17. How Healthy Churches Go through Trials (1 Peter 5:6-7)Related Media
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5:6-7
How does a healthy church go through trials?
The conclusion is often the most important part of a book or movie. It is there you make your closing arguments and declare what you most want your reader to leave with. Here at the end of Peter’s epistle, it is no different. He leaves this letter on suffering and being a pilgrim in a foreign and ungodly world with some exhortations and encouragements for the church.
In 1 Peter 5:1-5, we started looking at what a healthy church looks like. In the beginning of the chapter, Peter spoke “to the Elders among” them (5:1). This tells us the letter was not just written to scattered Christians but to local congregations that had scattered. He challenges them to be healthy. He called the elders to lead properly in the church; he called the young men, who possibly were being antagonistic to the leadership, to submit. He spoke to the whole church commanding them to put on the cloth of humility in order to serve one another (v. 5).
Healthy churches have godly leadership who are eager to serve and care for the flock, but they also have members who submit to the vision of the leadership and serve the church. They don’t typically have many unfulfilled roles in the children’s ministry or the youth ministry. Why? It’s because everybody has humbly put on the servant’s garment, and they are seeking to serve one another.
But now, as he concludes, he returns to the primary theme of the letter and speaks about suffering. How should church communities suffer together? Suffering can be a great thing. We see this individually, as trials can make us more patient, peaceful, loving and caring, or it can do the opposite. Suffering can cripple us and leave us with many emotional scars. We can become more fearful, anxious, depressed, angry and even violent. It can either help us or hurt us, and it’s no different with the church.
Similarly, it is God’s desire to use trials corporately in the life of congregations to help them mature. It may come in persecutions like here with the congregations in Asia Minor. It may come in the form of conflict between church members as seen in the Philippian church (Phil 4:2). It can be through false teachers as in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3) or a member in the church who needs discipline as with Corinth (1 Cor 5).
God forbid that it be his will for any of us to go through these difficulties at our home church, but even if it is his will, we must have a proper view of trials as Scripture teaches, and we must know how to respond to the trials as a community.
As we look at this text, we must ask ourselves, “How do healthy churches & church members go through trials?” Many congregations split or members move when things aren’t good because they have never learned how to go through trials as a community. Scripture often compares the church to a family. In 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Paul calls Timothy to treat the older men in the church as fathers, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters with absolute purity. Do healthy families break up when they go through problems? No! They should get closer and more intimate. It should be the same with healthy churches.
How do healthy churches go through hardship together? In this passage we will see three characteristics of how healthy churches respond to trials.
Big Question: How does Peter command the scattered congregations to respond to their trials in 1 Peter 5:6-7? What characteristics can we learn about healthy churches through this text?
Healthy Churches Recognize, Trust, and Submit to God in Trials
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
1 Peter 5:6
Not only are healthy churches humble before one another by taking on the servant’s apron and serving others (1 Peter 5:5), healthy churches are also humble before God. Peter says “humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand.”
Interpretation Question: What does it mean to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand?
1. To humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand means to recognize that God is in control of the trial.
How do we know this is referring to submitting to God while in trials? We see that from the context which has been suffering throughout the letter (1 Peter 4:12). But we also see this from Peter’s next comment “that he may lift you up in due time (v. 6).” These believers who were suffering must recognize God’s hand in the midst of their trials and humbly submit to it. They must persevere so God could lift them up in his time.
This is something that many Christians struggle with. How can God be in control of the hardships in my life? How can he be in control of what happened in my past or what’s happening in my church right now?
Scripture clearly teaches that God is sovereign and in control of all things. Listen to what Paul said in Ephesians 1:11:
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will (emphasis mine)
There is not one thing that happens on this world that does not conform to the counsel of God’s will (v. 11). If I took some water and poured it into a plastic bottle, the water would conform to the shape of the bottle. In the same way, Paul teaches that everything, even the worst things in life, somehow conform to God’s sovereign plan. This is a mystery; however, it is an important mystery we must accept if we are going to faithfully go through the trials of life.
Many times people cannot persevere or make it through trials because all they see is the enemy, or all they see is people that have hurt them. They spend all their time mad at people, mad at events and never humbling themselves under the mighty hand of God.
Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says:
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?
The writer of Hebrews calls them to endure their trials as discipline from God. This writer gives a general term “hardship” to cover every difficulty that we will go through. There are some Christians that say God never allows a Christian to be sick, he never allows them to go through a hard time and that it is always from the enemy. But Scripture doesn’t teach that; it shows God being in control of the enemy. In fact, let’s look at the kind of hardship the writer of Hebrews is talking about specifically in Hebrews 10:32-34.
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
It seems these Christians were suffering a similar trial as those Peter was writing to in Asia Minor. They were going through insults and persecutions; they had their properties confiscated because of their faith. In fact, Hebrews 12 begins by telling them to not grow weary and lose heart in their trials by fixing their eyes on Christ (v. 2-4). Later in the chapter, he comforts them in the same way Peter does. Endure hardship as discipline from God (v. 7). The writer of Hebrews is saying, God is in control of your trial. Humble yourself under his mighty hand of God.
