Theodore Roosevelt was a man of very unique character: he gloried in facing obstacles and overcoming them. He would take his guests out on a 20-mile hike – and much to their dismay, the tougher the course, the better he liked it. They would come in exhausted, but he would just smile and say: “It was bully!” The higher the mountain he had to climb, the better. The stronger the wind against him when he was rowing, the better. He just loved facing and overcoming difficulties.
Well, not too many of us have that kind of composition, to where we just delight in difficulties. But as God’s children, if we knew more of what the Bible says about our trials, and the difficulties we face — and what is waiting for us on the other side of them — then we would be a lot more able to rejoice in the trials that face us in life, than most of us do now.
“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
I. THE NATURE OF OUR TRIALS: What are the trials like, that we face in this life?
A. Brief “a little while”
It says your trials are for “a little while.” They don’t last forever.
Cheryl & I went through a time, right after I graduated from seminary, and we had just had our first child (Paul); but I only had a part-time job, and we had not yet been called to our first full-time pastorate. It was a tough time, financially, and in a number of other ways. It was difficult to make ends meet. One month we were only able to pay our rent because a friend sent us an unexpected gift. It was an often discouraging, and difficult time. It lasted right about a year. Paul was born in June, we went through that year, and the following summer we were finally called to our first church. Looking back, we called that “The dark year.” And we had a number of really good years after that. It seemed like a long time while were in it; but in reality it was just like the Bible says here, “a little while.”
For the longest time, we called that experience our “dark year” — until 2012, when I got sick, and wasn’t able to work at all, and we had to sell our home, and I applied for disability — many of you have heard that story, so I won’t repeat it in full today. That time I was sick, and out of ministry, was abut two years. But by 2015 I was healthy again, and we were back in full-time service. So again, that trial was just “a little while.”
In truth, all the difficulties we go through are just “a little while” — even if they last our whole time here on earth. What is our life here on earth, compared to eternity? If we were to chart out all the time here on earth, vs. all of eternity, the longest any of us are here on earth wouldn’t even be a “dot” on the graph! Our time here is so short; it is brief. James says “you are just a vapor, that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”
Whatever trial you are facing right now, you won’t be in it forever. You won’t be in those difficulties forever. You won’t be in tht pain forever. There is an end to it. And thank God, for the Christian, there is a GLORIOUS end to it! (We’ll talk about that in a minute.) But our trials are “brief.” They will not last long.
B. Different “various”
This Bible word (poikilois) means “diverse, various, many-colored.” It is saying that trials come in all kinds of different ways.
Peter was writing to a group of people who were experiencing persecution for their faith — we’ll see this repeatedly as we make our way through the book. Their faith was being tested by the persecution they were receiving:
2:12 says they were being slandered as evildoers;
3:14 says they suffered for righteousness
4:14 says they were reviled for the name of Christ
So they were going through a trial because of their faith, because they were Christians. That is one kind of trial. But as this verse says, there are “various” trials:
— There are trials of your faith: do you really believe what you say you believe
— There are financial trials: will you have enough money to make it?
— There are physical trials: where you endure great pain or lose your abilities inability
— There are emotional trials, in which you feel a loss very deeply, or you have great worry.
— There are spiritual trials, when you are tempted not to believe what God’s word says is true.
— There are moral temptations, in which you are tempted to discard what you know is right, for temporary pleasure or popularity or gain.
As the word literally means, trials are “many colored;” they come in all different shapes and sizes and in all kinds of ways.
Do you know that even success can be a trial? We don’t often think of it that way, but it is. In fact someone has said that success often tests us as much or more than failure does! How do we respond when we succeed: do we respond with pride, or with humility; do we treat people poorly — or graciously? Even our success really does test us.
But the point is: trials come in all kinds of different forms. Many of us have experienced several of those kinds of trials — maybe you would say that you have been through all of them! But you know the truth of this: trials are different; they come in various shapes and types.
The New American Standard version that I use says you have been “distressed” by various trials. The word “distressed” there is “lupeo” in the Greek Bible, it means to “grieve; to distress; to give pain.” It is used in Matthew 26:37 of the deep emotional pain that Jesus felt when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane, about to go to the cross. The pain that Jesus felt that night was so great that He sweat drops of blood. It was real, it was powerful; it was agonizing.
And so are the trials that you and I go through. These are not “little, painless, exercises”. They are real; they are powerful; and they are agonizing events in our lives. Don’t let anyone minimize what you are going through, sayilng, “Oh it’s not that bad” — or like some philosophies, like Christian Science or Buddhism, which teach that sickness or suffering is just an illusion.
NO! The Bible says your suffering is NOT an “illusion.” Whether it is physical pain, or emotional distress, or financial difficulty, or whatever it is; the trials you face are REAL TRIALS; they are truly painful and difficult for you. John Calvin wrote that believers are not just unfeeling “blocks of wood” that nothing can hurt. The Bible uses the word “distressed” here for our trials, because they are so real, and so painful, and truly hurtful.
