“Through Many Tribulations”
We should not expect an
easy life as we follow
the Lord, but rather,
[Paul and Barnabas] returned… strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
— Acts 14:21-22
As Christians, we have all heard of the “Great Tribulation” which must soon come upon the whole earth (Matt. 24:21), in which the Antichrist will arise to consummate mankind’s rebellion against God and persecute the people of God.
In the verse above, however, the Apostles Paul and Barnabas warned the disciples, not of the coming Great Tribulation, but of “many tribulations.” They told them that we must pass through these tribulations even today to enter into the kingdom of God.
In fact, the Greek word for “tribulation,” thlipsis, is quite common in the New Testament. It literally refers to “a pressing, pressing together, pressure” (Thayer’s), and is used more than 40 times, also being translated as “affliction” or “persecution.”
In our previous Note, “Glory and Suffering,” we considered how God uses sufferings to work something of Himself into our being, to prepare us for glory. The tribulations, afflictions, trials, and persecutions are the difficult environments—the “pressings, pressing together, pressures”—that God brings us into, or allows us to pass through, in which we experience that suffering. Hence the need for such trials.
Some believers will fall away because of afflictions (Matt. 13:21); in the Lord we will have peace, but in the world we will have tribulation (John 16:33); the believers were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen (Acts 11:19); the Holy Spirit testified to Paul that bonds and afflictions awaited him in every city (Acts 20:23); we boast in all our tribulations, which produce endurance (Rom. 5:3); our tribulations cannot separate us from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:35); yet, we must endure in tribulations (Rom. 12:12); the Father comforted the apostles in all their affliction (2 Cor. 1:4); our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17); the apostles commended themselves as servants of God in tribulations (2 Cor. 6:4); filled up in their flesh what was lacking in the afflictions of Christ (Col. 1:24); and boasted among the churches of God of the patience and faith of the believers in all the tribulations they endured (2 Thess. 1:4).
More could be added, but even from this it is clear that, if we seek to follow Christ, we must indeed pass through “many tribulations.”
In our time, especially in America, the apostles’ warning might not be so welcome; we much prefer a comfortable faith, one which does not bring us into trials and suffering. This is surely a great factor in the weakness of the church here!
Yet, if we accept this way of tribulation as the path God has ordained for us in this life, it truly will “strengthen our soul,” as the apostles knew. We will not think it a strange thing when we pass through these fiery trials (1 Pet. 4:12), and hence we will be able to “continue in the faith,” not being stumbled by our trials.
Nonetheless, it is also the case, as the Old Testament prophet tells us:
[The Lord] does not afflict willingly,
Nor grieve the children of men.
— Lamentations 3:33
God loves us as His own children, and it is never His heart to cause us to suffer. Why then does He allow such things to come upon us, and even arrange such environments for us?
That is what we will consider in our next Note, on the sufferings of Job.
— Up Next —
“The Sufferings of Job”
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— 12 October 2021 —