One of the things we must do as a church if we are going to faithfully endure suffering is recognize God’s hand in it. Yes, Satan may be working, yes it may be a difficult member in the church, but we must realize God is in control of all that and he will use it for the good (Rom 8:28).
Remember Job? Job under trial said this:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
Even if the Lord slays me I will still trust him.
Some might say, “But Brother Job you have got it all wrong, that was Satan.” Yes, it was. But God works all things according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11). Satan could have no power unless God had given it to him. What Job was doing in these passages, was humbling himself under God’s mighty hand. He was recognizing God’s sovereignty in the midst of his difficulty and praising him for it. In fact, Scripture says in everything, Job did not charge God with wrongdoing (1:22).
Similar to Job, Joseph said to his brothers who had thrown him into slavery, “what you meant for bad God meant for good (Gen 50:20).” Joseph, like Job and like Christ (Luke 22:42), humbled himself under God’s mighty hand.
It is important for churches to recognize God’s mighty hand even in a trial.
2. To humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand means to trust God.
Listen to what Solomon said in Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”
To humble ourselves means to say, “God, you know best. I trust you, even though it doesn’t make sense. I trust your sovereignty over this situation. You are God.”
3. To humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand means to submit to God.
Jesus said, take this cup from me but nevertheless your will be done (Lk 22:42). He submitted to God’s will for his life even when it meant the cross. Many Christians only want to submit when God’s will fits their plans, but if it includes sickness, a difficult job or a difficult relationship--they rebel. Abraham when asked to sacrifice his child said, “OK.” He submitted to God in his trial. We must do the same.
Interpretation Question: What is the opposite of humbly submitting to God in a trial and what does that look like?
The opposite is pride and becoming angry at God and others in the trial. Many Christians have gone through trials in their life and ran away from God. They have shaken their fist at God in anger.
See pride says to God, “I know better than you.” But humility recognizes that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Listen to what Isaiah says:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
The prideful church members often get angry at God and angry at other people. They imply by their attitude that they know best and that if God was good he would have never allowed the trial to happen. But the humble church member says, “God, I trust you. I may not understand but I humble myself before you.”
Christ humbled himself and went to a cross because he understood God knew best. Christ prayed, take this cup from me, but nevertheless your will be done (Lk 22:42). Are you humbling yourself before God? Are you trusting him?
What else does a healthy church do in a trial?
Application Question: Why is it so hard sometimes to trust God in the trials of life? How do we learn to trust him better?
Healthy Churches Persevere through Trials
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 5:6
We see that Peter is not only talking about humbling one’s self before God in a trial but also perseverance by his next comment. Peter says, we humble ourselves so that he may lift us up in due time. The phrase “due time” was telling the believers, they would have to wait on God and persevere to receive his blessing.
The normal response for a church going through a trial is for many of the members to start bailing ship. The pastor has a moral failure, there is a fight amongst the congregants and people just start leaving.
No. Listen, “In due time if you persevere God will lift you up.” He will make you stronger. He will bless you if you just persevere. There is a time period we must stay under the trial so that God can do the work he wants to do in us. The potter must put the clay in the fire for a certain amount of time to make it strong so it can be useful. This is very similar to what Paul said in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
Trials are like weights. You must put your body under distress so the muscle can grow. After it has gone through proper distress, the muscle responds by getting stronger, developing more endurance and growing. In due time God will lift us up; we must persevere. Listen to what James says about trials in James 1:4, “But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (KJV).
The believer must let patience or better translated perseverance do the work it’s supposed to, so we can become mature in the faith. We must let God do his work through the trial. Humble yourself under God’s mighty hand, for in due time he will lift you up. Listen, there is no better place for you to be at, than in God’s hand even if his hand is in the fire. He will protect you there and he will heal you there.
Let me tell you what perseverance is not. It is not grumbling. It is not complaining. It is not becoming angry at God. It is not fighting with others. To persevere through a trial, means to trust God and be faithful and righteous through the process. To not persevere is to run away from God and run towards sin. Abraham saw a famine in the promised land, so he went to Egypt and lied about his wife (Genesis 12). There was a blessing even in the famine, but he had to persevere to receive it instead of bailing ship.
Interpretation Question: What does Peter mean by God “lifting” us up in due in time? How should this affect us?
- To be lifted up in the trial means to develop our character. Perseverance creates character and character hope (Romans 5:3-4). That is the most important “lifting up” we can receive.
- To be lifted up in trial may at times mean the removal of the trial. The potter only keeps the pot in the oven until it has created the strength or glory it is looking for. To keep it in too long would actually destroy the pot (1 Cor. 10:13). No doubt our God is like that as well. At times, it is his will to remove the sickness, the persecution, or the conflict after it has completed its ordained purpose.
- To be lifted up may at times mean taking the believer home to Glory.
Listen to what Isaiah says about righteous men being taken away: “The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil (emphasis mine)” (Isaiah 57:1). Isaiah said people don’t think about this enough. Why is God taking away all our godly leaders? Isaiah says, it’s a work of grace. He does that to keep them from the coming evil. God probably took Enoch away because of how sinful the world was right before the flood and the coming judgment (Gen 5).
