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How to Have Joy in Suffering

June 18, 2023 Preacher: Kevin Godin Series: Faith Forged In Fire

Topic: Suffering Scripture: 1 Peter 1:3-9

Sermon Text:


This week we continue our series, working our way through the book of 1 Peter. Last week, we saw the two truths that believers are chosen by God in love and yet are also exiles in this world. As we continue, Peter is going to show us how these two truths fit together. In our passage this morning Peter encourages us with the truth that God uses suffering to purify our faith and to prove its genuineness. That is our main point today: God uses suffering to purify our faith and to prove its genuineness.


That means the suffering of believers has a purpose and ultimately leads to greater blessings. We live in a world broken by sin so nobody goes through life without difficulties. In the case of believers, however, those trials are never pointless or random. Our heavenly Father is like a wise doctor who prescribes bitter medicine knowing it will heal us. There is always a loving purpose in the struggle.


A friend of ours recently bought their kids one of those butterfly kits. It is a container that comes with food and caterpillars so you can set it up and watch as the caterpillars make cocoons and then emerge as beautiful butterflies. Once they enter the cocoon not much happens for a bit, but then one day the cocoon starts to move. It wiggles back and forth as the butterfly tries to break free and for a time it doesn’t look too good for the little guys. They have to really struggle and fight to get out.


At this point, there is an urge to swoop in and rescue them, to open the cocoon up and let them out, but that would be the worst thing you could do. It is the very process of struggling to break free from the cocoon that forces fluid into the butterfly’s wings. The greater the struggle the stronger those beautify wings will be. 


Without the battle, the wings would be crumpled and misformed. The butterfly would be too weak to fly and would likely die. The struggle to emerge from the cocoon is critical to giving its wings strength. Often enough strength for that little bug to fly thousands of miles in its lifetime.


The apostle Peter says believers in Jesus are a lot like that as well. We are transformed by the power of God from something ugly and weak to beautiful and strong and the struggles are critical to free us from our old selves and strengthen us for the journey ahead. Peter begins with a blessing in verse 3,


3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 


Peter will address suffering but he begins with praise. The passage is divided in two parts. In verses 3-5 Peter encourages believers to praise God because of the certainty of their hope. We are reminded again that faith and hope are gifts from God, and that God strengthens his children so they persist in faith and hope until we receive our inheritance.


Then in verses 6-9 Peter teaches us that joy and love fill the lives of believers, even when they are suffering. We can have joy in suffering because godly suffering is the pathway to being made like Christ and is the evidence of his work in us. 


So before addressing suffering Peter begins with joy. That sets the framework for how everything else is understood. Whatever else is going on in our life, we should always begin with the recognition that we are a blessed people. Whatever difficulties we encounter, we can be sure they are far less than we deserve. 


Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus! He is to be praised. If we want to have joy even in the face of the most strenuous difficulties, it requires that we first process all our experiences through the lens of God’s blessing. Peter is showing us how to do that. He says we are to praise God because,


According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 


Suppose there was a man who lived in a small shack and he received a letter that said he was past due on the mortgage and was going to be evicted. Now suppose the next letter he opened said that an incredibly wealthy person had chosen to leave him his entire fortune, including a lavish estate. Which of these would dictate how the man responds? Would he live in despair over losing what he couldn’t keep knowing he had gained something far greater? 


Suffering results from a focus on what we lose, but Peter shifts our attention to what we have gained. He says praise God because he is the one who has taken the initiative to save us. He has caused us to be born again. We did not do that, he did. No person lists being born as an accomplishment on their resume because being born is not something we do, it is something that happens to us. 


How did we receive this? Peter says God caused it. It is a gift. He gets all the glory. I contributed no more to my spiritual birth than I did to my physical birth. It did not come through my strength or initiative, but through his. Peter says he caused it “according to his great mercy”. That is the only way any can come. It was undeserved, an act of mercy. Everyone who will ever be saved receives it as a gift of great mercy. 


We were dead and he made us alive according to his great mercy. Believer, the reason you are blessed is not to be found in you, but in God. Mercy can only apply to one who is weak or guilty and great mercy only applies to one who was hopelessly weak and guilty. It requires great mercy to overcome our great misery and wretchedness. There is a praise song that came out a couple years ago that has this beautiful line. It says, “my sins, they are many, his mercy is more.” 


Let us rejoice not only in the mercy of God, but even more in the God of mercy. We have hope because it is God who is at work in us. Peter says it is a “living hope”. It is a hope that breathes and moves and lives. It is a living hope because it is centered in a living savior. This is not a wish, it is a certain assurance because it is rooted in Christ himself. Hebrews 7:25, speaking of Jesus says,

25… he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.  


Peter says we have a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus. We often talk about the benefits of his death, but our hope is made complete in his resurrection. Without resurrection we have no assurance that his death accomplished what was promised.


When you share the gospel, don’t just tell people that Jesus died, but also that he is risen! The cross and the tomb are empty, he is alive and in heaven, and has promised to bring everyone who believes in him to be with him. That is why we can have hope and joy. Jesus Christ is alive and seated at the right hand of the Father in glory.


