Pain isn't fun. That's an understatement. For most of us, our natural inclination is to do whatever we can to avoid pain.
We run from conflict. We self-medicate with things that are sometimes destructive. We isolate ourselves from others who care about us. Among other things, these are our natural responses to pain. No one wants to suffer.
And yet, suffering is part of the Christian life. The Apostle Peter knew this well. And he knew of first century Christians who were scattered across Asia Minor, experiencing "all kinds of trials" (1 Pet. 1:6 NIV) in their exiled state. So, he wrote a letter to encourage them in the midst of their suffering.
And how did he encourage them? He started by praising God.
It may seem strange that the first thing Peter does after introducing himself in the letter (1 Pet. 1:1-2) is to offer a prayer of praise to the Lord. Praise might not be the first thing we think of when we come alongside a suffering friend. In our attempts to encourage others, we might offer hopeful words of encouragement or even quiet hearts, offering our silent presence as a source of encouragement.
But Peter praises God.
He exclaims in his opening line: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!" (1 Pet. 1:3 NIV). He doesn't immediately write about trials. He doesn't immediately offer godly counsel. He doesn't begin to exhort his readers on how they should conduct themselves while experiencing hardship. There will certainly be time for those things later, but before doing anything else, he rises to praise God. And he invites his early readers—and all suffering Christians throughout church history—to stand with him in praise of God.
With this invitation, he also reminds us of two reasons why God is worthy of praise in the midst of our own sufferings.
Our Future Hope
As Peter rises to praise God, the first thing he mentions is our new birth: “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3 NIV). With one worshipful line, he reminds us of the new birth we have through faith in Christ. As Peter clarifies, it’s a new birth that is made possible only through Jesus’ death and resurrection. And as Jesus himself assures us, it’s a new birth worked in us by the Holy Spirit (Jn. 3:6). We are reminded: we all need the Holy Spirit to breathe new life into us.
And when our merciful God gives us new life, he gives us a future, living hope. Here, Peter has in view the bright outlook God gives to every believer, a future that holds a magnificent inheritance. Notice what Peter goes on to say: God has given us new birth into a living hope “and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4 NIV).
We know our earthly inheritances fade. They simply do not last forever. In sharp contrast, Peter describes our heavenly inheritance in three ways. First, our heavenly inheritance never perishes, meaning that it cannot be destroyed. Second, our heavenly inheritance never spoils, meaning that it’s pure—it never becomes defiled or polluted by sin. Last, our heavenly inheritance never fades, meaning it does not decay—it’s eternal!
And to encourage his readers further still, Peter assures this eternal inheritance is being kept and guarded by God. Nothing can take away a Christian’s heavenly inheritance; it is “kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4 NIV). And not only that, but in the same way God keeps our heavenly inheritance safely guarded for us, he also guards us for that same inheritance. Peter continues, “who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:5 NIV).
With beautiful symmetry, Peter gives the assurance that God keeps our inheritance for us while at the same time keeping us for our inheritance, which we will receive at the future culmination of our salvation, when Christ takes us home. As Paul states elsewhere, “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6 NIV).
Can you begin to see why Peter starts his letter with praise?
Considering the future realities of our salvation—realities which Christ has won and secured for us, which not even our present trials can take away from us—Peter stands to praise God for his goodness.
God, in his mercy and power, has given us new birth into a future hope that guarantees a glorious inheritance in heaven—an inheritance that God himself is guarding for us while at the same time guarding us for that inheritance.
Oh, he is worthy of our praise!
Our Present Trials
Notice the transition Peter makes: “In [your future hope] you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Pet. 1:6 NIV).
We find Peter now, in the midst of his praise to God, raising our sufferings and trials into view—sufferings that he describes as short in duration (notice his use of the phrase, “a little while”). When compared to eternity, our present afflictions are brief in extent, and that’s because our trials have an ending point. Even if your affliction is carried with you for the rest of your earthly life, it is finite; it has an ending point. For Peter, our present sufferings pale in comparison to the eternal duration of our future hope. And we can praise God that our present trials will certainly not last forever.
Notice, as well, how Peter begins to allude to the necessity of our trials. He uses the phrase “you may have had to suffer.”
Why would there be a need for us to experience sufferings?
He answers in the following verse: “[Our trials] 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” (1 Pet. 1:7 NIV).
Here’s what Peter is saying:
· The trials we face in life have an aspect of goodness because through those trials our faith is proved genuine.
· In this sense, trials are tests of our faith.
· Just as literal fire tests gold, our fiery trials test our faith.
It’s why James tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4 NIV). According to James, God uses the trials in our lives—what he calls tests—to build us up in our faith and to mature us toward Christlikeness.
In a similar vein, Paul states, “But we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame” (Rom. 5:3-5 NIV). According to Paul, our sufferings are used by God to build our character unto Christlikeness and to bring our assured hope in Christ into view.
Here’s what I can tell you:
God, in his mysterious wisdom and in his goodness, uses our trials to prove the genuineness of our faith, to point us to Christ, to refine us into his image, and to assure us of our future hope.
And when our faith is proved after being tested and tested and tested through many trials, it results in praise from God to us.
Again, notice the beautiful symmetry Peter uses:
· We praise God for our future hope and the present trials he uses to prove our faith as he himself keeps us through those trials, to mature us unto Christlikeness.
· And then God will praise us when we arrive home, after persevering through our fiery trials.
The Lord will applaud us, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt. 25:21, 23 NIV).
If anything, this helps us shift our view of trials. Under normal circumstances, we would rather not experience pain. When trials come, we might be tempted to do whatever we can to avoid the pain and sorrow that come with suffering. But, when you see how God in his mysterious wisdom uses those trials for his good purposes, well, we are equipped to see his blessing and empowered to praise him through the storm—we are able to count ourselves as blessed.
As Jesus tells us in his Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matt. 5:10-12 NIV). In a general sense, we can say, “Blessed are those who suffer, for theirs is a great and glorious future hope!”
As we’re reminded of Jesus’ encouraging words, notice how Peter closes by pointing us to Christ, our blessed hope himself: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1:8-9 NIV)
Unlike Thomas, who didn’t believe Jesus had been raised from the dead unless he saw the resurrected Christ himself, we—through faith—love him and trust he is guarding us through our own trials as he uses those same trials to prove our faith, even as he guards our future hope for us in heaven.
In the end, Jesus is not only the object of our faith in the midst of trials, he’s also the source of our blessings through those trials. And I would submit to you: Jesus himself is the goal of our faith. He is our reward for our perseverance and our faithfulness. He is our glorious, imperishable, undefiled, unfading inheritance in heaven. And one day, when our salvation is culminated, when we no longer have to suffer grief in various kinds of trials, we will praise him face to face for his goodness.
In the meantime, we treasure these blessings in our hearts. Though we walk through fires and storms and the shadow of death itself, we praise him with hearts that are filled with glorious joy—joy that at times is inexpressible—all because God himself has given us the blessings of a future hope and present trials that he uses to carry us to our heavenly home.
Oh, he is worthy of our praise!
With love for you and hope in Christ,