There are times in our relatively comfortable world when we are surprised by an unexpected turn of events – it may be a sudden fall in the stock market, loss of a job, a divorce, a heart attack, or the death of a loved one. And then there are unexpected moments when people around us make life difficult because of our faith. Our first thought may be, ‘Doesn’t God care?’
In his First Letter, Peter the Apostle was writing to people who were facing hardship because of their faith. His response, as we saw last week, was to remind his readers of the vital hope they have because of the imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance that Jesus Christ has made possible through his death and resurrection.
In this you rejoice, he continues, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials. He knew the reality of tough times and suffering. He is aware that people who follow Jesus Christ as Lord may suffer physical persecution. But notice what he says in verse 7: so that the genuineness of your faith —being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire— may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Don’t be surprised by the unexpected challenges and tough times in life, Peter is saying. God is using these moments to refine and purify your faith in him, for true faith, he says, is more precious than gold. While gold is one of the most durable of substances, it perishes.
This is profound. If we think about it, God’s evaluation of something is the ultimate standard (the ‘gold standard’) of meaning in the universe. Anyone who has faith in this God has a secure framework for meaning and purpose in their life. This subverts the popular wisdom that says only fools believe in Christianity. Peter is saying that to know that God loves us, and is committed to us, is all we need.
We may not always understand all the events in our lives – even over the course of a lifetime. We may only discover the purpose of our experiences when the Lord reveals the secrets of all and gives special honor to those who trusted him, even though they couldn’t see the reason for what was happening at the time.
Believe… Rejoice. Consider what Peter says in v.8. It’s quite amazing: Without having seen him, you love him. The normal experience of those first readers was a genuine, ongoing love for Jesus Christ, even though they hadn’t seen him. This suggests that they had a daily relationship with the Lord Jesus through prayer and Bible reading, through church and the singing of songs and hymns. Two words stand out: believe and rejoice. They are the keys.
Peter is telling us that there are two ways to live – either without belief in Jesus Christ and therefore without hope and without joy, or with faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ and therefore with hope and with joy. And the joy of which he speaks is an ongoing, continual activity and experience. It is an ‘unutterable’ joy.
The word unutterable occurs only here in the whole of the New Testament and speaks of a profound joy that can’t be expressed in words. Luther and (eventually) John Calvin, had it right. Singing is vitally important for God’s people because it enables us to express the fullness of our joy in a way that is more effective and helpful than merely speaking. This is why Christianity has inspired the great variety of hymn writing that is lyrically and musically rich as we find, for example, in that of JS Bach, Watts, the Wesleys, Newton and, more recently in the Getty music.
Joy. Peter is speaking about the joy that springs from being in the presence of God himself. This joy is more than happiness. It is a joy that is tested and deepened through suffering. It is the joy that springs from knowing and trusting our Living Hope – the risen Christ Jesus.