by Dennis Costella
©FOUNDATION Magazine, May-June 1996—Revised and updated June 1997
"Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you" 1 Peter 4:12
Why do the righteous suffer? If God is in control of all that pertains to the lives of His children, then why does He permit them to go through times of distress? It is during these dark times that the suffering saint is tempted to ask, "Why must this happen to ME, Lord? Has God forgotten me? Does He really care?" Yes, our Lord does care—infinitely so—and He has a special message for the Christian who is going through a difficult trial right now. This good word of consolation is especially needful for the faithful believer who, as viewed from man's perspective, seems to deserve far better. How often the Christian who most resolutely purposes to please and serve his Lord with singleness of heart is the very one who, for no apparent reason, is called upon to bear the heaviest burden.
The actual testing may take on a wide variety of forms, with the degree and cause of the affliction greatly differing. The common feature in this consideration of the suffering believer is, however, his inability to control the circumstances that brought on his distress. It may be the grief and the tremendous loss experienced by the death of a loved one. It may be unceasing physical pain and continued illness or a deep financial crisis. It may be interpersonal problems a Christian may face in the home, on the job, or even in the church. It may be the emotional upset felt by the taunts of the unsaved and, sad to say, even by fellow believers who show little concern as to how their unkind words or actions wound the sensitive believer's inner man. There is also the faithful pastor or the tireless Christian worker who is maligned and opposed by the very ones to whom he endeavors to minister. Those who must deal with continual, unjustified criticism as they seek to simply "do right" know all too well how such barbs can wound the spirit. The list of causes that fuel these fiery trials could go on and on.
Victory in the midst of the hardship is not possible, however, until the afflicted believer is enabled by the Holy Spirit to understand his predicament in the light of God's precious Word. If this trial is then seen to be in fact the Father's doing, then a resignation by faith to His perfect will is certain to produce the invaluable spiritual fruit He desires to be manifest in the life. God's best for the believer is not necessarily a freedom from all cares and trials, but rather the far more blessed experience of realizing the promised peace and grace to bear patiently the burden He, in His infinite wisdom, has given the saint to bear.
God has revealed in His Word, and especially in the first epistle of Peter, the reason why an all-loving heavenly Father would place His child in such a wearisome situation in the first place. The early church was facing tremendous suffering at the time of the writing of this epistle, not for their evil doing, but for their steadfast adherence to the Faith. Even greater trials were ahead because of the terrible persecutions soon to be inflicted by the Roman emperors. The early Christians, therefore, needed to be equipped by God to deal with the forthcoming reign of terror (1 Peter 4:16,17) as well as the injustices they were facing each day for no other reason than that they were vibrant examples of Blood-washed, transformed sinners (1 Peter 2:18,19; 3:15,16; 4:14). God faithfully delivered the message they needed to hear and heed if they were to be prepared to withstand "the fiery trial" which was to try them. This was true for them, and it is true for all who name the Name of Christ today as well. The refiner's fire is ever God's method of burning away the dross so that the gold can come forth the finer.
The believer should neither be surprised nor disheartened concerning these trials which come into his life. "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you" (1 Peter 4:12). God has His reasons for such occurrences, and the believer must by faith "rejoice" now in the midst of the trial (1 Peter 4:13) and await the "glory" to be revealed at His imminent appearing (1 Peter 1:6-9) when perfect understanding shall dispel all shadows. The believer is in "the fiery trial" so that he will:
DISCOVER GOD'S PURPOSE
He is the One Who has deemed it necessary. A false teaching pervades many religious circles today which erroneously contends that it is never God's will for the Christian to go through hardship or experience suffering. Or, if these are a reality in the life, then they are explained to be the result of unconfessed sin or lack of faith. But this is simply not the case. The First Epistle of Peter makes it plain that at times it is God's will, even for the faithful believer, to undergo a time of severe trial. It could very well be true that the hard place you find yourself in at this very moment is not a result of "sin in the life," but rather the will of God being worked out for His glory and for your good.
The suffering experienced by the believers in the early Church was not a result of the chastening hand of God upon the disobedient, for it was clearly stated that they were suffering "according to the will of God" (1 Peter 4:19). Our heavenly Father does indeed exercise discipline in the life of His child who persists in misbehavior. But chastening was not the matter of consideration in this context, for it was said to these believers that "...it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing" (1 Peter 3:17).
