Week of December 18

How God Brings Sweet from the Sour in Our Lives

Read: 1 Peter 1-5
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
1 Peter 1:3-5, ESV


“To learn strong faith is to endure great trials,” says George Mueller. The Apostle Peter knew the meaning of such Christian resolve as he wrote a letter to the churches in Asia Minor. He has been termed the “Apostle of hope” because he directs the focus of persecuted believers away from their severe trials toward a promised future deliverance.
1 Peter, in fact, does not present to us a specific theology, but the letter is permeated with theological themes. There is one element, eschatology, that holds all of the various teaching sections together. If I were to gather all that Peter says under one umbrella, I would use this rubric: End-Time View for Living in the Present (cf. 1:20). Bible scholars tell us that Peter’s main message to the persecuted believers in Asia Minor was to trust the Lord, live in obedience to Him, and fix your hope on His ultimate deliverance.
Peter’s was no “pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by” type of faith. He had endured the type of harassment that these Christians were weathering, so he provides a testimony that is packed with success (cf. Acts 5:29). Let’s find encouragement to walk faithfully in Christ today with our sights set on our future hope in Him.

Understanding the Bible Context

The wider context for this important letter
We hear frequent outcries of religious persecution from Christians in our American culture. Whether it is in the form of opposition to businesspersons, like Christian cake-makers, or harassment of those who express their personal Christian convictions regarding marriage licensing, these forms of opposition have some parallels to the types of maltreatment that Peter addresses in his letter.
He mentions suffering quite often in five short chapters (1:6-7; 2:21-25; 3:13-17; 4:12-19; & 5:10; HCBC). It is believed that the missive was penned in the early 60s AD during the Neronian persecution in Rome. Scholars believe that it may have extended itself to the outlying provinces, like Asia Minor. Passages like 2:13-17 may suggest that Christian oppression was not so severe that they had to choose between obedience to God and obedience to the State. These circumstances are somewhat similar in nature to ours today, and they offer familiar ground upon which to stand.
How to live today with the end-times in view
Let me put this theme into perspective. These Christ followers were true faith pioneers, because they lived daily without knowing if they would be persecuted socially, economically, or by the government. There was no “Bill of Rights” to ensure certain freedoms of speech and religion. There were no guaranteed basic human rights to protect one’s person and property. They did not have a denomination or even a network of churches to provide social identity and political influence.
Live with patient endurance. Peter’s encouragement was to model their lifestyles after a suffering-servant Savior who had died on the cross and was raised from the grave (2:21-25; 3:18). Christ’s sacrificial example was their encouragement. So, rather than flee persecution, they were taught how to patiently endure it with the promise of end-times deliverance.
The ability to endure suffering is already in our spiritual DNA
We know that suffering is purposeful in Christ (3:14; 4:14). We are encouraged to weather it patiently (2:21; 3:9) and with joy despite the hardships we face (4:13). Christ provides them with an example of how to overcome suffering and how to behave while experiencing it (2:21-25)! We should also keep in mind that there may be a requirement from God to endure it for reasons that you and I may not know immediately (4:19). So, from what source is the hope derived?
You and I have this hope embedded within our hearts following our “new birth” (i.e., salvation; 1:3). The result is a daily “living hope” because Jesus has been raised by the Father (Titus 2:13). This is no fleeting hope, because Peter likens it to an inheritance that can never “perish, spoil, or fade” (1:4). Oh, and Peter writes that it is “garrisoned” in heaven.
There is no way that anyone evil or that any form of the same can gain access to the fortress and rip it from the Father’s grasp. That is mighty secure, if you ask me! So, Peter says to us today, as he did to those believers in his day, “Stand firmly in your hope.” George Mueller also said, “I have learned my faith by standing firm amid severe testings.” These are good testimonies to follow!

Applying the Passage to Our Lives

One of the most loved Mary’s Table® dishes is a low-fat banana pudding. The ingredients, however, include the use of sour cream that inevitably creates a few turned-up noses from the women at the table. I recall one woman who was willing to mix the ingredient into the dish but not eat it at mealtime! She shook her head, “No, no, no,” which brought wide smiles and much laughter in the room. She was later genuinely surprised at how good the dessert tasted. It seems mighty incongruous that sweet can emerge from sour, but this dish proves it does happen.
Here is a spiritual point to ponder. Just as the woman learned to mix all of the ingredients, including sour cream, into the dish, and then mix them thoroughly to blend them together, we are assured that God will take both the sweet and sour in our Christian experience and bring great blessing from it. Tomas Fuller challenges us to see our future hope through the lens of our current troubles. He said: “That which is bitter to endure may be sweet to remember.” Find hope in your hardship today.

Reflecting Upon and Discussing the Passage

1. Write down some of the personal experiences you are facing with opposition to your faith in Christ. Ask Christ specifically to mold His example of faith while suffering into your life.
We cannot pray #1 above without knowing that this could mean the heat of opposition will flare up around you (cf. “fiery trial” in 4:12). Should this experience occur, then be prepared to thank God now for His mercies to come and for His ultimate deliverance. Recognize that others will be watching you, so pray now that the witness to your hope in Christ will bring glory to Him.
2. For Families: At dinner time this week, ask your family about the hardest things you had to face together this year. Make a list as they share. Each family member may express something different from the others. Listen carefully, sympathizing with the hardship you hear reflected in each life.

Then share the truth from this day's passage: God brings about good from our suffering and gives us hope as we endure it. Then thank God together for His hope that resides in our hearts. If you like, you can pass around a bowl of cherry sour balls. Those are sour too, but become very sweet in just a moment, illustrating the point for your little ones.
May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock