Trials: Joy — Despite Pain and Suffering
The apostle Paul had many pains and persecutions, but he also had much joy. In Romans 8, we see that hope and confidence dominated his outlook on life. Although God’s children may groan inwardly, we also wait eagerly for our bodies to be liberated from the world of decay. “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (verses 24-25).
Paul had confidence that God would bring his redeeming work to completion, and that when the all-powerful ruler of the universe is working for us, nothing can separate us from his desire to do good in our lives (verses 26 to 39). Even our trials will be part of the path, in God’s wisdom, that leads us to learn obedience, endurance and character (Romans 5:3-4; James 1:2-4).
Paul recounted his sufferings in 2 Corinthians 6: “In great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger” (verses 4-5). It was a miserable life in these respects, but it was a burden Paul accepted. It was a choice that might be considered foolish were it not for Paul’s confidence in a resurrection. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
Because we have hope in Christ for future glory, our choices make sense. We give up temporary pleasures because we see the eternal pleasures Christ offers us. To those who cannot see the eternal, it seems foolish to give up temporary pleasures. But for us, there is no comparison. We can count it all for loss for the joy that is Christ.
Many Christians make sacrifices to serve Christ. Those sacrifices are evidence that they believe in future glory. Jesus showed that true reward comes through sacrifice, that true exaltation comes through humility and that true joy comes through trial. This path can only be walked through faith in the Savior, and it is a path unknown to the world.
Paul knew great suffering, but he could also write, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) — and he could write this from a prison cell! Paul illustrated life’s mixture of sorrow and joy in his own life: “Through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 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” (verses 8-10).
What enabled Paul to live with such paradoxes? It was faith in the God of boundless love who holds the future in his hands. It was a faith that made all his sacrifices of little consequence. Sacrifice is part and parcel of a truly significant life. It is the way of the world to live mainly for one’s own comfort. Jesus calls us to something more significant — a life of sacrifice on behalf of others — and the paradox is that “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
Jesus has opened the door to our Father’s kingdom and invited us to leave behind what means so much in this world and enter the true life of the age to come: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:25-27).
Jesus gives us a new outlook on life. Sacrifice and blessing are not necessarily contradictory. It is possible to have both. As we grow in Jesus, the more confident we become of eternal treasures, and the less worried we become about material possessions. Faith changes us, so that we no longer live for ourselves, but for him who saved us (2 Corinthians 5:15).
The people of God rejoice in using his blessings to build his kingdom. Whether time, energy, goods or money, God’s people are cheerful givers, sharing their material blessings because they live to serve Christ. The people of God are forgiving and accepting. They pass along what God has given them — forgiveness and acceptance. They love, forgive and accept others because Jesus loves, forgives and accepts them. Through the life of faith, Jesus lives in us and we live in him. We can rejoice in our suffering because it pleased Jesus to suffer for us to save us from our sins.
Praise be to God who shares every good with us!
Author: Joseph Tkach