D. Necessary “if necessary”
Verse 6 says “even though now for a little, IF NECESSARY, you have been distressed by various trials.” He says these trials that we go through are “necessary.” It is essential for us spiritually that we go through them.
It was necessary for Peter to be tested. He was so self-confident, so headstrong. But his weaknesses were exposed in the trial that confronted him at the arrest of Jesus. He got to see how weak he truly was. He saw how much grace he needed from the Lord. And he saw how much grace Jesus would indeed give him, if he would repent and come back to Him. And how He could use him if he did. Peter HAD to go through that testing. It was hard, it was difficult, but it HAD to be done. It was “necessary” if he was going to go on with the Lord, for him to go through that painful trial.
And the same thing is true for us. Our Heavenly Father knows that there are things we HAVE to go through, even though they are difficult for us.
None of us like to see our kids to have to go through difficult things. Our son Michael has been through some difficult things the past few weeks: his car messed up, and he had to try to fix it himself, and then get help, and then go to a “pull your own part” place, and do all this stuff. Then he was involved in a wreck Friday — and he’s driving 1000 miles to get here later today (pray for him!). And of course it’s all so hard for us, because here we are, 1000 miles away, and very limited in our ability to help him! But I told Cheryl, “You know, I hate for him to have to go through this, but it’s really probably good for him, to go through some of these things.” Going through difficulties is part of maturing. Our kids HAVE to learn and grow through trials, if they are ever going to mature. Wise parents know that. If we try to “shield” them from everything, they’ll never grow up.
And God knows that for HIS children as well. He knows there are certain things we HAVE to go through, if we are going to see our weaknesses, like Peter, and learn to go to God for His grace, and to be used by Him the way He wants to. We’ve got to go through it; but like Peter, we won’t go through it ourselves; Jesus will be interceding for us to grow and mature through our trials. Some times we can look back and see what God was doing through our trials. Other times we never do know, as long as we’re here on earth. But the Bible says it is “necessary” for us to go through them. They are “necessary.” So WHY are our trials necessary? What comes out of them?
II. THE RESULT OF OUR TRIALS
A. First, Verse 7 says “the proof of your faith” comes out of these trials. One of the main specific reasons why “it is necessary” for us to go through trials, is so that they will test our faith to prove that it is real.
SO many people make what we call “professions of faith” that Jesus is their Lord & Savior. And that is a necessary part of being saved. We have all sinned, and separated ourselves from God, so Jesus came to die on the cross and pay for our sins. And if we ask Him to save us, and confess Him as our Lord, He will save us. But we also have to realize that it’s not just a matter of “saying some words.” You have to really mean it in your heart. In fact, Jesus said, “NOT everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” He says a lot of people will CLAIM to follow Him, but have never truly surrendered their heart and life to Him. How do we know the difference?
TRIALS expose the difference. The Bible says here that your trials are like a “fire” that tests your faith, just like gold is tested by fire.
This week I read about how they test gold by fire. They put the gold in a special pot that is built to withstand the heat, and melt it in a laboratory oven at 1100 degrees Centigrade — that is 2012 degrees Fahrenheit! And the impurities will all be melted away, and the gold will be shown to be real, and pure — or it will be revealed that it was not gold at all!
In the same way, the Bible says that the trials we go through are like “fire”, which tests our faith — and reveals whether it is real or not. You SAY you believe in Jesus; you SAY that He is your Lord & Savior. Is He really? The “fires” of your life — the trials that you face — will show whether He really is, or not. Do you hold on to your faith during your trials? Or do you give it up? Your faith gets “tested by fire” through the difficulties you face, and they show how real your faith really is.
Before I got sick a few years ago, the temptation had gone through my mind: do you really believe all this, or is this “just a job” to you? Well, when I got sick, it was like a “fire” that tested me. I’d lost my health; I couldn’t stand up; I lost my job, my ministry; we lost our home and most of our possessions. But as I shared a few weeks ago, when I was at my lowest point, I still raised my hand to heaven and worshiped God. I’m glad I had that opportunity for my faith to be tested; it was like a “fire” that showed my faith was real. That’s what the fires of our trials do; they reveal whether our faith is real.
Sometimes you hear people talk about how Christianity is on the decline in America. I personally wonder if that is really true. I think rather what may have happened is that for a few generations, it was “socially acceptable” in America to act like you were a Christian, whether you really were one or not. It was a kind of “cultural Christianity” that a lot of people just “went along” with. But now the tide in our society has turned, and it is no longer as popular as it once was to be a Christian. The media will turn on you, if you hold to Biblical beliefs; you could lose your job; you could get sued; or at least get a lot of opposition and criticism. So as a result of that, all the “cultural Christians” — people who are not really true believers — have fallen away. Only those who are truly committed to Jesus are going to claim to be Christians now — and it will likely be even more so in the years ahead. See, “the fire” of peer pressure and social acceptance is testing our faith, and it is revealing those who are truly committed to the Lord. I think the number of true Christians may not be any less than it used to be; the number of true believers is probably about the same. But the “fire” of opposition is revealing those who truly believe, vs. those who were just “going along” for convenience. Trials demonstrate those who truly have faith, and it also reveals those who really do not.
