Confidence in the Midst of Suffering
Lessons from 1 Peter 1
The First Epistle of Peter has only 105 verses and takes just a short time to read. It is a valuable portion of Scripture and we can profit by spending some time looking more carefully at it.
Peter was writing primarily to believers who were suffering in various ways. He had received news of the persecution of the churches on every hand, and so in his old age, the Apostle took up his pen to send forth words of comfort and encouragement. He addresses the letter to “strangers” that are scattered throughout various provinces of Asia Minor.
The Bible pictures God’s people as strangers and pilgrims passing through an unfriendly world. We are actually citizens of Heaven, living away from our true home, and while here on earth, we have “no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (Hebrews 13:14), Peter was writing especially to the persecuted Christians of Asia Minor, but more generally to all true Christians here on earth. We are exiled from home; we are strangers in a far country.
In this lesson on Confidence in the Midst of Suffering, we want to look at chapter 1 of First Peter, and notice that in spite of earthly trials, and in spite of being exiled from our true home, we may have confidence and hope, and we can even rejoice—for four reasons. (Have your Bible open to 1 Peter, chapter one, and read the Bible text along with this pamphlet.)
- We Are Chosen For a Heavenly Inheritance (Verses 1-5)
The first verse of the chapter identifies the writer as the Apostle Peter, and then gives a description of the readers. Then in verse 2, Peter mentions all three Persons of the Holy Trinity. We are chosen by God, sanctified by the Spirit, and sprinkled with the blood of Jesus.
God the Father chose us (based on His foreknowledge of the decision He knew we would make). God has had your name on His heart and mind even before He placed the stars into space. God has never elected (or chosen) anyone to be lost. His message to every lost soul has always been, “Come and take of the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17). If a person dies in sin, it is not because God willed it so, but because the individual has chosen to do so himself.
Verse 2 also indicates that we are sanctified by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit awakens within us our first faint longing for God. And this is followed by the work of the third Person of the Trinity—cleansing by the precious blood of Christ. The word “sprinkled” in verse 2 is a reference to cleansing. When a leper (in Old Testament times) had been healed, he was sprinkled with blood. This was a symbol of cleansing, and just so, by appropriating the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, the awakened sinner is cleansed from sin. And in verse 3, Peter says that when a person responds to the message of the Gospel of Christ, God works a miracle of grace in the heart, and the individual is born from above and receives a living hope.
Verse 4 tells us what the hope of the believing Christian is. It is described as “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.” This inheritance is imperishable. Moth cannot corrupt it; fire cannot burn it; storms cannot wreck it; the ravages of time will have no affect upon it. Many people are concerned about the fact that the earth might blow up. And in God’s own time the elements will melt with a fervent heat, and the present earth will pass away. But the inheritance to which Jesus Christ has called us, is imperishable. No earthly language is comprehensive enough to describe what God has prepared for His redeemed people. One thing is certain; Heaven is a real place, and our Lord Jesus will be there.
Think of stepping on shore, and finding it Heaven. Think of taking hold of a hand, and finding it God’s Hand. One poet says, “We speak of the realms of the blest, that country so bright and so fair; and oft are its glories confessed, but what must it be to be there?” This is our hope, and this prospect of Heaven, the Apostle Peter says, should fill us with joy and confidence even if we are living in the midst of persecution and trial.
Peter explains further (in verse 5) that we are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time.” There is within every one of us a tendency to sin and to go astray. In addition, there are multitudes of wicked spirits who are pledged to do their level best to make us fall. If we were left to ourselves and to the strength of our own resolutions, there could be no certainty that anyone would be saved. But Peter says that God Himself will see to it that those who have sincerely accepted the plan of redemption, will “be kept by the power of God;” we will safely reach the goal. There is, however, a clear condition for this continual protection: We must continue on in faith. Our text says that we are kept by the power of God “through faith” unto salvation.
- Trials Are Intended For Spiritual Gain (Verses 6-9)
The word “temptation” at the end of verse 6, speaks of trials of various kinds (as verse 7 indicates). Peter says that we greatly rejoice, even though “now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations.” Peter recognized that many of the trials through which Christians often must pass, make us “heavy”—that is, involve suffering and tears. And the Bible does not condemn “heaviness.” The Christian is not forbidden to weep. In fact, strong crying and tears are fitting to those of us who are learning obedience through suffering. Jesus himself, in Gethsemane, “offered up prayers . . . with strong crying and tears,” asking the Father if He could be spared from death (Hebrews 5:7). Many of us don’t know what it means to suffer for Jesus’ sake, like the early Christians suffered. We know a little something of sickness, and bereavement, and ridicule. The early Christians had all such trials, but more than that, they were often faced with bitter outward persecution. Being a Christian in the days of the early church (as in some parts of the world today), meant prison and torture and sometimes even death.