Yes, in God's infinite wisdom, He at times determines it needful for his faithful, obedient servant to undergo testing, even if the trial is to come at the hands of the wicked. The Lord Jesus Christ was Himself the supreme example of suffering wrong in well doing: "Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously" (read carefully 1 Peter 2:19-25). This quiet, reverential yieldedness by faith to the Father's will in partaking of the bitter cup of suffering exemplified the solemn truth that God's will can include a "fiery trial" for those who are the very object of His affection. Please notice as well that this glorious account of our Saviour's agony was given in the above mentioned text for the express purpose of encouraging the suffering saint, for it is written that "...if when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God" (1 Peter 2:20).
It is the Father's will for every believer to be conformed to the image of His dear Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The cruel and undeserved treatment our Lord experienced during His earthly humiliation was an indispensable expression of His absolute yieldedness to the will of His heavenly Father, for "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered" (Hebrews 5:8). Sin was not the issue here, but obedience, and this conformity to the Father's will was only made manifest under the fire of adversity. Do you see this incredibly vital truth? Obedience to God's will necessarily includes yieldedness to the trial of your faith through suffering. "The fiery trial" is integral to the Father's purpose of sanctifying and strengthening His child.
When we find ourselves in a hard place, we should first of all ask the Lord to search our hearts and see if there is any sin unconfessed and unforsaken that might warrant His chastening hand. But if this is not the case, then we must not allow Satan to dishearten and discourage us by introducing the false notion that a believer who is enduring affliction must necessarily be out of the will of God.
REST IN HIS PROMISES
The ones who are experiencing "the fiery trial" are reminded that they are to "commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful creator" (1 Peter 4:19). Once again, Christ served as the perfect example, for He also "committed himself to him that judgeth righteously" (1 Peter 2:23)—truly He maketh no mistake!
On the surface it may seem a strange paradox, but the very God Who ordained it necessary for the trial of affliction has also promised in His Word to lovingly care for the beleaguered saint. This is the discipline of grace—to learn our need for dependence on His bountiful provision of sustaining grace.
We must remember that this promised care is provided by none other than the omnipotent, sovereign Creator of the universe; there is no difficulty the child of God will ever face that is beyond the limits of His mighty, yet compassionate care.
The apostle Paul was able to rejoice in the greater blessedness that he experienced by appropriating the grace to endure the "thorn in the flesh" rather than having it divinely removed. Oh, if only we in our trial could (and by the Spirit we can!) say with the apostle: "And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Corinthians 12:9,10).
God never makes a mistake, and we must ever keep this in mind when we contemplate the dealings of our Heavenly Father with His own. His unfailing love is as much expressed in His care for the saint undergoing untold sorrow or agony as it is in the miraculous deliverance from the suffering itself. Satan would delight to have the believer in "the fiery trial" question the Lord's unceasing love that will endure all things (Hebrews 13:5; John 15:9). But Satan is a liar in contrast to our God Who cannot lie (Titus 1:2)—only listen to His Word.
Even testing for correction is administered in divine faithfulness. The child of God is exhorted in Hebrews to "despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth" (Hebrews 12:5,6). He knows what is needed to bring us to that place of repentance and yieldedness to His divine will. Again we are reminded that all is done for "our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness" (Hebrews 12:10).
Therefore, dear Christian, never despair--you are in His care. The glorious exhortation to cast "all your care upon him; for he careth for you" (1 Peter 5:7) is given specifically for the believer who is in deep distress. Whatever the problem that causes worry and care, you must, by a definite act of resting faith, leave it with the One Who "careth for you"!
COME FORTH THE FINER
God has a lesson for us to learn in every trial. We often speak of our need of patience, yet fail to remember that "tribulation worketh patience." We often desire a closer walk with our Lord and want to experience the riches of His grace, yet at the same time, we tend to forget that "His strength is made perfect in our weakness," our extremity. Whatever would cause us to see more clearly our insufficiency and our complete dependency upon God is accomplishing His purpose. The importance of complete dependence on the God of all grace is an invaluable lesson to be learned.
