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The letters of Peter were written to the Saints in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), whom he called “strangers”—better translated as “elect wayfarers.” He knows that, like us today, they were under a great deal of stress because of “manifold temptations,” a word that can also mean “trials” (1 Pet. 1:1, 6). Nevertheless, Peter encourages the Saints to “greatly rejoice” even while living with persecutions and the enticements of the pagan, worldly empire around them.
How can we find joy during times of trial and suffering? It seems contradictory.
We can rejoice in the Atonement of Christ, which “hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.”
Why must we be tried to qualify for such an inheritance? “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:3-4, 6-7). The metaphor is the refining of metal: crude ores must be refined through heat and pressure to become gold. In a similar way, we undergo “trials by fire” in order to develop the character we must have to dwell in eternal worlds.
No matter how severe our trials, we can have hope in the Atonement of Christ. In ancient times, the high priest of Israel would sprinkle the blood of a lamb without blemish on the altar of the temple as a symbol of the Atonement of the coming Savior. Peter reminds us that we each receive the “sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ,” and by this means we are sanctified like our Savior (1 Pet. 1:2) and can rejoice in His holiness.
It’s easy to say that trials are “good” for us, but some are so severe and so hard to face that we are startled into deep sorrow and pain. How can faith in Christ help us when the blows are sometimes so violent?
“Beloved, think it not strange,” says Peter, “concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you; but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings.” Enduring “fiery trials” is how we become like Christ. Don’t think of the tests of mortality as “strange” or startling. Regardless of how much we try to be like Jesus, we should expect to undergo anxiety and tribulation: “For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God” (1 Pet. 1:20). We shouldn’t be surprised by tests that help us learn the humility, patience, and meekness of Jesus Christ; otherwise, how could the pride, intolerance, and arrogance of the natural man be burned out of us?
Peter’s message to the early Saints was the same message taught by President Russell M. Nelson: “Saints can be happy under every circumstance. . . . When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation . . . and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy” (“Joy and Spiritual Survival,” Ensign, Nov. 2016, 82).
In the face of trials, it also helps to remember who we are: “A chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people . . . called out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). “Generation” is better translated from Greek as “family”—we are adopted into the family of Christ to reign and to serve in his kingdom forever (“a royal priesthood”). The word “peculiar” did not in the days of King James mean “abnormal” or “eccentric” as it does today: the Greek word translated as “peculiar” means “private property.” The Saints are not a “peculiar people” in the sense of being an odd people; we are a redeemed people, the property of the Savior Jesus Christ, paid for with His blood.
More than this, our destiny through the Atonement is to become divine ourselves. He has given us “exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). Our “nature” is what makes us who we are. Our nature is the sum of all the qualities that make us up. We learn from King Benjamin that “the natural man is an enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19). Unless our nature changes, we can never be “partakers” or sharers in the “divine nature,” which is to be like God.
How can we change our sinful nature and share in the divine nature of Christ?
Jesus has promised us that we can change, but we must follow the formula of King Benjamin. A person cannot change “unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.” We are “enticed” by the Holy Spirit to be “submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love” (Mosiah 3:19). Peter puts it this way: “Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity” (2 Pet. 1:5-7). To share in God’s nature, we must develop godly attributes.
If we trust in the Atonement and “yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit,” this is the promise: “An entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:11). In other words, we shall receive the warm, generous embrace of our Lord as we pass through the veil into His kingdom.
We do not pass through the veil alone. Peter teaches that we “return to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls” as husbands and wives. He reminds women to look to Sarah, Abraham’s wife, “whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well” (1 Pet. 2:25, 3:6). We are told that Abraham and Sarah have received their exaltation because they obeyed the commandments (Doctrine & Covenants 132:29-34). The promises to Sarah apply to all her daughters in the covenant.
“Likewise, ye husbands,” Peter says, “dwell with [your wives] according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife” for you are “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7). Here the apostle teaches the principle of eternal marriage. Husbands and wives who qualify become synkleronomoi, “co-inheritors” of eternal life. There is no inheritance of the highest degree of celestial glory that is not a co-inheritance (see Doctrine & Covenants 131:1-4). This is the “greatest and most precious promise” because it enables us to become partners with God in creation.
How do we make sure that we qualify for such “exceeding great” blessings?
To inherit these blessings, Peter says, husbands and wives must be “all of one mind, having compassion one of another.” We are to be “pitiful” (full of pity), courteous, not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing, that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing” (1 Pet. 3:8-9). The marriage relation is so vital that Peter encourages wives to be kind and solicitous even when the husband is an unbeliever. This was a common situation in the early Church. He wisely advises women that “a meek and quiet spirit” is more likely than arguments (“railings”) to attract husbands to embrace the gospel (1 Pet. 3:1-6).
“Above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. . . . All of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility” (1 Peter 4:8, 5:5). Charity must be “fervent,” that is, intense, constant, and honest,” particularly in the family.
Bur what does it mean to “be subject one to another”?
We must “clothe ourselves with humility,” says Peter. The Greek word for “clothing” that is used here is very unusual: egkomboma, which refers to the “white apron of slaves”(Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, 1463, Biblesoft Inc., 2011). The apron of a slave represented his status as a servant. Peter is saying that we should serve each other attentively as husbands and wives and family members.
Are these promises really for me? What about my family? What about those millions who have died without hearing the gospel?
The “exceeding great and precious promises” are open to everyone, even to those who have gone before. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit; by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison” (1 Pet. 3:18-19).
“For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (1 Pet. 4:6). The gospel was proclaimed in the spirit world so the dead might be judged for the things done in the body just as all the children of God are judged; but that they might also have the opportunity in the spirit to come unto Christ and “live according to God.”
For all his children, living and dead, the Lord’s promises of exaltation are firm. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise . . . but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). He has called each child of God to his eternal glory “by Christ Jesus. After ye have suffered a while,” he can “make you perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you” into His kingdom (1 Pet. 5:10).
So, as Peter says, “Cast all your care upon him, for he careth for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).