Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Trials purify us

"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you" (1 Pet. 4:12, NIV).

Surprises, painful surprises, can come in many ways. A car veering across the road into your path. A sudden notification that you're losing your job. A medical test that gives you unexpected bad news. The betrayal by someone you loved and who you thought loved you. As bad as the pain can be, it's always made worse by the element of surprise.

The Greek word for "surprised" in 1 Peter 4:12 means to be "alien" or "foreign." Peter is urging his readers not to fall into the trap of believing that fiery ordeals and trials are alien to Christian experience. Rather, they are to be considered normal—they can and should be expected..

The word used for "fiery ordeal" (NRSV) or "painful trial" (NIV) or "fiery trial" (NKJV) comes from another Greek word, and it means "a burning." In other places it is translated "furnace." This experience of suffering for our faith could therefore be considered a "smelting process," the process of the crucible.

1 Peter 4:12-19. What is Peter's message?

The Crucible of purification

"Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: 'Behold, I will refine them and try them; for how shall I deal with the daughter of My people?' " (Jer. 9:7, NKJV).

"If the Spirit of God brings to your mind a word of the Lord that hurts you, you may be sure that there is something He wants to hurt to death."—Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour & Company, Inc., 1963), Sept. 27.

Jeremiah 9:7-16. God says that He will "refine and test" (NRSV), or "melt" (KJV), Judah and Jerusalem (vs. 7, NIV).

God's refining and testing involved drastic action. There are perhaps three reasons why such refining and testing may feel like a crucible. First, we experience pain as God uses circumstances to bring our sin to our attention. A little earlier, Jeremiah unhappily writes, " 'The bellows blow fiercely to burn away the lead with fire, but the refining goes on in vain; the wicked are not purged out' " (Jer. 6:29, NIV). Thus, sometimes drastic action is needed in order to get our attention. Second, we experience anguish as we feel sorrow for the sin we now see clearly. Third, we experience frustration as we try to live differently. It can be quite uncomfortable and difficult to keep choosing to give up the things that have been so much a part of us.

God Permits Trial and Affliction to Purify Me But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Mal. 3:2, 3 {ML 92.1}

A refining, purifying process is going on among the people of God, and the Lord of hosts has set His hand to this work. This process is most trying to the soul, but it is necessary in order that defilement may be removed. Trials are essential in order that we may be brought close to our heavenly Father, in submission to His will,

that we may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. . . . The Lord brings His children over the same ground again and again, increasing the pressure until perfect humility fills the mind, and the character is transformed; then they are victorious over self, and in harmony with Christ and the Spirit of heaven. The purification of God's people cannot be accomplished without suffering. . . . He passes us from one fire to another, testing our true worth. True grace is willing to be tried. If we are loath to be searched by the Lord, our condition is one of peril. . . . {ML 92.2}

It is in mercy that the Lord reveals to men their hidden defects. He would have them critically examine the complicated emotions and motives of their own hearts, and detect that which is wrong, and modify their dispositions and refine their manners. God would have His servants become acquainted with their own hearts. In order to bring to them a true knowledge of their condition, He permits the fire of affliction to assail them, so that they may be purified. The trials of life are God's workmen to remove the impurities, infirmities, and roughness from our characters, and fit them for the society of pure, heavenly angels in glory. . . . The fire will not consume us, but only remove the dross, and we shall come forth seven times purified, bearing the impress of the Divine. (p. .93) {ML 92.3}

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