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If Need Require


1 Peter 1:6-7
March 22, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins

The sermon starts around 18:40 in the audio file.



Or, A Test for Exiles

When our elders talked last Tuesday I asked them what they thought would be an appropriate subject for today’s sermon. They mostly agreed that I should preach about whatever I thought I should preach about, but they also agreed that perhaps the appropriate time to return to our study of Revelation would be when some kind of rhythm is reestablished. Maybe that will be a rhythm in livestream services; we can hope that is not the case. But as we evaluate what we can and should do for our worship services week-by-week, I am returning to another Scripture passage that is on my “Read in case of Emergency” list.

1 Peter 1:6-9 was the benediction for our liturgy last Lord’s Day, but the first time I remember drinking from its comfort was in the first few months of 1995. I was twenty years old, and had just had back surgery over Christmas break. The surgery was for a broken vertebrae; the doctor chipped bone from my left hip and fused L2 and L3, holding it all together with some screws and short rods. I was wearing a quarter-of-an-inch-thick plastic brace that extended from my neck to my pelvis, my second season of wearing it. The hope at that time was that I would be able to return to playing sports, but I was months away from finding out if the surgery really worked.

I was in my junior year of college, and during that semester I was enrolled in an upper level Greek class where we diagrammed every sentence in 1 Peter and wrote our own commentary, two or three verses at a time. I loved the whole study, and still have the stack of my handwritten yellow sheets. It was then that God used 1 Peter 1:6 as a brace for my inner man.

I was still in pain, yes I had regained most of the feeling in both of my legs. Though well enough to take classes, nothing was convenient (other than securing a temporary handicap placard for parking on campus). In particular, I continued to deal with the possibility that one of the things I cared about the most on earth was something I might never do again: play baseball. I had been on athletic scholarship for baseball when the pain and numbness of the fracture debilitated me and, though the surgery was intended to help, I didn’t yet know if it would. It was an individual-sized trial, but it was not only disruptive to my plans, it was redirecting my future in ways I couldn’t predict.

While studying 1 Peter I read what is still my favorite sermon ever, titled “The Christian’s Heaviness and Rejoicing” by Charles Spurgeon. I’ve shared that sermon with some of you, I’m guessing around 12 or 13 years ago, and I’ve preached on this passage before, but never for us at TEC. For today I didn’t even look at my notes from previous sermons because my heart has enough to say as it is.

This passage is for exiles, for Christian pilgrims, those for whom this world–in its current condition and systems–is not their home. Some translations call this group “aliens” (NASB), “strangers” (KJV), or “sojourners.” When God chooses a people for Himself, He elects them not only to eternal life but to a unique identity on earth. As we’ve talked about many times before, He does not immediately remove His people to heaven; He elects for us to stay, and sometimes He elects for us to suffer, and sometimes that suffering involves submission to unjust rulers (as Peter describes in 1 Peter 2:18-25).

The triune God is sovereign in our salvation. Verse 2 says that we are elect (and elect exiles) because of the Father’s foreknowledge, that the Son purchased our atonement, and that the Spirit makes us holy. God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed (!) for the mercy shown to us in causing us to be born again to a living hope. He brought us into relationship with Himself; He is our Father, and we love Jesus, though we haven’t seen Him. God has not only promised us an inheritance, He has declared that the inheritance cannot go bad (it is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading), and that none of His people will miss out on it (His own power is guarding us through faith for every part of salvation).

And, beloved exiles, In this you rejoice. The soteriology of Calvinism does not grant us an immediate removal from trials, but it does give us a reason to rejoice while we are in them. More than that, we are being told by the same God who sovereignly chooses to overcome our spiritual deadness, that He sovereignly chooses to test the faith that He gives.

Verse 6 is packed, like the most extreme prepper’s pantry ready for a years-long quarantine.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.

The trials part come at the end of the verse, and everything leading up to the last word are qualifiers about trials.

First, trials are only now for a little while. William Tyndale saw it as a current “season.” This means that trials are temporary, like how long your minute-by-minute homeschooling schedule works. Peter does not say how long the temporary will last, just that it is not permanent. It’s similar to the descriptions of our inheritance in verse 4, defined by what our inheritance is not. So our trials are not the way it will always be, our trials are not forever. And yet, “a little while” is vague enough to cover a lifetime of 70 years on earth, or 80 by way of strength (Psalm 90:10, which also says “their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away”). Somehow we have only been in the throes of the coronavirus for a little over a week, and it has been the longest five years ever shoved into ten days. Peter’s original readers were dispersed, their lives disrupted, away from their home, and most of them probably never returned. They established a new normal, and yet it was still only brief. As Paul said, our afflictions are “momentary” (2 Corinthians 4:17). God limits our duration of trials as He limits the depths of water in the oceans.

Second, trials are only if necessary. This is where I got the title for the message today, from Tyndale’s translation of this phrase: “if need require.” We may reasonably ask, “Necessary for what?” And as important, “Necessary according to whom?”