Peter says God caused us to be born again, according to his mercy, to a living hope, but not just any hope. To a very specific hope. Listen to what he says in verse 4,


4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 


Not only does God show mercy in that he gives eternal life so that those who trust in Jesus do not face eternal death, but even more, we are born again to an inheritance. This is not only marvelous love, it is scandalous love. Imagine a king leaving all his lands to a traitor. Imagine a judge giving his home to a convict. 


Every one of us has tried in one way or another to push God off his throne and make ourselves the center of the universe. We are all sinners, all traitors. We deserve judgment, but instead God offers amazing grace. He now says to everyone, if you will humble yourself, admit you were wrong, and turn to serve me… not only will I forgive your crimes and rebellion, I will adopt you and treat you as a beloved son or daughter. You will receive as a free gift, all you were struggling to take and more.


God offers this grace without compromising his justice or righteousness because his son Jesus fulfilled all the demands of the law through his life and death and he offers himself as payment to satisfy all the demands of the law. The Bible calls it propitiation, which means that God’s just wrath against sin was satisfied by the sacrifice of Jesus in our place.


If we accept his work as our righteousness, we are united to him by faith and are made sons and daughters, adopted by God for his glory. There is no other love in the universe like that. We have been adopted into an inheritance. We have been made heirs of the kingdom and sons and daughters of the holy one through the blood of Christ.


We have joy, even in suffering, because we know we will inherit the kingdom of God. We know that because God is the one who will bring it to pass. Our inheritance in Christ is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. Peter uses three different words to describe it that each adds something different.


Our inheritance is Imperishable: It can never be destroyed, it will endure forever.

Our inheritance is Undefiled: It cannot be polluted or made impure.

Our inheritance is Unfading: It can never weaken or lose its vitality.


It is unlike anything else that can be experienced in this world and that is because it is not from this world. I recall years ago Beth and I went to the history museum in New York. I love history and so I was trying to read the various plaques and inscriptions for all these ancient kings. At one point, a group of elementary children came in but most of them weren’t paying much attention. They were in a hurry to get to something else.


Pharaoh may have terrorized the ancient world, but that didn’t mean anything to the 5th graders in Manhattan. The glory of man’s greatest kingdoms quickly turn to ashes, but the glory of God’s kingdom is everlasting. Believers in Jesus have hope and joy knowing our inheritance is kept in heaven where neither moth nor rust can reach it.


Then in verse 5 he says,


5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 


These promises are certain and it is the power of God himself that ensures we will participate in it. Notice that it is not a what, but a who that is guarded by God’s power. The Lord guards those who he has made alive. What could be a more safe and secure place to be in the universe than to be guarded by Almighty God? Listen to how Jesus explains it in John 10:27–30,

27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

Believers are guarded by the power of God himself. Peter says he guards us through faith. There are none elect apart from faith. There are none who have the hope of these promises apart from faith. This is not a mechanical kind of thing, but a living, growing thing. There are many people who have no faith but are counting on the fact that they once prayed a prayer, or came forward, or even were baptized. The evidence of saving faith is not a prayer or a card, it is perseverance in faith. 


The only saving faith is one that unites us to the Jesus of the Bible. We are not saved by our faith in faith, but our faith in Jesus. It is the faith God gives that unites us to Christ that is the means he uses to guard our salvation. God works through our faith to keep us bound to him. 


Saving faith trusts in the promise of God that the promised inheritance is worth whatever cost we pay in this life. It is worth more than our homes, our country, our comfort, or even our family. It is worth more than our health, our freedom, and even our life. Peter says God is guarding us for a salvation to be revealed in the “last time.”


This isn’t all there is. We have many blessings even now, but these are nothing compared to what is coming. What that is, is to be with God with no sin separating us from experiencing the fullness of fellowship with him. He is the source of all love and all goodness and there can therefore be no greater blessing than God himself.


Think about it this way. God is all-wise, all-knowing, and all-loving and yet he does not guard us from pain, or persecution, or sorrow. That shows us that God’s primary purpose for our life is not happiness in this world. God’s purpose is for us to have joy for eternity. What he guards us from is the one thing that will keep us from him, which is to love anything else in his place. That and all the sins that flow from that are the result of a lack of faith because if we perfectly believed those promises, we would not be attracted to anything that would pull us away from him.


Therefore, God guards our salvation by using trials to strengthen our faith by drawing us closer to himself. But he knows our hearts, which is why he is encouraging us here. He knows we are weak which is why he gives us his word, why he gives us the family of other believers in church to walk with us and encourage us. How often have you been slipping and you read something in the word that strengthened you? How often have you been weak in faith and a brother or sister came along and pulled you up giving you hope? This is how God works. We are guarded through faith until we will be raised with Jesus in glory.


That is how Peter sets the stage to help them have joy in their suffering. Listen to what he says next,


6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,


These truths Peter has shared cause us to rejoice. We are not called to be stoics who are indifferent to our suffering or masochists who take joy in the suffering itself. We don’t rejoice in the pain but because our names are written in the book of life. We rejoice, even in suffering, that God will never abandon us and is working for our good and his glory. 


