April 6, 2008
1 Peter 1:3-9
(3) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
(4) to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
(5) who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
(6) In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,
(7) so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
(8) Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,
(9) obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (ESV)
The phrase “That was easy” is the trademarked company slogan of Staples, the office supply megastore. When it comes to meeting our office supply needs, Staples has us covered.
Fans of the NBC sitcom The Office recognize Staples as a primary sponsor of the show as well as a “character” in the plot line. Staples is the national chain that little-guy paper company Dunder Mifflin always loses business to. The crew from The Office is old school about sales techniques: “Business to business. The old-fashioned way. No Blackberrys. No Web sites.”
But not Staples. They use this newfangled thing called the Internet. You can even buy their paper on it. Converted Dunder Mifflin clients claim that the Staples Web site makes it easy. This is what the tv writers call ad placement. Write your ad into the show so that your commercial is not recognized as a commercial.
Staples has done an excellent job of advertising in other ways. The company won awards for “The Easy Button.” It is a red, plastic, dome-shaped button with the word “easy” emblazoned across the top. The concept of this magic wand device is that with just one click of The Easy Button — POOF! — Staples fixes any office problem.
But let us expand this. Think of all of the life situations where we could use an Easy Button--school final exams, asking a girl out for the first time, getting the house clean and the laundry done, getting the kids to bed, that never-ending home remodeling project, paying the bills, sick children or sick parents. We could really use an Easy Button for that sort of thing, but we don’t have it. Staples has an Easy Button. Life does not. Staples says, “That was easy.” Real life says, “This might hurt.”
“This might hurt”—you hear that occasionally. Or the dentist might say, “This might sting a little.” When he says that, you know what is coming. It is going to really hurt like blue blazes.
In our scripture today, two phrases indicate hurting: V6, “Though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,” and V8 “Though you have not seen him.”
You will have a hard time in this world, and though you are putting your faith in Jesus, you have not seen him, at least not yet. This pretty much summarizes the Christian life in this world. Life is hard and faith is sometimes thin. That is the way it is. We wish that God would make things easy for us. We wish we could rub the magic lamp and a genie would come out to grant us wishes, but it does not work that way.
Sometimes we suffer and God does not seem to be there. Now I know that this is not the kind of thing you usually hear in church, but we need to be honest with each other.
In past generations, most people did not have that much information. Our communications systems were not that good, and consequently we could kid ourselves about a lot of things. Today, we are almost overwhelmed by information. Today we live in a media-interconnected global village. Iraqi insurgents shell the green zone in Bagdad, that is breaking news on TV right now. Moslem militas attack Christians in Darfur, you can see the video on the internet. We see pictures of poverty and exploitation and war that previous generations never even imagined.
Not only that. We all have our individual troubles. It has always been interesting to me the way people react to trouble and suffering. Some folks are into drama. They scream it from the rooftops. They want everybody in the world to know that they have suffered. Others are just the opposite. They don’t want anybody to know. Perhaps they feel that the less said about it the easier it will be to get through it.
But the point is everybody hurts sometimes, everybody suffers. And there are different kinds of suffering.
People with severe depression describe it as a kind of mental prison in which there is no hope and from which there is no escape. Others live with such a level of anxiety they cannot think of anything else.
Few Americans are physically starving. But many Americans suffer from self-inflicted food disorders — overeating because of a desire for perceived comfort or the opposite, self-punishment through anorexia.
That is emotional pain. There is also physical pain. Studies show that up to 20 percent of people deal with some form of chronic pain. The physically disabled live with a lifetime of suffering that few able-bodied people can imagine.
There are other kinds of suffering: People are lonely; People live in dysfunctional families and hopeless marriages.
There is a suffering in church, a discontent, a hopelessness that is surrounded by doubt. By and large, the church is in denial about suffering. Many churches even teach that if you are a real Christian, Christ will be with you and you will never suffer, and the implication is that if you do suffer you just don’t have enough faith. Nonsense. The Bible does not say anything like that. In John 16:33 Jesus said, “In the world you will have trouble.” Count on it. You will have trouble. You will hurt. That is real life. That is a bleak truth, but what you should not forget is the capacity you have as a Christian have for dealing with real life.
Last year the private correspondence of Mother Teresa was published, most notably in a book called Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. Teresa laments, “Lord, my God, who am I that you should forsake me? The child of your love and now become as the most hated one, the one you have thrown away as unwanted, unloved. I call, I cling, I want — and there is no one to answer, no one on whom I can cling … The loneliness of the heart that wants love is unbearable. Where is my faith?”
Now Mother Teresa is regarded by most Christians, including me, as a giant of the faith. She was a superChristian. But here she is saying, I have doubts that God cares about me. She was surrounded by pain and suffering and hurting; sometimes she wondered, where is God? She wrote: “In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me — of God not being God — of God not existing.” She penned those words back in 1959 — and, according to the book, she continued to wrestle with feelings of doubt for the rest of her life. That is the theological problem of suffering, a feeling that God is not there is our suffering.
Our verses today were written to a Christian community that was hurting. The church was facing some kind of persecution. We do not know what kind. It might have been by the Roman government, or it might have been just general hostility toward Christians.
In 1:3-9, these suffering Christians are reminded of the power and blessings of God. God has given them a “new birth.” By his mercy, God has granted them new life “into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (v. 3). This hope of resurrection is now their hope because they are now God’s children. Into this hope, they are born, and because of this hope they can look forward to “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1:4).
Notice the contrasts here. They used to be condemned sinners, they are now born again. They use to be hopeless, now they have hope. They now live in a realm that is perishable, defiled and fading, but their inheritance is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.” They were once not a people, they are now God’s people, and, as God’s people, they are sharers in Christ’s glorious resurrection, but as partakers in Christ’s resurrection, they are also sharers in his suffering. Christ suffered in this world. It is not surprising that his followers would also suffer in this world.
But God is still with them, even in suffering, leading them toward a “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1:5). The power of God here stands in sharp relief to the finite power of those persecuting them. God is victorious and his salvation will be revealed “in the last time.”
What IPeter is saying is I know you are hurting, I know you are suffering, but God is still in charge, keep the faith and everything will work out in the end. They may have to suffer various trials for a little while (v. 6), but the author encourages them that the hope for which they are suffering is real and worth their present suffering.
So how do we deal with suffering? By Faith. Faith is not easy. It would be much easier to give up. Faith does not guarantee a successful worldly outcome. All of those first century Christians did not survive persecution. Put it this way: A successful outcome is guaranteed, but not in this world.
The author of I Peter praises the faith of his readers in verse 8: “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.”
Christians in the world are in a state of waiting, waiting on Jesus. Yet, they are not waiting in fear and trembling, but in joy. Their joy does not stem from their worldly circumstances, but from their heavenly circumstances. They look forward to the coming of Christ and rejoice in his glory.
Verse 9 is a summary of this section of the letter: “for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” That speaks just as much to us today as it did to early Christians. The hope of salvation is our blessed assurance that suffering and trial is not all there is. Our faith in that hope is the only thing that makes life worth living.
Kolodiejchuk, Brian. Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The private writings of the “Saint of Calcutta.” New York: Doubleday, 2007.
On Mother Teresa: Van Biema, David. “MotherTeresa’s crisis of faith,” Time Magazine, August 23, 2007. time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1655415,00.html.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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