“… they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. But while the disciples stood around him, he arose and entered the city… And after they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, and to Iconium and to Antioch, 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 14:19-22)
It isn’t always easy to tell when a scripture is talking about the kingdom of God on earth (the church) and when it refers instead to the kingdom of God in heaven. Did Paul mean to say that tribulation would beset those entering the kingdom of God on earth, or that having entered that kingdom, the road ahead would be filled with trouble?
Some do find it very difficult to become a Christian with family and friends opposing their decision. Yet, they love the Lord Jesus and enter the kingdom of God (the church) when they are baptized into Christ.
Having said that, I believe the apostle Paul was referring to the kingdom of God in heaven. Having been persecuted and recently stoned, Paul was warning these new converts of the difficulties that lay ahead of them and which stood between them and their ultimate entry into heaven. Paul reaffirmed this when he wrote to Timothy: “And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 3:12). Jesus himself had taught that the pathway to heaven is narrow and even fewer who find it, stay on it all the way to heaven. (Matthew 7:13-14; Lk.13:22-24).
Why so many tribulations? Just as Jesus wants us to spend eternity in heaven, so too Satan wants us to spend eternity in hell. Why? Since his rebellion against God, Satan has been working at cross purposes to the creator. Satan did his worst by having Jesus crucified only to discover that that was part of God’s plan of salvation. But he has not given up. Now that God offers forgiveness and salvation in Jesus, Satan is still doing all that he can to discourage, dissuade and misinform.
Although Satan is not a man, the principle in this scripture applies to him as well – “…whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
Satan was enraged at his defeat and determined from that point on to make war with the seed of Mary – Christ’s church; to all those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 12:1-17). That is one of the reasons why Christians face so much opposition today.
Another is this.
Tribulations have a way of refining one’s faith; of removing doubt by calling for complete faith and trust in God and no one else. God is the only one who can ultimately provide the help that we need. Faithful Christians who remain faithful become stronger because of tribulations (James 1:2-4) and more useful in the kingdom. They inspire others to follow their example. Think about the impact that the Apostles’ faith had upon the early church. Even now, the way that you and I handle hardship can either make or break the faith of others in the church.
The apostle Paul put it this way: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake…” (Colossians 1:24). Paul was happy to suffer so that the word of the Lord would spread and that those who accepted it would grow in their faith and mature in Christ. (Romans 1:12).
Have you ever heard of any church, now or in the past, that did not experience tribulations? Though we don’t like them in the least, where would we be – without trouble and hardship? Our faith would be weak and we would be unprepared to serve the Lord sacrificially. Trials would defeat us and frustrate God’s efforts to work through us. The early church endured so many hardships because they were encouraged and inspired by the faith of the apostles and of their Lord.
What kind of faith will the church of tomorrow have? Will it be strong and inspired by those of us who have endured hardships today? That is what what we hope for. That having endured many tribulations and having gone to be with the Lord, our example will live on.
Which raises the question: who is it that has been this kind of example for you? Whose faithfulness encourages you – saying in effect: “Be faithful unto death and Jesus will give you the crown of life”? (Revelation 2:10) Our faithfulness is perfected when it inspires and stirs others to do the same. In this way, our faith reaches the end that God has in mind for it. (Hebrews 11:32-40). Christians exist not only to please God but to encourage each other to finish the race. We run the ‘race’ together, cheering each other on to victory in Christ. The faithfulness of those who have gone before us teaches us to patiently endure and overcome the hardships of life in Christ.
What is your faithfulness accomplishing in the church today? How do you handle adversity?
Upon receiving the news that he has Stage 4 cancer in several areas brother Steve Higginboth quoted this scripture, “
For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. You have caused men to ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water; but You brought us out to rich fulfillment” (Psalms 63:10-12).
He went on to say,
“Well, the latest news is that we saw an oncologist today. I have tests scheduled and will begin immunotherapy once they are completed. With all the prayers being offered on our behalf, we are hopeful. However, having said that, don’t misunderstand. Our hope is not rooted in a positive outcome but in the faithfulness of God. We would be indebted to all of you if you would continue to keep our family in your prayers.”
When I read what brother Steve had said my faith surged because of his faith. His faith is helping to complete (perfect) mine. That’s how it works. Please fervently pray for Steve, Kim and the kids.
Everyone in the church needs to see your faith at work, especially the younger generation. Remember the words of the Hebrew writer concerning Abel,
“By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, though which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, thought he is dead, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4).
Owen Sound ON