No pain, no gain
by Jack Wald | January 16th, 2000

I Peter 1:6-9

When I was here in September, I preached on the opening verses of I Peter 1. The focus of these sermons was threefold:  in the midst or presence of difficulty; first, our identity as strangers in the world protects us. We are visitors to this planet, waiting to go home. Secondly, our hope in life after death sustains us. Whatever we experience in this world is temporary and worth enduring because of the life after death that awaits us. And thirdly, our heavenly inheritance makes us secure. These are not empty promises, empty hopes. They are secure and preserved for us until it is our time to claim them. These are glorious truths. I handed out stone marbles when I was here in September to remind us of our certain and solid inheritance. I have kept the stone marble from that service in my pocket. It is in my pocket now. Many times I have been encouraged when I fingered the marble and remembered these truths.

Peter uses these truths as a foundation and now builds on them. He says that we rejoice in our living hope and our inheritance even though we suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

Rejoicing in the midst of trials has always seemed a bit masochistic. When I read this or the passage in James where James tells us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” it reminds me of a story. A man was walking down the street and saw another man hitting himself on the head with a club. This drew his curiosity and made him get closer to see what was happening. Over and over again the man took the club and hit himself on the head. It was obvious that it was a real club because the man was in pain each time he hit himself. Finally he couldn’t contain himself and he asked the man why he was beating himself with a club. The other man answered, “It feels so good when I stop.”

This morning I want to show why rejoicing in the midst of trials is not a masochistic action like beating oneself on the head with a club. Secondly, I want to explain the benefits of faith that result from grief in all kinds of trials and then finally pursue the alternative, faith in the absence of grief in all kinds of trials.

Before I begin, let’s take a closer look at the word “rejoice”. Peter writes, “In this you greatly rejoice though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” What does it mean to rejoice?

I’ve been exposed to Christians who think it is their responsibility always to have a smile on their face. Regardless of the circumstances, we are supposed to have a beaming countenance and a “Praise the Lord!” on our lips. I’ll agree we are to have faith and believe God can make good things come out of bad, but what does it mean to rejoice in the midst of trials? If someone robs me, am I supposed to smile and say, “Thank you God?” If I am hit by a car and am paralyzed, do I keep a smile on my face and say, “Praise the Lord?” If I hit my thumb with a hammer, am I supposed to say, “Thank you Jesus!”? This makes no sense to me. It speaks to me of denial and repression, not positive faith.

Did Jesus, our Lord and Savior and model for living in this world, have a smile on his face as he was being crucified? How do his words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” fit in with a smile on the face and “Praise the Lord!”?

So what does this word “rejoice” mean?

The Greek word used here is ???????????. Of the three main Greek words used in the New Testament to denote human joy and happiness, this is the one used to communicate the outward demonstration of joy and pride and the exultation expressed in public worship. Now immediately, this further baffles me. This sounds like those who say we should smile despite the circumstances and “Praise the Lord!” Where in the New Testament is this word used?

Agalliaomai is used in Luke in Mary’s song of praise upon meeting Elizabeth. “My soul praises the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble status of his servant.” Mary has been told by the angel Gabriel that she will bear a son and confirmation of this is that her relative, Elizabeth, in her old age, is also pregnant. Mary rushes to visit Elizabeth and the words of Gabriel are confirmed so Mary’s soul praises and her spirit rejoices. It is public exultation.

Agalliaomai is also used in Acts 16:34. Paul and Silas are in prison having been severely flogged. But Paul and Silas were singing hymns and praying at midnight when there was an earthquake and the jail doors opened. The jailer gets the message that something special is happening and is converted. The jailer takes them to his home “and the whole family was filled with joy, agalliaomai, because they had come to believe in God.”

Agalliaomai is used to express a feeling that is so deep rooted and so powerful it cannot be contained. “I was visited by an angel and am now going to have a son who will reign over the house of Jacob forever!” Agalliaomai. “The prison was shaken by an earthquake, the jail doors opened and now I and my family are saved!” Agalliaomai. “Let’s celebrate!”

Both the Luke and Acts passages hint at how agalliaomai is used in I Peter. Mary faces public humiliation, divorce and perhaps being stoned to death because she is pregnant, but not by her betrothed Joseph. In the midst of this trial, she expresses agalliaomai joy.

Paul and Silas have been severely flogged, are in jail singing hymns, a life threatening earthquake shakes the foundations of the jail, the jailer faces death for allowing his prisoners to escape, and he and his family are converted. Agalliaomai joy is expressed in this trial.

There is a slight twist in the way Peter uses this word. In I Peter, agalliaomai is used to refer to the deep spiritual joy that will be ours when we begin our new life in heaven and receive our inheritance. It is a joy we experience only partially in the present but know we will experience fully in the future. In suffering grief and trials, this joy underlies the pain and agony and discomfort we are experiencing because we know of a greater reality than the one we are experiencing. We may not experience this joy fully in this life, but we have a taste, a preview of it that will be fully experienced in our new life.

