The Refiner's Fire
“The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests hearts” (Prov. 17:3).
“But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness” (Mal. 3:2-3).
God is as serious about “refining” us as the silversmith is about purging all the dross out of his silver. He will keep working until the result is pure. Note that God says He “will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver”; in other words, God has all the time in the world. He is in no hurry. He will wait patiently until the job is done.
If gold or silver had feelings it would feel that it was being abused, being subjected to unbearable and pointless suffering. But silver and gold are not competent to judge their own condition or the ultimate result of their sufferings; that is solely the prerogative of the refiner. Likewise, we must bear in mind that the “divine refiner” alone knows “the end from the beginning” (Isa. 46:10). We need to view suffering as part of God’s loving ministry to His own peculiar treasure (I Peter 4:12-19). God afflicts us in order to refine and purify us to be fit vessels for His Kingdom. G.K. Chesterton made this observation: “The mystery of suffering may be a strange honor and not a vulgar punishment; that the King may be conferring a decoration when He pins the man on the cross as much as when pins the cross on the man.”
But how does the Refiner know when His job is “done?” The ancient refiner had a foolproof method of ensuring the purity of his product. He would gaze into the molten silver until he could see his own reflection. When the silver took upon itself that “mirror–like quality” it was properly refined. Romans 8:29 states that God’s purpose, as He works in our lives, is that we “become conformed to the image of His Son,” a reflection of Christ. In II Corinthians 3:18, Paul reverses the illustration when he says: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” Our Lord will continue His purifying work until He sees His reflected image.
How does this take place? If God’s foreordained plan is for us to become as an “exact” image of Christ (as is possible for a creature to be), how does He accomplish it? It is through the refiner’s fire that He must take us. Paul relates, in his second letter to the church at Corinth, the manner of afflictions and sufferings he experienced on his spiritual journey. He recounts his numerous beatings, shipwrecks, imprisonments, and distresses. He speaks of being “always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake” (II Cor. 4:11). But how does Paul view all this?
He sees it this way: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (II Cor. 4:17-18).
The Biblical approach to suffering is not fatalistic -- it is purposeful for the believer. It therefore, though not sought for, should be embraced when it comes. In Romans 5:3-5 we are told:” … we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” As difficult as it is for our flesh, I pray that we would embrace the “refiner’s fire.” May the “Heavenly Refiner” be able to look into our lives and see the reflection of Himself.