to take you through the fire seven times.”
If you are in a bad marriage, or if you are in a bad job, having conflict at work—
If you have suffered a terrible loss, God hates that.
But he doesn’t put you through those things to have conflict with other people—
but to bring you into conflict with yourself. To give you the gift of self-discovery
To enable you to see your lack of patience and love for others, your arrogance—
and your need to rely totally on him.
How do you handle it? Well, Peter says: It’s only for a little while.
You may say: Define “little”! It seems like a lifetime to me.
God will lift you up. You will come out into a sunshiny place. Trust him.
In the meantime, go back to the things you know are true, go back to doctrine
of God’s grace and mercy and rejoice in that. If you forget verses 1-5,
then you aren’t going to be able to handle verse 6-8.
There’s a poem called “Jesus of the Scars.”
Written by a Christian man who suffered wounds fighting in WWI.
The other gods were strong, but thou wast weak,
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne.
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.
Do you have wounds? There is only one religion that has a God with wounds.
And because of his wounds, your wounds have meaning.
We have a God who through suffering came to glory.
Jesus Christ suffered at his Father’s hand for your salvation,
terrible trials, the fire of God’s wrath that would burn you to ashes—
And then he rose again to glory on Easter morning. And you will rise too.
Do you believe that? Do you believe in him? Do you believe in Jesus?
Have you given your life to him?
You have to—or none of these wonderful things I’ve told you this morning
are true for you. Without Jesus in your life, your suffering and trials and losses
won’t refine you, they will make you more bitter and unhappy—
and instead of being a preparation for glory, they are just appetizers for hell.
So come to Jesus Christ.
Give your life to him, and he’ll be with you in the furnace—
just like he was with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—
your hair will not be singed and there will be no smell of fire on you.
You’ll pass through in a little while, and gleam like pure gold.