So Peter writes that we have this great joy even though now we suffer grief. This is because we know of the life we are going to but it is also because there is a positive outcome to our grief. I don’t know if you know the expression, “No pain, no gain.” It comes from athletics where you have to push yourself and endure pain to make progress. In high school each fall, I was on the cross-country running team. Our races were about 5 kilometers and were run through forest trails and fields, over brooks and around school perimeters. After a summer of lazing around, we would begin to practice when school started in September and train to get in shape. I still remember the sore muscles I had when I was climbing the stairs in school. I enjoyed that feeling because I knew I was getting into shape.

Weight lifters (and you can tell by looking at me that this is not a personal illustration), talk about tremendous pain that has to be endured in order to lift heavier and heavier weights.

If any of us decide it is time to get in shape, whether it is soccer (which the world knows as football), or just starting to walk or run each morning, we will go through a period of some pain because we are exercising unused muscles.

The pain is endured because it leads to a positive outcome: heavier weights, faster speed, greater distances, better endurance. The benefit of being in better physical condition makes the hard work of training worthwhile.

Similarly, the grief we experience in trials of many kinds produces a positive outcome.

In verse 7, Peter says that grief in all kinds of trials 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.

There are two consequences for our faith when we experience grief in all kinds of trials: one, our faith is proved genuine and two, our faith will result in praise, honor and glory when Jesus Christ is revealed.

To illustrate the process by which our faith is proved genuine, Peter uses the image of gold being refined. In this process of refining gold, gold is heated to the melting point and impurities in the gold float to the surface where they are skimmed off, leaving the gold in a more pure form. The gold does not become more gold than it already was, it becomes more pure gold.

In the same way, Peter says that our faith is refined by trials and becomes a purer, stronger faith. Faith is not created by trials, it reveals more clearly what is already there.

As Christians, we are people of faith. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and we seek to obey him. But we are full of impurities. We are sinners. At times we act in ways inappropriate for us as Christians. Even if our actions are appropriate, our attitudes are deficient. Pride and ego gratification worm their way into our lives. Even when we do good deeds, we can take pride in the fact that we did a good deed. We long for our eternal existence and hold firmly onto earthly, worldly treasure. We believe but still can be anxious and worry. We believe but we doubt and when the pressure on us increases, our faith can give way because of our weaknesses.

Our track team in high school did group pushups. Each member of the team put his legs on the back of another person until the whole team was criss-crossed. All arms were on the ground and all feet were on the back of another teammate. Then, at the coach’s command, the team would do a pushup. If one person wasn’t strong enough to pushup, that part of the team sagged. When the weak link was taken out and replaced with a stronger person, the team was able to do the team pushup.

When we go through difficult trials, we come out of them with a stronger, more pure faith. The trial reveals the weak link and replaces it with faith.

In Hebrews 10:34, the writer of Hebrews illustrates this. The readers of this letter had been exposed to public insult and persecution and the writer of Hebrews says, “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.”  This is the refining process. These believers treasured their possessions, some undoubtedly handed down from generation to generation or hand made by a loved family member now deceased. But they rejoiced when these possessions were taken from them because the difficult and painful process of being refined forced them to consider the worth of their heavenly possessions which, as Peter reminds us in the opening verses of I Peter, do not spoil, perish or fade. The confiscated possessions became less important, they lost their hold on these believers and consequently their heavenly treasure became more important.

Grief in all kinds of trials weans us away from our earthly treasure to the greater and more fulfilling delight of our heavenly treasures.

The first positive outcome of suffering grief through all kinds of trials is that our faith is proved genuine. Our faith becomes more pure. The second positive outcome is that it results in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

We know little of what heaven will be like. We pick up hints from metaphors such as the streets of heaven are paved with gold. This is not a literal description. Who would want to walk on gold? But it indicates that what we value most in this world is worthless in heaven. We pick up hints of what heaven will be like and this passage is one of them. There is some sort of recognition in heaven for the purity of our faith. When in school you work hard on a project and the teacher or professor holds up your project and commends your work, that is what is indicated for us in heaven. We will stand there in heaven and there will be rejoicing for our faith.

There is a Christian novel written by Randy Alcorn titled Deadline. In this novel, Alcorn postulates that the greater our experience of God in this life, the purer our faith, the greater will be our experience of God in eternity. Someone who comes to faith at the last moment of life will have a lesser experience of God than one who has lived a life in obedience and dependence on God.

I think this passage hints toward that. Development of our faith, the refining process of purifying our faith will bring us heavenly praise, glory and honor. The hard work of developing our faith will pay off in a greater experience of God in the future.

So OK, experiencing grief in al kinds of trials produces a purer faith that will bring us heavenly praise, glory and honor. But can’t there be an easier way? Why does it have to be so hard?

