3. What You See Isn’t What You Get (1 Peter 1:6-9)
6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 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; 8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.
Life for the Christian, or the non-Christian, is not a WYSIWYG! Those familiar with computers may understand this term, an acronym for “What you see is what you get.” In the early days of word processing, you could not see on the computer screen exactly what your printed document would look like. Underlining, bold-facing, italics were created by inserting control codes—but only the codes appeared on the screen rather than the actual underlining, bold-facing, or italics. You could not see on the screen what you would get.
Our Lord Jesus Christ told the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, the text I used for a recent memorial service. The rich young man, like the money-loving Pharisees (Luke 16:14), thought life was a WYSIWYG; that is, he assumed life in eternity would be like life on earth. The rich young man expected to continue to live in perpetual comfort and ease just as he had on earth. Like the Pharisees, he wrongly assumed men like his servant Lazarus would spend eternity in eternal misery. Jesus shocked His audience by telling them these two men actually changed places after death. In eternity, the servant Lazarus enjoyed the bliss of heaven, while the rich man suffered the torments of hell.
Peter introduces the problem of suffering in his epistle for the first time in the sixth verse of the first chapter. Suffering proves to be the theme of his epistle. Peter informs us that suffering is indeed a part of the normal Christian experience. He also encourages us by telling us the trials and tribulations of this life will be left behind for all eternity. The suffering we endure on earth does not indicate our future estate in the kingdom of God. Because of this, we must live by faith and believe that what we now see is not what we will get in eternity.
Peter gives good reasons to rejoice in adversity in our text. Verse 6 explains the nature and necessity of suffering, while verse 7 focuses on the intended result of suffering—a proven faith which brings glory to God. Verse 8 further describes faith, with Christ as its object and the fruits of love and joy. The final and glorious outcome of our faith is found in verse 9—the salvation of our souls.
May the careful study of this text of Scripture, which introduces the theme of suffering, be used of the Spirit of God to eternally change our perspective on this often misunderstood subject of suffering.
Peter’s Premise: Saints will Suffer
In beginning our study of 1 Peter 1:6-9, note the underlying assumption Peter passes along to his reader: the saints will suffer in this life. The Scriptures are forthright, and Peter has no hesitation in saying Christians should expect to suffer. Verse 6 speaks of suffering in very general terms. James also tells us that adversity comes our way in many different forms when he writes:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).
Others also share Peter and James’ view of suffering. Jesus clearly indicated suffering would come our way as did Paul and other New Testament writers:
“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me” (John 15:20-21).
And after they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21-22).
But you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord delivered me! And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:10-12).
The writer to the Hebrews likewise speaks of the suffering of the saints:
But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly, by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward (Hebrews 10:32-35).
Like other New Testament writers, Peter wants us to understand that suffering is a normal part of the Christian life. He tells us not to be surprised “at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). The Scriptures clearly attest to suffering as an unpleasant experience. The NIV uses the term “suffering grief;” the New English Bible employs the word “smart.” The NASB says we are “distressed” by various trials, while the KJV speaks of “heaviness.” The term generally carries the sense of “grief” or “sorrow.” The Christian should not expect life to be a warm fuzzy. Since we live in a fallen world (Romans 8:18-25) among men who hate the Son of God in whom we have put our trust (John 15:20-21), we should expect suffering.
Even though we suffer, we are to rejoice that our salvation is secure, the work of a sovereign God (1 Peter 1-6a). We are even to rejoice “with inexpressible joy and full of glory” in the midst of our sorrow (1:8). How can this be? Peter answers in verses 6-9.
Reasons to Rejoice in Suffering
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.
Peter puts forward two good reasons to rejoice in the midst of our suffering and sorrow in verse 6.
(1) Suffering is necessary
The NIV’s overly-paraphrased rendering of this verse obscures the point Peter is making: “Though now for a little while you may have suffered grief in all kinds of trials.” The NIV’s rendering does damage to the text in two ways. It first implies that suffering is only a possibility rather than a certainty. It secondly glosses over Peter’s point that suffering is necessary.
It is essential that we grasp the necessity of suffering. Suppose, while driving to a friend’s house for Bible study, you are involved in a very serious accident which leaves you permanently injured. While in the hospital, you learn that you had not gotten word the Bible study had been canceled. How easy to immediately respond, “My suffering was completely unnecessary! It could have been avoided.” Circumstantially, it would seem your suffering should never have occurred. But in the sovereign will of God, it was purposed and, therefore, a necessity—a divine necessity. God’s plan includes no accidents or mistakes. Even the sins others commit against us are a part of God’s plan for our lives (see Genesis 50:20).
God is sovereign both in our salvation (1:1-5) and in our suffering. No suffering occurs without purpose. God is aware of every tear we shed in sorrow (Psalm 56:8), and every affliction ultimately comes from Him (see Job 1 and 2; Psalm 119:75). Peter tells us suffering only comes to us when the sovereign God of the universe deems it necessary—a sovereign and merciful God who causes “all things to work together for our good” (Romans 8:28). Though difficult, we may rest assured there is no senseless suffering for any saint.
