Now our text for our attention today is 1 Peter chapter 4, the first epistle of Peter chapter 4 and only two verses, verses 12 and 13. If you get the book of Hebrews, then James, then 1 Peter - chapter 4 verses 12 and 13, and I want to speak to you on the subject of 'Fiery Trials'. First Peter 4:12: "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy".
If you're unfamiliar with the background to 1 Peter, that is the historical contextual background of the reason why the book was written, let me explain it to you just in a few moments. It was written round about AD 65, and it was written to a church that was surviving the persecution from the Emperor Nero, the Emperor of Rome. Round about AD 64 a fire broke out at the Circus Maximus in Rome, the great fire of Rome that devoured everything in its path for approximately five days. Now because Nero, politically and in the particular Roman society, had a bad reputation, rumour began that Nero himself had set fire to the city for his own ends. In order to get out of this political headlock that he was in, Nero found a scapegoat in the Christians. He actually charged Christianity with the fire of Rome. Those who confessed to be Christians, and of course you will know if you are a Christian today that part of your testimony is to confess Christ, those who were faithful to that witness and confessed Christ were arrested, and from the information that was obtained from them hundreds of other Christians were convicted of antisocial behaviour to such an extent as even incest and cannibalism.
You may wonder how that could be possible. Well, because they called some of their fellowship meetings 'Love Feasts', the Roman government said that they were having sexual orgies. Because they ate, symbolically, the bread which represents the body of the Lord, and the cup which is the blood of the Saviour, they said they were engaging in cannibalism. You know how the rumour mill begins and continues, and this was then interpreted, in a Chinese whispers sort of form, as being incest and cannibalism. The Neronian persecutions began what would become 200 years of fiery trials for the people of God. Indeed Peter himself, the author of this epistle, was martyred during the fiery trials under Nero. Many believe that Peter himself, historically speaking, was crucified, but crucified upside down because he requested that he should not die in the same manner as his Lord. You remember in John 21 that the Lord Jesus prophetically spoke to Peter and said: 'Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not'.
Tacitus, the ancient historian, tells us in his annals a little bit more detail about these persecutions. It's very poignant reading. He said, I quote: 'In their deaths, these Christians were made a mockery. They were covered in the skins of wild animals, torn to death by dogs, crucified or set on fire so that when darkness fell they burned like torches in the night. Nero opened his own gardens for this spectacle, and gave a show in the arena where he mixed with the crowd, or stood dressed as a charioteer'. So I think we can understand in the historical background of the context of this book, what Peter is talking about when he speaks of fiery trials. If you look at chapter 1 verse 7 he mentions it here as well: 'That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ'. Here in our text in chapter 4 and verse 12: 'Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you'.
In fact this book of 1 Peter mentions the word 'suffering' in one shape or form about sixteen or more times. Now it seems, as we read the New Testament and historical Christian literature - and, I would vouch to say, as you look into your own personal life - that Christians often suffer more than non-Christians. In fact, that was the cry of the Psalmist on many occasions, that the wicked, they were successful, they were triumphing, yet it was the righteous who were suffering and trodden underfoot. Often, and it should be for a Christian at least, they suffer unjustly. In fact, even in this past century, the 20th century that we have just exited, there are said to have been more who have been martyred for the name of Jesus Christ in that one century than all the other centuries of Christendom combined.
So, as we read the New Testament, we find that suffering is a real trait and mark of the Christian believer. But as we read 1 Peter we find that in fact, in a sense, Christians are called to suffer. Christians are actually called by God to suffer! I don't know whether you've ever heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but he suffered under the Nazi regime in World War II because he would not waver on Christian principles in the face of Nazi antagonism. He was imprisoned under threat of torture, his family was in danger, and eventually it cost him his life in martyrdom. He was actually executed under the direct orders of Heinrich Himmler, April 1945 in Flossenburg Concentration Camp, only a few days before that concentration camp was liberated at the end of World War II. This is what he had to say, as a martyr, about suffering in the Christian life, I quote: 'Suffering then is the badge of true discipleship', the badge of true discipleship, 'The disciple', as he quotes the Saviour, 'is not above his Master. Following Christ means passio passiva, suffering because we have to suffer. That is why Luther reckoned suffering among the marks of the true church. Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer'. So that is why Peter says in verse 12: 'Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you'.
The first thing that I want to share with you from these two verses is first of all: fiery trials are normal. Fiery trials in the life of a Christian are normal, that is why Peter says: 'Think it not strange, this fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you'. It is not strange that we should go through fiery trials in this life as believers in the Saviour. Yet the fact of the matter is, and I hope you would agree with me, these experiences that we might call fiery trials in our lives are often experiences that we think are strange. We believe them to be abnormal, we say as we enter them: 'What strange place is this? What strange experience am I going through? What is this strange occurrence that is happening to me?'. Yet the more and more we analyse, read, and study scripture we find out that there's nothing strange about it. Fiery trials are normal to the Christian!
