Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. (NASB)
I wonder how many people come to Christ and think He is going to solve all their problems. They may have heard the Gospel message of forgiveness and peace with God. In some cultures, this would be equated with prosperity and good health. After all, don’t many pagans sacrifice or pray to gods so that they will be blessed by these gods? Even among Christian churches, the message is preached that if we do what God wants and have faith, He will do whatever we ask.
This passage in Peter isn’t the first time that suffering as a part of a normal Christian life has been presented and it isn’t the last. It is in complete agreement with what Jesus taught. Since this has been discussed in previous studies, I won’t go over all that again.
A key in this passage is that I shouldn’t be surprised when a fiery ordeal happens. If I’m surprised, then I must not have been reading the Bible and understand what Jesus taught. I may have been listening to someone who I thought was a good preacher but who has his own agenda instead of God’s. I can only be surprised if I’m not anticipating problems. I can only be surprised if I haven’t prepared myself to stand firm in the face of temptations. This is a call to be prepared to battle life’s problems from a spiritual standpoint.
Another key is that the ordeals are fiery. In the Greek, fiery trial or fiery ordeal is one word, purosis (poo'-ro-sis); ignition, i.e. (specifically) smelting (figuratively, conflagration, calamity as a test). Smelting takes a very intense heat. A conflagration is a large fire that causes a great deal of damage. Peter wasn’t talking about stubbing my toe; he was talking about some extreme difficulties in life. These are earth-shattering events that would cause most people to rethink their priorities and what is most important.
If I had just come to Christ and then something like this happened, would I wonder if I had made the wrong decision? I’ve seen it happen to others. They think that they have either signed up on the wrong side and go back to their former religion or that God isn’t who they thought so they abandoned their newfound faith. I clearly remember a co-worker who only turned to Jesus as a test to see if things would get better for him. When his problems weren’t solved, he renounced his decision to follow Christ. Unfortunately for him, things continued in a downward spiral. I remember a person who renounced his previous faith at his baptism, yet several years later turned back to it.
Jesus’ parable clearly fits these reactions to trials. Matt 13:20-21 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. (NIV) Peter also addresses this in 2 Peter 2:20-22 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, The dog turns back to his own vomit, and the sow is washed only to wallow in the mire. (RSV)
Earlier, Peter explained that trials are there to prove the genuineness of our faith. (1 Peter 1:7) My co-worker’s faith was proved to be false. I’m not speculating about this, I asked him point blank, why he turned away and reverted to his old ways. He admitted that he was only testing Jesus to see if it would do any good for him. This man had the knowledge of Jesus but didn’t want to submit to Jesus. It was a “me” decision, not a decision to follow Jesus.
The sad part is that when Jesus is revealed my co-worker and any others who have failed the fiery tests will not be overjoyed. They will not be able to look forward to an eternity when the trials will be over. They will only be able to look forward to eternal fiery trials because their faith was not genuine in the beginning. If their faith was genuine, they would not have departed. Peter will address this in 1 Peter 5:10.
The expectation of an eternal rejoicing with Jesus is a blessing that kept the Christians of the first few centuries going through their persecution. How much more, as we draw closer to the return of Christ, should we remain steadfast in the face of all kinds of trials and temptations?