Why Christians Suffer (1 Peter 1:6-9)

FPCNorway1 Peter: Hope in Suffering, Sermons

We glimpse heaven in a Christian filled with inexplicable joy in the face of terminal cancer or going to the ends of the earth to preach the gospel to a hostile nation. There is a luminescence to their countenance that can scarcely be described but felt. You feel heaven in their presence. Their joy radiates end-time glory in the present moment… Stick a man in the ring of Christian affliction, and you will see him tap out in a moment if his faith is not real… But put a man with genuine faith in that ring and watch him fight to the end with a joy that you cannot beat out of him. That joy is of heaven, and earthly blows have no means to stop it.

Excerpt from the sermon

Why Christians Suffer

1 Peter: Hope in Suffering—1 Peter 1:6-9
Rev. Matthew J. Stanghelle
May 10, 2020

A Topic Ignored by Prosperity Preachers

This morning we cover a topic conveniently ignored by health, wealth, and prosperity preachers. We come to the question of why Christians suffer. Prosperity preachers see no good purpose in suffering. They certainly deny that God would ever will suffering for you. However, Peter contradicts these lies by telling us the truth. Peter is writing to Christians who are no strangers to pain and affliction as a result of identifying themselves as disciples of Christ. We do not need to restate the kinds of suffering they face her, because we have already covered that in the last two sermons. Here we simply find Peter writing to assure these believers with the knowledge that their suffering for the Christian faith is part of God’s higher plan. He has a purpose in it, and it is essential for maintaining hope in suffering.

Our text today is an extension of Peter’s thought, which we looked at last week. God’s sovereign grace is on display. Peter blesses God because he caused us to be born again to a living hope (1 Pet. 1:3). This saving grace is a work entirely outside of ourselves. As we said last week, babies do not choose to be born; that decision is made for them by someone else. Likewise, our salvation is God’s choice. Beyond this saving grace, Peter also blesses God because he is guarding us right now for a salvation ready to be revealed. No other force in heaven or earth can take that away. We are saved and kept by God’s sovereign grace, and praising God for it is the foundation of hope for a suffering church.

As we turn this week to verses 6-9, Peter tells the church, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Pet. 1:6). We are now getting to the heart of the letter. Peter’s people need assurance that their suffering for Christ has a higher purpose or any purpose at all for that matter. Peter writes to give them the confidence that God is using their affliction for two particular reasons. For these reasons, they can have hope. Our text will answer two vital questions for finding hope in suffering. First, we will ask why Christians suffer. Second, we will ask a follow-up question based on the first answer.

1. Why Do We Suffer? (1:6-7)

Peter tells us why Christians suffer in verses 6-7. There are two particular and related reasons for why Christians go through many trials and tribulations for our faith.

First, Peter shows us that suffering tests the genuineness of our faith. He uses the imagery of gold that is tested by the fire. In the art of metallurgy, the craftsman refines precious metals by melting them in a caldron over red-hot coals. This process brings the dross to the surface so that it can be removed. This process refines the purity of the metal so that it can shine in unalloyed glory. Peter uses this imagery to show how suffering for the faith shows what is really there. All Christians need to be refined by the furnace of affliction. The degree and severity of that refining are up to God. We are never told why some Christians suffer for the faith more than others, but we are told very clearly that all will to some degree or another. In Acts, Paul very clearly says that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of heaven (Acts 14:22). Peter will develop this theme extensively in this letter (e.g., 1 Pet. 2:21; 3:17; 4:19). Suffering shows a person to be what they are. For the true Christian, their unaltered faith through the affliction will prove the genuineness of their faith. On the flipside, false Christians will also be shown for what they are. The fire affliction will show that they are pure dross. There will be no faith after they pass through the fire.

Now, what constitutes these trials? Peter’s audience is faced with several different kinds of affliction. We have some clues to this in the letter. We know that these Christians are being slandered. In 1 Peter 2:12, Peter shows us that the pagans were speaking against them as evildoers. The Roman Empire is not all that different from so many today in calling evil good and good evil. Indeed, they are being persecuted by the kinds of people that we see today who are not content with allowing their position to be tolerated. Instead, they want you not merely to tolerate it, but to celebrate and join in the same kind of immoral behavior. Peter says in 4:4, “With respect to this they are  surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.” 

