How are you doing in God’s refining process?
According to Scripture, God both tests and refines his people, and images of refining fires, crucibles for metals, purifying fires, the smelting process, and the like are often used. While testing and purifying are somewhat distinct but related processes, they both are used in a spiritual sense to convey how God deals with his own children.
Today I again read one such passage: Jeremiah 6:27-30. It says:
I have made you a tester of metals among my people,
that you may know and test their ways.
They are all stubbornly rebellious,
going about with slanders;
they are bronze and iron;
all of them act corruptly.
The bellows blow fiercely;
the lead is consumed by the fire;
in vain the refining goes on,
for the wicked are not removed.
Rejected silver they are called,
for the Lord has rejected them.
Similar such texts would include the following:
Job 23:10 But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
Psalm 66:10 For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver.
Proverbs 17:3 The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
and the Lord tests hearts.
Isaiah 48:9-11 “For my name’s sake I defer my anger;
for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.
Malachi 3:2-4 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 fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
1 Peter 1:6-7 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
You see the different ways such imagery is being used. Sometimes it refers to the testing of God’s people, or to the purifying of God’s people, or to the purging and cleansing of God’s people, and so on. But it is part of God’s love and care for them. He loves his own too much to leave them as they are, and if they need the furnace of affliction or similar means to become cleansed and purified and fit for the master’s use, then so be it.
However, while this refining process will hopefully lead to good outcomes – eg., a purified and obedient people – sometimes the process simply reveals that no hope is possible: it simply reveals useless dross that must be discarded. That sadly is what is found in the Jer. 6 passage.
Let me look at it further, with the help of some commentators. Walter Brueggemann describes the seriousness of the situation:
Israel is all dross, so the smelter must retain none of it. There is here no allowance for remnant or for exile. The metaphor declares a decisive end. The smelter finds Jerusalem to be all dross, without value, and so it is to be discarded. The metaphor thus comprehends both the prophetic office of Jeremiah and the destiny of the city. One is as rigorous as the other is ominous.
Hetty Lalleman concurs:
Despite the process of refining through fire, pure silver is not produced. Lead was added to silver to sort out the impure elements. Yet this process has not been effective. Despite the prophetic teaching, the people have not produced anything valuable in the eyes of God; nor have they changed their behaviour. The result is rejected silver, which cannot be used. That is the metaphorical name the people deserve. They have rejected God’s law (v.19), and now they are rejected, for God has rejected them.
Walter Kaiser offers us some application for today’s believers:
God makes his prophet a “tester of metals,” that is, a prophet who is to evaluate the response of the people to the word of God. In this illustration the people are like ore that needs to be refined. However, as Jeremiah observes the lifestyles of the people of Judah, they simply do not pass the test of refining. This nation is closer to the base metals and not gold or silver. Even though the refiner pumps more and more air (in this case preaching the powerful word of God), it takes no effect, for the refining just goes on and on.
God is still in the business of inspecting how each of us who read and weekly hear the word of God in our churches are doing. But no matter how urgently God calls and no matter how many Scriptures we hear, the result is the same: very little change, or even none at all! This is a modern challenge just as it was a challenge in Jeremiah’s day. Will we pass the refiner’s test?
Lastly, Philip Graham Ryken offers us this word of caution:
Many Christians assume they can have Christ and the world at the same time. They want to mix the bronze of the devil and the iron of the world in with the pure silver of Christ. They think they can walk down the ancient path and the new highway at the same time. They end up mixing a little greed, pride, immorality, gluttony, idleness, worry, bitterness, and selfishness in with faith, hope, and love.
But all those little impurities add up. Derek Kidner gives this final lab report on Jeremiah’s testing of metals: “It emerges that the people of Judah are not, so to speak, precious metal marred by some impurities, but base metal from which nothing of worth can be extracted.”
This is a solemn warning for everyone who stands at the crossroads and wonders which road to choose. The only safe thing to do is walk in the way of Christ alone. For someday Christ himself will come and cause everyone to pass through his crucible. “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire. . . . He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver” (Malachi 3:2-3a).
Yes, this is a very sobering text indeed. Without once again getting into the big debate as to whether the believer can lose his salvation (see my other posts on this), as I so often say, we must take very seriously the warnings found in Scripture. And there are many of these warnings. They are not just found in Jeremiah and the Old Testament, but in the New Testament as well.
So we all want to ensure – by God’s grace – that we have made it through the testing and the refining process, and not been discarded on the scrap heap.