One of the most precious passages in all of Scripture must be I Peter 1.-7. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. Let us briefly and simply examine this text and see what we may learn from it about faith.
We see, first of all, that our faith will be tried. Just mark it down. It is a fact as sure as death and taxes, one we see all through the Word of God. The first man, Adam, had to trust God through the murder of one child and the banishment of another. Noah had to trust God during the unreasonably commanded and monstrously long task of building the ark. Abraham had to trust God while leaving his country, while waiting decades for promised descendants, while walking up Mount Moriah to sacrifice his son, and while casting out another son he loved with all of his heart. Jacob had to trust God during his long wait for Rachel, when he was commanded to return and face Esau, during the decades he thought Joseph was dead, and while dealing with famine. Joseph had to trust God with the betrayal by his brothers, through slavery, and into prison. And we have not even gotten out of the book of Genesis yet. No wonder Peter tells us elsewhere in his first epistle, Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you (I Peter 4.12). Job, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Malachi, Paul, James, and John join Peter in specifically telling us in Scripture that God will try us.
Second, we sadly see that these trials will be painful. We are tried by fire. These are fiery trials. There are certainly cases where that was literally true i.e. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the burning fiery furnace, not to mention the thousands of saints through the centuries whose last prayers ascended to their Lord on the smoke of the fires in which they were burned at the stake. But, generally speaking, it is also true that you and I probably will not be called upon to face such literal fiery trials. Our testing is usually more similar to the heartaches David expresses in the Psalms, or the bereavement of a puzzling and hurting Job.
I am not here to sell you a creampuff Christianity. I let the heretical prosperity gospel preachers in their thousands do that job. And what do they build with their creampuff sermons? Creampuff saints and creampuff churches, a Christianity with zero staying power and no actual faith in the God of Heaven. No, beloved, I write out of a desire to edify the brethren. I seek to develop scripturally literate, deeply committed, spiritually mature saints. In my local ministry here in Dubuque, I seek the same. In my home, I relentlessly pursue this as well. I want to develop a strong and deep Christianity in all whom I have the opportunity to influence. And to get that I must tell the truth. Christianity often hurts. A lot.
The third fact we find in this passage, and a most encouraging fact it is, is that these trials will be purifying. Peter likens it to that which gold endures, an idea we find elsewhere in the Word of God. Malachi, God’s messenger to a post-captivity Israel said, And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver (Malachi 3.3). In this he followed the leading of Isaiah two centuries before who quotes God as saying, Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver: I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction (Isaiah 48.10). That last phrase is horrendously accurate and yet somehow sweetly ministers to us at the same time. These fiery trials purify us, bringing the dross of our flesh to the surface, where God peels the scum off a layer at a time.
My first year holding the exalted position of pastor of an independent Baptist
church was brutal. The last Sunday
of July, 1997, I stood behind a cardboard box covered by a bathroom rug and
greeted eleven people during the main service my first day as a pastor. Exactly
one year later, on my first anniversary, I stood behind a cardboard box and greeted
the eight that remained. There was zero growth, negative growth actually. The offerings
were abysmal. The spirit was dreadful. Very few had been saved or baptized. The
building had more cobwebs than people. No new ministries had started and the few
we had limped along on life support. Missionary support cratered. I discovered debt,
disenchantment, depression, and defeat. By all measurements, I had failed. Nor
would the next few years be much better. Dozens of times I preached to crowds
smaller than five people, hundreds of times to less than twenty. I know what it
is like to craft a sermon, clean the building, prep an order of service, turn
the lights on, and have not a soul show up. I know what it is like to have to
wait for someone to show up so I could start the service. I know what it is
like to wait for the sound of a single car pulling up, crunching on the gravel
strewn driveway, knowing I was now going to have church. I know what it is like
to be ignored by other area pastors, to be forgotten by your alma mater, to be as
empty as dry heaves while you preach to your handful, to have your dreams of
ministerial accomplishment go up in smoke. And then, my daughter died.
|Lighthouse Baptist Church|
my first pastorate
In retrospect, there are several reasons God took me through that, but one jumps out at me like the monster under the bed. When I graduated from Bible college I was a proud young man. I was smart. I was dedicated. I had tremendous potential. I was an excellent preacher. I knew all that because I had been told it repeatedly by all the people who counted. Pride is the horse that pulls the cart of destruction. God did not desire my ministry to be destructive so he pummeled me. He beat me black and blue until my arrogance oozed out of me and puddled at my feet. He knew someday I would stand before great crowds, would hear glowing introductions, would be deferred to, respected, consulted, and otherwise tempted with being impressed with myself. So He purified me.
Fourth, and wonderfully, we see that this trial will be precious, more precious than of gold that perisheth. In the original language the word “precious” implies something that is held in high honor, and thus highly valued. We cringe from trials, wriggling like mad to get out of them, beseeching God all the while to remove them. The simple truth is we ought to place them as crowns of gold around our head. They accomplish amazing things. In purifying me, they meet my deepest need, the need to become like Christ. In turn, God often uses them in later years to meet the needs of those around me. Let us welcome fiery trials with open arms and hearts; they are the means by which much of what God has for us and does with us is provided.
|Gold Laurel Crown|
c BC 500
Lastly, and gloriously, these trials produce praise, praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. They do so in two ways. First, when we handle our fiery trials well often those around us end up praising God as they watch what He is doing in our lives. Daniel endured a night alone with a pride of hungry lions. The result was a decree by the Persian king that Daniel’s God was the living God, and stedfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end (Daniel 6.26). Second, they also produce the praises of God in my heart. I come to see that God was right in throwing me into the furnace of affliction and leaving me to roast there. And I drive to church of a Sunday morning with tears rolling down my cheeks as I contemplate the goodness and wisdom of God displayed through my life over thirty-two years of walking with Him.
Job, who paid perhaps the highest price of any saint recorded in Scripture, said it most beautifully when he penned these words: But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold (Job 23.10). The only way to get that gold to the surface is by thrusting you and me into the fire.
Let us trust Him in the flames. It is a precious thing He asks of us.