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TRANSFORMED THROUGH TRIBULATION!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, February 20, 2011

“But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon [at once] with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while [endures temporarily]: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended” (Matthew 13:20-21).


This message is part two of last Sunday morning’s sermon, “The Real Test!” I am going to draw three thoughts from the Scriptures on the subject of tribulation. Dr. R. C. H. Lenski said that Matthew 13:20-21 refers to a person who comes to church and hears the preaching. “This is the one who hears the Word and at once receives it with joy, leading you to expect great things [from] him. But something is wrong from the start: this man ‘has no root in himself’” (R. C. H. Lenski, Th.D., The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Augsburg Publishing House, 1964 edition, p. 520; note on Matthew 13:20-21). This is the person who comes to church, is happy to hear the sermons but only stays in the church temporarily. Soon this person is offended and stumbles, apostatizes, falls away, “and so endure[s] but for a time” (Mark 4:17). The main reason this person leaves the church is that he will not go through “tribulation.”

We are going to look at three uses of the word “tribulation” in the New Testament. In each of these verses the Greek word is “thlipsis.” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance says that the word “thlipsis” means “pressure, anguish, trouble” (Strong #2347). Let us look at those three Scriptures where the word “tribulation” appears.

I. First, those who are offended by tribulation and leave the church.

Please read verse 21 aloud,

“Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended” (Matthew 13:21).

You may be seated.

These are people who hear about Christ in the sermons. They feel happy when they first hear the Gospel. But they “have no root in themselves” (Mark 4:17). Dr. Gill said, “There is no heart-work, only [theoretical ideas] and flashy [emotions]; there is no root of grace in them” (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the New Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, volume I, p. 400; note on Mark 4:17). These are people who have never been “rooted and built up in [Christ],” Colossians 2:7. Dr. Gill said, “He hath not root in himself, nor in Christ” (ibid., note on Matthew 13:21). In other words this type of person has never come to Jesus, and is not converted. He only has an emotional “joy” being with new friends in the church, singing the hymns, hearing the preaching, and enjoying the meals and fellowship. But he has never felt any real need for Jesus.

Then, after a time, he feels “tribulation.” Remember that word “tribulation” is from the Greek word which means “pressure, anguish, and trouble.” Something happens that causes him to be troubled or pressured. Sometimes they will actually use the very words “pressure” or “trouble.” They will say, “I feel ‘pressured’ to come to the meetings,” or “It’s too much ‘trouble’ to come every week.” When they feel this pressure, it is a tribulation they refuse to deal with. So, he “dureth for a while: for when tribulation... ariseth...by and by he is offended” (Matthew 13:21). Luke’s Gospel adds, “and in time of temptation fall away” (Luke 8:13). The mere feeling of “pressure” to come every week tempts them, and they fall away, leaving their church.

“And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time...” (Mark 4:16-17).

Dr. Gill said, “They continue hearers and professors of the Gospel for a small season” (ibid., p. 400). Since Christ is not rooted in their hearts they will not stay in their church very long. They will certainly not become life-long members of that church! They will be what Spurgeon called, “Birds of passage which nest nowhere.” They will only endure in their church temporarily. Why? Because they were not converted. I have now been in the ministry for nearly 53 years. The older I get the more convinced I am that almost everyone who leaves their church does so because they are unconverted. The Apostle John said,

“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us...”
     (I John 2:19).

Dr. J. Vernon McGee said, in his comments on I John 2:19,

John says that the way you can tell whether or not one is really a [Christian] is that eventually a man will...leave the [church] if he is not a child of God (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983, volume V, p. 777; note on I John 2:19).

The slight “tribulation” of coming to church and going to evangelism on Saturday will be enough “pressure” and “trouble” to “offend” him – and cause him to stumble and fall away from his church. The tribulation does not need to be very great. Dr. Gill said, “As soon as any small degree of trouble comes upon them...such hearers stumble [because they] can’t bear the loss of anything, or endure any thing” (ibid.). One Chinese girl left the church a couple of years ago because she said that going to evangelism on Saturday evening was “too much of a chore.” Another Chinese girl left because she wanted to take an extra college class that she didn’t even need to graduate! She said, “I just want to take it,” and so, she left the church. A Chinese man left to go out to dinner with his uncle – although he could easily have arranged the dinner on the night before! So he left the church rather than change a dinner date! As Dr. Gill said, they “can’t bear the loss of anything, or endure any thing...As soon as any small degree of trouble comes upon them [they] stumble...” You see that is the real test! It is not what you learn from the Bible. It is not what words you say in the inquiry room. The real test is this – will you keep coming to church no matter what happens? Will you keep coming Sunday morning and evening and to evangelism on Saturday? Will you keep coming “when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word”? Will you keep coming until you are soundly converted – and then become a life-long member of your local church? That’s the real test.