We have family members who do not follow Christ. We live in a nation that views Jesus Christ as a prophet and considers the truth that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, to be blaspheme. Why is evangelism so difficult?

Wouldn’t it be easier if Jesus periodically descended from heaven out of the clouds and spoke to people, held mass rallies at which he performed miracles and then ascended to heaven? Would that lead to more converts?

Why doesn’t God produce a video of the actual birth, life and death of Jesus? Instead of handing someone a tract, we could tell them to check out this video.

Why, when someone says, “I don’t believe God exists,” doesn’t God pop into the room and say, “Hey, what do you mean I don’t exist?”

Why not make evangelism easier and have everyone we pray for be healed?

When we are making decisions, why doesn’t God simply speak to us in an audible voice or even write on the wall and tell us what to do? Or for those more efficient of us, write in our daily organizer on our to do list so when we wake up in the morning, there it would be – what God wanted me to do that day.

When we have doubts about our faith, why doesn’t God send an angel to tap us on the shoulder, hug us and remind us of the reality of what we believe?

What would the world be like if all Christian business men and women were successful? If all Christians were healthy and could heal the sick every time they prayed for them? If in an epidemic, only the Christians were spared? If Christians were untouched by famine and war and robbery and violent attack? Non-Christians might suffer but Christians would not.

In this easy faith world, there would be many converts. Business schools would teach that the first step to being successful in business was to become a Christian. Christian doctors would be more effective than nonchristian doctors. Everyone would want to be a Christian. Why not? Christian homes would remain unscathed by hurricanes, earthquakes and fires. Christians would never experience grief in any kinds of trials.

But in this easy faith world, would faith be strengthened? Purified?

Phil Yancy in a book titled Disappointment With God writes of a time when God was very present and was not silent. He writes of the Exodus when God was present in a cloud by day and fire by night. Every Israelite knew God was present. When Aachen sinned by hiding loot from a battle in his tent that was supposed to have been destroyed, he and his family and possessions were swallowed up in the earth. God was present. God was just. God told Israel what to do and where to go. God provided Israel with food and water. God gave them victory in battle. And what resulted? Not faith. God’s undeniable presence, provision and guidance resulted in grumbling, discontent and disobedience.

An easy faith world does not strengthen faith. It’s as simple as that. An easy faith world is not a good culture in which to grow faith. If the world ran the way we want it to, faith would not develop. Going back to the athletics illustration, we do not develop to be faster or stronger or have better endurance without the hard work of training. A training program that consists of laying around, eating and thinking of how good an athlete you want to be does not create good athletes.

C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Screwtape Letters. These are letters written by a senior devil, Screwtape, to a lower-level devil named Wormwood. The letters concern strategy for preventing a human soul from becoming a Christian and growing as a Christian. Here is an excerpt that deals with the matter of the development of faith. As I read, remember that this is strategy from the devil’s viewpoint.

You must have often wondered why the enemy [God] does not make more use of his power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree he chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the irresistible and the indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of his scheme forbids him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as his felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For his ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or to assimilate them, will not serve…. Sooner or later he withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on his own legs – to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish…. He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away his hand…. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

So we worship a God we have not seen, have not heard and have not touched. We have committed our lives to follow a God who has not given us specific instructions for our lives – where we should live, what career we should pursue and who we should marry. We stake our lives on what we believe will be true, that when we die, we will be taken to our heavenly life and be greeted by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and yet there is no absolute proof that what we believe is true.

This is the culture in which faith grows. “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, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

God allows us to suffer grief in all kinds of trials so that our faith may be proved genuine and may result in praise, honor and glory when Jesus Christ is revealed on the last day.

You may be facing grief in some sort of trial right now. Or you may face grief in some sort of trial this week. When you do, you don’t have to smile. You don’t have to be delighted. It is ok to be angry. It is ok to be discouraged. But remember this. God loves you. God loves you so much that he sent his own son to die for you. God’s love for you is so powerful that he wants what is best for you. God wants what is best for you. And what is best for you is not that you are always comfortable, always happy, always content with a full belly. What is best for you is the purification of your faith.

God is not indifferent to pain and grief you experience. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because of the pain the inhabitants of Jerusalem would experience when Jerusalem was sacked in 70AD. Jesus wept at the sorrow Lazarus’ family experienced when Lazarus died. God hurts when you hurt. If you are hurting now, God hurts with you. But God has an eternal perspective. God wants what is best for you and what is best for you is that your faith grow.

So hold on to your faith. Fight to keep a heavenly perspective on the positive outcome of the difficulties you experience. Don’t give up. Persevere. The difficulties you are facing are building you to be a stronger believer, more able to experience the wonder and glory of God in this life and the life to come. You are much loved and God wants what is best for you because he loves you so much.