We only need to remind ourselves of the words of the Saviour in John 15: 'If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you'. It ought not to be a surprise if we are hated for being Christians in this world. You remember in John 16 the Saviour says: 'These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world'. Now we don't want to minimise the fact of our Lord Jesus overcoming, as the Conqueror and the triumphant One, but nevertheless let us not forget: 'In the world', He said, 'ye shall have persecution'. So, what I want you to see - it may seem elementary - but this is something that so often we miss, and in our own experience we act to the contrary as if something abnormal, something strange is occurring in our lives. Yet God's word says: 'Beloved, think it not strange'.
What are you going through today? Of course, everything that we go through characteristically to ourselves we think it is strange. It takes us unawares, it overtakes us, and perhaps it even comes near to overcoming us. God is saying to you today, in your present distress and trouble and tribulation: 'This is normal for you, think it not strange'. The second thing I want you to notice, which leads on from our first point: fiery trials are not only normal, they are inevitable. Fiery trials are inevitable! Look at verse 12: 'Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you', which is to try you. Now perhaps sometimes we think in our ignorance that we should be able to avoid these sorts of things. I mean, you know 'You make your own luck', as people say in our world today, and if you want to avoid trouble, well, it's not hard to do so - it's just a matter of choices. Many feel, perhaps even as Christians, that they have the right to live life, even the Christian life, without any hassle at all.
There pervades this aura of expectation in 21st-century life today that life should be trouble-free, it should be all health, it should be all wealth and success. Sadly there are doctrines entering into the Christian church, particularly in Pentecostal and charismatic circles, that say it is God's will that this life should be trouble-free. In fact, to have an enjoyable life it will have to be a trouble-free life - no problems. Now, not only is that not real life, it is not true. It's time that God's people started believing God's word rather than the lies of the devil and the spirit of the age. I believe that much depression and disappointment in the life of many people in our world, Christians included, is directly related to false expectations that they have from life. They expect their lives to be easygoing, trouble-free - and when it doesn't happen that way they're dejected, they're disappointed, they're let down, their dream is shattered. Whilst we must guard always against pessimism, we need to cultivate in the Christian sense a realism, not a romanticism, but a realism that is rooted and grounded in the fundamental principles of Holy Scripture.
So what I'm saying to you all today, whether you're going through one of these fiery trials or not as we speak, the fact of the matter is: if you're not presently going through it, and you're having success and you're having a romance, and you're young and good looking, and everything is going for you and all the rest - you need to know that, just like Jeremy, eventually it's all going to change one day! It's all going to go downhill, and if you're not presently facing problems, please do not switch off: because one day soon you certainly will! Trials, especially fiery trials are inevitable. They are inevitable to everyone, especially to Christians.
Here is the prime reason, for the Christian at least, that these fiery trials are inevitable, simply: God has permitted them in His sovereign plan for you. That is why they are normal and inevitable for the child of God, because God has permitted them! If you look at verse 12: 'the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you'. You see that word 'happened' in the Greek language? It literally means 'to fall by chance'. He is saying: 'Don't think for one moment that this fiery trial which is to try you has happened to you as a strange thing by chance'. Peter is saying: 'Church, listen, these things aren't accidents. They don't happen to you accidentally, but God allows these things to enter into your life for your testing, for your purging, for your cleansing, and for your betterment not only as a human being but as a child of God'.
We read in Job chapter 23, didn't we, and if you don't know what Job went through read an introduction to the book, or even read the book as a whole, and see how he lost his family, he lost his business, he lost his wealth and his health, eventually lost the confidence of his wife and his friends. Everything seemed to go wrong, and he felt aloof and forsaken of God Himself, but yet Job could say: 'He performeth the thing that is appointed for me. I don't understand what God's doing', and in fact in chapter 23 he actually says, 'I can't even find God in the midst of my trial and trouble. Oh that I would find Him, I would argue my case - but though I can't find Him, I know that what He is performing is that which is appointed for me'. We often sing it: 'Every joy and trial cometh from above, traced upon the dial by the Son of Love'.
Fiery trials are normal, and fiery trials are inevitable in the Christian life. Therefore Peter says, because we know they are God's will, we should not be reluctant in our trials to embrace them as God's will. This is what Peter is saying, this is his point: we should be willing to suffer unjustly. Now you might say: 'Well, that's asking a little bit much of anybody', but here is his real fundamental point throughout 1 Peter, it's this: we should be willing to suffer, not just because it is God's will, the trials that we are going through, but because of how the Son of God suffered for us. Look at chapter 3 and verses 17 and 18: 'For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit'.
