I grew up around the music of Pete Fountain and Al Hirt—jazz legends. Kids with any musical aspirations who heard these guys, in short order wanted to be like them. That meant a trip to the music store to get a used clarinet or trumpet. It’s amazing what happens after that first week of practice. You start feeling the long hours. Your fingers hurt. You’ll never master that note. After three weeks you still don’t sound amazing. Worse, you can faintly hear your favorite television show in the other room during practice time. Pretty soon, the dream of enthralling live audiences, and becoming a living legend falls by the wayside. You wonder why you ever wanted the funky piece of metal to begin with. The instrument gets sold in the next garage sale.
Even minimal suffering has the power to drain all the hope out of our hearts. Sometimes the only way to get it back is through a vivid reminder of what originally galvanized and inspired us. The Apostle Peter adopted that approach in his first letter to believers whose trials and grief (1:6-7) had flattened them.
First, he launches praise to God for our second birth. It comes off as celebratory, but you can’t help but notice that it also seems to be a disguised reminder—like, “Hey everybody, isn’t it awesome that we’ve been born a second time?” You know the situation must have been dire for Christians to need that kind of memo. It sounds as if they had taken a hit direct to the solar plexus, a jolt that makes it hard even to remember your last name.
Without missing a beat, Peter segues into the hope of being born again and where it’s supposed to take us (1:3). That’s helpful. In peacetime I get lulled into thinking the second birth should secure for me a predictable, happy, and comfortable life, complete with iced tea and lawn chair. I’m supposed to be blessed, right? When expectations fall through, I complain about how I didn’t sign up for this, yada, yada. At that point I’m in need of a hope tune-up. Peter says our goal is an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled. It is being kept for you and you are being kept for it. Nothing can touch it or destroy it and nothing can touch you or destroy you in the eternal sense of the word (1:3-5).
“Okay,” you might say, “Why does my current situation have to be so awful?” Then Peter concedes that “now for a little while” (1:7), during this period of waiting, we encounter trials. They seem to loom overhead with sledge hammers. After them come the flamethrowers. But all these can do is prove the genuineness of your faith. They prove what you have is real. Alternately, they burn off whatever stuff isn’t— a process we call “tested by fire” (1:7). If there are substandard elements in your faith, they get incinerated. The result is a genuine faith that glows like the sun. This isn’t just faith in the passive, undisturbed sense of the word. It’s tried faith—faith proven to be effective and powerful. And it is more precious than any material element on earth, including gold.
Should anyone think this sounds like drudgery, we are far from being a bunch of Eeyores. During this ordeal, “we rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1:8). Our happiness surrounds a Christ we cannot see—”now you do not see Him” (1:8). But this is part of faith’s perfection—not only enduring with the end in view, but enjoying the presence of Jesus in the here and now without benefit of sight.
Peter assures us there will be an end. No more trials. No more faith. There will come a time when the world has done all it can do and the devil has exhausted his resources. You will be left standing. Faith, the need to grasp spiritual things without sight—will be over. Your soul will experience the exuberance of total salvation. We will have been saved not in spite of the trials but through them. We will have made it not in spite of the invisibility of Christ, but through it.
I know you’ve already heard these thoughts in sermons. You’ve seen them in books. You’ve read them in your Bible. You’ve even used them to help others. So why repeat them here?