We live in a culture that teaches us to pursue happiness. When our ultimate goal is happiness, we have an inability to pursue the greater things in life that lead to our glorification. The pursuit of happiness as ultimate will keep you from the goal of godliness and Christlikeness. Many times it is the exact opposite: it is the hardship and trial (not the happiness) that leads to our ultimate good.
Consider the words of 1 Peter 1:
1Pet. 1:6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
First, notice that the larger goal is that we rejoice even if we are grieved in various trials. Trials will come to your life as a Christian, a Christian without trials may not be a Christian (Rom. 8:17). If the Son suffered, his sons (and daughters) will suffer in various trials. This theme is in numerous placed in the New Testament.
The Christian does not face his trials in a detached stoicism. We are not to pretend we do not feel the pains and scars of life. If the lament Psalms teach us anything, it is how to cry and grieve. The Son himself knows how to cry out in the pain and agony of his humanity (Heb. 5;7). We will face trials and they will grieve us. Sometimes in life we are never more near to our Savior than when we are grieving.
Second, notice the eternal value of trial. They test the genuineness of our faith. They have a purifying effect. Trials often not for correction or negative discipline but for the positive effect of growth, purification, and disciplining our faith. The athlete trains and stretches their muscles under intense strenuous labor so that the muscles grow. Without the pain of weight, pressure, and labor there will be no growth. Even worse, unused muscle atrophy. So too, Christians who have never undergone trials often have the weakest faith. To illustrate, consider the faith of the average Christian in America who barely has time for church and Bible study with the faith of the average Christian in a country hostile to the faith where the Christians can barely get a copy of the Bible, meet for hours in secret, and often memorize large sections of the Scriptures.
Rom. 5:3-5 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
When the Lord returns, not only will our trials end, but for the Christian who has suffered well and been tested by the fire they will see Jesus and it will result in their glorification. They will have praise, glory, and honor. There awaits a prize for those who run the race faithfully. No matter hard it may be right now, it is small compared to all the praise, glory, and honor that awaits. We will receive a crown. We will hear “well done my good and faithful servant. All the pain, sweat, toils, and tears will be seen to be a small price to pay in light of the weight of eternal glory.
While we do not see Jesus right now, we will see him in that day of his revelation. Right now, we do not see him, but we believe in him. Perhaps, Peter has in mind here the words of Jesus in John 20:29 “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
It seems important to the passage that not only do we presently believe but we presently rejoice as well: “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” We have a joy now knowing what awaits us. We can both rejoice and grieve in trials. Our joy can be inexpressible even as the tears of our grief flow. Why? Because we know the plan and purpose of God. We know the glory that awaits. We turn our eyes heavenward and see that Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. We are even now filled with glory. The glory of God is being poured out into our soul. Our sanctification is “beholding the glory of the Lord, [by faith]…being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). He suffered and was glorified and so our suffering and trials is the path of our glorification.
Suffering well assures us that we are obtaining the outcome of our faith. Godly suffering drives us to the foot of the cross. It reminds us that we are beggars of cross. It makes us more dependent upon Christ and less dependent upon self. It is the hot tears of grief and sorrow in suffering that purify our faith as we cry out to him alone who can save us.
In this light—our joy is inexpressible. Who but the Lord is fit to save us? Who but the Lord can reach us in our darkest pain? The Lord is near the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18; cf. also Ps. 147:3; Isa. 61:1). And so it is that the heat of trials purifies our faith and removes the dross leaving behind the gold of a believer on the path to glory. Truly this is an inexpressible joy—a true and greater happiness--that God would put us on the path to glory for His name sake.
Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.