Overcoming Obstacles (1 Peter 1:6-9)


Sermon by Rev. Daniel L. Sonnenberg  | July 17, 2011


Text:

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7  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. 8  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9  for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Pet. 1:6-9)

The past two weeks we’ve been looking at the book of First Peter. Peter and Silas wrote to encourage Christians who were being persecuted for their faith in Christ. As we saw in the introduction, since we are Strangers in a Strange Land, sometimes we are persecuted for our faith, and persecutions come from the outside – it is an external attack. The goal of our persecutors is to cause us to lose hope and leave the faith. God’s goal is to give us hope so we can finish the course he has set before us.

Last week we were reminded that in persecutions we can find HOPE by looking to what God has done in our PAST through Christ’s resurrection in the NEW BIRTH…When we look back over the many things God has done for us in the past, we can trust that his faithfulness will continue.

Second, we discovered that can find HOPE by looking to what God promises to do in our FUTURE in the NEW INHERITANCE. Our inheritance can’t die, can’t be polluted, can’t dry up and can’t be stolen. When we look forward to such a great inheritance it gives us renewed hope.

Third, we learned that we can find HOPE by looking at what God is currently doing in our PRESENT to give us SECURE SALVATION. We can regain hope by remembering that God’s power is guarding not only our inheritance, but also, us, the inheritors. God’s power is guarding and guiding us through enemy lines back to friendly territory.

Today we’re looking at the next few verses that tell us that as we gain hope from remembering what God has done, will do, and, is doing for us, we can take on the challenges that persecutions provide. Remember, our persecutors’ goal is to cause us to lose hope and leave the faith. Last week we talked about how to renew our HOPE. This week we’re talking about how to maintain our FAITH in persecution.

The life of Faith is sometimes compared to an athletic contest in Scripture. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church:

1 Co. 9:24-26 (NLT) Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!  All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.  So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing.

He also wrote to the Philippian church: Phil. 3:13-14 (NLT) …Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,  I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

So if we liken our life of faith to a cross country race and liken our persecutions to the obstacles in the race before we us, we could say that this passage tells us that because we have HOPE through Jesus Christ, we can ENJOY THE RACE in Spite of the Obstacles, and we will FINISH THE RACE in Spite of the Obstacles placed before us.

My story of running cross Country – learning to enjoy the race.

Ran cross country bc I was not a fast runner, want to be a long runner, prove to myself and baseball coach. First day, ran the two mile course for time, completed the course without walking. First year ran dead last in every meet – and those of us at the back of the pack joked about how slow we were – but I always finished the race. Second year, actually started to ENJOY running. Still at the back of the pack, but started to beat a few people, made it a little more fun. End of season got to run in the JV meet with real obstacles.

Some Christians believe they will finish the course, but don’t enjoy the race along the way because they are so disappointed or frustrated by the size or shape or difficulty of the obstacles along the way.

This passage tells us first that

We can ENJOY THE RACE IN SPITE OF THE OBSTACLES set before us.

 We see this theme of joy-in-suffering or rejoicing-in-hope throughout the NT. It tells us in short: if you have hope, you can have joy.

Rom. 5:3 (NLT) We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 

 Jas. 1:2 (NLT) Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 

Matt. 5:12 (NLT) (When you are persecuted for your faith)… Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven…

 V6 tells us first that

We can enjoy the race in spite of the obstacles because We Have Hope.

“…In this you greatly rejoice…”

The “This” here refers back grammatically to hope that we discussed last week in vv3-6. Because, in Christ, we have the new birth, the new inheritance and a secure salvation, we have HOPE for the days ahead. We may not know what ups and downs may come, but we know who will keep and guard us until he comes again – Jesus Christ will do so through his resurrection and by the power of God. This gives us an overall hope for the future.

V6 tells us second

We can enjoy the race because even though the Obstacles are Real and Difficult they are Limited.

