Summary: A presentation of the glorious joy that awaits believers.
In our previous chapter we looked at the living hope into which Christians are born. That hope is possessing the inheritance of the kingdom of God, of dwelling with God forever – a day that will come when Christ returns. Peter reflects further on what this inheritance entails and how it should be affecting our lives now.
How this hope should affect Peter’s readers can be summed up simply: it should cause them to have joy in their lives. They should “greatly rejoice.” Actually, he doesn’t say “should;” he says they “do” rejoice. And they rejoice in spite of having to suffer. As he says, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. What were this grief and these trials?
By “grief,” Peter is not speaking of the emotion of grieving but of the actual pain or suffering inflicted upon the person. It is the same kind of grief one child says to another, “I bet your parents are going to give you a lot of grief for breaking the…” (Parents, fill in the blank!) The believers are getting grief in a variety of ways.
What are they? Slander is one. In 2:12 Peter says, Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong… In 3:16 he writes, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. Again, in 4:14: If you are insulted because of the name of Christ…
We talked about this at the beginning of the book. Remember that the Christians were the followers of an upstart, alien religion that threatened the established, civil religion of Rome and Greek culture. The Jews at least had a venerable religion, and though they might be despised, there was an understanding with officials that allowed them not to be punished for their stubborn refusal to pay homage to the common religious rites. Christians, at best, were regarded as followers of a Jewish heretical sect. Jewish believers were alienated from their Jewish neighbors for their faith; Gentile believers were even more alienated for adopting a religion completely incompatible with their heritage. Why should nonJews raised in good religious society reject what that society had always practiced?
There is slander; there would be ostracism, i.e. being shunned. There would have been even threats to livelihood and physical well-being. Thus, Christian slaves are instructed how to respond to beatings (2:18ff). Christian wives of unbelieving husbands are encouraged not to give way to fear (3:6). All of the believers are told in 4:14 to not fear what others fear.
Probably, the Christians are not facing outright persecution from the government, at least in a sustained manner, but they are receiving the type of prejudice and indignities such as minorities tend to face in a culture that fears and does not understand them. It is a precarious position, because at anytime violence could break out such as the Jews have faced in different lands at various times. There is uneasiness even when the moment is peaceful. You are different; your ways are strange; you refuse to do what is recognized as good religious practice.
In verse 7 Peter helps his readers to understand what is going on behind these trials. They are indeed just that – trials, intended to test and to prove their faith. He does this by comparing and contrasting faith with gold. To paraphrase Peter: “You know how a goldsmith purifies gold? He places the metal in a crucible, a pot that can withstand high temperatures. He places the crucible over a fire so intense that it turns the metal to liquid. The dross that is mixed in with the gold then rises to the surface. The goldsmith skims the dross off, leaving the now pure gold. The trial of fire removed the dross and now proves the purity of the gold. So it is with your faith. These trials may be severe. They may cause you grief; but if your faith is a genuine faith, all that will be lost is your dross and the result will be a only a purer faith.”
Peter does not intend for this illustration to be the end-all explanation for suffering. He is not dealing with the questions of why some suffer more than others. He is not equating the amount of suffering with the amount of faith. He is simply conveying the teaching of the scriptures, that our sufferings, if received rightly, make us stronger and better. As James tells his readers:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (1:2-4).