About which you are so thoroughly glad, even though, in the meantime, you must grieve your way through many difficult trials, so that through the test of your faith - which is of much greater value than gold that [by contrast] fails even after it has been tested by fire - you may be endorsed (come through this test) with commendation, splendour and standing, when Jesus Christ appears.
In Paul's New Testament letters we are given information about the specific locality in which the recipients lived. The Letter to the Galatians was to those who lived in Galatia. That to the Philippians to those resident in Philippi and so on. But the letters of James, John and Peter have no specific destination and James and Peter are specifically to believers "in the dispersion". These two letters of Peter are written to those spread out over a wide region, to "those who are emigrants dispersed throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia" (1:1). Peter identifies them not so much in terms of their place of residence but as "dispersed emigrants". Sojourners are not those who are here today and gone tomorrow; they are here today and here tomorrow but maybe they will move on after a few years. Their identity is, however, tied to their sojourning, their readiness to move on when called upon to do so. We can look again at Luke's second book and note that after Pentecost the apostles were absorbed in their work serving the believers on whom the Holy Spirit had been poured out in "overflowing measure", and it seems that Luke has closely followed the fortunes of these believers who were subjected to intense persecution and so had to flee. The work of Paul and Barnabas, initiated by the church at Antioch, seems to have been in response to the ongoing dispersion of believers around the Mediterranean. And Peter's letters seem to confirm this same demographic trend, the same historical context for the earliest growth of Christian communities.
But as much as the recipients are living through the difficulties of flight, going from one town to another in order to find some more-than-temporary place of refuge, Peter has addressed them in terms which remind us of the earliest disclosure of God's covenant to Abram and Sarai (Genesis 12). These dispersed emigrants, sojourners, refugees, asylum seekers are authoritatively addressed in terms of their true and eternal identity - they are the "specially chosen ones" by God's own executive decision. They are those who have been anointed by the Holy Spirit, called to a life of full allegiance to the Lamb of God who, though slain, has been raised as God's Right Hand ruler over His creation.
This then is the reason for their complete and utter happiness. These are none other than those who the prophets anticipated, those who were prophetically blessed by Jesus Himself. They are indeed blessed with great blessing:
A blessing rests on those whose spirit makes them think but poorly of themselves; the kingdom of heaven shall be theirs.
A blessing rests on those whose lives are full of sorrow; they shall find themselves comforted.
A blessing rests on those who are of gentle spirit; they shall be the ones to possess the earth.
A blessing rests on those who hunger and thirst that right may be done; they shall have their satisfaction.
A blessing rests on those who are merciful; they shall have mercy shown them.
A blessing rests on those whose hearts are full of innocence; they shall see God before their very eyes.
A blessing rests on those who are bent on establishing peace; children of God's family is the name that shall be given them.
A blessing rests on those who suffer persecution in defence of the right; the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
A blessing rests on you when they vilify you, when they persecute you, when they speak evil of you in every way, when they tell lies against you, and all on my account. Be glad, be full of joy. It is a rich reward that awaits you in heaven. And indeed, in just the same way they made the prophets before you suffer persecution.
(adapted from Matthew 5:3-12 Heinz Cassirer God's New Covenant).
In this statement, Peter recognises the problems faced by his readers. But this recognition is preceded by Peter's identification of these servants of the Lord; they are the dispersed sojourners according to God's promises. They are the ones the prophets and Jesus had anticipated. It is in the context of recognising who they (we) are that they (we) are to understand what they (we) have to endure, even when that means pain and irksome experiences. The same goes for us. Peter is insistent. Even though they may have to grieve their way through many painful trials, what is happening to them is of such greater significance than, say, the testing of gold by a furnace. Yes, gold can indeed be purified through intense and overwhelming heat, just like you can be tested by many perplexing difficulties. But gold can fail. Money can collapse in value. On the other hand the outcome of your trial is already assured. Peter is penning something that echoes the words of Paul:
…there is nothing, whether it be found high above us or deep down below, in fact, there is not anything in all creation which shall have the power of separating us from the love of God which comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).
Whatever the test may be, it is the intention of the Lord God that you come through with commendation, splendour and full standing.