“…though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials…”

Most cross country races have real obstacles – hurdles, barriers, water hazards, hills and streams to cross over or through. Likewise, the race that we run as Christians includes real persecutions. “Trials” is a nice way of saying “persecutions” here. But it also says we will “suffer grief.” The Christians to which this was written were experiencing real persecutions – attacks of various kinds – because of their faith in Christ. Jesus warned his disciples, “Because they hated me, they will hate you,” so though we are disappointed and hurt when this happens, we should not be surprised.

Some people choose to deny that persecutions are real  –  maybe so it won’t hurt as badly, or maybe because they don’t want to blame God for allowing pain into their lives. Have you ever seen a racer run around an obstacle? They’re either pretending it isn’t there – and hoping no one notices, or they’re too tired or hurt to go over it. Either way, the obstacle is still there and has to be dealt with in some way.

Not only are persecutions Real, they are also Difficult.

The NIV uses the phrase “you may have,” while other translations use the phrase “if necessary” – you had to suffer grief…

In God’s sovereignty, “if necessary,” he allows persecutions into our lives as he did into Jesus’ life. Scripture says Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered. I suggest we learn obedience the same way. Our friend and fellow pastor, Jim Glasgow often says, “I don’t think I’ve learned anything of real value without going through some pain in the process.” God often uses pain in our lives to get us to move forward. Jim also says that when the pain begins we have a choice – “Pain to stay the same, or Pain to change.”

Obstacles in a cross country race can be difficult. The racer can run around the most difficult obstacles or he/she can work harder to become stronger in order to surmount them.

I spent two summers with Teen Missions out of Cocoa Beach, FL in my late teens and early twenties, one summer as a team member, another summer as an assistant team leader. Before going overseas, we spent two weeks in Boot Camp in the steamy jungles of Florida, living in tents and eating in a mess hall. Each morning before breakfast, every team – our team – had to complete the dreaded obstacle course, and it was a true race. We competed against ourselves to better our time each day, and we competed against other teams to beat their times. There were big nets over water hazards, rope swings over mud holes, long runs down winding paths, and finally THE WALL – a 12 foot blank wall that every member of the team had to cross.

The first day was both comical and frustrating for the new team members. We didn’t know where to begin. But gradually we developed a technique for getting everyone over the wall – the slow, the fast, the young, the old, the heavy, the light, the agile, the clumsy, the weak and the strong. It was a team building experience I will never forget. Every member of the team had to work together to overcome a great and DIFFICULT obstacle.

Obstacles – persecutions – are not good, therefore God is not the author of them, yet he allows them because in a fallen world they are the best way for us to learn obedience under the circumstances.

Obstacles in race – and trials in our lives –  are not only Real and Difficult.

They are Limited.

This verse says that we experience trials “for a little while.” Trials under God’s control. He allows them for a period of time, as needed, until he accomplishes his purpose in us. Likewise in a cross country race, the runner can enjoy the race because he/she knows there is an end to the obstacles and the race. They will not continue forever. So with persecutions – however long they last – there will be an end.

This verse tells us third that

We can enjoy the race even though the Obstacles Come in Many Forms

“…in all kinds of trials.”

Matthew Henry writes that trials are “manifold” – they often come in groups or swarms. God often allows persecutions in pairs or threes or more to accomplish his purpose in us. Some of the most difficult obstacles to overcome in a race are those that are of a different kind in combination with one another. Not like a series of similar hurdles, but a hurdle followed by a water hazard followed by a steep hill. It’s not enough for the designers of these races to spread out the obstacles so the runners have time to adjust between them. No! They sometimes like to place them back to back so that the runner has to take a half step or leap or something else to make it over or through the next one. This is often where the runner falls and has to get back up and keep going.

One final note on joy in the midst of trials,

Jesus must have experienced this combination at the last supper with his disciples. He knew that his own suffering was impending, yet he celebrated and inaugurated the Lord’s Supper with them which anticipates the joy of the heavenly banquet in heaven. Today, we’ll share in the Lord’s Supper, remembering what Christ has done for us in his death, resurrection and ascension and looking forward to sharing in that heavenly banquet one day with Him.