II. Second, those who go through tribulation to enter the kingdom of God.

Please stand and read Acts 14:22 aloud.

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

You may be seated.

The word translated “tribulation” here is exactly the same Greek word we saw in Matthew 13:21. The word “thlipsis” means “pressure, anguish, and trouble” (Strong #2347). The Apostle Paul knew from experience that there is pressure, anguish and trouble in the life of a Christian.

Paul had been stoned for preaching the Gospel in the city of Lystra. His enemies left him under a pile of rocks, “supposing he had been dead” (Acts 14:19). But, by the grace and power of God, “he rose up...and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe” (Acts 14:20). When Paul got to Derbe he spoke to those who had expressed an interest in becoming Christians, “exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). “We must,” said Paul, “through much [pressure, anguish and trouble] enter into the kingdom of God.”

Dr. Gill said that tribulation regarding entrance into the church and conversion comes, “both from within, from the corruption and unbelief of the heart, and from without, from the temptations of Satan, and from the revilings and insults of men, and even from friends and relations” (John Gill, D.D., ibid., volume II, p. 279; note on Acts 14:22). “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

That is why Christ said, “Strive to enter in” (Luke 13:24). There is an inward struggle when a person is converted. This rises from the “temptations of Satan” and from “the corruption and unbelief of the heart.”

Usually we find that real conversions do not come easily. Satan is always there, putting false ideas into the mind, tempting you to stop striving, tempting you to leave the church, telling you that yours is a hopeless case, or that conversion isn’t necessary because you are “not that bad,” and other false ideas and temptations. Then there is the pressure, anguish and trouble that most people go through “from the corruption and unbelief” of their own hearts. Your own heart is so depraved that the Bible says, “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26). When God is dealing with your heart you will probably feel like David, who said,

“When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer”
       (Psalm 32:3-4).

When David kept silent, his bones ached. He groaned all day long. Day and night the hand of God was heavy upon him. He felt dried up inside. What a picture this is of someone who is under conviction of sin, struggling against God, under the anguish of striving to enter in to Christ! During the First Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards saw many weeping and wailing under conviction of sin. This often happens in the revival going on right now in China. Oh, how we pray that God’s hand will be heavy upon you! How we pray that God will draw you, through your struggle, to Christ!

Dr. J. Gresham Machen, in his landmark book Christianity and Liberalism, said,

Without the conviction of sin there can be no appreciation of the uniqueness of Jesus...And without the conviction of sin, the good news of redemption [in Jesus] seems to be an idle tale...true conviction [gives] a profound understanding of one’s own lost condition, an illumination of the deadness [of one’s own conscience]...When a man has passed through that experience, he wonders at his former blindness (J. Gresham Machen, Ph.D., Christianity and Liberalism, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990 reprint, pp. 105-106).

How we pray that God will draw you, through the “pressure, anguish and trouble” of conviction, to the Saviour Jesus Christ. How we pray that you will “Strive to enter in” to Christ (Luke 13:24)! How we pray that God will grant you a real conversion!

III. Third, those who are transformed by going through the tribulations of the Christian life.

Please stand and read Romans 5:3-5 aloud.

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:3-5).

You may be seated. There is that word again – “tribulation.” It is the English translation of the Greek word, “thlipsis” – which means “pressure, anguish, and trouble.” Only now, in Romans 5:3-5, it is applied to those who have already been converted.

As we go along in the Christian life we learn to rejoice in suffering. Dr. McGee said, “In other words, we joy in troubles, knowing that trouble works patience – patience doesn’t come automatically – and patience, experience, and experience, hope...in other words, it takes trouble to bring out the best in [a Christian’s] life” (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., ibid., volume IV, p. 675; note on Romans 5:3-4).

