Historical scholars tell us that first century Christians were often misunderstood, slandered, persecuted and martyred for their beliefs. They were accused of disloyalty to the political establishment of the Roman empire. This is the background to the letter written by the apostle Peter to the provinces of Asia Minor.
His words in 1 Peter 1:6-16 are just as relevant today as when he wrote them. We are given guidance on how to respond when life is hard. He tells us that difficulties in life (such as the present pandemic and civil unrest) are temporary, “for a little while,” as the Lord sees our lives (v. 6). We wonder when life will return to “normal.” Peter wants us to know that God has his own timetable and his timing is perfect.
He also says that trials are purposeful. God has something he wants to accomplish in the troubles that reach us. Peter compares the suffering of a Christian to a gold miner who brings his ore to a refiner so that the gold may be purified and alloys and impurities can be removed. The fires of testing (v.7) refine our faith, so that we may glorify the Lord and be prepared for his return.
At Jesus’ revelation, Peter says, those who patiently endure affliction because of love for Jesus, will receive rewards of praise, glory and honor. This is a motivation for us to live holy lives (v. 15). In this context, holiness means to be set apart for God, separate from the world, and self-controlled.
“Therefore, with minds that are fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (vv. 13-15).
Some people have the mistaken idea that following Jesus is a guarantee that they will escape suffering and trouble in this life. Peter’s letter tells a different story. Sometimes God uses life’s hardships to accomplish his higher purposes in our lives. He wants to put his holy character on display in us (vv. 15-16). He wants us to behave as strangers and exiles in this world, living in expectation of Jesus’ return.
Charles Colson told of being hospitalized for surgery. As he recovered, he took walks in the corridors, dragging an I.V. pole along with him. He met a man from India, a Hindu, whose two-year-old son had had two failed kidney transplants and was now blind for life.
When he learned Colson was a Christian, he asked if he became a Christian would God heal his son. He said he had heard things like that on religious television programs. Colson wrote, “When I heard that I realized how arrogant the health and wealth gospel sounds to suffering families. Christians may be spared all suffering, but little Hindu children go blind. One couldn’t blame a Hindu or Muslim or an agnostic for hating such a god!”
“I told my Hindu friend about Jesus. Yes, he may miraculously intervene in our lives. But we come to God, not because of what he may do to spare us suffering, but because Christ is truth. What he does promise is much more — the forgiveness of sin and eternal life. … If that man does become a Christian, it won’t be on false pretenses.”
The fact is, we are called to live for God, whether or not the Lord relieves our pain, ends the pandemic, or restores the American economy. We love and serve Jesus not because he gives us easy, comfortable lives. It is because he has a higher purpose: he wants to make us like himself. “Be holy, because I am holy.”
Pastor Randy Faulkner