The believer's required reliance upon his Lord as he travels this earthly pilgrimage on his way to that Heavenly City is beautifully portrayed in Song of Solomon 8:5: "Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?" This is the ideal posture for every believer, a trusting repose on the breast of our Beloved, the Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever is required to reduce us to complete dependence on His faithfulness and His grace to bear us through the wilderness to the "glory that shall follow" must be viewed in the light of this purpose. Adversity is an effective instrument often used by God to cause us to trust more fully in Him.
Another vital lesson learned only by "the fiery trial" is the much-needed fruit of the Spirit of "meekness," the humble resignation of one to the revealed will of God in respect to a sore trial. This genuine humility produced by the Holy Spirit is a prerequisite to all usefulness in the Lord's service, for God alone is worthy of all glory and honor. It is a flagrant sin against heaven for any servant to desire attention to be drawn to himself. If such motive is present, a lesson undoubtedly needs to be learned.
1 Peter 5:6 says: "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time." This humbling process does not refer to an act accomplished by the believer, for the verb implies a continuous action. It is rather the humbling process of God where, by His mighty Hand, He brings to bear upon the believer whatever is necessary to teach him that Christ must have the preeminence in all things. Then the Holy Spirit can produce in the life the fruit pleasing to God, unencumbered by our delusions of self-worth and foolish pride.
Every born-again believer should desire with his whole heart to be a strong, settled, spiritually mature, established-in-the-faith Christian. This is the normal Spirit-wrought expectation of the renewed inner man. But please notice in the tenth verse of chapter five the order of realizing maturity: "But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you." When we are under His training, the hardships are ordained of God to better prepare us for service in our Master's vineyard. God is in the process of doing a work in us that prepares us for His use. Preparation must precede fruitfulness. There are no shortcuts for spiritual growth and usefulness.
PATIENTLY WAIT UPON HIM
God has promised He will never allow the saint to go through more than he is able, by God's grace, to endure. It is our Lord alone Who knows the length of the testing required to produce the result He desires. The Christian going through difficult trials cries out from the depths of his heart, "How long, Lord? I can't bear it any longer!" It is at this point that his faith is most tested as to whether or not he really believes His Lord does "all things well" (Mk. 7:37).
We have the promise of 1 Corinthians 10:13 that "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." He knows what trial is needed for each of His own, how heavy the burden is to be borne, and how long it is to be endured.
The process of being humbled under the mighty Hand of God through "the fiery trial" continues until the "due time" (1 Peter 4:6), and He alone is able to determine the prescribed time for relief. God may see fit to deliver the suffering saint from his affliction in the near future or at a time more distant. Or, in His omniscience, He may determine the deliverance will not be realized in the believer's lifetime but rather at the Judgment Seat of Christ. For the faithful believer who has endured much in the flesh and has learned to endure each day by God's sustaining grace, this will be a glorious day—then it will be worth it all!
Your response may very well be, "That's easy for you to say, but you do not realize the pain and anguish of my situation." Yes, that is true, but this counsel is not given by another believer who would no doubt lack understanding and empathy, but by God Himself. His Word says, "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).
Only when the current trial is viewed from the light of eternity can we at this time "greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: 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" (1 Peter 1:6,7). Faith looks to the time yet future when there will be no more pain, no more anguish and no more sorrow. God has promised to provide the strength to meet the trials of each new day in the present as well.
Every Christian can therefore expect times of testing, for these serve the divine purposes of refining and strengthening the believer's faith. It is important for the one going through the fiery trial to remember that he is there for God's purpose, he is in God's care, he is under God's training and he will be there only for the time his Heavenly Father determines. When these facts are realized, the suffering saint can by faith confidently commit his way unto the One Who infinitely loves and perfectly cares for His own. He knows our deepest need, our greatest anguish, and has promised to extend His tender mercies to sustain us in our darkest hour.
May the indwelling Spirit enable us to say with the psalmist: "I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me" (Psalm 119:75). And then upon acknowledgment of God's purpose being accomplished, trust His sustaining grace in the time of need—such was the petition of the psalmist, "Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant" (Psalm 119:76). God is faithful; He desires to fulfill the precious promises of His eternal Word in our lives as well.
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