Many people would obey and follow God if He would only remove the struggles and tribulations that they are going through. But since God does not immediately remove their trials, they remain uncommitted and follow the path of least resistance. But the question is still asked, “Why do Christians worldwide suffer so many troubles?”
Jesus said that whatever we give to others will eventually be returned to us. He said, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:37, last part, 38).
This is an eternal principle that God has established in the universe. As we give to others, the same will come back to us, whether we give good or evil.
Before his conversion, the apostle Paul was the leading persecutor of Christians in the world. He was responsible for having men and women put in prison just because they were Christians, and also for the death of many of whom we do not know the number.
The Bible says Paul was present and consenting to the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr who was stoned to death. However, when he was converted on the road to Damascus, the Lord said to Ananias concerning him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15).
Saul’s name was changed and he became the apostle Paul. He suffered many things for Christ’s name sake. He was beaten, put in prison, shipwrecked a number of times. He even suffered the same fate that he had consented done to Stephen when on his very first missionary journey he was stoned. The persecutors left him for dead, but after a while he came to and then left town. There is no doubt that during that experience he remembered what he had allowed to be done to Stephen and thought his end had come, but it was not his time to die yet.
After that experience, Paul went back through the cities where he and Barnabas had preached the gospel. Acts 14:21, 22 says, “When they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra (where Paul had been stoned), Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.’ ”
This is troubling to many people who wonder why it is that if they choose to become a Christian, the only way they can get to the Kingdom of God is through many tribulations.
There are several texts in the New Testament that explain why this is so. In John 7, Jesus’ brothers told Him to go and show people what He was doing and declare Himself to the world as the Messiah (see verses 3, 4). Then it says, “For even his brothers did not believe in Him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil’ ” (verses 5–7).
In John 15:18–25, on the night that He was betrayed, Jesus said to His disciples, “ ‘If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “A servant is not greater than his Master.” If they’ve persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, “They hated Me without a cause.” ’ ”
Jesus told His followers that they were following Him because He chose them out of the world and because the world hated Him they would also hate His followers. The apostle John, in his letter in 1 John 3:10–15 explains why they are hated: “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”
In 1 John 5:19, literal translation, John says, “The whole world lies in wickedness.” The Christian, without even saying anything, by the very fact that he exists and is living in harmony with the law of God, his life is a rebuke to those who are transgressing the law of God. So, according to worldlings, something must be done to get this disturbing element out of the way. That is exactly what happened with Cain and Abel. Cain wanted to get Abel out of the way so he would not show him up. This resulted in Cain killing his brother.
John says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15–17). Before He left them, Jesus said to His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). His followers soon found these words to be true. Paul was stoned. Peter was crucified. James was killed with the sword. In fact, the Jews tried to kill all of Christ’s apostles. Every one of them was martyred except for the apostle John. The Jews tried without success to kill him but God still had a work for him to do – write the book of Revelation on the lonely Isle of Patmos.
Christ’s followers stood out from the crowd. The way they lived was a rebuke to the Jews so they did their best to eliminate them. So, the world today does not like to be rebuked for its lifestyle.
There is a story that has been told of a man who lived in the southern United States before the emancipation proclamation, who had slaves, one of whom was a Christian. He said to this slave, “Why are you having so much trouble? Look at me, I’m not a Christian and I do not have all the trouble that you have.” The slave replied, “When you go hunting with your bird dogs and you shoot a bird and it falls down dead, the bird dog doesn’t go over to it because the bird is dead. But then you shoot another bird, and it is not dead but just wounded, the bird dog goes after that one.” He continued, “That is like you and me. The devil is not after you, because he’s already got you. But he is after me, because I am just wounded and that is why I am having a lot of trouble.” The devil is the one that brought suffering, sickness and sin into this world that results in death.
As long as the devil exists there will be conflict in our world between good and evil. Eventually, every person is going to be totally on either one side or the other. Today there are still many people who are in the valley of decision trying to figure out on what side of the great controversy between good and evil they want to be. Do they love sin so much that they are willing to do whatever they can to be on that side? Or, would they like to have eternal life? Eternal life can only be given to the person who chooses to surrender his sinful nature and follow the Lord.