For some, the Creator lifts them up by taking them to heaven through death. This no doubt would have comforted many who had lost relatives or friends to this persecution or those whose physical sufferings were unbearable. For some in a hospital bed with a debilitating, terminal disease, their greatest desire is for God to lift them up soon. It is the greatest form of grace to be taken to heaven.
God’s plan for lifting a believer up in trial may be different for each believer. We can be sure that he is always seeking to develop character qualities in us through trials (James 1:2-4), but whether he removes the trial or the believer is at times different. With Noah, it says he walked with God just as Enoch did (Gen 6:9), but God took Noah through the trial instead of taking him straight to heaven. God’s plan for each believer is different, but if we persevere he will lift us up.
How should the church respond in trial? We must persevere in the trial for in due time God will lift us up.
Application Question: What are some of the negative responses you have seen to church conflict? Why is it so difficult for members to persevere in trials?
Healthy Churches Practice Corporate Prayer in Trials
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5:7
Interpretation Question: What does it mean to “cast all your anxiety” on the Lord? Why is this important?
One of the things we must notice about this verse is that the “your” is actually plural in the original language. Peter is speaking to the local congregations and saying to cast their cares upon the Lord corporately in the midst of their trials. Certainly, Christians should pray individually but there is something powerful about corporate prayer. Look at Matthew 18:19-20,
“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
Christ says when two or more agree in prayer, he is in the midst of them and he answers their prayers. We often use this saying for the church gathering in general, but the context is specifically corporate prayer (and the larger context church discipline). Certainly, there are more factors than these such as praying God’s will and etc… as the rest of Scripture teaches. However, we must see that there is something special and powerful about praying with the church.
Peter says the church should cast their anxieties on the Lord. The word to cast means, means throwing something fully on something else or someone else.1 The church takes difficulties such as the sick people at the church, the church debt, the church conflict, persecution and they come together and pray about it.
We get a great picture of this in Acts 4. In this chapter Peter and the apostles have just been threatened by the Pharisees and told not to speak in the name of Jesus anymore. They were going through persecution. Guess what Peter leads them into doing? That’s right, corporate prayer. Look at what Acts 4:23-24 says:
On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them (emphasis mine).
As the text goes on, it says that the building they were in was shaken. God responded by filling each person with the Holy Spirit and they left the building proclaiming the Word of God with boldness.
What should the church do when they have anxieties? They should call up the saints and pray. They should bring it all before the Lord--throw the worries, fears and troubles on the Lord together.
In fact, I think we get a great picture of this individually with Christ before he goes to the cross. He is bearing this tremendous anxiety on him about the cross and bearing the sins of the world and what does he do? He calls a prayer meeting. “Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). He calls Peter, James and John and asks them to watch and pray with him for an hour which eventually turns into three. Healthy churches pray together during a trial. They throw their anxieties on the Lord because he cares for them.
Application Question: What are some other ways we can apply this need to pray corporately?
a) This text reminds us of our need to share our anxieties and worries with the church community.
I think one of the things Satan has done is make people so ashamed, they no longer share their problems with the church. They never say, “I am having financial difficulty. My brother is sick; my wife has cancer.” Satan works through shame and it often cripples the church community from ever being the channel of blessing it is supposed to be. Listen to what James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” We must be willing to open up and share with one another so that we can have the healing that comes through corporate prayer.
b) The text reminds us to persevere in prayer and not give up.
Prayer is encouraged in the context of a call to persevere until God lifts them up in due time. This means we must persevere in prayer during trials. We saw this taught in a parable of Jesus in Luke 18:1: “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (emphasis mine).
Jesus gives a parable of a widow who consistently bothered a judge until he granted her request. He gives this parable to teach the disciples the need for praying and not giving up. He says this at the end of the parable, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).
Christ essentially says at his second coming this type of faith will be in short supply. Very few will pray till God lifts them up, till he removes the burden, till he changes the government, till he changes the ungodly laws. This type of faith is needed when a church is being persecuted and Christian values are being attacked in society.
Some of these difficulties in the church may last a long time, but we must faithfully pray through them. We must cast all our weight, all our concerns on the Lord as a corporate body. As we do this, he will lift us up in due time.
How do healthy churches go through trials?
- Healthy churches recognize, trust, and submit to God in trials. They focus on God’s sovereignty in the trial. It is not about this person or that person but primarily God. He is sovereign, and we must trust and submit to his hand while in the fire.
- Healthy churches persevere in trials. There is a specific amount of time that we must endure the fire so God can complete his work in us. In due time God will lift us up if we do not faint.
- Healthy churches practice corporate prayer in trials. When persecution came, Peter called a prayer meeting. When Jesus was weary unto death, he called a prayer meeting. We must both rely on God and one another in trials as we seek his face through prayer.
Application Question: What is your typical response to trials? How is God calling you to improve your response?
Copyright 2014 Gregory Brown
Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked KJV are from the King James Version of the Bible.
1 John MacArthur, 1 Peter. MacArthur New Testament Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2004), 240.