Hope in the Midst of Trial
The epistles of Peter have as their basic theme “the proper response to Christian suffering.” (GBNT 540 Study Guide, p. 3) The apostles holds up Christ as an example (1 Peter 2:23-24) to those most in danger of suffering for their faith, yet we can see a more detailed description of the suffering of the Christ centuries before his arrival. “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,” Isaiah prophesied. (Isaiah 53:4) “He was oppressed and afflicted,” he continued (Isaiah 53:7). “He was assigned a grave with the wicked,” the prophesy proclaims. (Isaiah 53:9) Yet, the Scripture also suggests that because of these things, “I [the Father] will give him a portion among the great.” (Isaiah 53:12) Indeed, Hebrews 5:8-9 imply that Jesus was made perfect through suffering, but only because he “learned obedience” from that suffering. Due to the obedience of the Son, we have eternal salvation if we obey him. (Hebrews 5:9) So, when Peter insists repeatedly that if his readers must suffer “it should be for righteousness’ sake and not as a result of sinful behavior” (GBNT Study Guide, p. 4) there is purpose behind the statement. God brings trials into the lives of believers, not necessarily as a punishment, “but as a stimulus to perfect them in Christ.” (GBNT Study guide, p. 3) The reward for obedience is to share in the portion that the Father bestowed on the Son. (2 Peter 1:11, Rev 3:21)
Both epistles of Peter focus on remaining steadfast in the midst of trials and temptations. The apostle opens his first epistle by encouraging his readers with the joy of salvation, though now they “have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (1 Peter 1:6) Those trials have come, Peter insists, to prove their faith, which is of greater worth than gold, genuine so that it may bring praise, honor, and glory to God when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7) In so doing, Peter places a divine perspective on the trials and persecution the believers he wrote to faced. The author of Hebrews conveyed a similar perspective when he wrote that “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:10-11) The readers of each epistle likely were not suffering trials because of wrongdoing; i.e., the discipline spoken of in Hebrews came not as a punishment from God for sin. Rather, the trials came that the believers might be trained by them. As stated in the study guide, faith that is not tested is not faith, but supposition. Yet, for those who persevere through trials God promises a “harvest of righteousness and peace.” Indeed, if one should suffer bodily for his faith, Peter promises that such a one is “done with sin” (1 Peter 4:1) for he no longer lives “for evil human desires, but for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:2) James holds for the ultimate promise that he who perseveres through trials is blessed because he will “receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)
Such exhortations and promises should provide all the motivation we need for right living under God, yet both Peter and Hebrews reveal that falling away in the face of trials is possible. While Paul wrote God “will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) and Peter makes essentially the same promise (2 Peter 1:3), unless the believer appropriates the way out God provides, he may become entangled in the corruption of the world again leaving him worse off than before he knew the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 2:20) The second chapter of 2 Peter, which discusses the false prophets and teachers that his readers would soon encounter, or had already encountered, provides ample warning against falling away. In the course of one paragraph, the apostle provides examples of godly men whom God rescued from trials, yet also warned that the unrighteous are held for the day of judgment, “while continuing their punishment.” (2 Peter 2:10) From verse 20 in the same chapter, quoted above, it seems apparent that the warning applies to more than just the false teachers, but also to those who fall under their spell. The author of Hebrews warned likewise, when he suggested that those who have an unbelieving heart will not enter God’s rest. (Heb 3:7-19) Yet, for those who do remain obedient 2 Peter 2:9 promises that God “knows how to rescue godly men from trials”, as he saved Noah and Lot from an environment besotted with sin.
Thus, the endurance of trials by itself does not produce growth in the Christian life, but only by adhering to “the obedience that comes from faith” (Romans 1:5) in the midst of trials. It is said “that which does not kill us makes us stronger”, yet if we succumb to the tests of trials of faith that we endure, particularly if we lose our trust in the true grace of God or we are “carried away by the error of lawless men” we may not only grow weaker, but “fall from our secure position.” (2 Peter 3:17) As with David, after he fell into sin with Bathsheba, we may be restored into right standing with God after we stumble, yet that is not the desired way. Rather, our sufferings ought not to come from our sin; instead, we should “abstain from sinful desires, which war against [our] souls” (1 Peter 2:11) and display faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. (2 Peter 1:5-7) For, “if we do these things, we will never fall.” (2 Peter 1:10)
After, Jesus Christ, the firstborn, our example (1 Peter 2:21-24) and Lord, received the crown of glory not simply because he suffered death, but because “he learned obedience from what he suffered.” (Heb 4:8) Indeed, Hebrews also claims that the Father made the Son “perfect through suffering.” (Heb 2:10) The Son learned obedience through suffering and was made perfect through it, yet did not sin while in the midst of temptations and trials (Heb 4:15); rather, he lived in reverent submission. (Heb 4:7) Rather than serve as an indictment of our own failures, such reminders should help us “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Heb 4:16), for he is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, yet has the strength to provide us with grace in time of need. (Heb 4:15, 16) Likewise, we should strive for obedience while “suffering grief in all kinds of trials (1 Peter 1:6), while understanding that we have a high priest who has been made perfect forever (Heb 7:28) to help us in our time of need. Also, if the Father chose to make His Son perfect through suffering, then what great encouragement is that for us when we endure suffering. As Hebrews 12:7 enjoins us to “endure hardship as discipline”, for “God disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness.” (Heb 12:10) In permitting us to endure suffering, God is “treating us as sons” (Heb 12:7), for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ did not endure trials as a result of wrongdoing and neither are we called to do so. Instead, if we “suffer for doing good and endure it, this is commendable before God.” (1 Peter 2:20)
