Living Out the Sacrifice – Persevering in Tribulation

I am currently teaching my favorite course for Belhaven University.  It is entitled Kingdom Life.  It’s the final worldview courses many of the students take.  The concept of vocations is stressed throughout the course–the idea that we all have callings from God that we are to take seriously to such an extent that God is glorified and people are blessed because we are present.

Think of some of your callings.  Perhaps your list looks similar to mine:  Christian, Husband, Father, Employee, Church attendee, Citizen, etc. Each is a vocation within which I am be faithful today, tomorrow and every day.

Easier said than done, right?!  Right!

The text for our class is Gene Veith’s God At Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life (Crossway Books, 2002).  Chapter ten is “Bearing the Cross in Vocation.” The first paragraph reads as follows:

“The doctrine of vocation is utterly realistic. And a part of realism is to acknowledge the hardships, the frustrations, the failures that we also sometimes encounter in our vocations. Yes, work can be satisfying and fulfilling, but–sometimes at the same time–it can be arduous, boring , and futile. Yes, it is wonderful to have children, but they can also break a parent’s heart. Yes, marriage is a blessing, but there are also sometimes fights, arguments, and emotional roller coasters. Yes, it is good to love one’s country, but citizenship becomes a burden when the leaders are corrupt and the laws are unjust. Yes, we cannot do without our church, but sometimes it is maddeningly frustrating in the way it operates” (p.143).

Later, in a section entitled, “Trials in Vocation”, Veith writes, “It is not just sin that gives us trouble in vocation. We face trials. We face tribulations. Sometimes we experience utter failure” (p.145).

I know you can relate.  If you have lived life into adulthood, you have experienced all the above (sin and its consequences, trials, tribulations, utter failure).  Life is hard. As Wesley so eloquently put it to the Princess bride: “Life is pain, highness.”

Dr. John Piper stated a the following in a sermon on our passage in Romans 12:

Tribulation is unique in this list. Love, joy, hope, patient endurance are all things we experience or do. But tribulation is something that is done to us, or happens to us. Love, joy, hope, patience are all virtues—they rise in the soul by God’s grace as something morally good. Tribulation is not a virtue. It’s not in the category as a moral act of the soul. So tribulation is different.

We start with this because this is the environment where all the virtues happen. Tribulation is the normal experience of believers in this life. Some tribulation we share with unbelievers (like sickness and calamity and death) and some is unique to believers (like persecution for Christ’s sake). But my main point here is that tribulation is normal and to be expected in this world. It’s the setting for all our love and joy and hope and patience and prayer. Affliction is where we live. If you don’t live there now, you will. Learning that this is normal will be a great help to you when it comes.

Jesus was the best man who ever lived. None of us has any right to experience less affliction than he did. If we experience less, it is mercy. We don’t deserve the peaceful lives we have. They are merciful gifts. For Jesus it was affliction from the beginning. His birth was scandalous (conceived before marriage). It was in an animal feeding trough. It was threatened and hated by the political powers (Herod). He barely escaped death as a child and had to become a refugee in Egypt. And so it went until he was accused of sedition against Caesar and crucified.

That is the way Christianity began. Jesus said, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malignthose of his household” (Matthew 10:25). Paul taught all the young churches he established, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Peter taught the churches, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). It isn’t strange. It’s normal. It comes with the fallen, sinful, futile world. “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).

The affliction of our lives extends from cancer to calamity to conflict to death. These are all normal and they are part of what we must live with on our way to heaven. That is why Paul says here in verse 12, “Be patient in tribulation.”

“Tribulation is the normal experience of believers in this life…Affliction is where we live.”  We shouldn’t expect anything different.. Thus we are called to endure; to be patient.  Difficulties are to be expected, but “this too shall pass” and the end result will be God-exalting, people-blessing maturity.

Rom 5:1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

Rom 5:2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.

Rom 5:3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;

Rom 5:4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;

Rom 5:5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Beloved–regardless of the challenges and difficulties you are facing today or in your future–stand (Rom. 5:2). Exult in hope (Rom. 5:2). Exult IN the tribulations, because something good will be the result (Rom. 5:3-5).  God has a great purpose in mind!


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