Rejoice in the Lord (Phil 3:1); Rejoice in the Lord always (Phil 4:4); Rejoice always (1 Thess 5:16). This is the will of God for all His children. But, like we acknowledged last time, we all suffer. Some great, some small, but we all suffer. And the pervasiveness of suffering and trials can give us the impression that the command and encouragement to rejoice always, is only possible when all is well. Or how else? God can’t possibly expect us to rejoice or show delight in suffering, can He? Well, God doesn’t just want you to rejoice, but rejoice exceedingly; be filled with delight even in the face of your suffering.
Last time, we looked at 1 Peter 1:6 and tried to understand what greatly rejoice means.
Today, I want us to examine the verse further and see the clues Peter gives us about sufferings and trials that make it possible for it to co-exist with great joy in the life of the Christian.
For your comfort, I’ll quote 1 Peter 1:6 again: In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials
Sufferings are for a little while
The bible isn’t saying ignore your trials, they are your false experiences appearing real. Instead, Peter acknowledges them and tells us the truth about trials that they are for a little while- that is brief. It is the same word used to describe vapor in James 4:14. His point isn’t that no trial lasts for a lifetime, some actually do, his point of reference is eternity. That is in comparison to eternity, friends, your sufferings and trials are brief. No matter what you are going through, it will end here. Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning. (Ps 30:5)
Sufferings only come if necessary
Question: Why do bad things happen to Christians? Why do Christians suffer?
Answer: We are only allowed to suffer out of necessity. That is what that little phrase “if necessary” in the verse implies. Sufferings are never without reason from the One who deemed it necessary, God! Suffering doesn’t nullify the many promises of God, no! Your suffering doesn’t call into question or disprove the truth of God’s promises, no!. The truth is (and the reading of your bible and your experiences bear witness to this) that the promises of God do not exempt the children of God from the realm of sufferings and trials. In fact, our many sufferings come to us because God, our father, deemed it necessary. The purpose may never be revealed (like Job) but we need to be persuaded that it is proper because it is God’s will and out of necessity. James 1:2-4 explains this idea better: 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, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (emphasis added). Trials are necessary because it makes us perfect and complete. And isn’t that what we want to become? Perfect people (Matt 5:48).
Suffering causes grief
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials (emphasis added)
Peter acknowledges the pain suffering causes. Because acknowledging the pain doesn’t mean you are faithless. Suffering can and does cause a lot of pain, sometimes mental, sometimes emotional, and sometimes physical pain. For some people, their suffering is so much it causes their heart to ache to the point of depression (like Paul in 2 Cor 2:3-4; 2 Cor 7:6), for some, like Mary Magdalene, they can’t stop crying from the loss of someone dear to them (John 20:11), and sometimes, the agony is so overwhelming the body breaks down (Luke 22:44). Pain isn’t incompatible with faith and joy.
So what then ?
Here is Peter’s point in summary.
What God has done for us in Christ is real and extraordinary. Eye has not seen and ear has not heard…all that God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Cor 2:9). Every conceivable blessing and beyond are ours in Christ (Eph 1:3), and the power toward us who believe is just…surpassing (incomparable)(Eph 1:19). This and many more are the inheritances we have, sealed in Christ with the Holy Spirit, who is given as a pledge (Eph 1:13-14). Now we are Children of God (1 John 3:2), and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Rom 8: 17). All things are ours in Christ even though most of these inheritances are currently reserved in heaven for us (1 Pet 1:4). It is in this we greatly rejoice (1 pet 1:6). And an unbroken, eternal promise of God should produce an unbroken joy in those promises. Not because these promises and great inheritance preclude sufferings from happening, no. In fact, God is the one who brings them out of necessity. Neither do these promises mean denying how great your sufferings are. Denial isn’t what makes you a good Christian but your perspective at trials. Paul said (2 Cor 4:16-18) he did not lose heart, not because he denied the presence of the suffering or that it wasn’t painful, but because he focused on the things which are not seen (the inheritance reserved in heaven). He was convinced that his suffering was temporary, necessary and that it produces pain but also that he has a building from God even if his many sufferings tore his current body down (2 Cor 5:1).
Suffering shouldn’t stop you from being exceeding joyful, it’s brief. At least in light of the eternal things God has done for you in Christ. God has brought you into the path of life and therein is fullness of Joy (Ps 16:11).
Friends, we will suffer in various ways, some big, some small. These sufferings will cause you sorrow (mental, emotional, or physical) but don’t drown in them. Instead, keep your eyes on the person of Jesus and His work for you…your new birth, your hope, your inheritance…and continue to rejoice greatly. Let it fill you with delight because you know, unlike your brief sufferings, these things Christ has done for you are eternal. It is by keeping your eyes on Christ that you can always rejoice exceedingly in suffering- “A little while, and you will no longer see Me;… Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy. Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you (John16:16-22 emphasis added).