I don’t know for certain, but I would say it’s highly likely that you are a better gardener than me. I think most people are. The poor plants that are sometimes given to me to take care of all seem to wither and die on me soon afterwards. I like plants but I just don’t seem to know what I’m doing. I give them too much water, or I don’t give them enough water, or put them in the wrong place. So, at home, my study doesn’t have any plants in it, even though I’d like a bit of greenery to brighten the place up. But even though I’m a terrible gardener I do at least know that sometimes plants need a bit of pruning. This is especially true if you’re hoping to grow some fruit. You prune off the plant to direct its growth and so it grows some nice fruit.
The Bible often talks to God’s people with that kind of gardening or farming language. Jesus said:
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
John 15:1–2 (NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
God’s people are like a garden and he is the gardener, so he removes dead branches and he prunes the living branches. That branch that gets pruned might feel those sharp pruning shears and get worried or scared, but what God is doing will help that branch to grow fruit.
The Bible tells us:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28 (NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
If we belong to God, if we love him, then no matter what happens to us in this world God is working it all together for our spiritual good. God is working in us, making us more like Jesus.
Peter used a different kind of imagery earlier in this letter. He writes in chapter 1:
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
1 Peter 1:6–7 (NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
Peter is writing to people who are being persecuted for their faith. They are suffering because they are Christians. When we suffer for our faith Peter says that suffering is like fire that that refines our faith, just like metal is refined to purify it. It’s different imagery, but it’s still about this thing that hurts but is ultimately being used for our good.
When we suffer as we follow Jesus, we are in fact being blessed, like that branch that’s being pruned or the metal that’s being refined. God works things for our good. God is taking care of us even in the dark times.
Peter repeats that message here in today’s passage. He tells them in verse 14:
But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’
1 Peter 3:14 (NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
He says in verse 17:
For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
1 Peter 3:17–18 (NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
We followers of Jesus, this is the path that we’re called to walk. Through suffering, glory. Peter’s argument for how to endure suffering has been “be like Jesus”. We are encouraged in our suffering because God himself has suffered. When the world hates us we are consoled with the knowledge that Jesus was hated first.
But it’s not just suffering. Peter want us to see that the way to true strength, the way to true glory and true victory is this way of Jesus. We’re not just suffering for the sake of suffering. We suffer on the path to glory. The pruning produces fruit. The heat of the furnace produces pure gold. The story of Jesus does not end at the cross, in darkness and despair as an innocent man dies. There was a resurrection. The tomb is empty.
Peter paints this picture for his readers of the absolute victory of Christ over all powers. He even makes this obscure reference to Christ proclaiming his victory to rebellious spirits from the time of Noah. It’s probably mentioned to emphasise Jesus’ complete victory over all and to remind us of that time when being obedient to God was such rare thing – just eight people on that boat.
Peter reminds us too that Christ’s victory is our victory. By faith we are saved by his death for us on the cross.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
1 Peter 3:18 (NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
He died to bring us to God, and he was victorious, so we have been brought to God. We’ve been forgiven. Just as Jesus is risen, we are raised to new life in him.
We have nothing to fear from this world. We belong to God and God is working all things, even the things that cause us pain, for our good. God is pruning us to bear fruit. God is refining us to purify our faith. We are walking along the path that Jesus set, through suffering and on to glory.
Peter tells us what we should do instead of fearing this world:
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
1 Peter 3:15–16 (NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
Remind yourself that Christ is Lord and that he is your Lord. Submit to Christ. And be prepared to give an answer to those who ask you about your hope.
Because Christ is victorious, and we belong to God we have a hope that the world doesn’t have. We don’t just feel the cut of the pruning shears. We know that we are being taking care of and made fruitful and that gives us a strange hope that will make the world curious. We demonstrate our hope by refusing to give in and return hatred for hatred, by refusing to stop loving each other and even the people who hate and mistreat us.
We’re called to walk the path of Jesus. It’s a hard road but it’s the only one that leads to true joy, true hope, true life, true glory. If we stick to the path even when things get tough, even those who mock us will have to stop and think maybe we’re going the right way.
Lord, we thank you that we have a real living hope because Jesus is alive. We thank you that you are always taking care of us. We pray that you would increase our trust in you and help us to be your witnesses in this world. Help us to follow Jesus, even when it gets tough.
Father we know that the hardship we endure is being used to refine our faith, but it is still hard. We pray that you would also give us comfort. We pray for those who have been bereaved, especially in our own congregation. Those who have lost loved ones and family members. Be near them in their mourning, we pray.
We pray for our young people and the young people all over the country, moving on in their education or looking towards careers. It’s normally a time of great transition and uncertainty and even anxiety and that is heightened this year with the added worries over the Coronavirus. Bring your peace and your wisdom to those who worry and feel uncertain of how things will go for them or their loved ones.
We pray that cases of the virus in this country would decrease again. We pray that you would protect all our healthcare workers, carers, and frontline workers. We pray for an end to this soon and, for the time being, the strength to endure.
We pray all these things in Jesus’ name.