Summary: WHEN the fire comes, don’t let it burn you; instead, let it refine you. How? Don’t be surprised or ashamed by the fire. Instead, be glad in the fire, glory in the fire, and give yourself to God in the fire.
A man went to see his doctor in a state of high anxiety. “Doctor,” he said, “you have to help me. I'm dying. Everywhere I touch it hurts. I touch my head and it hurts. I touch my leg and it hurts. I touch my stomach and it hurts. I touch my chest and it hurts. You have to help me, Doc, everything hurts.”
The doctor gave him a complete examination. “Mr. Smith,” he said, “I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is you are not dying. The bad news is you have a broken finger.” (David Holdaway, Kincardinshire, Scotland; www.PreachingToday.com)
Sometimes life is like that. The good news is there’s glory ahead for the believer. The bad news is we have to go through pain to get there.
So what do we do in those times of pain to make it through to the glory ahead? What do we do when we’re suffering to endure it until we’re able to enjoy the blessings that are coming? What do we do when we find ourselves in the fire to come out on the other side not burned, but refined like pure gold?
1 Peter 4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. (NIV)
Believers and suffering are no strangers to each other. Faith doesn’t take away the pain, but it does give our pain meaning. So don’t be surprised when painful trials come. Literally, Don’t be surprised by the burning.
And in Peter’s day this was a literal burning. In A.D. 64, the great city of Rome caught fire, and Nero blamed it on the city’s small Christian community. So, in a twisted sense of justice, Nero burned many of them alive. He covered many of the believers with pitch and used them as living torches to light the imperial gardens at night.
With Christians literally glowing on the horizon, Peter says, “Don’t be surprised by this. “Don’t be surprised by the burning.” Instead…
BE GLAD IN THE FIRE.
Rejoice when those fiery trials come. Look at verse 13.
1 Peter 4:13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ.
If we’re going to come out of the fire refined like gold and not burned, then we need an attitude adjustment. Instead of being surprised by the fire, we need to celebrate when the fire comes.
“Rejoice,” Peter says. Why? Because the fire brings us fellowship with Christ. Suffering allows us to share in the sufferings of Christ. Pain gives us an intimacy with Christ that we could not otherwise know.
In the 19th century, Armenian Christians, under a Turkish Muslim government, experienced a tremendous amount of persecution. The government lifted the ban on Muslims converting to Christianity in 1856. Then just eight years later, they began arresting these Muslim converts to Christianity. From 1895 to 1896 government soldiers killed up to 100,000 Armenian civilians in an attempt to kill every Armenian Christian within Turkish borders. Lawyers, doctors, clergymen, and other intellectuals were rounded up and charged with subversion. Many had their heads placed in vises and squeezed until they collapsed.
Then the Turkish government set April 24, 1896, as the day to kill the rest of the Armenian Christians. Nearly 600,000 Christians died on that day, but some escaped. One of those who escaped was a young girl of 18 who stumbled into an American camp.
“Are you in pain?” a nurse asked when she arrived.
“No,” she replied, “but I have learned the meaning of the cross.”
The nurse thought she was mentally disoriented and questioned her further. Pulling down the one garment she wore, the young girl exposed a bare shoulder. There, burned deeply into her flesh, was the figure of a cross.
“I was caught with others in my village. The Turks stood me up and asked, ‘Muhammed or Christ?’ I said, ‘Christ, always Christ.’ For seven days they asked me this same question and each day when I said ‘Christ’ a part of this cross was burned into my shoulder. On the seventh day they said, ‘Tomorrow if you say “Muhammed” you live. If not, you die.’ Then we heard that Americans were near and some of us escaped. That is how I learned the meaning of the cross.” (Marti Hefley, By Their Blood, Baker, 1996, p.342; www.PreachingToday.com)
She learned it through the burning, and that’s how we too learn the meaning of the cross. We learn it through the fiery trials that come our way. George MacDonald (1824-1905) once said, “The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like his.”