Sermons

Rejoicing in the Midst of Grief

August 25, 2013 Speaker: Jeff Breeding Series: 1 Peter: Sojourners and Strangers

Passage: 1 Peter 1:6–1:9

Rejoicing in the Midst of Grief

I have heard someone say before, “The question of suffering is not ‘if’ but ‘when’.” By this statement, the person meant that everybody will endure difficulty at some point in his or her life. It is a near universal experience; everyone, at some point, will face trials. It’s not a question of if, but when. I think we could all testify to this as a true statement. I am sure everyone in this room could give testimony to all sorts of trials and difficulties that they have faced over the years. Some of you are facing trials and difficulties right now, in the present. Call it whatever you like – suffering, hardships, difficulties – the reality is that everyone, at some point in life, will endure trials. It is a nearly universal experience.

For many people, this near universal experience of trials leads them to question the biblical teaching about God. “If God is both powerful and good, then why does he allow such trials in our lives? Why doesn’t he stop the suffering and make life easier for his people?” We could call this the skeptical mindset; the person is skeptical about what Christianity teaches concerning God and his goodness. In all honesty, these are difficult questions, and for some people, these questions lead them to conclude that there is no God, or that he is not able to deal with the suffering that takes place in people’s lives. 

For other people, the experience of trials leads them to question the possibility of joy or happiness. “If I am going to experience difficulty at some point in my life, how can I ever hope to be joyful? Even when I am not going through a trial, I know one is coming. So, how can I ever be joyful with that reality hanging over my head?” We could call this the cynical mindset; the person is cynical about the prospect of true, lasting joy. Again, these are difficult questions, and for some people, these questions lead them to conclude that joy is not possible in this life. They conclude that life is all about just getting through and trying to avoid the trials whenever possible.

So, what does the Christian say in response to these things? We have the near universal experience of trials, we have the skeptical mindset, and we have the cynical mindset. When you put those three things together, you have a difficult situation for the Christian to address. I thought the Bible promised joy to believer; I thought God was good to his people. Hurting people ask those hard questions! Have you ever had to address such questions with another person? Or, more pointedly, have you ever had to address them with yourself? Have you ever been the skeptic or the cynic?

We could boil all of this down to one question – How should the Christian respond to trials? Is there any hope of joy? Is there any purpose to the trials? Are we simply at the mercy of fate? What is the biblical response to trials?

Our passage this morning is 1 Peter 1.6-9. In this passage, we see part of the biblical response to both the skeptical and the cynical mindset. Peter reveals that, contrary to what we might think, true and lasting joy is possible, even in the midst of grief. And in addition to that, Peter reveals that trials don’t question God’s goodness, but instead reveal more of God’s good plan for his people. In other words, 1 Peter 1.6-9 gives part of the biblical answer to the question, “How should the Christian respond to the near universal experience of trials?”

 

The Christian Life if Joy in the Midst of Grief

The Christian life is joy in the midst of grief. You can see in v6 the connection of those two seemingly contradictory emotions – rejoicing and grieving: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” The Christian life is not all joy; there is grief. But it is also not all grief; there is real, enduring joy. In other words, the Christian is simultaneously rejoicing and grieving. Now, we don’t normally think about these two emotions combining in one person, at least not in a healthy way. We think that a person can be rejoicing or grieving, but not both at the same time. But that is what Peter says here – the Christian life is both rejoicing and grieving. 

But with that being said, the joy receives the focus here in vv6-7. Peter wants his readers to grasp the source of their joy, and how they can rejoice even in the midst of the grief that is quite real. His goal is not just to explain this strange connection of emotions, but to illuminate how it is that his readers can rejoice, even in the midst of grief. So, to understand more fully what Peter means by rejoicing, let’s consider three truths from vv6-7 that explain the Christian’s rejoicing in the midst of grief. 

First, we rejoice because of the hope of salvation given to us in Christ. Look there are the first few words of v6 – “In this you rejoice.” What is the this referring to? This is an important question, because the this is the focus of the rejoicing. So, what’s the reference to this? I think it makes most sense to see the reference as being everything in vv3-5 – the living hope through Christ’s resurrection, the unfading inheritance, and the safely-guarded salvation. All of that – that salvation – is the reference for the word this in v6. So, we could paraphrase the verse like this: “Because of everything that comes with your sure, future salvation, you rejoice.” The rejoicing is a function of salvation in Christ. Because believers have such a sure salvation, they are able to rejoice, even in the midst of trials.