Christian moral conduct is viewed as reprehensible and rebellious to Greco-Roman social norms, and the church is being persecuted for it. Moving on, Peter also makes not of the injustice of their suffering in 2:19. These Christians are being discriminated against. They are being punished unjustly. The bias of society renders unjust verdicts at the tribunal. In short, the church has been found guilty according to the social mores of the Greco-Roman culture. As a result, they are being punished. Beyond these clues, we do not doubt that the social and economic impact of standing for the faith was severe. More than this, as we have stated these last two weeks, many lost their lives for the gospel. But in all of it, the genuineness of their faith shown forth. For others, their embracing of worldly morality proved that their faith was a sham. Peter writes to curb the latter and give the assurance of hope to the former.

Second, suffering results in eternal glory for God and his people. Suffering serves a glorious end. Peter shows us this ultimate purpose in verse 7. Christian, you experience various trials “so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Your tested faith results in praise and glory in two directions. The first direction is God. Your stalwart faith in suffering glorifies God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Why is that? Look back at verses 3-5. God is glorified because he is the cause and the preserving means of your faith. Peter says in verse 5 that we are those “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” God is guarding us through the faith that he sustains in us. Thus, when our faith remains strong in affliction, God gets the glory because he is the one who supports it. The Father planned it, the Son accomplished it, and the Holy Spirit is applying it to you on a moment-by-moment basis. Faith is God’s power in you. Therefore he gets the glory when it remains unextinguished despite the various trails that challenge your faith.

There is an excellent illustration of this in John Bunyan’s classic allegory of the Christian life, The Pilgrim’s Progress. He describes, by vivid picture, Christ sustaining his people in the background amid the devil’s constant assaults.

Then I saw in my dream that the Interpreter took Christian by the hand, and led him into a place where was a fire burning against a wall, and one standing by it, always casting much water upon it, to quench it; yet did the fire burn higher and hotter.         

Then said Christian, What means this? 

The Interpreter answered, This fire is the work of grace that is wrought in the heart; he that casts water upon it, to extinguish and put it out, is the Devil; but in that thou seest the fire notwithstanding burn higher and hotter, thou shalt also see the reason of that. So he had him about to the backside of the wall, where be saw a man with a vessel of oil in his hand, of the which He did also continually cast, but secretly, into the fire.   

Then said Christian, What means this? 

The Interpreter answered, This is Christ, who continually, with the oil of his grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart: by the means of which, notwithstanding what the devil can do, the souls of His people prove gracious still (2 Cor. 12:9).   

John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress[1]

Bunyan vividly illustrates the sovereign grace that sustains your faith in the face of the devil’s constant assault. And because God gives and sustains it, he gets the glory.

However, regarding that glory, God has promised to share it with us. You will be vindicated on the day when Christ is revealed. Your steadfast faith in affliction will also result in your “praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7). The present sufferings that assault your faith cannot compare to the glory that will be revealed on the day of judgment. In chapter 5, Peter says that an “unfading crown of glory” awaits us (5:4). 

Moreover, he writes that “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (5:10). Beloved, we are called to God’s eternal glory in Christ. Afflictions are momentary, but our glory in Christ is never-ending. The glory that will be revealed on the day of Christ is unfading and eternal. So, why do we suffer? Peter shows that Christian suffering tests the genuineness of our faith so that praise and glory and honor will abound to God and his people. Christian, eternal glory awaits you in Christ. Therefore, stand fast in the day of trial. Rejoice in hopeful anticipation of the unfading crown of glory that awaits you.

2. What Affections Reveal Genuine Faith in Suffering? (1:8-9)

Now that we have discovered that suffering tests the genuineness of our faith for the glory of God and his people, we need to understand what genuine faith looks like. What kind of affections reveal genuine faith? In verses 8-9, Peter shows us two affections that reveal true faith amid Christian suffering. These are affections that exhibit themselves in all true believers. Peter is writing to a broad group of Christians, and he notes here two common, faith-authenticating affections among them.

First, love for Christ reveals genuine faith. If you want to see real faith, you will find it in a believer’s love for Christ. This love of our Savior is a love for what is unseen In verse 8, Peter says, “Though you have not seen him, you love him.” If you have an insatiable and unquenchable love for Christ, that is a love based on true faith. And it is faith because you have not seen Christ. Just as true for Peter’s audience, we have never seen Christ. Yet, we love him. And we believe in him. Peter goes on to say in the same verse, “though you do not now see him, you believe in him.” Love for Christ reveals genuine faith because it is a love based on what is unseen. The power of God at work is exhibited by the miracle of faith that loves something that it has never seen. Moreover, this love is based on what has been preached. You fell in love with Christ when you heard the gospel preached to you. Our love is based on what the apostles wrote, and that word preached to you. Your love for Christ, based on what an ordinary man preached to you is another signifier of genuine faith. Beloved, the genuineness of your faith is revealed by the fact that you adore Christ, who you have never seen. Your love is based entirely on the apostolic word read and preached. That is a remarkable and holy affection that exhibits true and saving faith. As a result, you should feel all the assurance of true and saving faith in your knowledge of the living hope that you have in Christ.