We are grieved by trials, but that grief does not remove the joy of our salvation. Happiness and joy are not the same thing. We can have joy even when we are not happy. I would not describe a woman in labor as happy, but it is for the coming joy that she is able to endure the pain. God only brings trials that grieve us when it is necessary and then only for a short time.


We are able to endure because we know that the difficulties we face are not impersonal or random. They are under the control of our loving and perfectly wise Father. We deserve eternal suffering because of our sin, but God graciously guards us by faith through temporary suffering in order to bring us eternal glory. 


Even if we lived and suffered 100 years, it would only be a little while compared to the eternal blessing of heaven with God. We can rejoice even in suffering because we trust God that the suffering is necessary to bring a greater good. The wounds we receive are not from the blows of an enemy to hurt us, but from the surgery of the great physician to heal us.


Peter says we are grieved by various trials,


7 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. 


Peter compares our faith to gold. Gold is refined in fire so impurities are removed and the gold is purified. Even today, if you have gold jewelry there will be a mark, like 14 or 24k, proving it has been refined and tested. It doesn’t just look real on the surface, it has been refined and is pure. But faith is far more precious than gold because even gold will perish with the end of the world but faith endures into the age to come.


Faith that endures through suffering is proven to be real. One who does not believe the promises will not be willing to suffer in the hope of obtaining them. When we have suffered faithfully, it is as if we have been marked as 24 karat Christians. That is why Paul says in 1 Timothy 3 that elders and deacons in the church must not be recent converts and must first be tested. 


God is glorified when his people love him and trust him not for what he gives them, but for who he is. That is the kind of love that only true faith can produce. We see an amazing picture of how this works in the book of Job. Job 1:8–12 says,

8 And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” 9 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.  


Satan takes everything Job has. He loses his wealth and even his children but continues to bless God. Then Job 2:3–6 says,

3 And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” 4 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. 5 But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” 6 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.”  


Satan strikes Job’s health and he is afflicted with painful sores. It is so bad that his own wife tells him to curse God and die, but Job refuses. He continues to trust God even in his affliction. Job is a man of faith and later he says of his love for God,


15  Though he slay me, I will hope in him (Job 13:15)

Job’s faith was proven true and the mouth of the devil was stopped. Not only did Job’s faithfulness through suffering prove his faith, it glorified God by showing the slander and jealousy of the devil were false. Think of all this man lost and yet remained faithful. Brothers and sisters, the same truths that enabled Job to persevere in suffering are those available to us. They are the same truths Peter is sharing in this passage. Job tells us how he was able to stand firm. 


He knew that God loved him and that one day he would be raised in glory because of the work of his savior. Listen to what he says in Job 19:25–26,

25  For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26  And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God…

Job blessed God in his suffering because he was looking forward to the same resurrection glory Peter is talking about. Job had joy in suffering because he knew his Redeemer was alive and would complete the work he began in him. In fact, we are even more blessed than Job because we see even more clearly how God brings salvation glory out of suffering.


Theologian A.W. Tozer said it this way,


“When I understand that everything happening to me is to make me more Christlike, it resolves a great deal of anxiety.”


Remember our main point? God uses suffering to purify our faith and to prove its genuineness. He loves us. He is the one who has caused us to be born again so we can be certain whatever we face is not to destroy us, but to mature us. The peace and joy of the Christian life is rooted in the hope of our resurrection with Jesus. We know that regardless of the current trials we will see Jesus and enjoy him forever. 


Peter concludes this section in verse 8,


8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.  


Do not fall into the trap of evaluating things based only on what you can see now. Saving faith is faith that trusts in the promises and loves Christ because it is built on the integrity of God’s word rather than on what we see. Peter says that our faith and the joy it brings are inexpressible and filled with glory. Filled with glory because our faith and love for Christ ultimately lead to our faith being proved true and the reward of salvation in heaven. 


The world is filled with suffering because of sin, because human beings have rejected God and failed to trust him and obey his word. Every one of us was born sinful, meaning our motivation was to serve ourselves rather than God. We thought that the way to avoid suffering and to have joy and peace was to pursue happiness in ourselves but that just leads us further from God and thus further away from true joy and peace.


In his grace, God sent his son Jesus to live a perfect life in the place of everyone who would humble themselves and seek joy in God. Jesus had no sin. He is the only person who ever lived who did not bring suffering into the world and did not deserve it. As R.C. Sproul once said, there has only been one time in history where bad things happened to a good person, and he volunteered.


Jesus paid the price for the sin of every person who will put their faith in him as their savior. He suffered in our place, even to the point of death. He was buried and raised again on the third day. Jesus came from heaven and entered into suffering as an expression of his great mercy. 


He knows what it is to suffer and he promises all who believe that the suffering of this world will pale in comparison to the glory we will partake in if we are with him in his kingdom. If you haven’t come to him, he invites you to come now. If you have come, then cling to him tightly in faith so the genuineness of your faith will result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ! And then suffering will be no more for all who are in Jesus.


I would like to finish with Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:16–18 as he also reflects on how we can have joy and hope even though we suffer. Paul says,

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.  

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