1 Peter 13-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice,[a] even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen[b] 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, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
There are a couple of phrases that stand out to me The first is, “you…who are being protected by the power of God through faith…” What does “being protected” mean? I question this because, at the time that the gospels were written after Jesus’s death and resurrection (about 60-70 AD) , Christians were being persecuted for their faith. We study the lives of the martyrs who suffered for their faith. So that brings me back to this idea of “protection” and what it means if there are so many who were being persecuted. It doesn’t seem, in OUR language, that the word protection means the same thing now as it did then. I mean… we wear a seat belt in our cars for protection. Kids wear helmets when riding their bikes for protection. Some people carry guns for protection. So what does Peter mean when he says protection?
I think to help answer this, we need to look further in the text. He says, “in this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith…is tested by fire – may result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” So…looking at the beginning of this passage, Peter talks about protection, and now he speaks of suffering.
Sorry, but now I’m REALLY confused!!
I think back to what I’ve been studying in my Church History class. We recently studied the first Fathers, hermits, and martyrs from about 100-300AD. These men and women suffered for the devotion to their faith. The were tortured for days, months, and some for years. The Diocletian Persecution was one of the most brutal events against Christians in the 300s. So if these Christians were persecuted and suffered for Christ, how were they protected? And what does that mean for us?
We, in this country, don’t suffer persecution for our faith as they did. But we do suffer. We go through illnesses and death of friends and family and feel that loss; we endure our own illnesses; we go through divorce; we go through financial hardships; we endure tragedies much like Arkansas and the south is suffering now in the wake and aftermath of these tornadoes. There are all kinds of suffering going on, and not all of them physical and for the sake of Christ.
I believe there is a distinction we should make here that the protection Peter speaks of is not a protection of our bodies but a protection of our spirit, our soul, that part of us which is connected to God. That is what He protects. Though our bodies may hurt and our feelings, our emotions, can be devastated by pain and loss, that connection we have to the Risen Christ is never broken or harmed. As Peter says, it is protected “by the power of God through faith.”
Now. We know our spirits are protected by God and are kept safe. So now that brings me back to suffering. When we endure hardship, pain, loss, confusion, we forget all the trivialities in our lives and are consumed by what we are going through. We forget about and ignore the gossip and whisperings happening at work. We forget about which teams are playing in the next baseball game. We don’t give a second thought to the details of the next booster club event. All the recognize is that we are hurting, and that suffering brings clarity. An analogy I can think of is going to the gym. When a person first starts working out at the gym, they might be able to do 5 or 6 push ups. The more they work out, they stronger they become. After working out for 6 months, they can probably do 40 or 50 push ups. That number might have been unheard of 6 months prior. Another analogy is think back to when we were in our teens and twenties. Some of the issues we faced then seemed insurmountable at the time. Now, in hindsight, those problems might be a drop in the bucket compared to things we’ve seen or endured since then. And to hear a teen or twenty year old speak of their “problems”, well, we just might want to scoff at them and say, “Trust me, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!”
But that suffering that we physically or emotionally endure, according to Peter, strengthens our spirit, strengthens our faith in God. Suffering in our lives and realizing our faith is becoming stronger also does something else for us. The martyrs that I spoke of had narratives, information that they wrote about in their letters to their friends and families. These letters were also shared with communities and passed down from generation to generation. The anguish that the martyrs felt and their faith that remained strong despite their persecution helped to give guidance and strength to others.
We participate in this offering of strength now. As we suffer through various trials in life, we share those burdens with one another. We pray for one another. We offer counsel to one another. Because one person whom we love is facing the illness of a child or going through the loss of a parent or enduring a difficult divorce, we suffer with them. We hurt with them and cry with them. We pray for them. And our spirit, I would hope, is also strengthened as well. Our cries to God on their behalf protects our spirits and helps us to understand and remember the grace of God and the salvation of Christ.
While we do not want pain and suffering, I pray that when we must endure it, we remember the love of God and sacrifice of Christ, forget those trivial portions of our lives that really do not matter, and seek the encouragement of our brothers and sisters in Christ who will love us and pray for us. And when we see someone hurting, I pray we follow in the steps of those who have come before us and share their burdens by offering counsel, love, and prayer.