Sermon 18th April 2020
I wonder how your faith is through these challenging times, these times of isolation? Is it growing – does it feel weak?
It can go either way can’t it, when things are taken away that we are used to, that we have relied upon?
Where is our security, our source of strength when places of stability, familiar routines are no longer there?
We are facing such questions at the moment, when we can’t meet together, can’t see each other, can’t pray together, can’t worship together, can’t learn together in the usual way.
Will we make it through, will our faith hold, especially when prayers seem to go unanswered or things around us go wrong.
When certain props are removed will this be a fast track to spiritual progress, or a slide to spiritual decay?
Peter writes in this letter to a vulnerable community of Christians in the 1st century who were facing similar questions, who were also suffering for their faith. These Gentile Christians were encountering local opposition for their new found faith. Sometimes we might think it was easier for the early Christians, especially those who had seem Jesus face to face, but they too had their challenges to face. This letter speaks of suffering as a natural part of being a Christian, just as suffering was a part of the life of Jesus – and we are not to be surprised by this. In fact we are to be glad about this because of the opportunities it brings for our faith to grow (1P1:6+7a).
Peter writes that even gold is tested & purified – he says your faith is much more valuable than gold.
Peter writes this message of encouragement to these Christians, these Christians who were suffering:
As an encouragement to hold on to their faith which is based on God’s goodness, God’s grace, despite circumstances
As an encouragement to endure through suffering which is a place for growth in faith
As an encouragement to look to the God who holds onto them in their faith, and keeps for them their inheritance of faith – the hope of heavenPeter reminds these Christians and us today, that their faith is ultimately based on God’s grace, God’s mercy, and not dependant on their goodness, their strength, their knowledge, their faithfulness, and they are to be thankful, grateful for this. Peter himself knew only too well that his faith depended ultimately on God’s grace rather than his own worthiness!
Having declared Jesus as the Messiah and unswerving loyalty to Jesus; Peter soon after denied Jesus 3 times. Yet soon after that, out of God’s supreme grace, Jesus reinstated Peter as a key leader for the church. Jesus’ threefold recommission would always be engraved in Peter’s mind reminding him that his ministry, his faith would always be on the basis of God’s grace. Many believe Peter to be the source behind Mark’s gospel, which portrays the apostle Peter as one who needed & received God’s grace.
Peter encourages Christians then & now to hold onto faith based on grace with humility & thanksgiving whatever the circumstances.
And it was through suffering that Peter grew into the leader he became. Without the knocks & the falls & the mistakes & the huge sense of inadequacy, Peter would not have known the amazing power of Jesus transforming his weakness into a demonstration of God’s strength.
Peter was an example of how God can redeem suffering and bring about growth.
Peter encourages Christians then and now to endure through suffering as a place for growth. Rather than seeing suffering as weakness in itself, suffering can highlight where we are weak in ourselves, as an opportunity for God to be strong in us, a place to grow, a place for us to be transformed.
And Peter points these Christians to the One who holds us & holds for us the hope of heaven – an inheritance that will never fade or decay – the hope that the best is yet to come. Peter encourages Christians then and now to keep looking to the God who keeps us. The verb ‘keep’ occurs 3 times in these verses (1P1:5-6). We are to keep looking to the One who keeps us.
So for us today let’s hold on to our faith and grow through suffering.
So how can we do that?
Firstly let’s not be surprised when we do suffer – this is a natural part of our Christian faith: Christ suffered and His followers will also suffer.
Also let’s not be surprised when things go wrong – we live in an imperfect world, full of imperfect people and we are one of them!
But through suffering, through getting it wrong… we learn – think about a smooth pebble in the beach, it did not become that way straight away; it would have started as a jagged rock with sharp edges, but over time the sea would have worn down those edges making it smooth.
As Christians we are work in progress – we have been saved, forgiven by God through Christ; we have salvation but we are also being saved, been made more like Christ… and that is a gradual process – a slow process in my case!
Our passage today says (v9) ‘you are receiving the salvation of your souls’ – present participle not past tense – you are receiving salvation. So let’s go on receiving God’s salvation – God’s grace – to reach every part of our lives: our minds, our bodies, our emotions, our soul.
Secondly let’s make a point of asking God to help us. When we suffer, when we struggle, when we feel weak… ask for God’s help to endure, for God’s guidance, for God’s strength.
One of my favourite verses in the Bible is also from 1Peter and 5:7 says ‘cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you’. It’s a Biblical command!
If you’re frightened – give to God your fear
If you’re lacking faith – give to God your worry
If you’re lacking love for someone – give to God your anger/bitterness
If you’re frustrated with lack of progress – give to God your frustrationAnd then make a point of receiving God’s help… receiving God’s salvation for your soul:
Lord I receive your peace… your patience… your love for that person… your joy in my lifeThirdly let’s have our mind set on the long term goal as well as the immediate. We have the hope of heaven, our spiritual inheritance which is kept safe for us – a place where there will be no more crying or pain. And in the meantime we are being prepared as a people for when Christ will indeed return and take us to be with him in heaven. We are being prepared, made ready for that time by growing in our faith, growing though suffering. Peter in this letter encourages Christians then and now to hold firm to the One who holds them firm (read 5:9-10).
These are challenging times
But God can bring growth in our faith through suffering
Let’s open up our lives to receive God’s help to grow
How do you tend to react to suffering – as something which damages faith or as something through which faith can grow – and why is that?
How does the hope of heaven encourage you for the present?
How have you experienced growth in your faith through suffering and how can that help you today?