O, friend, what is happening in your life? Are you like the bird that is dead, or like the one that is wounded, and having a lot of trouble? Remember, it is the devil that causes so much trouble for those who are on the path that leads to everlasting life, but they are not alone in their journey. Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5, last part).
If you’re not following the Lord, Jesus said, “All those who hate me love death” (Proverbs 8:36). “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In Matthew 10:34–39, Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; And ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake, will find it.”
The apostle Paul said, “… all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). But do not be discouraged for God has promised His people who are suffering trouble because they have chosen to be Christians that, “As your days, so shall your strength be.” “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:25, 27).
God has promised to never forsake His own. He has promised to be with them to strengthen and help them in all the troubles and trials that they go through. In Psalm 9:9, 10, it says, “The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.” Isaiah says, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord, forever, for in Yah, the Lord, is everlasting strength” (Isaiah 26:3, 4).
Reading the New Testament we find promises equally comforting. Notice what the apostle Paul said about the Christian who is suffering trouble and trial because he has chosen to follow the Lord: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:12, 13).
Peter also speaks to those who suffer because they are Christians: “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19). God is a faithful Creator; He does not forsake His own. Even though they go through trials and troubles, He has promised to be with them, to support them, to sustain them, to help them, right up to the moment of death.
However, there is coming a time when the tables are going to be completely turned. Jesus will say, “Enough!” God will avenge His people, when all cases have been decided. He is going to judge this world and bring judgments upon it because of its sin.
The book of Revelation is very clear that in the last days, because of the wickedness of the world, the Lord God of heaven is going to come down and walk through the whole earth, spreading desolation everywhere. (See Revelation 16.) That is called the “seven last plagues.” These plagues will come upon the people who deliberately choose to remain in violation and rebellion against the law of God. To be in rebellion against the law of God means you are in rebellion against the government of God, and against God Himself.
As we approach the time of the end of the world, it is going to become more and more wicked. Jesus talked about it Matthew 24. Paul talked about it in 2 Timothy 3. John talked about it in the last half of the book of Revelation how the wickedness in this world would become so great that God would finally say, “It’s not going to go on anymore.”
The Lord is going to come to this world in judgment. When that happens, those who have been obedient will not suffer the plagues that are to come upon the rest of the world. In the Old Testament, foreseeing what would happen at the end of time, the Lord predicted the protection that He was going to put around His own. Notice Psalm 91:4–7: “He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that wastes at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you.”
Then the Lord will say to His people, “Come, My people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment, until the indignation is past. For behold, the Lord comes out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; the earth will also disclose her blood, and will no more cover her slain” (Isaiah 26:20, 21). Up until now, when people die, we bury them and the earth covers up the dead. But there is coming a time when the earth is not going to cover the slain anymore. It says, “ ‘And the songs of the temple shall be wailing in that day,’ says the Lord God—‘Many dead bodies everywhere, They shall be cast out in silence’ ” (Amos 8:3).
Jeremiah 25:32, 33 says, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Behold, disaster shall go forth from nation to nation, and a great whirlwind shall be raised up from the farthest parts of the earth. And at that day the slain of the Lord shall be from one end of the earth even to the other end of the earth. They shall not be lamented, or gathered, or buried; they shall become refuse on the ground.’ ”
When that time comes, the Lord says to His people, “A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you. Only with your eyes shall you look, and see the reward of the wicked. Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling” (Psalm 91:7–10).
O, friend, although Christians suffer a lot in the world and have for thousands of years, there is coming a time when the tables are going to be turned. Those who break God’s law and persist in their wickedness are going to receive God’s judgments while His people are protected. When that time comes, where will you be? Whatever troubles, or trials, or tribulations that you are suffering right now because you are following Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, they are temporary. That is a wonderful thought. All of a Christian’s troubles are temporary; they will all be over soon. The question is, “Will you be one of those who is accounted ready when your Lord comes?”
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.