Note very importantly that this rejoicing is true, even though these believers have been grieved by various trials. Their lives are marked by difficulty, but even though that is the case, they still rejoice. How are they able to rejoice? Because their salvation is greater than their suffering. Just look at the contrast Peter has constructed between the salvation and the trials. The salvation is kept in heaven for us, and it is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It cannot change, and it cannot be taken. By contrast, the trials are temporary. They are “for a little while.” In other words, there will be a day – the last day – when all the trials end. They are only momentary when compared with our eternal salvation.

As an aside, let me say this to any suffering Christian this morning. Your trial will end. It is only temporary. Now, you may be thinking, “But I’ve got to live with this my entire life!” And that may be true. But there is a life beyond this life, and in the life to come, there are no more trials. There is no more suffering. Remind yourself that there is an end to the present trial, and the end will be gloriously good.

So, how are believers able to rejoice now, even in the midst of trials? Because their salvation in Christ far outweighs their present trials. Therefore, they can rejoice, even in the midst of grief. Now, that doesn’t mean the suffering is easy. Peter is clear at this point – the suffering is real, present, and painful. And the suffering does grieve us. There is nothing wrong with being grieved over the trial you are facing at this moment. That is a normal response, even the appropriate response on some level. We should grieve when we suffer. We should grieve when we face difficulty. The trials are real.

But we don’t have to only grieve. We can also rejoice because we know what the future holds – salvation. And we know that that salvation far outweighs any suffering we face at the moment. So, we grieve, but we don’t only grieve. We also rejoice.

So, if you are suffering this morning, if you are enduring difficulty, you can find joy in the midst of that grief. Real joy, not superficial fake joy that denies the reality of suffering, but real joy that endures even in the midst of difficulty. And here’s the good news – that joy is not a function of your circumstances or your ability to be joyful. That joy is a function of God’s work of salvation. That joy flows from your inheritance in Christ, an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you. So, you can find joy, and you don’t have to find it in your circumstance or in yourself. Don’t look to those things for joy. Look to Christ. Remember your unfading inheritance in heaven, and rejoice, even in the midst of grief.

Now, the big question – why does God order the Christian life this way? Why is it rejoicing and grieving? Why is it joy in the midst of suffering? Or, to put it another way, what is the purpose of the trials? Peter answers those questions with a second truth – we rejoice because trials prove faith.

 

We Rejoice Because Trials Prove Faith

In v7, Peter gives us the purpose for trials. See those words “so that” at the beginning of v7? Those words communicate a purpose. Trials are intended to produce genuine faith. As the believer endures suffering, his faith is proven. The heat of suffering purifies the believer’s faith and shows it to be the genuine article. Peter uses an analogy of purifying gold to make his point. Gold is purified through fire. As the gold is heated up, the impurities are revealed and then removed. What’s left is a purer product, genuine gold, free of impurities. In the same way, faith is tested by trial, so that the result is genuine, proven faith.

And this genuine faith is more precious than fired gold. Even tested gold will one day perish. But tested faith is imperishable, and thus of greater value. Peter’s point, then, is that trials are intended to prove faith, and thus reveal its true, eternal value.

And this process of testing faith through trials is part of God’s plan. Look back at v6, where Peter writes, “for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” That phrase if necessary reveals that these trials are not meaningless. They are part of God’s will. The words communicate a divine purpose or plan; such trials are necessary for God’s purposes. So, Peter is saying that these believers endure trials because this is God’s good plan to purify his people. The same God who caused us to be born again to a living hope now uses trials to produce in us a genuine, enduring faith. The trials prove faith.

In giving us this purpose, Peter answers one of the great questions of the sufferer – why is this happening to me? Perhaps no question is more pressing in the midst of suffering than the question of why. Why me, God? Why did this have to happen to me? Why? And the worst possible answer to such questions is that there is no why. Nothing is more despairing and frightening to people than to think that there is no purpose in their pain. We think that it comforts people when we say, “Well, there really is no rhyme or reason for stuff like this; it just happens.” That is not encouraging. When I am in the midst of suffering, the last thing that I want to think is that there is no point!

