In America, we seldom struggle as much the apostle Paul or anyone else in the New Testament. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t struggles for the believer in America. After all, we are not commanded to live in any geographical area, but rather to honor God regardless of our environment. It is the intensity of this relationship with God that will bring about our suffering in any circumstance.
Additionally, the trials of a believer are not exclusive to his or her interaction with the outside, unbelieving world. It seems Paul is more concerned with solving problems within the church than offense it experiences from the outside world. Paul himself wrote of the abandonment he experienced from people whom he thought of as his spiritual family:
“…for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessolonica – Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me.”
“…Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm.”
“…At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me.” (NKJV)
2 Timothy 4:9-16
Confronted with abandonment from many of his supposed spiritual allies, did Paul press on alone? It would seem to be the burden of the Christian to be in that position from time to time doesn’t it? Paul corrects our view of such matters:
But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might fully be preached through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen! 2 Timothy 4:17-18
Paul would not have us believe he was the only one whom God would preserve in such a way. In Romans 8, he emphatically proclaims,
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: For your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
What’s interesting to me in those passages is that Paul specifically names Christ as the member of the trinity who ministers to us amidst tribulation. Were I left to my own logic, I’d think the Holy Spirit, who indwells us and seals us for everlasting salvation, would be the one who lovingly stands with us. But I’ve forgotten that Christ is our high priest (Hebrews 4:14), who “was in all points tempted as we are, yet was without sin.” The writer of Hebrews goes on to say,
Therefore he is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (7:25)
Over and over again in the NT, we see that our companion, our constant source of sympathy, our ultimate provider of salvation, is Christ. He is actively involved in our lives amidst suffering. I hasten to say that every moment we doubt God’s provision in hard times is a moment in which we shame our Savior.
Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
If you are in a trial, or you sense one is on the horizon, though you may not see him, feel him, or hear him, recognize that Jesus stands with you, strengthens you, makes intercession for you, and consoles you. Through him you will overcome.
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