Trials are necessary, as we considered last week in 2 Corinthians 4, in order to prepare us for an eternal weight of glory. Trials/afflictions increase our capacity to hold divine joy. In Peter’s letter, trials are used by God to purify faith, as we see explicitly stated in verse 7, trials are necessary to conform us to Christ as we walk in His steps (1 Peter 2:21), trials are necessary to demonstrate that we are not posers.

In The Religious Affections Jonathan Edwards begins with 1 Peter 1:6-7 in showing not only that true Christian religion is bound up with our affections (joy and love), but that some affections may be easier without afflictions. Faith in and love to Jesus when it’s hard show to our own consciences, and to our neighbors, that we do not have fair-weather faith.

Of course this means that God Himself is the arbiter of necessary. He defines what is required, and, beloved, that means He has defined, among other things, the necessity of these days. Maybe someone somewhere could have predicted the “success” of the earth’s attention being on one thing, but none of us did. We did not choose it any more than we chose gravity. We are being given it, by God.

Third, trials often cause heaviness. This part of the verse is a brutal comfort. There are some trials that hurt, but not necessarily the heart. Some people, whether by personality or perspective or redeeming grace, do not “feel” the weight of some trials. A broken bone is one thing, a broken heart is another. “A man’s spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear” (Proverbs 18:14). The ESV translates the word in 1 Peter 1:6 as “grievous,” and that’s fine, or the NASB, “distressed.” But “hevines” (Tyndale) hits the inner man. Some trials are a relentless chest compression, as if all the sand on the Pacific coast was poured in a bag and pinned on your sternum.

Of course a man can be tested by praise (Proverbs 27:27), and by his affluence (Proverbs 30:9), but heaviness is specifically what we would call not good.

Fourth, trials are various. The Greek word is used to describe both high numbers and significant diversity. There is more than one trial, and there are more than one kind of trials. The trials are diversified, “manifold” (Tyndale). This is the Greek word used in the LXX of Genesis 37:3 of Joseph’s coat of “many colors.”

I don’t have an exhaustive list of trials more than I have a definitive idea of when this season of trials will be over. But here are some various trials in front of us.

  • by being sick
  • by being uncertain about what kind of sick you are, or if you will be able to get treatment
  • by being burdened for loved ones who are sick
  • by being out of work, or working less hours with the same bills to pay
  • by being burdened for figuring out how to do work in a way you’ve never done before
  • by being uncertain about the future of your company, not just as an employee but as an employer
  • by being forced to do things, or forced to not do things, by a government that seems all to grab-happy
  • by being around extra-anxious people
  • by being around those you believe are not being careful enough

These are just the trials orbiting coronavirus concerns. You have all of your own necessary trials chosen for you by the Father in addition to these. God has storehouses of snowflakes and hail (Job 38:22), and no two are identical. When God says there are various trials, we are only limited by our imaginations as to the size of His trials warehouse.

Fifth, trials are a test, as verse 7 declares. Grammatically, verses 6 and 7 are one sentence anyway. I don’t plan to spend as much time on verse 7, but the point of the trials is a proving. Certainly most of you have heard this idea described before, that the “testing” is a process of removing dross and leaving the remains more pure and valuable. The imagery of the gold tested by fire is not an add on; it is the reality. The heaviness of the trial can be as hot as the refining fire, but the result is increased readiness and glory when Christ returns.

He is testing His people with the coronavirus itself along with all of the local and global responses to it. We may question a lot of things during this time, but as Kuyperians, we cannot question that He has sent us this test.

And returning to the start of verse 6, sixth, trials do not stop the Christian’s rejoicing. If the antecedent to in this is actually subsequent, that we rejoice in the process of various trials due to what they produce, it fits with how James calls believers to count trials as joy because of what trials produce. I believe in 1 Peter, though, the antecedent comes before verse 6, and the “this” is all of the sovereign mercy shown to us by the Trinity in our salvation. Either way, we rejoice.

It is an aggressive word (ἀγαλλιᾶσθε), “to be exceedingly joyful, to exult, to be glad, to be overjoyed” (BAGD). It is related to a noun that could be translated “piercing exclamation.”

One of the places this word is used is Acts 2:46 referring to the fellowship of the believers, “they contynued dayly with one accorde in the temple, and brake bread in every housse, and dyd eate theyr meate to gether with gladnes and synglenes of harte” (Tyndale).

Conclusion

Time will tell how bad the virus is, if we have acted too late or too much. But now is the time that we are being tested. This is a test of our faith, and it will be seen in our joy, and patience. It is possible that the next test will be one of our courage. Maybe we are being set up, and so we need wisdom, too.

But we cannot go wrong rejoicing. You do not see the germs on your hands, you do not see the end of the social-distancing restrictions, you do not see the end of economic results. You do not see Jesus Christ either, but you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory (1 Peter 1:8).


Charge

In Psalm 42, the sons of Korah sang about longing for God as a deer pants for flowing streams of water. What I hadn’t realized before is that what they thirsted for was not just private commuion with God, they wanted to gather with other worshippers.

These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throne
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival. (verse 4)

Aching to be with the assembly is good, and yet the next verse:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation. (verse 5)

Let us keep trusting our God in this necessary test, and be filled with rejoicing while we wait.

Benediction:

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:5b–7, ESV)