In Spite of Pain

Pain can hit us hard. It may be the loss of a loved one, family tension, betrayal by a friend—struggles can hurt. The temptation in these situations is to sit in fear and wallow in self-pity. I know I did when I became blind.

But as we are going through First Peter, the apostle offers a different alternative, a better alternative. If you remember from previous weeks, Peter has jumped right in and begun praising God for salvation and reminding us of the glorious home in heaven we await. Wonderful words. Then he says this:

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

1 Peter 1:6,7

When we’re facing great trials, we’re often like, “Hold up, Peter. We do what? Rejoice?” His description of the Christian life isn’t what we automatically find ourselves doing during times of grief and anguish.

Yet these words deserve a closer look. Peter is not by any means saying we stick our heads in the sand, ignore difficulties, and pretend everything’s okay. That does not work. Pop psychology and positive self-talk may tell us to feel good about ourselves and create our own truth, but that is not what the Biblical response to trials is.

Peter is saying that even in spite of the “trials” we go through, we are still to “rejoice” in the knowledge of what is coming (v. 6). Yes, the pain is real now, but it will not last forever. Many of the major New Testament writers point this out. Let’s do a brief survey.

Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). The key phrase is, “not worthy to be compared with” (v. 18). He is not ignoring present difficulties, but is focusing upon our expectation. He goes into more detail in the verses that follow, ending in a beautiful summary of our confident hope (vv. 37-39).

John gives us a glimpse of “the holy city, new Jerusalem,” and records the beautiful future that awaits believers (Revelation 21:2). One promise he was told is this: “God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (vv. 3, 4).  That is truly amazing to consider.

While the blessings of our heavenly future are dear promises that lead us to rejoice, James shows why we can rejoice because of more immediate promises. He says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4). Interestingly, Paul says the same thing in very similar language (Romans 5:3-5).

The truth is that as we learn to depend upon God during times of testing, during our struggles, we draw closer to Him and our faith grows in special ways. There is a desperation, a need for Him that becomes so strong when all we have is Him. I don’t mean that we lose everything, but the distractions—sports, music, friends, whatever—no longer content us or satisfy. We yearn for God and Him alone.

So let’s bring this back to 1 Peter. In these two verses, Peter includes both elements of this rejoicing—both the distant and the near future blessings. The phrase “in this” as well as “the revelation of Jesus Christ” both indicate the time when Jesus will return and we will dwell with Him in our “inheritance” (1 Peter 1:4, 6, 7). We find joy in this expectation.

But even now, we can “rejoice” because we see that our “faith” is growing through “various trials,” and as it grows, will lead to great blessings at the end (vv. 6, 7). We often think of “gold” as the epitome of beauty (v. 7). And while that is purged and refined in a furnace until it is incredibly pure, it will not last (v. 7). It will not remain with us into eternity.

Our “faith,” on the other hand, will last, it will remain (vv. 7-9). In that day, we will behold our God. John gives a stunning vision of Jesus in glory in Revelation 1, and when he saw the glorified Christ, he “fell at His feet like a dead man,” so awesome was the sight (Revelation 1:17). We will dwell with Him forever in a perfect state. All curses of sin—family strife, COVID, death—they will never again be found. This is why we can, and should, “rejoice” in the midst of our “trials” (1 Peter 1:6).

However, we often forget these truths. After all, we do not visibly see these things. We are not given visions of heaven, and in the midst of a trial, we do not always see how our faith is growing. Peter’s answer to this is that we choose to “love” Jesus (v. 8). He acknowledges that “you have not seen Him,” and still “you do not see Him now” (v. 8). Jesus is not visibly present with us in that sense. However, He is here with us, and we walk by faith with Him. We “love Him” and “believe in Him” (v. 8). And Because of this “love” and belief in Jesus, Peter says we “greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (v. 8). Anyone else hearing that old hymn right now?

But once again, we wonder, “Does this really work?” Absolutely. In the months after becoming blind, I really struggled with discouragement, and even despair. Through a series of events, God moved me to begin writing things I was thankful for about Him and what He had done. As I did that, He took away bitterness and depression and gave me joy and peace. I had tried other things, but nothing else worked. By following the instruction of Philippians 4:6 and 7, I shifted my focus off myself and onto Jesus. As I did so, He gave me joy unlike I had ever known.

These truths are easy to write and acknowledge when we’re not in the middle of a storm, but let me encourage us to look to Jesus and “the salvation” He brings (1 Peter 1:9). I’m not saying we pretend we don’t struggle. Jesus admitted to His friends when He was “deeply grieved” (Matthew 26:39). What I am urging us to do is not stay where we are. Jesus is here, offering hope and strength. When we fixate upon ourselves and our pain, we wither. When we look to Jesus, we grow and find joy in knowing we have a promised home and future greater than we can ever imagine. And when you think about it, “joy” should actually be one of the defining marks of a Christian (Galatians 5:22). Not a fake, plastered-on smile to hide the pain we haven’t dealt with. Rather, a sincere, settled confidence that God’s Word is true, and He “will never desert…nor will [He] ever forsake” us (Hebrews 13:5, 6). A settled confidence that “God” can use our trials “for good” by growing us in Christ (Romans 8:28, 29). A Sure conviction that our true home is awaiting us because Christ has made it ready (John 14:2, 3). These are the reasons why we can find joy in the midst of trials.

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