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Refined by Fire

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,” – 1 Peter 1:13-15

I want you to imagine someone walking up to you, and as you look at their face you see sadness and despair. You see sunken eyes and droopy shoulders and you walk up to them and ask “Hey, you alright?”. Now the person breaks down into tears and shares their difficulties with you. What do you do? Let’s hold that thought there and we’ll get back to it.

A Fisherman’s Epistle

I enjoy reading Peter. One of the reasons as to why I enjoy reading him is that I get to read the theology of a former fisherman. When I read Paul, I know that I am reading the well thought out words of Gamaliel’s prodigious student who was trained in all scripture and literature. But Peter doesn’t have that sort of training. At no point in Peter’s life was he sitting in his office contemplating the teachings of Socrates. The larger chunk of his life prior to his conversion was spent dealing with fish. But the Peter we find in 1 Peter and 2 Peter is not a fisherman, he’s a fisher of men. He’s in a position of authority over the entire Church of God and has to deal with their problems and struggles.

A Strange Counsel

As we read 1 Peter we get to see Peter’s pastoral counsel to persecuted Christians, or to use the words he did, “to elect exiles of the Dispersion”. He’s talking to Christians who are suffering for the sake of their faith and his task is to comfort them. While reading this epistle something very odd and interesting struck me. While Peter is comforting the believers with the promises of scripture, he’s also urging them to grow in their sanctification. Now why would that be odd or interesting? Isn’t that the most pastoral thing to do? That’s where the context comes to play. One would imagine that Peter’s audience are perhaps not in the best mindset to listen to a lecture on sanctification. Why would Peter give such a counsel? Is he an intellectual giant who is so full of knowledge and not an ounce of empathy that he finds it important to shove moral law into every conversation? By no means! Like I mentioned earlier, he used to be a fisherman. He walked with Christ and saw his master suffer and stand for the Glory of God. Peter also, was no stranger to suffering and as history suggests he breathed his last breath on a cross like his savior did while in flesh. Peter knows what he is talking about.

Let’s go back to the scenario we tried imagining at the beginning of this article, where a weary sad man broke down in front of you crying and shared his struggles with you. What would we do? Well I’d imagine that like every average Joe we’d try to encourage and comfort them. Come to think of it, wouldn’t it be just weird if we held them by their shoulders and asked “So brother, how’s your prayer life these days?”. Now, I do acknowledge the difference in nature of a long form of communication like letter and a one to one talk between brothers. I am in no way suggesting that our first words to a broken person is “Brother how’s your personal prayer life?”, but what I want us see here is that irrespective of the circumstances, Peter finds it to be an important topic to discuss.

An Unchanging Mission

Peter is asking the believers to live in holiness while still acknowledging that they do have their own personal dragons to slay. Hence, he starts by asking them to be sober minded. It would be too silly to assume that every single one of the believers in exile are drunk on wine, the drunkenness mentioned here is not that caused by any strong drink, but by trials and tribulations. Suffering doesn’t ring the door bell to let us know that it is at our doorstep, instead it comes breaking the door and throwing a smoke grenade to catch us off guard. Suffering disorients us as though we were air dropped into the middle of an ocean with no sign of land to be found in any direction. Now, I am sure that you’d agree when I say that this person’s greatest priority at that moment wouldn’t be to change his engine oil. Our minds are easily distracted by the problem at hand and the suffering we go through as a result. But Peter here tries to talk some sense into his audience by saying that this suffering is no reason to backslide. I think we can take a few lessons from Peter’s counsel. When suffering comes crashing like a wave into our lives don’t let it disorient us from the mission of the gospel and holiness to which we have been called to. In fact, in chapter 4 of the epistle Peter goes on to say

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” 1 Peter 4:12

He says that these trials are not a surprise that Satan sneaked into our lives when God took a rest from His governing duties. God is well aware of them and He is using them to mould you to be more like His Son (1 Peter 1:7).

The Reason

When Peter asks us not be conformed to the passions of our former ignorance, he tells us how not to live and he talks about how such a life was the result of ignorance. But now we know something that helps us not to live as slaves to those passions and helps us be sober minded. And what is that? Well of course the knowledge of Good news of God because he asks us to set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. But also he gets more specific, he talks about the Holiness of God. Peter says that we ought to be Holy because God is Holy. Interestingly he doesn’t say “God does something, hence you do something” but he says “God is something and so you work towards becoming that”. We are being urged to live holy because God is Holy. We are asked not just to behold the works of God but also to behold God. When we suffer we behold our problems, but to be sober minded is to behold God. Peter is asking us to look at what is more important, he is encouraging us to not lose sight of the might and glory of God that both terrifies us and evokes worship in us at the same time.

The Exhortation

What do we make of all this? Well, many of us are suffering now and many have and many will. When the day of trouble comes, let us remember the words of Peter and look at God. And what is our window to look into the glory of God? The Bible, the Word of God. When the day of trouble comes, brothers and sisters, let us not find ourselves backsliding and losing all hope but rather let us find ourselves glued in front of the Holy Scripture seeking and waiting to behold the Glory of God.

If our Heavenly Father sent His only begotten Son to die on behalf of our sins, he surely does care for us. Hence, let us run this race well, not just on the bright sunny days of our lives, but also on those days when there’s thunder and heavy rain. Let’s come out of the furnace of fiery trial as refined gold.

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