Peter’s words reveal a purposefulness that gives hope to the sufferer. Contrary to what our godless culture might say, your suffering is not meaningless. It is not simply the product of fate or chance. It’s not that you simply have bad luck. You weren’t in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rather, there is a purposefulness to the suffering of a Christian. And that purpose is to test and fire a genuine faith, a faith that is worth more than gold. Your suffering is not meaningless; in fact, it is for your good. God is using the trials of this life to purify your faith and reveal its genuineness. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you can confidently say in every moment of grief, “There is a purpose in this, and that purpose has been established by a God who loves me and cares for me. This will turn out for my good.”

This means that every moment of pain, every tear, every cry of desperation, every question asked in the dark, every single instance of suffering has a point. That pain will produce a tested faith, worth more than even gold. Those tears will yield a harvest of eternal joy that far outweighs the moments when they were shed. Those cries of desperation will be met with God’s resounding voice of redemption. Don’t let the pain and difficulty of life in this fallen world lead you to think, “There is no point.” Everything in your life, even that difficult trial, has a purpose from your Father in heaven. And his purpose is for your good.

And this means that we can entrust our pain and difficulty to him. You don’t have to carry around the weight of your suffering. Often, we carry the burden of suffering because we fear that if we don’t carry it, then no one will remember what has happened to us, and it will all be pointless. So, we continually carry the pain because we want it to have meaning. Friends, hear me on this. Entrust your suffering to God. Let him carry those burdens. Trust that his purpose for the pain is for your good. When you are tempted to despair, speak this truth to yourself – “I don’t have to carry this. God purposes this for my good, so I can trust him with this trial.”

So, take hope, suffering Christian. Not in your ability to be hopeful. Not in your circumstances, but in a God and Savior who has a good purpose for all of his born again children. He is firing your faith so that on the last day, it is worth more than even gold.

 

We Rejoice Because Genuine Faith Results in Praise, Honor, and Glory on the Last Day

Let’s look at v7, and just read the main clause, without the intervening comment about gold. It reads like this, “so that the tested genuineness of your faith may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” This is the result of faith that has been tested through trial – praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Now, when Peter says “at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” he is talking about the last day, when Jesus Christ is revealed again from heaven as the King and Judge of all the earth. When that day arrives, the tested faith of believers will result in praise, honor, and glory.

Who receives this praise, glory, and honor? It is both believers and God. On the last day, God will give praise, glory, and honor to believers in response to their tested, genuine faith. Think praise in terms of commendation, not worship. Think of Jesus’ words, “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.” God gives praise, honor, and glory to believers in that sense.

But in that sense, it is praise, glory, and honor to God as the one who authored, produced, and sustained the genuine faith. He is the one who caused us to be born again. It is his power that keeps us till the last day. It is his purpose of testing that produces our genuine faith. Whatever commendation we receive on the last day is only a reflection of God’s own glory and power at work in our lives. So, in knowing that genuine faith brings praise, honor, and glory on the last day, we can rejoice in the midst of suffering. We can rejoice because we know the glory and eternal reward that lies ahead. We can rejoice because we know that our genuine faith will bring glory and praise to God.

So, to sum up vv6-7, the Christian life is joy in the midst of grief. The normal experience of the believer is both rejoicing and grieving, often at the same time. We grieve because the trials are real and painful, but more than that, we rejoice because of the great salvation we have in Christ, because of God’s purpose for those trials, and because the end result is eternal glory with God himself. The Christian life is joy in the midst of grief.

Now for the second overall point – We live now by faith not by sight. So, the Christian lives with this ever-present tension. On the one hand, we rejoice in the salvation that is to come. But on the other hand, we are grieved by all sorts of trials. Salvation and suffering, rejoicing and grieving – this is the tension of the Christian life. The question then becomes, “How do we live with this tension?” How can we proceed through this life that is marked by such salvation and suffering? Peter addresses that tension beginning in v8, and his answer reminds us that the Christian must live by faith and not by sight.

To begin with, Peter uses two phrases to illustrate that even though his readers have not seen and do not now see Jesus, they do believe in him, and thus their lives are filled with love and joy. In the first instance, Peter says that even though they have not seen Christ, they love him. By faith, they embrace Christ as their Savior and their hope for the future. Peter then says that they do not now see him but believe in him, and therefore they rejoice. So, they did not see Christ when he was on earth, and they do not now see him. But they do believe in him, and through that faith in Christ, they are filled with love and rejoicing.

