Thursday, April 23, 2009
Current Study: First Peter
Today’s Topic: Times are Tough, So Rejoice
Today’s Scripture: 1 Peter 1:6-7 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
I know my brain is working because I am both thinking and writing. But I can’t seem to process my thoughts this morning. My mind is filled with ideas but I can’t organize them. I am at once both sharp and dull. I am a living oxymoron. I may be just a moron.
Oxymora are interesting. (Oxymora is the plural form of oxymoron.) The very word itself is a combination of two Greek words – oxy, meaning sharp and moros, meaning dull. Thus, even the word oxymoron is an oxymoron.
An oxymoron is a word or combination of words that represent opposing and contradictory ideas. For example, we eat jumbo shrimp. When we are uncomfortable in a social situation, we might try to appear invisible. Some people get really tired of constant change. Women spend millions of dollars on natural makeup. Journalists report that someone was found missing. Governments equip soldiers to be a peacekeeping force. We have cultures that have legalized mercy killing.
It appears that Peter was guilty of using an oxymoron in today’s Scripture reading when he refers to joyful suffering. He is clearly stating that in the life of a Christian there are two opposing emotions constantly intertwined in our lives. We are filled with joy because of our new life in Christ and the hope of glory. At the same time, we are experiencing grief because of all the sufferings of this sinful world in which we live. Joyful suffering. Glorious grief. Christian oxymora.
This may not come as good news to you, but the constant tension of joy and grief is intentionally designed by God for our good. Paul Brand, the missionary surgeon to India wrote this in his book entitled, Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants: I have come to see that pain and pleasure come to us not as opposites but as Siamese twins, strangely joined and intertwined. Nearly all my memories of acute happiness, in fact, involve some element of pain or struggle.
It would be much more appealing to us if we could just teach that grief and suffering go away when we come to Christ, but that would not be the truth. The fact is that God intentionally uses the trials and troubles of life and our emotional grief as a means to refine our faith. In as much as you rejoice in your salvation now, you will rejoice even more as the joy of your salvation conquers the grief of your troubles. Trials prove the reality of faith.
Be careful when you read this passage. We are not told to rejoice about the suffering – we are told to rejoice about our salvation while we are suffering. The foe of our faith would have us fix our focus on our failures. We tumble into his trap when we tremble in our trials. But there is an alternative – we can choose to be vocal about our victory in Christ.
Each one of us has the right and power to determine our own attitude. Our choice to rejoice or grumble boils down to one determining factor – our focus on long-term rewards or short-term benefits. One is the truth and the other is a lie. The truth is that we have guaranteed long-term rewards based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The lie is that there are any short-term benefits to wallowing in our grief. Faith is not refined in the fires of grief, but in the praise of God who is greater than the flames. (Remember Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. Read Daniel chapter 3)
Genuine faith rejoices in salvation that is permanent regardless of temporary trials. Sure things get bad – even unbearable at times. But nothing – neither trouble nor hardship nor persecution nor famine nor nakedness nor danger nor sword nor death nor life; neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. In this you can rejoice!