(2) Suffering exists for only a little while, but glory lasts forever
Our earthly suffering is temporary, while heavenly glory is eternal, as seen in the phrase “now for a little while.” For the elect, suffering occurs only in this life. Glory lasts forever, and there will be no sorrow or suffering then. Listen to the glorious future that awaits us:
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:2-4).
The unsaved find a very sad and different story. While they appear to prosper in this life (even though they suffer here too), they will suffer for all eternity away from the presence of God (see Luke 16:19-31; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; Revelation 20:11-15; 21:27).
The apostle Paul emphatically contrasts the present trials of life with the future glory which we await:
16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Paul tells us our suffering is momentary, but glory is eternal. Suffering is “light,” but glory is “weighty.” We do not trade suffering for glory. Our suffering in no way compares with the glory we will receive. Our future glory is better, compared to the suffering which Christ endured on our behalf.
The Ultimate Objective of Suffering
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.
No one naturally wishes to hear what the Scriptures repeatedly say: The ultimate purpose of man is not to be happy, to be fulfilled, or even to be saved. Man’s ultimate purpose is to glorify God (see 1 Peter 4:11). Listen to these words of Paul:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love, 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:3-6; see also verses 7-14).
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH” (Romans 9:17).
All suffering is ultimately for the glory of God, but in the context of 1 Peter we must say that the innocent suffering of the saints is to the glory of God. This is a truth many Christians find hard to accept. It is a truth Satan and unbelievers are unable to believe or accept at all. In the early chapters of the Book of Job, we learn that Satan could not imagine a man like Job could continue to trust in God if God caused him to suffer rather than to prosper. Satan found it easy to believe Job would worship God for blessing him. But he found it impossible to believe that Job could bless God if he suffered (Job 1:9-11; 2:5).
We should learn from Scripture that God is glorified by faith, by the faith of those who trust in Him because of who He is, not because of His blessings. That is the message of verse 7: the faith of the saints will “result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
According to Peter, suffering is closely related to faith. It is a test which exposes false faith and reveals the genuineness of true faith. Our Lord spoke of this in the parable of the soils:
“And other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil … And in a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away” (Mark 4:5, 16-17).
Many were the Lord’s followers when they thought it meant “happy days are here again.” But when they heard the hard sayings of Jesus, they fell away never to follow Him again (John 6:60-66). Did they want success? By all means! Suffering? Never!
In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the Israelites who are about to enter the promised land how God tested them by adversity:
“And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (Deuteronomy 8:2).
Testing proves the preciousness of our faith. When a semiconductor company produces microprocessors such as the Intel 486, they are manufactured in batches. All go through the same testing process, but some chips come through better than others. The level of each test’s difficulty determines its speed and cost. The testing process sets the best chips apart from the rest.
The trials and tribulations of life prove not only the genuineness of our faith, but they strengthen and purify our faith as well (see also James 1:2-4; Hebrews 12:1-13). God wants our faith to grow, and suffering is one of the best stimulants to that growth.
Peter likens the purification process by which God purifies and strengthens our faith to the process by which gold is purified and made precious. He first compares the gold purification process to the purification of our faith which suffering produces. He then contrasts the preciousness of our faith with the lesser value of highly refined gold. Gold is the asphalt, the pavement of heaven; purified faith is the basis for our praise in heaven.
Gold is purified by fire. The hotter the fire, the more impurities are burned off, and the more precious the gold becomes. So it is with our faith. The “fiery trials” (see 1 Peter 4:12) through which God puts His saints purifies our faith, so that when we stand in His presence in His kingdom, our faith will be found to be genuine and precious, resulting in praise, glory, and honor to Him.5
Thus we see that suffering serves a very beneficial function in the life of the Christian. It tests our faith and proves it to be genuine. Beyond this, it purifies and strengthens our faith, making it more precious than fine gold. And in the final analysis, our proven faith glorifies God.
And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.
It is easy to see why suffering righteously requires faith on the part of the saint. Our hope is to be completely fixed on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13). We look forward to the glory to be revealed at the coming of our Lord. And yet our present experience is one of suffering, an apparent contradiction to our future hope. Faith is required because our hope must be based upon Scripture and not upon sight. Our hope is based upon the promises of God, while at the moment we experience the painful reality of suffering.
Faith deals in the unseen, even as the writer to the Hebrews tells us:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
I cannot help but think this theme of the “unseen” is fresh in Peter’s mind because he heard our Lord speak these words to His disciples before He ascended to the Father:
Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:28-29).
In verse 8, Peter does not attempt to minimize dealing with the unseen. But his emphasis is on who is unseen and how our faith enables us to relate to Him. The object of our faith is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the preeminent One in this verse.6
Peter has been speaking of the proving and purifying of our faith. In verse 8 he gives us three specific ways a genuine and precious faith will be evident:
(1) In our love for Christ (“Though you7 have not seen Him, you love Him”)
(2) In our trust in Him (“Though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him”)
(3) In our rejoicing, because of Him (“You greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory”)
By faith, we trust in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. We recognize His work as the expression of God’s love to us, and in response to His love, we love Him in return (Romans 5:3-8; 1 John 4:16-19). We not only live by faith, we love by faith. Love is rooted in and closely related to faith:
17 So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God (Ephesians 3:17-19).
Faith is necessary in order to believe in Him. We must believe both that He is, and that He is good—the rewarder of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is the basis for belief.
