For obvious reasons I have spent some time in the last few months reading and learning from books and teachings on Christian suffering. I have found that the first chapter of 1 Peter is often referenced in many books or sermons on this subject. First Peter was a book written to the persecuted early church, a group of believers that were experiencing immense amounts of suffering. They lived in a culture that asked them to praise and bow down to the current world power- Rome. And when early Christians refused to do this, they were heavily persecuted. Commentaries tell us that this book was written during the time period of Emperor Nero, one of the Caesars known for his intense persecution of the early church. According to the NASB Life Application Study Bible commentary, Christians were routinely being hunted down, tortured, and even killed for their beliefs. So, the message of this book is one of endurance and hope during greatly tumultuous and uncertain times.
As I have read, and re-read this whole book, in the last few months a few words have continuously stood out. Words found specifically in Chapter 1: Imperishable and perishable. This may seem odd…why these words? All I can think is that God wants to show me something! These words are used in 4 different sets of verses in Chapter 1 alone, so the repetition itself denotes that they have some importance in the message. As I have meditated on these verses God has been putting on my heart a specific encouragement during my own season of suffering. That truth being this: In the midst of all suffering, we must remember that we may live in a world that is perishing and subject to decay, BUT we are being saved by a God who is not! This world may be fading away, invaded by brokenness, BUT we serve a GOD who has never changed and never will! And in the face of great suffering, we can be confident that our salvation and our inheritance is found secure in a God who is eternal, enduring, and unchanging.
The idea of perishing in our world is closely related to the concept of decay, to death. Perishable things are subject to decay. The process of decay in and of itself is the slow breakdown of what characterizes a specific substance. An apple loses its color, texture, smell- Eventually becoming unidentifiable. All the parts that defined its substance are over time removed. We as humans are subject to this same decay. We slowly lose what defines us with age, with sickness, with brokenness, until death finally claims us in the end. Nothing in our world can escape this truth.
In contrast, something that is imperishable is something that is NOT subject to decay- It can never be altered or changed. And we are being saved by just such a God! The characteristics that define God have been and always will be the same. We will always and forever be able to point to God’s character traits and see who He is. He is unchangeable. God always has been and always will be. One of God’s descriptors of Himself in the Old Testament is “I AM WHO I AM.” God is defined only by Himself. And He is a God so powerful that nothing can reshape or redefine who He is!
I don’t know about you, but this is a major encouragement to my heart! In a world that is constantly changing I serve a God who cannot and will not change. When my life is blown about by the winds of trials and suffering, God cannot be moved. When suffering comes into my life and shatters my reality, God is not phased. He is not shocked. There is great comfort for me in this, and I’m sure that many of the early Christians found hope and solace in this truth as well. Their world was up in the air, constantly under threat, but Peter, in his letter, was gently reminding them that they served a God who was constant. And most importantly constant in His love for them!
The first time the term imperishable is used is in the first few verses of Chapter 1. Peter says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is IMPERISHABLE and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you…” (1 Peter 1:3-4, emphasis added) I think it’s important to note that the first reminder to the persecuted church is that their salvation is imperishable! The new life and new hope they had received in Christ could never be taken away and would never change! This was the solid foundation they needed to stay grounded in the midst of their struggle. The God they served would not be moved by their circumstances, and His love for them would prove greater than any persecution they may indeed suffer!
Peter then goes on to remind them that their suffering has eternal purpose! That even perishing things can be redeemed by God for great, loving purposes. He says in 1 Peter 1:6-7, “…you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is PERISHABLE, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ…”(Emphasis added) Even gold is perishable. But our faith is not, it is eternal! And our faith when purified through suffering has a whole new depth that would not be possible without testing through fire. The refining process burns out impurities, it makes our faith more solid in the end. And this kind of faith rings glory and praise to God, even in the midst of suffering! So, the fire of suffering gets our focus off the perishable things of this world and on the One who is not!
These terms are used two additional times in Chapter 1 alone. Both reminding the struggling believer that their salvation was bought by the blood of the Lamb. That they had received imperishable life through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ! By making Himself subject to perishable things, Jesus conquered our decaying world. Death no longer holds any power over any who believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. Thus, Jesus gave us access to eternal life through Him, an imperishable, eternal life! What an amazing truth and blessing for these struggling believers to claim. To hold onto! And that same blessing can be found in each of our lives in the midst of suffering. We can believe and claim the truth that we have been saved through the blood of Christ! No struggle, no matter how great, can take away our new life in Jesus!
Finally, this theme is driven home at the end of Chapter 1 by a quote from Isaiah using some different imagery for the same concept. Peter quotes a section from this Old Testament prophet, saying: “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” We are perishable. We are constantly in the process of fading away. This is an undeniable fact of human life. The book of Ecclesiastes often describes our lives in similar terms. Throughout this book life is described as a breath, a vapor. But in the extreme of contrast, God is described exactly the opposite way throughout the Bible. He is the Everlasting God. He is unchanging and undying. (1 Tim 6:15-16). His loving-kindness endures forever. (Psalm 107:1) He abides forever. (Psalm 9:7) And because of these truths, I can take great hope no matter my battles in my life.
I find two specific comforts in these concepts. First, if we live in a world that is perishing and fading away, all suffering, no matter how painful is temporary. I will not have to suffer forever. These conflicts and strife, this sickness and brokenness- ALL MY SORROW AND ALL MY TRIALS have an expiration date! Second, I have an imperishable God walking right next to me during these trials directing my steps and giving ultimate, eternal purpose to my struggles. There is nothing that God cannot redeem, so God will always use my struggles to bring glory to His name and show a desperately broken world just how much they need a Savior!
Take heart today in these truths today! I may live in a perishing world, but I am no longer perishing because of the great love and grace of Jesus Christ! I have a new life that is no longer subject to decay! And a new hope that will sustain me through even the darkest hours of my life. I thank God today and every day for this gift. What encouragement in knowing that our imperishable God is with me! He renews all things, gives us all deep refreshing hope, and He gives me just enough grace for today…