And Those Trials? (1 Peter 1:6–7)

August 5, 2014

The angel who announced John’s (the Baptist) birth told Zacharias that he would have gladness (Luke 1:14). Mary was delighted in the angel’s announcement made to her (Luke 1:44). Luke described the church as meeting together with glad-heartedness (Acts 2:46). Such things make sense to us–we understand “gladness” in such moments.

But what about gladness in trials? In writing to Christians who have been driven from their homes and are facing hardship Peter writes about gladness–using the same language that speaks about joyful gladness in a miraculous birth or the growing fellowship of saints.

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. ~ 1 Peter 1:6–7

What is the context for this glad-heartedness? Two things:

“In this . . .” To what is Peter referring? In first few verses of this letter, Peter has summarized God’s work on behalf to the believers. Made new by God, sanctified by the Spirit, cleansed by the blood of Jesus; made God’s own by His call and kept by resurrection power to obtain an inheritance from God made available in the Son. Knowing that, finding one’s identity there, is the “this” Peter refers to.

But the other part of the context comes in the words that follow: “Even though now . . . you have been distressed by various trials.” The other facet of real life for his readers (and for us) consists of the “various trials” we face each and every day. What does Peter say about these trials? They are present; “even. . . now.” They are to be expected; “even . . . if necessary.” They are hardly pleasant in themselves; “you have been distressed.” They come in mixed and complex ways: “distressed by various trials.”

So why should his readers (and why should we) have glad-heartedness living in such a context?

Notice what the rejoicing is connected to. The rejoicing is “so that the proof of your faith . . . may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” To make sense of this, we need to think about the “proof” word a bit.

Peter uses a word that comes from the process of smelting. That process is what is reflected in the imagery he uses–precious gold, tested by fire. A miner would take his ore and heat it. The heat would cause the gold to melt and that which was not gold (the “dross”) would float on the surface and could be scraped off. What was left after this process was the “proof.”

There are a couple of things to note. First, the focus of this process was not merely “to get rid of the dross” but to expose the gold that was already there. Second, the process wasn’t alchemy, a pseudo-science where base metals were somehow transformed into precious metals.

For Paul to use this particular metaphor to speak of our experiences in the midst of the trials we encounter means:

The focus of the “trials process” is not merely to get rid of the bad stuff in us, but to expose the spiritual “gold” that is God has already worked into us.

The “trials process” is not about changing us into something we are not, but about revealing what we really are (by grace). 

If we don’t grasp this, sincere gladness in trials will be hard to come by. If we mistakenly think trials are primarily focused on “getting rid of the bad stuff” in us, there will be little cause for gladness (because we will always be mindful of the bad stuff!). If we mistakenly think the trials are the process of changing us from “spiritual tin” into “spiritual gold,” there will be little feeling of gladness (because we will be caught up with what we are not rather that what we are in Christ). The trials reveal the reality of God’s work in us–a revelation that will result in praise and honor and glory to and for our great Savior Jesus.

To state it simply, in verses 3 through 5, Peter has touched on what is already true about those who have been called by God and have entered into life through faith. In verses 6 and 7, Peter is pointing out that the various trials we will inevitably face in this life can be grounds for rejoicing because they reveal what has already been worked into our souls by God because of Jesus and through the Spirit, resulting in glory and praise for Jesus. The trials do not change us into something we are not, but put on display the reality of the work God has done (and is doing) in us.

If we understand Peter, we will find ourselves greatly rejoicing . . . in the midst of our various trials.

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