I have been teaching about trials and the “End-times.” Scripture clearly tells us that there will be an increase in violence of every kind on earth, physically, spiritually and between peoples. Deceit will increase as in Matthew 24, Jesus tells of what is clearly happening today. Persecution and hardship will increase, especially for Christians and Jews. It is a time to strengthen our faith and resolve to share the good news of the coming kingdom of God. It is a time to ensure that you have been “born again.”
Hardship is common on earth this side of heaven. Trials are inevitable and part of God’s discipline. Why? Because trials develop perseverance, which must finish its work so that we might be mature and complete lacking nothing (James 1:2-4). Perhaps the most important response to the hardship is stated in Hebrews 3:8, “Today if you hear His voice, don’t harden your hearts as in rebellion…they shall not enter my rest” (Hebrews 3:8,11). The writer is reminding us of the rebellious Hebrews in the story of the Exodus who hardened their hearts in the desert and as a result a whole generation was annihilated by God and did not enter His rest- Heaven. The Bible tells us that there is only one unforgivable sin, blaspheming or denying God. We know that Pharaoh hardened his heart against the captives, which did not end well for him.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (Romans 8:35). Paul asks what can separate us, not even hardship, nothing! Yet hardship will come, so what do we do? We are told in 2 Timothy 2:3 to “endure hardship with us like a good soldier.” Endurance like perseverance is required to deal with trials so that we gain what God has in mind for our lives. Paul’s advise to his mentee, Timothy continues with, “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties in your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5). Now this is practical advice. Don’t lose control while we endure. But more so, use the opportunity to proclaim the “good news” of the gospel. We are all to evangelize, although, Timothy was a pastor so it was indeed his mission. The next line is particularly important to me. Like the Prophet Jeremiah telling the Israelites in Babylonian exile to live life and pray for their captures, Paul is telling us to keep doing what God has called us to do. Hebrews 12 goes on to give us more counsel saying to “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons” (Hebrews 12:7). The writer is telling us to submit, even though it may be unpleasant and even painful. Yet later on the hardship produces a harvest of righteousness for “those who are trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). He is telling us to embrace it and strengthen our feeble arms and weak knees in order to endure and even be victors over the trial while healing the sick. This admonition is particularly encouraging to me as a healthcare chaplain. My calling is to encourage and bring healing to the afflicted and to release or free the captives from pain as Isaiah 61 speaks of Christ’s coming mission on earth.
Scripture tells us, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Paul in the book of Acts is encouraging the disciples to strengthen them in the true faith. He spoke also to the Corinthians saying, “Rather as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance in trouble, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons and righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as imposters; known, yet regarded as unknown, dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:4-10). There is perhaps no more impassioned statement of how we are to live in trials than this sermon. So how do we do this in our own strength? We don’t, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Jesus warns the church in Revelation 2:2-5, “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent I will come to you and remove your lampstand (church) from its place.” Yes there are severe consequences for forgetting our first love or Christ crucified. We are doing so in the church today, not preaching the truth of Jesus’s life, atoning death and resurrection. This is to be our first love regardless of hardships. Keep walking.