The Lord Jesus suffered unjustly, and it was the will of God that He should suffer unjustly at the hands of men as well as bearing the wrath of God for our sins. What Peter is saying is: through love of Him, we ought to suffer and be willing to suffer unjustly. If you look at chapter 1 verse 8, he says: 'Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory'. Now anybody, and I imagine it would be all of you, who have ever loved anyone will know that the price of love is pain. The more you love someone the more you will suffer in that love one way or another. Equally so, the purer the gold will be that is formed, it must go through the hotter fire. That is what Peter is expressing here: the greater the saints will be, the greater their suffering is, and the hotter their fiery trial is that they experience. Isn't that what Job said in Job 23? 'He knoweth the way that I take, and when He hath tried me I shall come forth as gold'.
This is not a Christian principle that is espoused. You don't hear this principle preached: the hotter the fire the purer the saints! But that is what God's word teaches: the more fiery trials you go through, the more valuable you will become as a child of God. The greater the suffering, the greater the result.
Now you might say: 'Well, that's very depressing', but you see this is Peter's point. It ought not to be depressing, for fiery trials not only are normal, and fiery trials are not only inevitable, but his third and main point that I want to bring to you from these verses is: fiery trials can be joyous. If you look at chapter 4 verse 13: 'But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy'. Now this is a totally different view of trouble than we have in the world today, and we would have to say even amongst many in the church. It is the sentiment of the little chorus that you learnt when you were a child: 'With Christ in the vessel we can smile at the storm, as we go sailing home'. To smile at the storm seems very strange, but this is exactly what portrays the secret of how to overcome in life's trials, especially as a Christian.
Here it is in three simple points from this verse, verse 13. One: fiery trials can be joyous through your attitude. Fiery trials can be joyous through your attitude. Look at verse 12 again, Peter said: 'Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you' - think it not strange - then in verse 13: 'But rejoice'. Abraham Lincoln said: 'A man is just as happy as he makes up his mind to be'. Although we don't want to err on the side of positive thinking, that's not what this Christian joy is, I know exactly what he's saying. It is possible, in the midst of life's fiery trials, to have joy. Victor E. Frankel, who was a Nazi death camp survivor, said this: 'Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing, the last of human freedoms, to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances'. That is exactly what Peter is speaking about: in the midst of our fiery trials, if we think the right thing and do not think the wrong thing, do not think it strange this trial which is to try you, you will overcome by Christ-like thinking.
Do you remember what Paul said in Philippians 2 about the mind of Christ? 'Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus', it was the mind of humility, the mind of forbearance, the mind of submissiveness to the will of God. We have exactly the same thing in 1 Peter, that the mind of Christ is given to us as our example of how to think about suffering. Can I ask you today: what is your attitude to suffering? Do you think that life should be free of all problems and trials? I know that some of you have had your fair share of them, and maybe you think that you've had just about enough. But my friend, how can any of our sufferings and trials compare to what the Lord Jesus went through? Look at 1 Peter 4 and verse 1, here is the attitude of Christ: 'Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin'. Have the same mind as Christ who suffered in the flesh for us! Whose sufferings, no matter what sufferings we may have, can be likened to His?
If you turn back to chapter 2 and verse 20, again His sufferings are given to us as an example of the attitude that we ought to have: 'For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God'. Why? 'For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed'.
I haven't been on the Christian road as long as many of you, but I've learnt this one thing: a lot of it is down to your attitude. It's no different in suffering: if you want to know joy in life's fiery trials, a large amount of your success in that regard will be down to your attitude. Then secondly: fiery trials can be joyous through your association with Christ. We've already touched on this: 'Ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings', verse 13. You see, not only in your attitude must you see the example of Christ, but you need to go a step further to see the great privilege that is to be understood in suffering with the Lord Jesus Christ. In Philippians Paul said that it was his prayer that he would know Christ, to know the power of His resurrection, to know the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death. Now we all want to know Jesus a little bit more, and we all want to know the power of His resurrection, but who of us counts it a privilege to enter into the fellowship of His sufferings? Yet what a privilege that is: to be conformed to the Saviour through our suffering.
