Author: Ron Graham
Through Much Tribulation
—Suffering and Endurance
In Lystra, certain opponents set upon Paul, hurled stones at him, dragged him out of the city, and left him for dead. Paul survived and later returned to Lystra where he encouraged the disciples to continue in the faith.
Paul’s message was, "Through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:19-22).
1 Suffering was Common to All Christians
Tribulations and suffering may have been worse for some than others, however it was, in New Testament times, a fairly general and common experience among Christians.
- There in Lycia and Pisidia. Paul was not alone in being persecuted. Those who became disciples of Christ in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, suffered along with Paul. "Through much tribulation we..." was his message (Acts 14:22).
- Rome. The Christians in Rome were told, "Be patient in tribulation" (Romans 12:12), which surely implies that they were suffering, or going to suffer, tribulation in some form.
- Corinth. Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth of their "patient endurings of the same sufferings that we also suffer" (2Corinthians 1:6)
- Thessalonica. Paul wrote to the Thessalonian Christians about "your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions, which you endure as a plain indication of God's righteous judgment, that you should be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering" (2Thessalonians 1:4-5).
- Smyrna. Jesus said to the church in Smyrna (in Asia), "I know your tribulation and your poverty" (Revelation 2:1-9).
- The scattered. Peter wrote to Christians "scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" and he counselled them about their sufferings (1Peter 3:14, 4:16, 5:6-11).
- Brethren worldwide. In that last passage Peter says that "the same experience of suffering is being accomplished by your brethren in the world." So the entire brotherhood worldwide bore its share of tribulations.
2 Tribulation Among Christians Today
Was tribulation just characteristic of the early church, or can Christians in the twenty-first century expect to suffer tribulation just like those of the first century? Is it easier for us, or must we, like they, enter the kingdom of God "through much tribulation"?
When Jesus told the parable of the sower, he spoke of the seed that fell on rocky ground. "They have no root in themselves, but are only temporary. When affliction or persecution arises, because of the world, immediately they fall away" (Mark 4:16-17).
The parable is applicable to the kingdom of God today as much as ever. Today "affliction or persecution arises" just as it always did. Jesus also said, "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). Is that not still true for today?
Paul associates suffering in this world with our hope of Heaven. "We suffer with Christ in order that we may be glorified with him. For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be" (Romans 8:16-18).
Since we have the same promise of being glorified with Christ, surely we partake also in his sufferings. We hope for what they hoped for. We must bear what they bore. "Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer" (Romans 12:12). That is what all Christians do.
Paul also speaks of "the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction." Paul understood that he suffered so that "we should not trust in ourselves but in God" (2Corinthians 1:3-11).
God is still the God of comfort, and it is still needful to trust in God. Therefore we today also experience sufferings.
3 The Christian Path of Endurance
One idea of Christianity is that it takes away all pain, solves all problems, wipes every tear away, and makes life one long stretch of sunshine. Some think that, if a Christian suffers tribulation, it is because there is unresolved sin in that Christian's heart and life.
However that is not what this lesson has shown us, nor what our next lessons will say to us. We will experience suffering. Christianity is about endurance and perseverance of faith, as we walk toward God's eternal kingdom, along the path that passes "through much tribulation."