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THE PURPOSE OF CHRISTIAN SUFFERING

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, July 26, 2009

“Exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).


You should read Luke Tyerman’s two volumes on The Life of the Reverend George Whitefield (Need of the Times Publishers, 1995 edition, P.O. Box 458, Azle, Texas 76098), and you ought to read Tyerman’s three volumes on The Life and Times of the Reverend John Wesley, M.A. (Tentmaker Publications, 2003 edition).  Look it up on a Google search.  If you take the time to read those five books you will see a virtual repetition of what happened to Paul and Barnabas, after they were sent out to preach by the church at Antioch.  They fasted and prayed.  So did Whitefield and Wesley.  They were opposed by a false prophet.  Whitefield and Wesley were opposed by many false prophets in the churches of their day.  A large group of people contradicted Paul and Barnabas, persecuted them, and drove them away, so they couldn’t preach in many of the synagogues.  The same thing happened to Whitefield and Wesley when they were driven out of churches and had to preach in the open fields.  Attempts were made to kill Paul and Barnabas.  They were stoned.  So were Whitefield and Wesley.  Both Whitefield and Wesley were attacked repeatedly and stoned.  It is a thrilling thing to read about events occurring during the First Great Awakening that were just like what happened in the Book of Acts!  The same thing is happening to several great preachers in China today.  Pulpit Helps reports that five leading preachers in China were arrested on June 9, 2009.  They face three years in prison for preaching the Gospel in China (Pulpit Helps, August 2009, p. 32).  It is inspiring to see them go bravely through persecution in China, just as Paul and Barnabas and Whitefield and Wesley did in an earlier time. 

But now Paul and Barnabas came back to the church at Antioch, the church that sent them out to preach about two years earlier. And they spoke to the new people in that church,

“Exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God”
       (Acts 14:22).

The Greek word translated “tribulation” is “thlipsis.” It means “pressures, troubles, sufferings, afflictions” (Strong). This is the first recorded instance of the Apostle Paul using the words “the kingdom of God.” Dr. Ellicott said, “In his epistles it recurs frequently…[the kingdom of God] was not a theory or opinion [to him] but an actual kingdom, of which Jesus the Christ [is] king” (Charles John Ellicott, Ph.D., Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Zondervan Publishing House, n.d., volume VII, p. 92; note on Acts 14:22).

“Continue in the faith” is the proof that a person has been converted. Jesus said,

“If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” (John 8:31).

A real conversion is not so much proved by the beautiful words of a testimony as it is by continuing “in the faith” in spite of many hardships. It is one thing to say you believe the doctrines of Christianity, but only the true convert will be able to “continue in the faith” in spite of “much tribulation,” or as the center note in the Scofield Study Bible translates it, through “many tribulations.”

I cannot think of any more harmful teaching than the idea that it is “easy” for people to be saved, but “difficult” to make them disciples! This is the confused teaching of “decisionism.” Jesus made it crystal clear that it is “impossible” for man to be saved at all!

“And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God…” (Mark 10:26-27).

You see, no one in his “right mind” wants to deliberately put himself in a position where he has to go through tribulation – “pressures, troubles, sufferings, and afflictions.” That’s why it often seems to a lost world that we have gone crazy when we become real converts. That’s why Porcius Festus shouted at Paul, “Much learning doth make thee mad” (Acts 26:24). The lost world thinks, “Only a madman would want to ‘deny himself, take up his cross, and follow’ Christ through the pressures, sufferings, and troubles of real Christianity!” But Paul answered Festus,

“I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth…” (Acts 26:25).

Christianity is the truth! Therefore we should be willing to go “through much tribulation [to] enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Sing the first part of that song, “Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?”

Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
   And all the world go free?
No; there’s a cross for every one,
   And there’s a cross for me.
(“Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?” by Thomas Shepherd, 1665-1739).

Dr. John R. Rice said,

All my heart’s love, All my fond dreams –
   Make them, Lord Jesus, only for Thee.
All that I am, all I could be –
   Take me, Lord Jesus, Thine e’er to be.
(“All My Heart’s Love” by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).

“We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

What is the purpose of these trials and sufferings we must go through to be a real Christian?

I. First, the purpose of initial tribulation.

At the very beginning, initially, at the start, a real conversion begins with tribulation, pressures, and suffering. You have to go through the new birth! Christ said,

“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

A real conversion and new birth cannot come about by merely learning doctrines and Bible verses. Conversion comes only through suffering.

“We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

I agree with the great Reformer Luther on this. He said, 

It is necessary, if you would be converted, that you become terrified, that is that you have an alarmed and trembling conscience…[God] sent His Son Jesus Christ into this world in order to proclaim to terrified sinners the mercy of God. This is the way conversion is brought about; other ways are wrong ways (Martin Luther, Sermon on Psalm 51:13).