By going through trials and tribulations Christians become patient, experienced, hopeful – and the love of God is poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit. By going through “pressure, anguish and trouble” the Christian is, “transformed by the renewing of [his] mind” (Romans 12:2).

One of the great Christians I have known personally was Pastor Richard Wurmbrand (1909-2001). He spent fourteen years in a Romanian Communist prison for preaching the Gospel. One day while he was in prison he heard that his wife had also been arrested and imprisoned for evangelizing. He said, “I couldn’t stand the thought of my wife suffering the same kind of things I suffered...I tried to pray, but a black gloom settled on my mind. For days I spoke to no one. Then one morning in the prison yard, I saw an older pastor with a kind face. ‘Maybe he can help me,’ I thought. I went to talk to him. The pastor had more reason to mourn than I did. His daughter and son were in prison. Another son did not follow Christ. His grandchildren had been expelled from school. But the pastor didn’t seem gloomy like me. He spent his days cheering up others. Instead of saying, ‘Good morning,’ he greeted everyone by saying, ‘Rejoice!’ ‘How can you rejoice after all your suffering?’ I asked. ‘There’s always a reason to rejoice,’ he replied. ‘There’s a God in heaven and in my heart. I had something to eat this morning. And look – the sun is shining! Many people love me. Every day that you do not rejoice is a day lost, Richard. You will never have that day again.’ [Wurmbrand said] I, too, began to rejoice” (Imprisoned for Christ, Living Sacrifice Book Company, 2007, pages 91-92).

To read about persecuted Christians throughout the world go to www.persecution.com, which was founded by Pastor Wurmbrand. After spending three years in solitary confinement and twelve more years in prison, and after being tortured, beaten, starved and branded in his body with red-hot pokers, Pastor Wurmbrand had a stern face most of the time. But when he smiled he had the most beautiful smile I have ever seen on the face of an old man. You could see in his smile that tribulation had worked patience, experience, and hope, and the love of God had been shed in his heart by the Holy Spirit! He had been transformed into a holy man through suffering!

All three of our deacons, Dr. Chan, Dr. Cagan and Mr. Griffith, have become Godly men by going through suffering. Dr. Cagan often reminds me of Pastor Wurmbrand. Dr. Cagan has also suffered for Christ. He also has a stern face much of the time. But he also has a wonderful smile, and in his smile one sees that he too has been transformed into a holy man by suffering for Christ.

When Dr. Cagan heard that I was going to preach this sermon, he said, “Tribulation is positive to the elect, but negative to the non-elect.” Tribulation will cause the non-elect to stumble and fall away from the church. But those who go through the anguish of a real conversion, and the trials of the Christian life, learn to rejoice in Christ through suffering! They too are transformed through tribulation! Let us stand and sing hymn number eight on your song sheet.

Once earthly joy I craved, Sought peace and rest;
   Now Thee alone I seek, Give what is best;
This all my prayer shall be: More love, O Christ, to Thee,
   More love to Thee, More love to Thee!

Let sorrow do its work, Send grief and pain;
   Sweet are Thy messengers, Sweet their refrain,
When they can sing with me: More love, O Christ, to Thee,
   More love to Thee, More love to Thee!
(“More Love to Thee” by Elizabeth P. Prentiss, 1818-1878).

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

You may email Dr. Hymers at rlhymersjr@sbcglobal.net, (Click Here)
or you may write to him at P.O. Box 15308, Los Angeles, CA 90015.
Or phone him at (818)352-0452.

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Romans 5:1-5.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“More Love to Thee” (by Elizabeth P. Prentiss, 1818-1878).


THE OUTLINE OF

TRANSFORMED THROUGH TRIBULATION!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon [at once] with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while [endures temporarily]: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended” (Matthew 13:20-21).

(Mark 4:17)

I.   First, those who are offended by tribulation and leave the church,
Matthew 13:21; Mark 4:17; Colossians 2:7; Luke 8:13;
Mark 4:16-17; I John 2:19.

II.  Second, those who go through tribulation to enter the kingdom of God,
Acts 14:22, 19, 20; Luke 13:24; Proverbs 28:26; Psalm 32:3-4.

III. Third, those who are transformed by going through the tribulations
of the Christian life, Romans 5:3-5; 12:2.