Disciples aren’t exempt from suffering, we know v6 that it’s temporary compared to eternity, but it’s hard, it’s painful, it can feel never ending. These believers face “all kinds of trials.” Death, loss, illness, broken relationships, insults, abuse, persecutions and so on. And Nero is ramping up the pressure, isolating and blaming Christians, and state persecution is coming. And Peter isn’t minimising these, but he does want disciples to see they’re not pointless but purposeful.
Suffering isn’t the result of the pitiless indifference of a world without God; they’re not the random result of the roulette wheel of fate, or a sign that the world is out of control. Rather (7)“These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus is revealed.”
That’s a staggering verse. God is so sovereign that their, and our, suffering is not wasted. God is so sovereign that the suffering Satan wants to inflict on them, and us, to drive us from God and to abandon our faith, God repurposes to refine our faith and grow our love for Jesus.
Turn back to Job 23. Job has lost everything; his children, his flocks, his herds, his servants. All gone, even his health. And he’s left with an embittered wife who tells him to curse God and die and 3 friends who mean well but whose faulty theology means all they can do is assume Job must have sinned to cause this and engage in victim shaming. Job isn’t a comfortable read for us; it’s brutally honest that the Bible doesn’t give us neat answers for suffering. But instead we see Job grieve, lament, question, and veer between seeming despair and confident faith, but always, always, he tenaciously clings on to God as he pours his heart out to him. In the crucible of his suffering he speaks these words(8-12).
Job doesn’t have neat answers. But he knows God is sovereign. That God sees. He knows that God is not tame and he’s not answerable to Job and Job’s thoughts and ways. But he clings to God’s word and trusts God is at work to bring him forth as gold.
Peter echoes Job here. Suffering refines faith. It tests the genuineness of faith because we’re always tempted to trust in Jesus + something else. Jesus + health. Jesus + my job. Jesus + wealth. Jesus + family. Jesus + legal rights to hold and share my faith. But suffering proves that our faith in Jesus alone is enough as other things are stripped away. And that proven genuineness is more precious than gold because it lasts for eternity, and it result in praise, glory and honour when we hear God’s well done.
Suffering refines our faith. It leads us to love and put our joy in Jesus(8-9). To love and believe in him even though we haven’t seen him, to have an inexpressible and glorious joy not in suffering but in Jesus that suffering cannot touch. God’s purpose in suffering is that we might be weaned off the world and grow to love and treasure Jesus more and more. How do we do that?
Turn to ch2v21-25. Following Jesus means following Jesus. That means we don’t suffer in a vacuum but our suffering shows us more of what Christ has done for us, of his love for us. Peter says that Jesus is our example. That’s a word from the first century classroom, it was sheet of paper with letters or sentences on it that would be given to students to trace so they could learn to write. That’s what you are doing as you’re suffering, you are tracing over Jesus suffering for you.
As we suffer we look up and see what Jesus suffered for us. We follow him. It’s not a example to beat us up or burden us, but it is an example that speaks of love, his love for us that bore our sins in his body on the cross, that healed us by his wounds. That brought us when we were wandering away back to God.
As we suffer we trace Jesus life and as we trace his life we see his love, and as we see his love we love and treasure him. We see again the wonder of the gospel(1v10-12), the amazing grace that is ours and we’re reminded that our suffering isn’t a sign that we’re not loved. But a sign that we are.
Disciples suffer. But disciples suffer differently. Suffering doesn’t deny God’s mercy or his goodness or reshape our identity. It points us to Christ who suffered to bring us to God and who loved us and redeemed us for a future that’s secure and certain. And who is at work now to refine our faith and love and hope in him.
That doesn’t mean disciples suffer stoically. God in his mercy has given us a story filled with fellow suffering saints whose stories we learn from. He’s given us laments and songs and prayers to pray as we suffer. He pours out his Spirit, gives us his word and gives us his church so that we’re not abandoned and alone in our suffering but so that the truth is spoken to us, so the compass points us to our identity and hope in Christ.Suffering does not change our identity but leads us to see and treasure and love our Saviour and set our hope on that day when our salvation is realised and we hear that well done.