Such a divine perspective on the nature and purpose of fiery trials gives the reader of the epistles of Peter and the readers of Hebrews reason to stand fast in the midst of suffering. If, as noted previously, the tribulations believers experience are so that their “faith may be proved genuine” (1 Peter 1:7) and that they serve as a “stimulus to perfect them in Christ” (GBNT 540 Study Guide, p. 3) much as the Father perfected Christ Jesus himself through suffering, then the motive behind the suffering becomes more clear. Indeed, undergoing trials for the name of Christ becomes a privilege, a source of honor in which the apostles’ themselves rejoiced. (Acts 5:41)
Yet, no matter how great the privilege enduring hardship provides, should the believer only have to look toward suffering as sons and the perfection of the earthly temple in which we reside, we would not be able to tolerate the reproach. As Paul wrote, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1 Cor 15:19) If, as the study guide suggest, Peter wrote the first epistle “around the time of Neronian persecution” (GBNT Study Guide, p. 8) in which Christians were martyred in Rome and whose ultimate outcome was unknown, then the readers of the letter faced the very real possibility of losing their lives. Trials and tribulations that lead to death, no matter how joyfully endured or how great the purification they might provide, would not be tolerable if no hope existed beyond this life, which is why Peter emphasizes that the grief these believers suffered only last “a little while.” (1 Peter 1:6) In so doing, the apostle does not promise that the trials will end short of death (2 Peter 1:13-14), but that in light of the “eternal glory” believers will receive when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:13), our suffering on this earth is transitory.
Therefore, Peter exhorts us to set our hope fully on that grace which will receive on the day of the Lord. (2 Peter 3:10) In doing so, believers can know that “their labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor 15:58) We can commit ourselves fully to the work of the Lord (1 Cor 15:58), knowing that if we do these things, we will “receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom.” (2 Peter 1:11) Indeed, the certainty of the Lord’s return provides the ultimate motivation for perseverance in godliness. The second epistle of Peter strikes a note of fear into the reader, not necessarily fear of what God will do on that day, but that it will come. Due to that certainty, we ought to “live holy and godly lives” (2 Peter 3:11) and “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace” (2 Peter 3:14) with the Lord until the day he returns. The Lord Himself warned of these things (e.g., Luke 12:35-48) and his disciple reiterated his Master’s teaching. Yet, while Peter does enjoin us to live our lives in reverent fear (1 Peter 1:17), the ‘fear’ he calls for is clearly not (1 Peter 5:7) the anxious fear that accompanies someone whom we dare not approach, but the knowledge that God does keep His promises. We ought not to be “scoffers” (2 Peter 3:3) who question the Lord’s return, but look forward to “a new heaven and a new earth.” (2 Peter 3:13) The prospect of the Lords return should not fill us with fear, but fill us “with an inexpressible and glorious joy for” (1 Peter 1:8) it is the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls, provided we have not fallen from our secure position. Truly, we can take courage in the inevitability of His return, for we do know that “our labor is not in vain”, as the apostle Paul so wisely wrote. For those who are perishing, though, the certainty of the Lord’s return looms like a fearsome shadow, and so they scoff in the hope that denial shall drive it away.
Thus, both epistles of Peter exhort us to holy and godly living in the midst of severe trials. In enjoining us to be holy as God is holy, the apostle does not simply serve as a taskmaster whipping his charges into shape using guilt, shame, and fear. Instead, the overarching theme of the two epistles is hope in the grace of the Lord. (GBNT Study Guide, p. 15) Rather than bearing up unjust punishment as a man might endure a root canal because he knows the dangers he escapes and the benefits he gains by doing so, we are called to rejoice in our sufferings. (1 Peter 4:13) We are enabled to rejoice because we understand that the Father permitted His Son to endure suffering for the sake of perfecting him; in allowing us to experience suffering, he is treating us the same way, so that we may be perfected. Our trials and tribulations, therefore, are not without meaning, but are instead a privilege and an honor, a sign of our standing in the house of God. (Acts 5:41) These tests and trials also are temporary, a fleeting part of life that pales in comparison to the “eternal glory” (1 Peter 5:10) we shall share in when Christ Jesus is revealed. For this reason, we can face our trials, not merely with dogged determination, but with “an inexpressible and glorious joy.” (1 Peter 1:8) The certainty of the day of Lord serves as both a warning and an encouragement to us to stand fast in the grace God has given us and to make every effort to ensure that we adhere to the truth we already know. For, if we do these things, we will “receive a rich welcome into the kingdom” (2 Peter 1:11), a promise that can cause even the most stoic to burst into rapturous song because the curse “for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19) has hung over humanity as a black shroud since the Fall, but has now been “swallowed up in victory.” (1 Cor 15:54) The readers of the first epistle of Peter were called to set their mind fully on that hope and in the love that has been revealed to us through our knowledge of Jesus Christ. Likewise, as we remain certain of that hope, we shall remain steadfast in the midst of any trial, for God has promised that him who overcomes shall eat again from the tree of life (Rev 2:7) and shall not die, but receive life eternal.
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This is a wonderful exposition on why we must continue to live in hope despite adversity. Your use of scripture throughout provides enlightenment and reassurance of truths we sometimes forget. Thanks so much for sharing this enlightening article.