On July 19, in the year 64 A.D., the city of Rome was burned to the ground. Tacitus, the most respectable historian of that time, says that Nero (the Roman Emperor) secretly commanded the city to be burned, and then threw the blame on the Christians. The Roman populace became so angry over this act, that Christians were rounded up and put through the most terrible period of suffering known to man. Young Christian girls were gored to death by angry bulls. Strong men were tied to the stake, and covered with oil and burned alive—while Nero drove his chariot through the Vatican Gardens by the illumination of the burning bodies at night. And we must remember that God has no pets among His children. If He allows the church to suffer in one age, He may allow it to suffer in any other age just as well.
Many of us do not know what it means to suffer bitter outward persecution for Jesus’ sake, but all of us have trials and difficulties that vex us from time to time. No one is without trials. Some people seem to go along for a long time without undergoing great trials—but then, suddenly (and without warning ahead of time), the very foundations seem to melt away—and hardships and sicknesses and disappointments come our way. Others, who seem to have no great trials—probably endure secret hardships about which only they and God are aware.
The Apostle Peter says three things about trials. First, trials are transient. That is, trials are only “for a season” (verse 6). They are only for a short while. It is comforting to know that the periods of heaviness (the times of tears) are only for a season. Even if it should be our lot to suffer for a number of years, compared with the ages of eternity, the time of suffering would still be extremely short. Our light affliction “is only for a moment” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
We learn also in this passage that trials are treasures. They are “more precious than gold” (verse 7). The trials which come our way are tests of our patience, strength, and sincerity. Our faith can emerge out of trials stronger and richer than ever before. Thus trials are worth more than gold—more than a pocket full of money. The rigors which the athlete has to undergo, are not meant to make him collapse, but to develop within him more and more strength and coordination. Just so, trials and afflictions are not meant to take strength out of us, but to develop new vigor within us. Trials are treasures.
The Bible also tells us that trials are transforming. Trials are allowed to come our way in order that we “might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (verse 7). Troubles can become the tools by which God will transform our lives. The Apostle James says that the trying of our faith works patience (more literally, “endurance”), and that when endurance has completed its work, we will be mature and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:3-4).
God never sends us a pain, or a sickness, or a teardrop—that is not meant for our good. Many Christians would not be the gracious, winsome persons that they are, if they had not gone through some bitter trials. So when friends forsake us, and enemies reproach us, and sickness overtakes us—we must trust the wisdom of a sovereign God, and allow Him to plan our lives as He sees fit.
Verses 8 and 9 (of First Peter 1) state reasons for great joy. Even though we have never seen Jesus with the eye of flesh, still we love Him because with the eye of faith we have come to see Him on the pages of the Scriptures. And surely He is worthy of our love, for He saved us! Because of the work He did on the Cross, we have the promise that our salvation will be completed when He returns. Furthermore, while here in this life, He has promised to never leave us or to forsake us (Matthew 28:20). We are to rejoice because even trials are intended for spiritual gain.
- We Are Informed By the Ancient Prophets (Verses 10-16)
The Old Testament prophets told how the Gentiles would be saved (verse 10), and they also said that the Messiah should suffer, and that He would reign in glory. They “testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (verse 11). The prophets wrote as the Holy Spirit directed them, but they had no way of knowing the exact time when these things were to be fulfilled, nor could they see the long period that elapsed between the Cross and the Second Coming. They studied their own messages diligently in order to understand what they themselves had written. All this is unmistakable evidence that what they prophesied was not of their own devising. What they wrote came not from themselves, but from God. They had to search diligently to find out the meaning of their own words.
The prophets ministered to their own generation in many ways, teaching and warning and exhorting—but in the prophecies concerning Jesus Christ they ministered especially to future generations. What they wrote by the inspiration of God is now the basis for our confidence, and their writings are a source of information for those who preach the Gospel in our day. Verse 12 clearly says that it was not unto themselves, “but unto us,” that they ministered. The Old Testament Scriptures (in the purpose of God) were meant not only to speak to their own generation, but to provide instruction for believers today.