So one of the benefits of trials is that they show us what we are made of — for better or for worse!
If you are really a Christian, your trials will demonstrate it.
If you are really NOT a Christian, your trials are going to demonstrate THAT! They “PROVE YOUR FAITH”!
What are the trials that YOU are currently in, revealing about whether your faith is real?
B. Not only do trials prove that our faith is genuine – which really is treasure enough – but the Bible also tells us that they will “result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The Bible says there is a definite reward for our trials.
We talked last week about the “imperishable” reward that Christians have waiting for us. The winner of the Greek games got a wreath, the “stephanos,” the wreath-crown as their reward – although in a few days it would wither. But Christians have a reward, a crown, a “stephanos” waiting in heaven for those of us who persevere through our trials, which will never perish.
I know several of our church family members have done fun runs, and road races, etc. in recent days (I know Christi was on like a million mile bike ride last week; Kim did a 3-mile “Chuck Norris” run yesterday!) Often when you do those things, you get a tee shirt commemorating it. Back in the 1990’s I did the short 3.1 mile Tulsa Fun Run with my kids several times — but one year I decided I was going to do the longer 9.3 mile run. It was difficult, but after I finished it, they gave me nice, long sleeve, official “Tulsa Run” tee shirt. I was proud of it, and wore it for years. But like we talked about last week, these earthly “treasures” perish don’t they? My old Tulsa Run tee shirt is about on its last legs — I really shouldn’t have even brought it with us on the move — it’s about as thin as paper! And I will hate to see my “treasure” go. It was the reward for my perseverance.
But as Christians, we have a greater prize waiting for us, that we will never lose. For every one of us who perseveres through the trials that test our faith in this life: the LORD HIMSELF will give us HIS reward, the victor’s crown, the imperishable laurel wreath, when you “finish your race” here and meet Him.
III. THE JOY IN OUR TRIALS
And SO, the Bible says, “In THIS you great rejoice” — “this” is the eternal blessings we looked at last week: the eternal inheritance that is “imperishable, undefiled, will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God for salvation.” The imperishable crown we just saw, that is waiting for us. It is in ALL THIS that we can rejoice, even when we are going through various, temporary, necessary trials — because we know what is waiting for us on the other side of those trials!
Now, that doesn’t mean that our sufferings are not real here on earth, as we said, they are. They are real, and they are painful. We are not those “blocks of wood” John Calvin talked about, that don’t feel pain. BUT — even IN that real suffering and hurt, Christians can still have a real joy, because we know what is waiting for us on the other side!
Someone was telling me the other day about how they had been to Hawaii. I would love to go to Hawaii; that is on my “bucket list” for sure. I love the beach; I love history — and I really want to see Pearl Harbor. When I was a boy I dug out a replica of Pearl Harbor in the field behind our house, and set my model ships in it. I would love to see the real thing! But there’s only one bad thing about going to Hawaii: and that would be the flight over. That’s a long flight, right? A non-stop flight from Houston to Honolulu is about 9 hours in the air. NINE hours — crammed into a little seat, perhaps with a person on either side of you; no real room to get up and walk around; can’t get comfortable; can’t sleep (I can never sleep on a plane). For NINE solid hours! But you know what, I bet I could be pretty happy on a plane to Honolulu — NOT because I was enjoying that flight — that wouldn’t be any fun — but because I KNEW WHERE I WAS GOING!
And that’s how it is with us as Christians too. This world is a journey that is often times just like a plane trip: it can be uncomfortable, confining, frustrating, even painful. “In this world, we have tribulations.” Jesus promised us that. We WILL have trials; we will have difficulty and suffering. But IN those things, we can persevere, and we can have a real joy, because we know these things won’t last forever — AND WE KNOW WHERE WE ARE GOING!
— We are going to an eternal mansion in heaven
— We are going to receive our imperishable crown
— We are going to the rich inheritance our Heavenly Father is keeping for us up there.
— And most importantly, we are going to be with the Lord, who Himself will be everything we have ever longed for.
And so because we know where we are going, we persevere. We can put up with what we have to put up with here. Yes, our trials are real; they’re not just an “illusion” — but they’re only temporary. And God is bringing good things even out of the bad. And He’s testing our faith for us and others to see, and He will reward us for what we’ve done as we held to our faith.
The question for you today is, is this true for YOUR life? DO you really know where you are going, and does it really make a difference in your life?
I loved visiting with Frank & ImaJean Smith and their family the other day at his surgery. Some of you know Frank has an aneurism on his heart, and so the anesthesiologist was telling him before he went in, “if that aneurism bursts during this surgery, then Jesus has come for you, and there’s nothing we can do.” Frank was unfazed. He just smiled and looked at him and said, “I’m ready.” I love that. Frank knows where he is going — and that makes all the difference, for him, and for his family.
The question is, is YOUR faith real enough, to make that kind of difference for YOU? Does it make a difference for the way you face death — and does it make a difference in the way you face your trials in life? If it doesn’t, can — if you’ll truly give your life to Jesus today!