Only when you feel the guilt of your own sin will you feel your need of Christ. And the work of God in convicting and humbling you can be terrifying indeed! We see few real conversions today because preachers are afraid to let the Holy Spirit do the work of conviction (John 16:8-9). If you wish to be converted, remember that you cannot learn it, and you cannot earn it! “It is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). And God only gives the gift of salvation to the person who feels his need for Jesus. Therefore you must go through the terrors of the Law, or you will never feel the salvation of Christ! Jesus said, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate” (Luke 13:24). The Greek word translated “strive” means “agonize.” You must go through the agony of conviction of sin, or you cannot know real salvation in Jesus. Yes, Jesus died on the Cross to pay for your sins. Yes, He shed His Blood to cleanse you from all sin. But you must be convicted of sin or the Gospel will not seem important to you.

“We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

The purpose of the initial tribulation of conviction is to turn you from depending on yourself to dependence on Christ. When you come to me and say, “I want to be saved,” and then I see that you are not convicted of your sin I realize that you are not ready to be converted. That’s what I’m looking for – conviction of sin!

Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
   And all the world go free?
No; there’s a cross for every one,
   And there’s a cross for me.
(“Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?” by Thomas Shepherd, 1665-1739).

And Dr. John R. Rice said,

All my heart’s love, All my fond dreams –
   Make them, Lord Jesus, only for Thee.
All that I am, all I could be –
   Take me, Lord Jesus, Thine e’er to be.
(“All My Heart’s Love” by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).

II. Second, the purpose of further tribulation.

It would be wrong for me to tell you that all “pressures, troubles, sufferings and afflictions” end at conversion. Our text says,

“We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Dr. Henry M. Morris said that,

All true believers will be opposed by Satan and ungodly men and so must undergo tribulations…and new believers need to understand this (Henry M. Morris, Ph.D., The Defender’s Study Bible, World Publishing, 1995 edition, p. 1203; note on Acts 14:22).

There will be many more trials, pressures, troubles and sufferings after you are converted, as the Bible plainly teaches,

“All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution”
     (II Timothy 3:12).

Again, the Bible says,

“If we suffer, we shall also reign with him” (II Timothy 2:12).

And the Apostle John said,

“We shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10).

The early Christians believed in the Second Coming of Christ to set up His earthly Kingdom. They believed that they had to go through suffering, and even martyrdom, to reign with Christ at His Second Coming. They took literally, and applied to themselves, what the Apostle John said in Revelation 20:4,

“And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4).

Dr. James O. Combs said,

Early Ante-Nicene fathers (from 100 to 313 A.D.) Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Cyprian and others all held the doctrine of a literal millennial [1,000 year] kingdom on earth…Hundreds of Old Testament Scriptures support and depict this truth, but only here [in Revelation 20] is its length [of 1,000 years] specified. Tribulation martyrs seem to have a special role in the Millennium (James O. Combs, D.Min., D.Litt., Rainbows from Revelation, Tribune Publishers, 1994, p. 224).

“And they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4).

The early Christians believed that those who suffered deeply for Christ would have a special place in Christ’s coming Kingdom on earth. Jesus said,

“He that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations…He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches”
      (Revelation 2:26, 29).

“To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne” (Revelation 3:21).

The early Christian martyrs, the martyrs in China, and throughout the world today, take literally what the Apostle Paul said,

“If we suffer, we shall also reign with him” (II Timothy 2:12).

Let each of us, who are Christians, not look for the “easy road.” Let us sacrifice of our time, talents and love for Christ! Let each of you young people who are hopefully converted do all you can, sacrifice all you can, for the cause of Christ! Then you will be prepared to reign with Christ in His 1,000 year Kingdom on earth! As Dr. John R. Rice said in his meaningful hymn,

Why should I murmur, hold back from sorrow,
   Dread to lose money or friends in His name?
Oh, I should welcome prison or scourging
   If I might thus have some part in His shame!

Join me in the chorus!

All my heart’s love, All my fond dreams –
   Make them, Lord Jesus, only for Thee.
All that I am, All I could be –
   Take me, Lord Jesus, Thine e’er to be.
(“All My Heart’s Love” by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).

“We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Sing all of Dr. Rice’s stanza!

Why should I murmur, hold back from sorrow,
   Dread to lose money or friends in His name?
Oh, I should welcome prison or scourging
   If I might thus have some part in His shame!
All my heart’s love, All my fond dreams –
   Make them, Lord Jesus, only for Thee.
All that I am, All I could be –
   Take me, Lord Jesus, Thine e’er to be.
(“All My Heart’s Love” by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).

Come to Christ, no matter what conviction of sin and inner turmoil, and tribulation you have to go through! Come to Christ! Enter His Kingdom no matter what it costs! For it is certainly true

“that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

May God help you to do so is my prayer. Amen.

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Acts 14:19-22.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?” (by Thomas Shepherd, 1665-1739)/ “All My Heart’s Love” (by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).


THE OUTLINE OF

THE PURPOSE OF CHRISTIAN SUFFERING

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“Exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

(John 8:31; Mark 10:26-27; Acts 26:24, 25)

I.   First, the purpose of initial tribulation, John 3:3; Ephesians 2:8;
Luke 13:24.

II.  Second, the purpose of further tribulation, II Timothy 3:12; 2:12;
Revelation 5:10; 20:4; 2:26, 29; 3:21.