TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS ESTABLISH LOVE
A. Not only do trials and tribulations establish humility in the human heart in preparation for the age to come, but they also witness to the world God’s unconditional love in this age. As God has been rejected, persecuted, and hated in this age—yet relentlessly responding in love and long-suffering—so also is the Church established in the love of God by enduring suffering and persecution for the gospel, which will culminate at the end of the age.
These things I command you, so that you will love one another. 18 If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you… 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ 26 But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. 16:1 I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. (ESV John 15:17-16:3)
- And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (ESV Luke 23:34-37)
- Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him… 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him… 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (ESV Acts 7:54-60)
- Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (ESV Matthew 24:9-14)
1. Though humanity has rejected God, rebelled against his loving decress, and raged against his messengers and representative, He has patiently responded in love, compassion and forgiveness—even unto utter humiliation, self-sacrifice and death.
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. 7 Now, no one is likely to die for a good person, though someone might be willing to die for a person who is especially good. 8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9 And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s judgment. 10 For since we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be delivered from eternal punishment by his life. (NLT Romans 5:6-10)
2. The Church is the body of the Head who is presently ruling over the heavens and the earth in a posture of love and long-suffering. As the Head is ruling, so ought the Church be proclaiming. As the Head loved unconditionally, so ought the Church model that love to the world. As God is merciful to the wicked, so ought the Church proclaim and walk in mercy.
But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you… 32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them… 35 But love your enemies… Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” Mt. 5:48). (NIV Luke 6:27-36)
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander… 18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit… 4:1 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. (NIV 1 Peter 3:15-4:1)
B. The Church is thus called to imitate the apostolic witness, which itself imitated God incarnate in the Messiah.
For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death (as was the Messiah), because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake (functioning as he did), but you are wise in Christ. We are weak (not retaliating), but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute (by the wicked). 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat (imitating the long-suffering of God in Messiah). We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. 14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children (to imitate God). 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ (teachers with words), you do not have many fathers (teachers with lifestyle). For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me. (ESV 1 Corinthians 4:9-16)
C. The Church is called to show the world the long-sufferings of God, not just in word but in deed. Our lives are meant to reflect the love of God demonstrated on the Cross. In this way we “fill up in our flesh what is still lacking in regard’s to Christ’s afflictions.” (Col. 1:24)
This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. 24 Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church (cf. 2 Pe. 3:9). 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness… 28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ (in the kingdom of light). (NIV Colossians 1:23-28)
D. Not only do we endure suffering at the hands of wicked men, but we also endure suffering at the hands of wicked powers in the heavens. We witness to all in the heavens and on the earth that God is long-suffering and kind. However, he will punish all who use their power wickedly.
In that day the LORD will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below. 22 They will be herded together like prisoners bound in a dungeon; they will be shut up in prison and be punished after many days. 23 The moon will be abashed, the sun ashamed; for the LORD Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders, gloriously. (NIV Isaiah 24:21-23)
And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day. (ESV Jude 1:6)
Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips… 12 And when they (Job’s three friends) saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. 13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. (ESV Job 2:9-13)
Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (cf. being “brought near through the blood of Christ” 2:13), 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery (i.e. the suffering of Christ before the glory of Chirst, cf. Lk. 24:26; Heb. 2:10ff; 1 Pe. 1:11; etc.), which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence (by the blood of Christ). 13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you (at the hands of powers in the heavens), which are your glory. (NIV Ephesians 3:8-13)
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ… 8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. 9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power (as a witness of the Day of the Lord). 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground (as a witness of the Day of the Lord), and after you have done everything, to stand. (NIV Ephesians 6:5-13)
E. Christonaturalistic dominionism is fundamentally contrary to the gospel, not only undermining the absolute sovereignty of God, but also robbing the Church of its witness of God’s absolute benevolence, kindness and long-suffering in the midst of human rebellion. It provides no impetus for a long-suffering amnestic witness; it provides no emphasis on the demonstration of the love of Christ on the Cross; it provides no motivation to compel us into the ministry of reconciliation.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. 11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men… 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all… 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer… 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them (cf. judgment seat). And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors (cf. judgment seat), as though God were making his appeal through us. (NIV 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:20)
F. In contrast, Communion exemplifies the gospel and the undeserved love of God that sustains the Church in her sojourning. When we endure trials and sufferings it causes us to remember the trials and sufferings our God and Messiah endured in love for us and the world. Moreover, the trials work as discipline unto repentance and humility, so that we are not condemned with the world. God will pour out his grace on the loving and humble who pray.
And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” … 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (NIV Luke 22:15-20)
In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord (in this age), we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world (in the age to come). (ESV 1 Corinthians 11:25-32)