Today, because many of these prophecies have been fulfilled, we are permitted to see clearly that which the prophets themselves saw only obscurely. The most humble believer today is permitted to see what the most distinguished prophet never saw. And as we see how these prophecies have actually been fulfilled, “Wherefore” (verse 13)—in light of this confidence which we have in the Scriptures—we are to “gird up” the loins of our minds, and to “be sober,” and “hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
In the First Century, men wore long robes. When they worked in the fields or walked for a long distance, they gathered up the folds and wrapped them firmly around the waist so that their progress would not be hindered. Girding up the loins of our minds (verse 13) means that we should put out of our minds all that would hinder the onward progress of our Christian experience. Things such as worry and fear and jealousy and unforgiveness and impurity—must be more and more eliminated from our minds. It is true that we cannot always control what strikes the mind, but we should intentionally seek to bring the thoughts of the mind and the attitudes of the heart under the control of the Holy Spirit.
In verses 14 and 15 we are told to obey God and to forsake sin in order that holiness might be fostered in our lives. We are not to fashion ourselves according to the desires that we formerly had when we lived in ignorance of God’s expectations. We must resolve to give up the sinful practices and attitudes that characterized our lives before Christ came into them. We must reject our “former lusts” (old carnal cravings). We are to rejoice in the great plan of salvation which God has provided, and be glad that we have more complete knowledge about God’s plan than was known even by the Old Testament prophets.
- We Have Been Redeemed At a High Cost (Verses 17-21)
In verse 17 we are told that God is the Father of those who believe. He is not a weak, sentimental Father who only loves and pities, but He is one who “judgeth according to every man’s work.” And God’s judgment is “without respect of persons.” The color of one’s skin, the size of the bank account, the position one holds, the number of friends one has—these things do not influence God. And because God is going to judge every person according to his real character, Peter says, we should “pass the time of our sojourning here in fear.” This does not mean that we should live in the midst of a slavish dread, but that we should manifest a reverential awe for the holiness and greatness of God.
There was a time when people feared God, both saved and unsaved. Many were afraid to openly sin. They feared the judgment of God. They trembled at the results which might follow. It was a common thing to speak of an individual as “a God-fearing person.” It was not that the individual was afraid of God, but he was afraid to offend Him. Today even many in our churches no longer believe in judgment to come, in life after death, and in eternal punishment. This is a tragic condition.
The beauty of the Bible message is that, while every person since Adam has plunged headlong into Satan’s trap of sin, and really deserves the judgment of God—Peter says that we should take confidence—because we have been redeemed! We have been purchased when Jesus died for us on the Cross, and thus redeemed not with corruptible things like silver and gold, but “with the precious blood of Christ.” The foundation for the hope that any of us can have for spending an eternity with God—is simply that we have been bought with the precious blood of Jesus. And we can appropriate that salvation (make it apply to us), by believing the message of the Gospel (faith), and laying aside our past way of life (repentance), and resolving to walk under the discipline of the Lord Jesus Christ (commitment to obedience).
In the early days of immigration to the West, a traveler approached the banks of the mighty Mississippi River. Seeing the river was sheeted with ice, and not knowing its thickness, he was fearful about trusting himself on it. He spent a long time debating whether or not he ought to try and cross the river. Finally, as the sun was beginning to set, he decided to try and reach the other side before nightfall. With much fear, he got on his hands and knees and distributed his weight as much as possible—and with a great deal of caution he began creeping toward the other side. When he was about halfway across, he heard a rumbling behind him, and soon noticed a wagon loaded with coal, driven by four horses, crossing the river—and the driver was singing cheerfully with a loud voice that literally rang through the cool night air. The ice was perfectly safe, but the traveler had not been sure! May each of us be like the wagon driver, stepping out boldly on the promises of God, for indeed they are sure and everlastingly certain.
When you stand before the judgment bar of God, and hear the question, “What right do you have to be in Heaven?”—there will only be one acceptable answer: “Jesus Christ redeemed me with His own precious blood.” All of us should be grateful today for the old, old story of Jesus and His love. If you have never deliberately and consciously said, “Lord Jesus, I take you to be my Savior; I am sorry for the way I have grieved you in the past; I am going to set out on the narrow road that leads to Heaven”—why not make that new start today?
BIBLE HELPS | Robert Lehigh, Editor | PO Box 391, Hanover, PA 17331 United States of America