Fiery trials can be joyous through your attitude, and part of that attitude will be associating your sufferings with the Man of Sorrows, and seeing it as a privilege. Then thirdly and finally: fiery trials can be joyous, and I think this is Peter's main point, through the anticipation of glory with Christ. Fiery trials can be joyous through the anticipation of glory with Christ, 'that, when His glory shall be revealed', verse 13, 'ye may be glad also with exceeding joy'. Now it was very tempting for me, when I thought of this third point 'fiery trials can be joyous', for the pure sake of superficial alliteration to say 'fiery trials can be enjoyable'. But when that thought occurred to me, I realised that trials, especially fiery ones, are not enjoyable - far from it. Trials are not enjoyable, and whilst James says, if you remember, in chapter 1: 'Count it all joy when you enter into different temptations', the joy that he speaks of there is not a sadistic one derived from the pain of the trial, but rather he's talking ultimately about the outcome of those trials. 'Count it all joy when you enter into different trials', and he says in verses 3 and 4 of chapter 1: 'Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing'.
Fiery trials are not enjoyable, but the joy comes in trial when we anticipate the end result, the glory that shall be ours when Christ shall appear. Verse 12 of James 1: 'Blessed is the man that endureth temptation', or testing, 'for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him'. Do you remember in the book of Hebrews, it does not say that Christ enjoyed the cross, it says He endured it. Why did He endure it? 'For the joy that was set before Him', not the joy that was in it for Him. Whilst it was His delight to do the Father's will, there was nothing intrinsically enjoyable about bearing men's sins on the cross. Here we have the mystery of Christian joy: Christian joy does not mean that we have to enjoy our circumstances, but Christian joy can exist in the midst of what is far from an enjoyable experience, where we have a deep inexplicable Spirit-wrought joy in our heart which transcends every trial.
Isn't this what Isaiah talked about in Isaiah 43? 'When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee'. Peter's point is that the Christian can have joy and hope in any situation because of the glorious future that the child of God has in Jesus. Have you lost sight of that? Christian with the clouds gathering, have you lost sight that the Saviour is coming? Is that still the hope that purifies you, even as He is pure? Peter is saying: 'Whatever you're going through' - this is a man that watched his Christian brethren fed to the lions, burned as torches in Nero's gardens, this was a man who was crucified upside down, we believe, for faith in Jesus Christ! Yet he could say: 'Have joy in the fact that when Christ shall appear, your glory shall be His glory, and you will be glad with exceeding joy'.
If you haven't got it in your heart, pray just now as we read a couple of verses together that the Lord will implant it in you. First Peter 1 verse 3, look at these verses: 'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively', or a living, 'hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you'. Verse 7: 'That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory'. Stand firm, Peter says: can I ask you today, how are you facing your fiery trial? Are you facing it as something that is normal to the child of God? Are you facing it as something that is inevitable, it's in God's will? Are you facing it as something that can be joyous? One, through your attitude; Two, through your association with Christ; and Three, through the anticipation of glory with Christ.
I was reading this week in Madam Cowman's book, 'Streams In The Desert', and one of the portions was from Numbers 21:17, and I want to leave this with you as I close my message today. She quoted this verse from Numbers 21:17 as the children of Israel were going through the wilderness, God promised them water, but they couldn't see any water round about them. Then God commanded them to sing to a well, and the verse just says this: 'Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it'. Spring up, O well; sing unto it.
Here's what the writer says: 'This was a strange song and a strange well. Are not our trials strange? We think them strange'. The writer goes on: 'They had been travelling over the desert's barren sands, no water was in sight and they were famishing with thirst. Then God spake to Moses and said, 'Gather the people together and I will give them water'. This is how it came: they gathered in circles on the sands, they took their staves and dug deep down into the burning earth, and as they dug they sang, 'Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it:'. Lo there came a gurgling sound, a rush of water, and a flowing stream which filled the well and ran along the ground. When they dug this well in the desert, they touched the stream that was running beneath, and reached flowing tides that had long been out of sight. How beautiful the picture given, telling us of the river of blessings that flows all through our lives, and we have only to reach out by faith and praise to find our wants supplied in the most barren desert. How did they reach the waters out of this well? It was by praise. They sang upon the sand their song of faith, while with their staff of promise they dug the well. Our praise will still open fountains in the desert, when murmuring will only bring judgment. Even prayer may fail to reach the fountains of blessing; there is nothing that pleases the Lord as much as praise. Joy in the midst of our trials'.
That is the portion of the child of God who sees their fiery trials as normal, inevitable; and in their attitude, association with Christ, and anticipation of glory see it as joy. Is that the way you see it today? May God give you the grace to see it as such.
Our Father, we thank Thee that the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below. We pray that in our lives we may hear the Saviour's gentle voice: Peace, be still. When peace like a river attendeth our way, or sorrow like sea-billows roll; whatever our lot, teach us to know: It is well, it is well with our soul. Take us to our homes in safety, and though our burden may not be lighter, may our hearts be. Through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "Fiery Trials" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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