Sermon Commentary for Sunday, April 16, 2023

1 Peter 1:3-9 Commentary

Suffering may seem like a theme that’s incongruous with the season of Easter. Last Sunday, after all, all but the Orthodox part of Christ’s Church celebrated Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Some Christians are, what’s more, leery about talking about Jesus and Christians’ suffering at any time of the year. In the Easter season, some of Jesus’ followers are “so over” any talk about suffering.

Yet it’s not just that Peter persists in talking about suffering to his letter’s readers who are scattered throughout his known world. It’s also that the apostle seems to deliberately link Christians’ suffering to the return of the risen and exalted Christ.

In verse 6 Peter admits and grieves that his scattered readers are suffering for their faith. There, after all, he laments how “For a little while (oligon arti) you may have had to suffer grief (lypethentes) in all kinds of trials (poikolois perasmois).” It’s a phrase that oozes misery. It’s part of the apostle’s acknowledgement that Christians throughout Peter’s world are suffering greatly for their faith in Jesus Christ.

English translations variously render lypethentes poikolois perasmois as “suffer various trials,” (NRSV) or “being grieved by various trials” (ESV). Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrases Peter as saying that Christians may have to “put up with every kind of aggravation.”

My New Testament professor Andrew Bandstra taught us that the “trials” about which Peter speaks have two elements. First and primarily, lypethentes involve what Christians endure because of our faith. It’s the kind of opposition that Peter and the rest of the apostles encountered because they both followed and proclaimed the risen Christ.

The second (and secondary) kind of “trials” to which the apostle refers involves the kinds of suffering that’s common to humanity. However, it also, in a sense, contains the extra component that is Christians’ responses to that suffering. Nearly all people experience some kind of misery. The Scriptures summon Jesus’ friends let our response to it be shaped by our trust in God’s loving care.

However, as the biblical scholar Daniel Deffenbaugh ( notes, one form of suffering now dominates the other in modern Christian thought. “Suffering,” he points out, “has come to be interpreted not as political persecution but rather as an assault on our personal health; we endure an illness but have little fear that our faith will ever be contested by the powers that be. Indeed, the powers themselves, more times than not, claim the Prince of Peace as one of their own.”

Preachers can draw on a wealth of resources to explore just what those lypethentes look like today. Websites like International Christian Concern help inform Jesus’ friends about their fellow believers’ suffering for their faith. Preachers may also choose to recount their pastoral experiences (while always receiving permission to name names) with Jesus’ friends dealing gracefully and graciously with their own suffering.

Yet verse 6, Peter goes on to make the startling claim that such “trials” are cause not just for Christians’ grief, but also “rejoicing” (agalliasthe). In their difficult circumstance, suffering Christians can literally jump for joy. Yet Jesus’ friends don’t rejoice because of our misery. We rejoice for the reasons to which the apostle at least alludes verses 6-9.

Christians’ trials, Peter insists in verse 6, last “for a little while” (oligon). Jesus’ friends’ suffering may be intense. But it won’t last forever. Some Christians may feel like the only words they ever say and hear involve suffering. Peter, however, insists that God won’t let suffering get the last word. God has set a kind of expiration date on both suffering for Jesus’ sake and the kinds of suffering that are common to humanity.

Those temporary trials have, in fact, come, adds the apostle in verse 7, so that Christians’ “faith (pisteos) … may be proved genuine (dokimion) and may result in (heurethe en) praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (apokalysei).” In doing so, Peter suggests that trials have a kind of refining effect on Christian faith. As fire purifies gold (7), Christians’ suffering somehow strengthens our faith.

Of course, preachers want to handle this assertion very carefully. The apostle is not proposing some kind of magic formula: suffering = more Christian faith. Nor does Peter offer to explain just how Christians’ suffering refines our faith. He simply articulates a part of Christian faith that preachers might consider bolstering with examples of the positive effect Jesus’ friends’ trials have had on them.

Of course, as the biblical scholar Jennifer Kaalund notes, Peter isn’t claiming that suffering is somehow necessary for faith to be refined. The Spirit can produce remarkable faith without allowing it to pass through fiery trials. Peter is simply acknowledging that trials may not just purify faith. They can also reveal it’s true beauty, much like refinement can reveal precious metals’ real beauty.

Peter’s assertion in the second part of verse 7 also requires some careful exegesis. He insists that trials have to come so that Christians’ “faith … may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” That revelation almost certainly alludes to Jesus’ return at the end of measured time.

Yet the apostle isn’t asserting that Christians’ suffering will result in praise, honor and glory at Jesus Second Coming. It’s God’s dearly beloved people’s refined and genuine faith that will cause great rejoicing. Peter may be suggesting that the heavenly hosts will rejoice greatly that God’s brought Jesus’ followers safely through their trials and tribulations so that they may, by God’s amazing grace, stand before God when Christ returns.

In verse 9 Peter adds that Christians can also somehow find joy in our temporary suffering because God is giving us “the goal (telos) of” our “faith, the salvation (soterian) of our souls (psychon).” Christian suffering can be enormous. Preachers never want to even hint that it’s not.

Peter may be hinting that suffering for one’s Christian faith is a sign of that faith’s genuineness. Yet he’s certainly insisting that Christians’ suffering can’t even be compared to what lies ahead for God’s adopted sons and daughters: our salvation. In fact, God won’t just rescue that part of us that we label as our “souls.” God will graciously rescue every part of God’s dearly beloved people – except those impurities that our suffering has already burned away. That, suggests the apostle, is something both worth looking forward to and suffering for.


In his book, Love Within Limits: A Realist’s View of 1 Corinthians 13, Lewis Smedes writes, “What all suffering really comes down to is the experience of anything we want very much not to experience.

The key here is the phrase ‘very much.’ To qualify as sufferers, we must want to be rid of something with such passion that it hurts. Suffering is having to endure what we very much want not to endure.”


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