Refined by Fire
In my “former life” (before I received a call to ministry), I worked at a precious metal company in Germany. This company worked with all kinds of precious metals (gold, silver, palladium, platinum, rhodium, and others) and produced everything you can imagine: jewelry, dental gold, precious metals for industrial usage, etc. They not only produced it, but they also re-used it. That meant that they had one department that separated used precious metals from other material.
And here is what happened: We received various kinds of used precious metals: from industrial use to old gold-teeth. The different materials were put - together with certain chemical additives - into melting pots and those were placed into a melting furnace which was heated up to over 1,800°F. Whatever was not a precious metal would burn away. The smelter (the guy who worked at the melting furnace), whose name was Daniel, was experienced in this melting process. He would watch how everything was burning and how the precious metal surfaced. Then he would use a hammer to destroy the melting pot, he would clean out the dross and what was left over was a bar of precious metal.
I worked as an administrative assistant in this department, but quite often I went into the melting room. This was exciting for me to watch! It was not an easy job and required experience. What I learned about this special trade of the smelter was that he had to do everything at the right time. If the smelter did not take out the melting pot from the furnace at the exact correct time, he might have to start the process over again or even destroy the precious metals, because if gold or silver is heated for too long or the temperature goes up too high, the precious metal can be damaged. As I watched Daniel, I was always amazed at what he did and how there was a beautiful, precious metal bar that appeared after he had destroyed the melting pot.
When I read Scripture passages that deal with “precious metals tested by fire,” I always think of Daniel and his work as a smelter! The Scripture passage this morning is found in 1 Peter 1:6-7 (NASB):
- “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, 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.”
Reading this passage does not sound very inviting, does it?! Actually, the whole letter sounds a bit like this:
- Become a Christian, and your life will be difficult!
- It will be tested by fire!
- You will be persecuted!
- You will suffer!
One would think: “Hey, Peter, why don’t you re-think your strategy a little bit! I mean, how can you win people to faith in Christ and to stay in the church, preaching a message like that?!”
Reading this I am reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian, spiritual writer, and Lutheran Pastor, who played a central role in the struggle against the Nazi regime. His involvement in a plot to overthrow Adolf Hitler, led to his imprisonment and execution at the age of 39 in 1945. When I read his writings, I am always intrigued by his insights. Listen to what he wrote in his book, Life Together:
It is the fellowship of the cross to experience the burden of the other. If one does not experience it, the fellowship he belongs to is not Christian. If any member refuses to bear that burden, he denies the law of Christ.
That is powerful! But do we also realize that this and many of his writings were written in prison?! He had these insights not sitting at home on a comfortable chair in a nice warm room with candle-light and a full stomach. He wrote most of them in a cold and wet prison cell after hours of interrogation and mistreatment; at times he felt alone and deserted – even by God. But God spoke to him and used him in the midst of his sufferings!
The Word in 1 Peter 1:6-7 was certainly true for him: “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, 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.”
The fire or trials are burning away what is perishable and bring out the gold. Actually, the perishable stuff is what keeps the gold hidden!
Permit me to go back to Daniel the smelter. When he prepared a pot to be melted, one could hardly discover gold. You could see the different materials and sometimes gold would shimmer through. But when he put it in the furnace, the fire burned everything that was not precious metal and out of a big pot, only a small bar of gold and other precious metals were left. Only then could you see the gold.
That is the picture Peter is using here! But what is it that needs to be tested by fire?
- Is it something “in me?”
- Is it “my faith?”
- Is it “my performance?”
- Is it “my knowledge?”
- Is it “my gifts?”
- Is it “my love?”
No! What is tested by the fire is the foundation and the content of my faith and that is none other than JESUS CHRIST! The “gold” that needs to come out is nothing else than JESUS himself!
- He needs to be seen!
- He needs to shine!
- He needs to be recognized!
The fires of trials and sufferings will be burning away what could be hiding Christ, what keeps Him from being seen, anything that “covers” Christ.
Returning to Peter’s message in his letter, we ask, “What is Peter trying to tell us here? What is it that we need to hear today?” Peter is pointing to the “big picture” of the gospel, of the goal of God in our lives and in this world.
God’s goal is to renew us, transform us, and restore us in the image of God! And that image is “Christlikeness!” We are to become like Jesus – for Him to be recognized!
And that happens in a world that is a fallen world, a world full of darkness, a world full of suffering, a world full of fear and confusion. We live in this world; We share in this world. As Christians, we share in the suffering of the world and many times we share in the suffering caused by the world! That is our reality.
But what does that mean? Does it mean, we as Christians should not have any fun anymore, we should not laugh, and certainly we should not enjoy life – rather “we should suffer!?!”
Certainly not! But it does mean this: We need to realize that the world we live in, our world – even at NBC – our denomination – our home and our careers – everything that we know – is perishable. It will all go away. Therefore, don’t build your life on perishables but rather on something imperishable – and that is JESUS CHRIST!
The founder of our denomination, Phineas Bresee, coined this saying: “Nothing to the right. Nothing to the left. Jesus only!”
That is our message. The Church of the Nazarene gave a special designation to that life: It is the “life of holiness,” the “sanctified life,” the “Christlike life!”
What a challenge for us – especially during this time of the pandemic: Let us consider our lives!
- Where does “stuff” in our lives hide Christ?
- Where do “I” shine instead of Jesus?
- What is really important in my life?
- What are the perishable things in my life that I need to be aware of?
- Where is my spiritual life dull or even dead, because the perishable stuff just overwhelms it?
I don’t want us to become self-destructive or look for pain and suffering! I know that some of us are suffering during this time of the pandemic! I just want to make us aware of the fact that suffering is part of life in a world of suffering. It must not destroy us, but it can help straighten out our priorities – especially the one priority: JESUS CHRIST!
In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “To endure the cross is not tragedy; it is suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ.” Life Together
When you pray for the Holy Spirit to cleanse you, to enlighten you, to revive you – be ready that it might get warm, even hot; it could “hurt.” But it will be good for you! It will help to bring out “Christ” within you! You will be “refined by fire!”
Listen to how Peter finishes the letter (1 Peter 5:6-11):
Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,
Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brothers and sisters who are in the world.
After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.
To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Rev. Klaus Arnold, PH.D, Global Education and Clergy Development Director Church of the Nazarene
Filed Under: Communicator Published: 09/08/2020