Because we have hope in Jesus Christ, not only can we enjoy the race in spite of the obstacles,

We will FINISH THE RACE in spite of the obstacles set before us.

First,  

We will finish the race because We Are Genuine Athletes

v7a  These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine…

 Trials come to test our faith to see if it is genuine. God uses persecution to test us. A test proves whether or not we have mastered the material covered in the test. Math tests prove how much math we know. A driving test proves we can drive the car properly and know the rules of the road. A persecution test proves that we are not going to give up on our faith when the going gets tough.

This verse says that likewise, Gold is tested or refined by fire to see what part is genuine and what part is made up of other elements (dross?)

However, “faith” is more valuable than gold, because gold will perish when the earth is destroyed and renewed, but faith will remain forever.

Obstacles in a race PROVE who are the genuine athletes. Those who can overcome all the obstacles to finish the race are genuine athletes. Some may be slower or clumsier than others, but all who finish the race are true athletes. Those who are true disciples WILL finish the race of faith in spite of the obstacles.

Antiques Road Show professionals prove articles are genuine. God’s Road Show, so to speak, proves his disciples to be genuine.

Like gold is tested by fire…

  • Gold likewise is tested to see how much of it is genuine, but unlike faith, it is perishable
  • When Christ returns, faith that is genuine will receive Christ’s commendation (“well done”) and a share in his glory and honor
  • The purpose of trials and the source of Xians’ joy
  • We can endure anything if we have something to look forward to
  • We can endure anything if we know that every trial is a test
  • We can enduring anything if we know that at the end we’ll see X and receive his commendation

Not only will we finish the race in spite of the obstacles because We Are Genuine Athletes,

We will finish the race because we know The Coach Rewards His Athletes.

V7b…and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

A good coach not only disciplines his/her athletes, they also reward them with praise and share any glory and honor that results from their performance. Some athletes perform well because they look forward to the affirmation they will receive and a share of the glory and honor.

When Jesus comes again, his servants will receive their “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master” and will share in his glory and honor.

This is some incentive to finish the race – because of the praise, glory and honor we will receive, but there is more.

Not only will we finish the race in spite of the obstacles because We Are Genuine Athletes and because we know The Coach Reward His Athletes, but third

Because We Love Our Coach (even though we’ve never seen him)

 v8  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,

 Many athletes perform well or better out of sheer love for their coach. The coach has been, perhaps, a father or mother figure for them, has affirmed them and loved them. In return, the athlete loves the coach back, and therefore performs even better.

Some athletes may even perform well for a team owner whom they rarely see or spend time with because they feel indebted to or even love him or her.

This is similar to Christians. Peter had seen the Lord. But none of his readers and none of us have ever seen our Lord Jesus, yet because of the testimony of others through the Word of God, we love him, believe in him and are filled with joy because of him – and desire to please him in the race. We will take on great and many obstacles out of our love for him.

The Scriptures commend faith without sight:

  • 11:1, 27 (NLT) Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. … It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.
  • 20:24-29 (NLT) Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.  Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”
  • 2 Co. 5:7 (NLT) For we live by faith, not by sight.

Most Christians look forward to Christ’s return because we love him – even though we’ve never seen him – more than to any accolades or rewards we might receive from him. We love him because he first loved us.

Finally

We can finish the race in spite of obstacles because The Coach Guarantees It.

v9  for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Our salvation here is in the present tense – we are presently receiving salvation. Salvation includes our past – we have been saved, our present – we are being saved, and our future – we will be saved. Our salvation is in the passive voice – we are receiving it from someone else. It is a gift of God.

Rom 6:23 NLT 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Salvation includes our entire being – the salvation of our souls. The use of the word souls here indicates the total person, both body and soul.

 A human coach can only do so much. He can’t run the race for us. But God is different than a human coach. He can guarantee that we will finish the race because he runs the race through us by the Spirit’s empowerment in us. There’s great assurance in knowing it’s not up to us to finish the race, but is rather up to God.


Click here for the series of twenty-three sermons on the entire book of 1 Peter.

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