Summary: Trials are designed to teach us so that our conduct and character change.
Hard Lessons About Hard Times
Rev. Brian Bill
March 7-8, 2015
Several years ago I took one of our daughters to a Demolition Derby. I loved watching the drivers demolish and destroy one another. We saw some great smash-ups and did a lot of laughing. I didn’t know much about the rules but I did know that the last car still moving would be declared the winner. The announcer pointed out that each driver had a long wooden stick duct-taped to the side of his car and if for some reason he wasn’t able to go on, either because he was woozy from getting clobbered, or his car had gone caput, he simply had to reach up and break the stick which would signal to the other drivers that he had surrendered. No one was supposed to smash into a car with a broken stick.
During one of the heats a car stalled and I saw the driver reach up and break his surrender stick. Apparently the other cars didn’t see it, or didn’t care, and so they revved up their engines and came at him full-speed and clobbered the stalled car, sandwiching it between a couple others. The driver was not a happy camper. I couldn’t hear what he said but I could tell it was not a word of blessing. He held his hands up in exasperation and starting waving the stick at the other drivers as if to say, “What’s up with that? Can’t you see that I’m out of commission here? Stop hitting me.”
I suspect that some of you feel like you’re in a Demolition Derby. You’ve waved the surrender stick but the hits just keep coming and you don’t know how much more you can take. As we continue in our series from 1 Peter, we’re going to learn that trials are designed to teach us so that our conduct and our character change.
The word “trial” means to be “under the thumb” of pressure. Many of you know from experience what that feels like. Some of you are going through some unrelenting pressure right now that keeps you awake at night and makes you feel wiped out during the day. In the New Testament the word trial means to prove by testing. In other words, a trial demonstrates the genuineness of your faith in Christ and refines the quality of your spiritual life.
Trials allow God to adjust my conduct, which is what I do. At a deeper level, God is committed to reshaping my character, which is who I am. And it’s all about His glory, which is why I exist.
The hits of life can come fast and furious or they can stretch over months, years, or even decades. Trials can be tiny and irritating or they can be titanic and impossible to endure. They can involve the physical, the relational, financial, emotional, circumstantial or spiritual. Several biblical terms are used almost interchangeably: suffering, hardship, tribulation, chastising and discipline.
In our passage for today we come to the core of the book. Here we’ll find four truths that will help us process our pain so that we can stay holy when everything is hostile around us. Please turn to 1 Peter 4:12-19 where we will see that the word “suffer” or “suffering” is used four times.
1. Receive suffering. The first place to start when dealing with problems or pain or persecution is to receive the hard times that come our way. 1 Peter 4:12 says that we shouldn’t be surprised by suffering: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you.” Suffering is a mark of discipleship, something that is guaranteed for the follower of Christ.
I love that Peter starts with the word “beloved” because it means to be “prized and valued, dearly and very much loved.” The first seven uses of this word in the New Testament refer to the love that God the Father has for the Son. Friend, when you’re suffering it’s easy to question God’s love, isn’t it? But you are beloved by God even when you’re being bombarded by garbage. God treasures you in the midst of your trial…even if you don’t feel it.
Peter commands us to “not think it strange” when we go through fiery trials. Even through suffering often ambushes us in unexpected ways, we shouldn’t be shocked when it comes our way. When Paul was saved, he was given the promise of persecution in Acts 9:16: “For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
A “fiery trial” reminds us that sometimes suffering is really intense. Some of our brothers and sisters around the word are going through fiery trials right now. New Christians are sometimes confused when they think that everything should go perfectly, that there should be no more difficulties. When you put your faith in Christ you will experience pressures and persecution. Acts 14:22 puts it succinctly: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”