Sometimes evangelists, in our desire to see people turn to Christ, lay such emphasis on the blessings believers will experience that converts may enter the Christian life without being fully aware of the suffering it necessarily involves. One significant emphasis in the apostles’ message to new Christians, however, was that they will indeed suffer.
As Paul and Barnabas revisited the churches they had recently founded, they strengthened “the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). At another time, Paul’s anxiety for a newly founded church led him to dispatch Timothy to revisit those Christians “to establish you in your faith and to exhort you, that no one be moved by these afflictions … For when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we will suffer affliction” (1 Thessalonians 3:2–4).
Such explicit warnings helped Christians, when they suffered, not to think that God had forsaken them or let them down. To the contrary, from these teachings they learned that sufferings were essential for the growth of their faith.
Adversity provides the proper environment for exercising faith so that it will grow and become strong. Since faith is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus and banks its hope on what God has promised to do in the future, faith will therefore be in a better position to flourish when things are not going well for us in the present. Only when there is adversity in our present situation do we need to fight the fight of faith and consider God’s promises, until the fear and anxiety that stemmed from our visible situation is replaced by a peace and joy that comes from a conviction of the trustworthiness of God’s promises. Without adversity our faith would wither and lose its vitality.
The Bible clearly teaches that faith is the commodity by which our true wealth is to be measured. According to 1 Peter 1:5–7, faith is more valuable than gold, and it gains this great value as it is tested by trials. Faith that has stood on the promises of God despite great adversity will reveal its unexcelled value at the appearing of Jesus Christ. Then it will be worthy of praise and honor and glory, because it will demonstrate how God lives up to his promises. Surely we all want to amass, now, that commodity whose value will endure for eternity. Faith is that commodity, and we become rich in faith as we abide in God’s promises in the midst of adversity.
As disciples of Christ we experience adversity in several ways. One way is through the normal wear and tear of life. Another is through the antagonism of people who oppose our beliefs. A third way is when God disciplines us. When he does, we should not despise his discipline, but to see it as the greatest proof of his love. What better thing could God do for us now than to provide us with situations where we can exercise our faith so that it develops and becomes stronger?
By itself, God’s discipline is not joyous but sorrowful. Nevertheless, God’s discipline, like the discipline of our parents, is a great evidence of his love (Hebrews 12:6, 9–10). So, if we do not rebel against it but use such tribulations as opportunities to correct how we exercise faith, we will then come to experience “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11). If we submit ourselves to God during suffering, we will know much more of the abundant life which Jesus came to give.
Therefore, the Bible is surely encouraging us to do what is good for us when it commands us to “count it all joy … when you encounter various trials” (James 1:2), and to “glory in tribulations” (Romans 5:3).
Daniel P. Fuller
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