Second, joy in Christ reveals genuine faith. If you want to discern a true and false believer, look at their attitude in suffering. Do they exhibit joy, or do they murmur? The Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years because of their habitual grumbling. God denied their passage into the promised land. They failed to enter that rest. The New Testament compares these Israelites to false Christians in the book of Hebrews (cf. Heb. 4). Grumbling against God is unbelief. For example, the grumbling Israelites were indicted and banned on account of that unbelief in Numbers 14:11. So those in the church who exhibit the habit of constant grumbling need to take care and take a good hard look at the validity of their faith.

On the other hand, joy in Christ exhibits true, saving faith. Peter says in verses 8-9, “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Two things can be said about this joy. To begin with, it is an intellectual joy. Both here and in verse 6, this joy is based on a belief in definite theological assertions. When Peter says, “In this you rejoice,” he is referring to the theological propositions stated in verse 3-5 regarding God’s sovereignty in your salvation. Thus, authentic joy is not some whimsical feeling you get based on self-deluded views about reality. Authentic joy is based on true theological truths about God and his grace towards you. Intellectual joy exhibits genuine faith.

Further, authentic faith is revealed by a glorified joy. Peter says of these suffering believers that their joy is “inexpressible and filled with glory.” Peter is speaking of a heavenly aspect to their praise that can scarcely be described by words. Jonathan Edwards explains,

Their joy was “full of glory”: although the joy was unspeakable, and no words were sufficient to describe it; yet something might be said of it, and no words more fit to represent its excellency, than these, that it was “full of glory”; or, as it is in the original, “glorified joy.” In rejoicing with this joy, their minds were filled, as it were, with a glorious brightness, and their natures exalted and perfected: it was a most worthy, noble rejoicing, that did not corrupt and debase the mind, as many carnal joys do; but did greatly beautify and dignify it: it was a prelibation of the joy of heaven, that raised their minds to a degree of heavenly blessedness: it filled their minds with the light of God’s glory, and made ’em themselves to shine with some communication of that glory.      

—Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections[2]

We glimpse heaven in a Christian filled with inexplicable joy in the face of terminal cancer or going to the ends of the earth to preach the gospel to a hostile nation. There is a luminescence to their countenance that can scarcely be described but felt. You feel heaven in their presence. Their joy radiates end-time glory in the present moment. Perhaps you have felt that glory when God has emboldened you to share the gospel to an unfriendly crowd. This bold, glorified joy brings heaven to earth, and it hints at the unfading crown that awaits us. This joy—this joy based on solid theological assertions and radiating heavenly pleasure is the chief indicator of genuine faith. Stick a man in the ring of Christian affliction, and you will see him tap out in a moment if his faith is not real. He is the seed that falls on the rocky ground. As Jesus says, he “hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away” (Matt. 13:20-21). But put a man with genuine faith in the ring of Christian affliction and watch him fight to the very end with a joy that you cannot beat out of him. That joy is of heaven, and earthly blows have no means to stop it.

Beloved the Christian life is best described by Paul’s words, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). The Christian life is sorrowful because it is filled with many trials and tribulations. But it is also one of never-ending joy because we know that we are only passing through this country to our heavenly home in glory. Our love for Christ and our joy in Christ keep us singing the songs of heaven amid the sorrows of this life. Does your love for Christ increase in Christian affliction? Does your joy in Christ lift you to heaven though your feet are standing in the thorns? If the answer is yes, then know that you have real and genuine faith. Know that all the glorious promises of the living hope that we have in Christ are yours. My prayer for you is that your genuine faith would shine forth in all of its radiant beauty, which will abound for God’s glory and yours on the day of Christ’s return. May the love for your Savior and the joy in your God hold you steady in the waves of Christian adversity, until we together obtain the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls (1 Pet. 1:9). We suffer because heaven comes to earth when genuine believers radiate the glory of Christ in the furnace of affliction. And that taste of heaven keeps us going till our Lord comes to judge our enemies and vindicate us before them. On that day, faith will be made sight. We shall behold the glory of our Lord and share that glory with him forever, world without end. Amen.

[1] John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress (vol. 3; Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2006), 99–100.

[2] Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections (ed. John E. Smith and Harry S. Stout; vol. 2, Revised edition.; The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 95.