Summary: Addressing a present distress.
FAITH IN THE MIDST OF TRIALS
It is no mistake that the first letter of the Apostle Peter is prominent in liturgical calendars in the season immediately following Easter. Those churches and Christian communities who use the book as a kind of catechism for new converts certainly stand in a long tradition. Easter is a time of new beginnings and baptisms, and 1 Peter has helped inform, shape and mould catechumens into the image of Christ since very early in church history.
However, we must not lose sight of the fact that these words were originally written to a specific group of believers - albeit a large one (1 Peter 1:1) - at a specific time. It appears that persecution was looming on the horizon of Peter’s immediate sphere of influence. Like Paul, Peter had to address a ‘present distress’ (1 Corinthians 7:26).
In the opening benediction (1 Peter 1:3), Peter refers to the plurality of the Godhead. The Father and the Son are mentioned, and the work of the Spirit is seen in the reference to our new birth (cf. John 3:5-7). We praise God for His mercy, and for the lively living hope into which we enter as a fruit of the resurrection of Jesus.
That hope reaches beyond the restrictions of space and time into heaven itself (1 Peter 1:4). There we have an inheritance that is eternal and incorruptible, incapable of decay, pure and undefiled. There Christ is seated (Mark 16:19), His work completed (John 19:30) - and we are seated with Him (cf. Ephesians 2:4-6).
Meantime, back on earth, we are the hands and feet and mouth of Jesus to continue His work, by the Spirit, here. Our hope is not ‘pie in the sky when I die,’ but is translated into a present reality when we do His bidding. We are the community of faith, kept by the power of God, eagerly awaiting, and working towards, the fullness of His salvation (1 Peter 1:5).
There is much in prospect to cheer our hearts and in which to rejoice in the here and now (1 Peter 1:6). This encourages us when we have to face stressful seasons in our lives. Peter speaks of our present trials, whatever they may be, grieving us - but we know from our conversions, from the death of the old and the emergence of the new, that weeping is followed by joy as surely as morning follows night (Psalm 30:5).
These times of testing are not to be despised, but embraced as an opportunity for the “proving” of our faith (1 Peter 1:7). We read elsewhere, ‘Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the proving of your faith produces patience’ (James 1:2-3). Our “trial by fire” serves to remove the dross out of our lives (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).
Our ‘light afflictions’ produce a disproportionate recompense in glory (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Our hope rests in the certainty of the return of Jesus, when those who endure the trials of this life shall be made partakers of His glory (Romans 8:18). Our faith is proven to be more precious than gold, not for our own praise and honour and glory, but His (1 Peter 1:7).
One week after Easter the risen Lord Jesus graciously appeared in the upper room for the benefit of Thomas, who had missed the meeting the previous week. The Lord gently chided Thomas, not for missing church, but for his unbelief - and Thomas became a witness of the resurrection with an amazing confession of faith. Then Jesus blessed us from afar, down through the ages: ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’ (John 20:26-29).
We do not now see Jesus, yet we love Him. We do not see Him in the flesh, but we believe in Him. Through the eye of faith we are present possessors of a glorious and inexpressible joy (1 Peter 1:8).
We are also present possessors of the salvation which Jesus won for us on the Cross. We have received the Holy Spirit as a down-payment on our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). The fullness of salvation awaits us at the return of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:9).