Rejoicing Greatly (1 Peter 1:8–9)

August 12, 2014

If you are talking with a friend or family member and you find the other person repeating a word or phrase, it makes sense to pay attention. We tend to repeat what is important. It’s the same when we are reading Scripture. When a Biblical author repeats a word or phrase, it’s worth noting what is being stressed.

This happens in the first few sentences of Peter’s first letter. Within a few verses, Peter uses a relatively unique word. (It’s not found in any of Paul’s letter and of the six times the word appears in the general epistles, we find it three times in 1 Peter; twice in the first few verses.) The word? It’s typically translated “greatly rejoice” or “rejoice exceedingly.” (It takes two English words to capture the sense of the Greek word.)

The last blog post touched on where the word is first found in 1 Peter. Peter was writing that the believers “greatly rejoice [in the salvation that is theirs], even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials” (1:6). But he doesn’t stop there. There is more “rejoicing greatly” to come.

And though you have not seen [Jesus Christ], you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. ~ 1 Peter 1:8–9

There it is. Repeated in just a few verses. Peter thinks that believers should be rejoicing greatly. And just to make sure that his readers don’t misunderstand this idea of rejoicing, he describes it as a joy that is “inexpressible and full of glory.” How should we think of a rejoicing that is so full of joy that it is “inexpressible”? (That descriptor is used only here in the New Testament.) Perhaps we should think in terms of such great and overwhelming joy that it leaves us speechless! And the “full of glory” idea conveys the thought of being so taken up with God’s glory that glorifying Him is what spills out of our souls . . . even though we are left speechless in joy! That, indeed, would be “rejoicing greatly.”

What is this great rejoicing tied to? Although Peter’s readers had not seen Jesus (that is, physically, the way that Peter had), and although they did not presently see Him (that is, with their natural eyes), they still had a relationship with this Jesus. They loved Him. They believed in Him. (That is, they trusted Him, relied on Him, depended on Him, rested on Him.) It is because of the realness of the relationship they are enjoying with Jesus–pictured in the “loving Him” and “believing in Him”–that they have grounds for such exceedingly great joy.

When we have what we most want, when we can get our hands around that which is most valuable to us, we experience joy! So, even in the midst of “various trials,” Peter’s readers are rejoicing with exceedingly great joy because what they most want, what is most valuable to them, is within their grasp. They have Jesus! They are experiencing life with Him. Not theoretically, but genuinely, honestly, tangibly.

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