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"Rejoice in tribulations"

"We glory in tribulations," writes the apostle Paul (Rom 5:3). The word "glory" is the same in the Greek as the word translated "rejoice" in v 2 and "joy" in v 11. Paul can rejoice in tribulations, or "sufferings" (RSV), because those sufferings are part of a process leading to the glory of God (vv 2,11).
This same principle is taught by James:

"My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations ('various trials': RSV)... Blessed is the man that endureth temptation ('trial': RSV): for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life" (1:2,12).
And also by Peter:

"Now for a season... ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations (again, 'various trials': RSV): that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1Pe 1:6,7).
All of the above is based upon the words of Christ:

"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven... Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven" (Mat 5:10,12).
What does the phrase "for righteousness' sake" mean? Whose righteousness, Christ's or ours? Certainly the former, in view of v 11, where the corresponding phrase is, "for my sake". This reminds us of the reaction of the apostles to their beating at the instigation of the Sanhedrin: they rejoiced "that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name" (Acts 5:40,41).

We must accept our tribulations not just because they are the common lot of all mankind, but rather in order to fill up, or complete, what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Col 1:24). We suffer because he suffered, and because we are members along with "the Head" of the same "body"! Without our trials, therefore, Christ's work would be incomplete and, strange as it may sound, imperfect. This is all part of Christ's being a representative, and not merely a substitutionary, sacrifice. His trials are a standing invitation to us to view our lives as complements of his, and in so doing to have fellowship with his sufferings (Phi 3:8-11).

Paul writes to the Corinthian brethren that sufferings go hand in hand with consolation (or comfort: RSV) (2Co 1:3-7). Only those who have themselves suffered can effectively offer true and acceptable "consolation" to others who suffer -- this is why Job's friends failed: Job's intense sufferings, and the anguished questions they produced, were completely foreign to their own experiences.

Paul also writes, in the same place, that we must suffer in order to learn the lesson that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God Who raises the dead (vv 8,9). Our weaknesses and failures, paradoxical as it may seem, draw us closer to a God Who is all-powerful and Who never fails.

If, then, we suffer because Christ suffered and we must follow his lead, we are still left with the question: Why did Christ suffer? The Scriptural answer, again supplied by Paul, is that he learned obedience and was made perfect through his sufferings (Heb 5:2,7-9). He was not born perfect, but he became perfect. "Perfect" In this instance means more than sinless; it means tried and faithful. A perfect character can be developed only through trials, or -- in more modern terms -- a decision-making process. This process, also called "chastening", is not essentially a pleasant process; but it is, Biblically speaking, "joyful" when the end of the chastening -- the perfection or completion of character -- is considered (Heb 12:11).

Character is formed under storm clouds, not under sunny skies. Saints learn more from their "losses" than their "profits". Health comes out of sickness. God's strength is perfected in human weakness; and the flesh's failures become the Spirit's successes!

"For even Christ pleased not himself" (Rom 15:3). Then why should we "please" ourselves? And why should God always do those things that "please" us, on a superficial, temporal level?

The fellowship of Christ is not a peaceful walk through a beautiful garden, despite what some sentimental "orthodox" hymns would have us believe. It is instead a "fellowship of suffering". Instead of relaxation, it is self-sacrifice. Associations may have to be surrendered (Mat 10:32-38). Ambitions may have to be set aside. Pleasures may have to be foregone.

The verses concerning persecution from the "Sermon on the Mount" (Mat 5:10-12), quoted earlier, come at the end of the "Beatitudes". This is the final "blessing"; why? Because all the previous seven "blessings" lead up to it. Christ was all these other things -- poor in spirit, meek, merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker. It was because he was all these other things that he was finally persecuted, and hounded to his death! Me would naturally expect that the fine qualities of Mat 5:3-9 would lead all the world to admire him. But no -- much the reverse! The world came at last to hate the man who by his actions and words testified against their sins, and they rose up to crucify him.

Could it be, then, that we do not suffer in the degree that Christ did because we do not really "show forth" Christ and his death to the world around us? Perhaps, if we did demonstrate our oneness with him in word and deed, society would not welcome us with open arms -- but would instead accord us similar treatment.

Do we fail to experience real sufferings because, like the Laodicean ecclesia, we have become too "comfortable" in this world (Rev 3:17)? Part of Christ's "sufferings" had to do with his attitude toward the world. He saw the world, rightly, as a barren wasteland where there was no water of life, and no hope. And so he "suffered", not just physically but mentally, because he was forced to live among wicked men. Do we see our lives in this wicked world as a suffering? Or do we see, all around us, lots of pleasant worldly diversions and entertainment? If so, then we have succumbed, in large measure or altogether, to the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of the flesh.

Severe persecutions and sufferings may come our way before the return of Christ. Certain prophecies seem to point in that direction. If they do come, they will be by the mercy of God, to prepare our characters for His Kingdom; we need to be aware of this possibility, so as not to be offended and fall away. Will we have the spiritual strength to survive those coming trials? We will not if, during these generally peaceful and prosperous times (at least In our western world), we have been enjoying ourselves and growing lazy and complacent. We will survive whatever trials come if we use these same peaceful time? to give ourselves to Bible study, prayer, and hard work in the Truth.

It may be seen, therefore, that we do in fact have severe trials today! The relatively "easy" lives which we take for granted may be our greatest trial! Unless we are careful in our modern environment, our inner strength -- the kind that had sustained our spiritual forefathers through difficult times-will rot away. And when the first blows of real outward tribulation fall upon us, we will crumble!

"And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house: and it fell: and great was the fall of it" (Mat 7:26,27).

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