The priority then is on faith over sight. They trust in Christ and believe that through him, they will certainly receive the fulfillment of their living hope. And through that faith, they are filled with love and joy, even in the midst of trials. The priority is on faith over sight. What they know by faith is more defining than what they know by sight.

This, then, is a reminder to us all that the Christian life is lived by faith. We should not expect to always be able to see clearly when it comes to the circumstances of life. Our pilgrimage to the heavenly city is navigated by what we believe, not by what we see. This must be true because what we often see are the trials. Our present experience is often full of suffering and difficulty. If we lived by sight, then we would likely quit this pilgrimage called the Christian life. So much of what we see seems to contradict what God says to be true in his Word. God says, “You have a living hope through Christ.” The trials of life say, “You have a vain hope because nothing can rescue you from this pit.” You see the tension there? If we lived by sight, we would quit, and we would probably be right to do so!

But the Christian life is not lived by sight, but by faith. What we believe from God’s Word is more defining than what we can see in the world around us. Even though we have not seen Christ, we believe that he is risen from the dead. And in believing, we embrace our living hope of salvation. Through faith, we are not crushed because we know that Christ has accomplished salvation for all his people.

But note something else here in vv8-9. Peter also says that when we embrace Christ by faith, we experience our future salvation, even in the midst of present suffering. Note the end of v8, where Peter says, “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” Peter describes the joy of future salvation, experienced in the present by faith. Inexpressible joy means there are no human words to describe it. It is not of this world; it is other-worldly, heavenly even. It is a joy that is full of the glory of future salvation. So, in the present, which is full of suffering, the Christian experiences by faith the joy of future salvation.

So, see what has happened for the believer. By faith, the believer trusts that future salvation through Christ will be received. What Christ accomplished in the past, through the cross and resurrection, gives the believer hope that future salvation will be realized. And what does that faith in Christ produce in the present? A foretaste of the very joy that will be realized in the future! Faith in Christ not only sustains the believer in the midst of suffering, but it also produces in the believer a foretaste of glory. The result is that the Christian is not crushed under suffering, but experiences in the present the glory that will be fully revealed in the future.

And this is what Peter has in mind in v9 when he writes, “obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” As Christians live by faith now, even in the midst of suffering, they enter into the salvation that will be fully theirs on the last day. The fulfillment of salvation is already at work in their lives, producing joy and sustaining faith. And in that dynamic, they obtain the outcome of their faith – salvation. And it is this future salvation that explains why believers are filled with love and joy for Christ now. Because they know what the future holds, and because they embrace that by faith, they are filled with love and joy in the present.

See then the kindness of God! When God calls his people to live by faith, he is not saying to us, “Well, just grit your teeth and trust me. One day it will get better.” No! When God calls us to live by faith, he calls us to experience the joy of future salvation now, in the present. The call to live by faith is not another way of saying, “Just hope that one day it will get better!” The call to live by faith is the call to experience in the midst of suffering the joy of future salvation. This is the kindness of God. He tells us to live by faith in Christ and not by sight. Then, as we walk by faith, he allows us, through that very faith, to experience the joy of future salvation in the present! Faith in Christ sustains us in the midst of suffering, but it also encourages us by allowing us to taste of the glory that is to come.

So, friends, we see from 1 Peter that trials shouldn’t make us skeptical. Trials don’t question God’s power and goodness. The process of proving faith through trials actually reveals God’s goodness. He cares for us so much that he will do whatever is necessary to produce in us genuine faith. He will even fire our faith until is worth more than gold. His purpose for our lives is often revealed more clearly in the trials.

And 1 Peter teaches us that we shouldn’t be cynical. True, lasting joy is possible. Not because we are so joyful, or even because our circumstances are always great. Some times, they’re not! True, lasting joy is possible because we have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and nothing can shake that living hope. Not even the various, at times extremely difficult trials of life. We can rejoice in this – that God has given us an inheritance in Christ, an inheritance that is kept in heaven for us. Therefore, even though we are grieved for a time, we rejoice. May God grant us the grace to rejoice in Christ, even in the midst of suffering.

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