I may be a little bit slow, but it wasn’t until we came to purchase our wedding rings that I discovered what the differences of gold: 9K, 18K and 24K actually meant. I now appreciate that it is an expression of the purity of the gold. I also now understand that the more pure the gold, the more susceptible it is to scratching. It was for this reason that I opted for 9K because I felt, as a male, I was more inclined to be doing the kind of work that would result in the ring being scratched.
Gold is, I understand, a unique metal. That is, in its purest form it does not react with anything and, therefore, does not corrode. Also, in its purest form it is highly malleable, that is, it can be beaten into any shape and into the thinnest foil while at room temperature. The domes and spires of early churches, mosques and temples were often adorned with gold and remain untarnished. In modern living, those so-called brass bathroom taps and spouts, although they may be brass base material, are coated in gold before they are sealed, because they will not tarnish.
The means of purifying gold is simply that it is repeatedly heated and the impurities, floating to the surface of the molten metal, are removed, until all that remains, as close as can be possibly achieved, is pure gold. Other metals are sometimes mixed with the gold to form white gold or rose gold, but that is another issue all together.
So, we read in the letter, in Peter’s name, to the Church, ‘The genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire,’ (1 Pet 1:7) it is clear that the writer is not suggesting that gold is perishable; precious, yes, refined by fire, yes, but perishable, no. It is faith of which he is speaking here. Faith is as precious as gold and is tested by fire, but unlike gold, faith is perishable.
This letter is not written to those outside the Church in order that they might come to believe. Compare it to John’s gospel, ‘these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have eternal life in his name.’ (Jn 20:31; NRSV) This letter in Pete’s name, is to those who are already of the faith, the Church, ‘Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.’ (1 Pet 1:8-9; NRSV)
It has been argued that this first part of the first letter in Peter’s name is a familiar, early baptismal sermon. You can almost imagine the leader of worship standing up the front of the house church, the baptismal candidates before him, and the congregation of believers standing behind them. The sermon does not call for faith, it speaks about what the candidates will endure in life simply because they ‘have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood.’ (1 Pet 1:2a; NRSV) He addresses the candidates, ‘May grace and peace be yours in abundance.’ (1 Pet 1:2b; NRSV) Then he addresses the congregation, perhaps standing behind them, ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!’ (1 Pet 1:3; NRSV) He continues, speaking about what they will endure as a result of their faith in Jesus, ‘In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials.’ (1 Pet 1:6; NRSV)
Suffering and trials because of their faith, simply because they were Christians, came to pass probably at the hands of Emperor Trajan from 98-117 AD. In some parts of the world Christians still undergo physical persecution; death, torture, imprisonment, because of their faith. This is not our experience in Australia at this time, but that does not mean that we do not experience a measure of mental and emotional persecution. It is still hard to be a Christian in a world where religion is held responsible for atrocities of the past and terrorism in the present. The national response to Peter Hollingworth, previously the Archbishop of Brisbane and Primate of Australia, when he was Governor General, the Queen’s representative in Australia, not so long ago, is evidence of the more subtle persecution we experience in this country.
So it is that we read, ‘The genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire.’ (1 Pet 1:7) Even though faith is a gift, faith is perishable. Faith must be continually refined lest it become tarnished. I suspect, one of the reasons that people can walk away from their faith, deny the source of their faith, in the face of persecution is because they have not nurtured their faith and it has perished.
There is a story about a young man who goes to his priest to ask why it is important to go to church. The two of them sat quietly in armchairs before a fire, neither of them saying anything. After some time, the priest quietly got up out of his chair, and with a pair of tongs, took a red coal from the fire and placed it on the hearth, then sat back down. Both the young man and the priest watched the ember as it slowly went black and cold. The priest then stood up and with the tongs, placed the now black coal into the fire with the other coals. He sat down again and the two of them watched quietly as the coal turned from black to red again. After this the young man stood up, thanked the priest and went home, knowing what he must do.
Faith is perishable. It must be nurtured. It must be fed. It must be explored. It must be expressed. As we look at the decline that is taking place in some churches the evidence is clear that attending worship services alone is inadequate to nurture faith sufficiently to stop it perishing. Churches where there is significant growth and strength are churches where the members of the church are nurturing their faith in three ways and we need to do likewise.
Faith is about trusting in God. Like any relationship, the more we can nurture the relationship, the more we grow in trust, the less we focus on the relationship the more the relationship deteriorates. It is important that we are a part of a congregation gathering together in a church building regularly to worship and receive teaching. That we do well, but in addition to this we need to be doing something personal, taking time to read our Bible and spend time in prayer that is worship of God and asking for things. Then we also need to be meeting with a small group of people, where we can listen to others reflections on what they read in the Bible, worshiping together, praying for one another, caring for one another and serving those who are around them.
I want to press on you the importance of our house groups in enabling our church to grow – in faith and in numbers and, if you are not a part of a house group/house church, consider being a part of one. In this way your faith will be explored, tested and refined in order that it will not perish or tarnish.