Faith is also necessary in order for us to rejoice. Peter not only expects us to rejoice in our salvation (1:6) but to rejoice in the midst of our sufferings (1:8). And he does not mean a second-class rejoicing. He means rejoicing with “inexpressible joy,” a rejoicing which is “full of glory.” Only a masochist would rejoice in suffering for suffering’s sake. We are to rejoice because suffering proves and purifies our faith, thereby bringing glory to God. We are also to rejoice because suffering is a part of a divine process which results in the salvation of our souls, as Peter will show in verse 9.
The Outcome of Our Faith—The Salvation of our Souls
Obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.
In the early verses of this first chapter, we were told by Peter that salvation is the basis for our confidence and rejoicing. Now Peter will tell us that salvation is also the outcome of our faith and our suffering.
Because salvation is a process, Peter can speak of salvation in terms of a past event, accomplished by God in Christ, a present experience for the believer and a future hope. The birth of a child is a process. A child is conceived in the womb and over a period of months continues to develop. The mother (not to mention others) becomes more and more aware of the child and its approaching birth. The hours before the infant’s birth are the most painful. They are endured not only because they cannot be avoided, but also because of the joy they bring at the birth of the child.
Suffering is an inescapable part of the process by which God has ordained our salvation. Suffering strengthens and purifies our faith, and the outcome of our faith is our full and final salvation at the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Suffering does not save us; faith does, but suffering proves and strengthens our faith. We now have Peter’s answer of how we can rejoice in the midst of suffering.
Peter wants us to think of suffering in a completely different way than before we trusted in Christ. Now we should view suffering as a cause for rejoicing. To begrudgingly concede that suffering is inevitable and unavoidable for the Christian is not enough. Nor is a stoic acceptance enough when suffering comes our way. We are to rejoice in suffering, knowing it is a normal part of the Christian’s experience which produces good for us and brings glory to God. It is a part of the process which leads to the glory of God and to our full and final salvation at the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We dare not view suffering as our culture sees it. Do “bad things really happen to good people,” as most people believe? At the top of the list of “bad things” would be suffering, especially innocent suffering. The Scriptures challenge the belief that “bad things happen to good people” on several levels. Consider just two.
First, we wrongly assume that anyone is really “good.” The Old Testament Law was not given as a standard that we could keep and therefore be called good. The Law was given to demonstrate our sin:
9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.” 13 THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE, WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING, THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS; 14 WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS; 15 THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD, 16 DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS, 17 AND THE PATH OF PEACE HAVE THEY NOT KNOWN. 18 THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.” 19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:9-20).
Only Jesus can claim to be good, without hesitation or reservation. We are not “good.” We are sinners, deserving of divine wrath and in need of divine mercy. That mercy has been provided in the person of Jesus Christ, who bore the penalty of our sins and who offers us His righteousness in the place of that wrath. To be saved, we must acknowledge that we are not “good” and that Jesus Christ is. We must trust in His death, His burial, and His resurrection on our behalf, knowing that in Him we are not only forgiven but declared righteous before God on the basis of what Jesus Christ has done.
Secondly, suffering is not a “bad” thing when God uses it in our lives to bring us to faith, to prove the genuineness of our faith, and to purify our faith so that it becomes precious to the glory of God.
I want to challenge and exhort you to apply this passage in 1 Peter by meditating upon the psalm of Asaph in Psalm 73. In this psalm, through a painful process Asaph comes to view suffering as Peter does. Asaph could not understand why the wicked seemed to prosper while the righteous suffered. The wicked were arrogant and boastful about their sin and even seemed to dare God to act.
Asaph confesses he was tempted to throw in the towel before he realized this would be detrimental both to him and to the congregation who knew him. Not until he began to look at life from God’s perspective did his thinking became conformed to the truths Peter has taught in his first epistle. From a temporal point of view, the wicked did sin and were prospering. But from an eternal perspective, they would soon experience divine judgment, forever.
Asaph gradually realized that the prosperity of the wicked had turned their hearts from God, but his suffering had turned him to God, even though he initially protested. Not only did Asaph have all eternity to enjoy God’s presence, he also had the presence of God with him in his trials and troubles. When Asaph realized the “nearness of God was his good,” suffering became a blessing and prosperity a curse. Suffering draws us to God, and that is our good.
This is Peter’s message to us. He inspired words challenge us to rethink our value system so that we see suffering as a blessing and prosperity and ease as a curse. With this perspective, we can rejoice with “joy inexpressible and full of glory.” And only with this perspective can we understand what Peter has yet to say to us on the glory of godly suffering.
5 Some of the results of our testing may not be evident until glory. Note the “may be found” in verse 7. The preciousness of our faith which is demonstrated through suffering and trials, is referred to as being found at the revelation of Jesus Christ. This suggests that the immediate proof may not be evident. Is this not parallel with the teaching of 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 and 5:10; see also 1 Corinthians 4:1-5?