“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NIV)

Pain, suffering, and tribulation are not pleasant topics of conversation. It is natural to desire to avoid pain. And yet, Jesus is telling his disciples that “in this world,” they would experience trouble, pain and suffering, tribulation, and ultimately, all of them except John would face martyrdom because of their faith.

The theology that has developed in the Western world frequently emphasizes an avoidance of suffering. We see Eschatology that features escape rather than endurance. We hear things like, “Give your life to Jesus, and all your problems will disappear.” In other parts of the world where they have experienced persecution and suffering, believers do not have the luxury of a life without tribulation.

As hostility toward Christians increases in the United States and other Western countries, will we be forced to reevaluate our beliefs? If we haven’t frightened you away already, let us examine further what the Bible has to say about the trouble that we face “in this world.”

Is Suffering Necessary?

They strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions.” Acts 14:22 (NET)

We may ask, is suffering necessary? Another, perhaps better question is, is suffering inevitable? Examining the history of the church, we conclude that to live genuinely as a follower of Christ often results in persecution. Paul said: Anyone who wants to live all out for Christ is in for a lot of trouble; there’s no getting around it. 2 Timothy 3:12 (MSG)

Paul’s words should be alarming for us if we have never faced any trouble as Christians. It will not always be that our lives are in danger, but if we are genuinely “salt and light,” it is inevitable that we will be an irritant to those “in this world.”

Jesus warned his followers: The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. John 15:19 (NLT)

Suffering and tribulation may or may not be necessary, but it is inevitable to those who choose to “carry their cross and follow Jesus.”

Truth in Advertising

And I will show him how much he is destined to suffer because of his passion for me.” Acts 9:16 (TPT)

Did you know that there are laws regarding truth in advertising? Considering everything we see on the Internet and elsewhere, it’s hard to believe. The question is, how would pastors and preachers fare if subjected to truth in advertising scrutiny?

I have given hundreds of invitations for people to receive Christ. And I have probably witnessed thousands, but rarely, if ever, have we disclosed the full extent of the potential cost of following Christ. Granted, God is telling Ananias that he will show Paul how much he will suffer for the cause of the gospel, but at some point, people need to hear that they must count the cost.

We may be on the verge of increased persecution. We need to let people know what they are getting into as followers of Christ. Peter wrote: “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through.” It is our responsibility to prepare those for whom God has given us responsibility to confront whatever may happen.

Looking Beyond and Lessons Learned

After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing. James 1:3–4 (CEB)

Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. Hebrews 5:8 (NLT)

We will miss the point if we only view persecution and tribulation only as something we must endure. Suffering is a tool that God uses to produce in us a completeness and maturity that we can obtain in no other way. In a text that might be somewhat shocking to us, even Jesus underwent suffering to be proven.

As with discipline (Hebrews 12:11), suffering is necessary to bring about “endurance and proven character” (Romans 5:3-4). Job could look beyond what he went through, proclaiming: “But he knows where I am going. And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold. Job 23:10 (NLT)

Jesus was certainly put to the test on the cross, but he did not fixate on the cross, but on the “joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). To face suffering without knowing that there is something on the other side would be unbearable, but we, like Job, have the promise of coming out “as pure as gold.” God has lessons in store for us that we do not yet comprehend, but we have “great and precious promises.”

We Have Been Warned

Our experiences influence our theology. If we have never undergone severe testing, we are more likely to conclude that we are exempt from those trials. Jesus told us: “in this world, we will have tribulation.” Paul warned that “everyone who seeks to live godly will suffer persecution.” We do not have to look forward to suffering, but the promise of an ultimate result should motivate and encourage us.

Severe testing may not find us today or tomorrow, but Jesus warned us that it is inevitable. An army that waits until it is already in a conflict before beginning preparation is disadvantaged. As pastors and leaders, we have a responsibility to train and equip God’s people to be ready for what may be coming. Perhaps we can even become excited about the possibility of “coming out as pure as gold.”

Finally, we can take courage because we are not alone in this struggle. Even though the devil pretends to be a lion, Peter offered this counsel: Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are. 1 Peter 5:9 (NLT). “In this world” we can overcome because He overcomes.

Steve Ekeroth


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