Scripture: Job 1
I. The Afflictions of This Time
II. Our Calling to Be Patient
III. The Blessing of Faithfulness to This Calling
Romans 12:12b: "...patient in tribulation..."
Beloved of the Lord, the truth of divine providence is one of the most important doctrines of all the doctrines of the Christian faith, and that is because it gives to us a proper perspective on life, a perspective that is God-centered and that is God-glorifying, for it teaches us that the world is not out of control. The world is not running itself. Fate, luck, or chance are not determining the course of history. God is ruling the world. God is the sovereign king who does, indeed, reign over all.
God's providence is divided into two elements: his government and his upholding. By "government" we mean that God directs, controls, all things. Ultimately God is the one that does all things. When we look about us and see the things that are happening, we have to say, "This is the work of the Lord," and he does that by working within. On the inside of every creature, God's power is energizing all creatures to be what they are and to do what they do, just as electricity energizes a motor and makes it run.
That God upholds all things means that he gives all things continued existence. He gives life to everything. He gives to us breath. Without God, we could be and do nothing. Without God, we could not continue to exist. This truth is important because this gets at the heart of the Reformed Faith. This is one of the great truths that was rediscovered at the time of the Reformation. This is something that we must know, something that we must understand, something that we must believe with all of our hearts.
But there is something more about this doctrine of God's providence that is important. This great truth must be something that we apply to our daily lives. If we go to the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 10, where the doctrine of providence is discussed, we see that our fathers applied this doctrine. They applied this doctrine by saying to us that one of the advantages, one of the benefits, of knowing this truth is that we have patience in adversity. And that is what has to be emphasized. That's the practical side of the doctrine of divine providence. It is only as we are patient in tribulation that we can truly say that we have applied this truth to our lives. It's easy to say, "I believe in the providence of God." We all say that. But it is quite another thing to be patient in tribulation because we truly do believe this truth and trust the God who governs all things by his fatherly hand.
This morning I want to talk about this and remind us of our calling: to be "Patient In Tribulation." Notice, first of all, The Afflictions of This Time; secondly, Our Calling to Be Patient; and thirdly, The Blessing of Faithfulness to This Calling.
Along with other exhortations in Romans 12, the apostle says to us that we are to be "patient in tribulation." The word which is translated "tribulation" means a pressing, a pressing together, pressure. Metaphorically, it refers to oppression, affliction, tribulation, distress, straits. It teaches us that the nature of affliction and tribulation is that it is a pressure which is applied to us, which is exerted against us. Having tribulation is like being in a vise, and the handle is turned tighter and tighter, and the vise presses harder and harder and harder upon us. Having tribulation is like having a great burden pressed down upon us. It is like bearing the weight of a heavy anvil that smashes us and grinds us to powder. That's why tribulation hurts. Tribulation is painful. Tribulation makes us miserable.
There are many forms of tribulation. Perhaps the most common and the one that we think of the most is sicknesses and diseases. Because sickness threatens our health and our life or that of a loved one, it exerts great pressure upon us. It is a tremendous burden. It hurts. But that is not the only form of tribulation. Troubles of any kind are tribulations: having a car accident and all the troubles that come with it, having problems in the family, a husband and a wife who cannot get along, children who are rebellious, troubles with our neighbors, money problems, difficulties at school, difficulties in the church. Even such things as temptation and sin are tribulations. When we fight against our flesh, the devil, and the world, that is a struggle. That is troublesome. That brings pain and sorrow and hurt. All of these things put pressure upon us in such a way that they make us worried. They make us sad. They make us cry. And this is true of every one of us. No matter what kind of life we have, all of us have tribulation. None of us are free from troubles. It's true that we would all like to live a life that is free from problems. In fact, that seems to be the goal of most people. We try to arrange our life in such a way that we avoid what hurts. We avoid suffering. We avoid troubles. The road upon which we travel we want to be free of potholes, free of stumbling blocks, free of sharp turns and hills. We want a nice smooth road, a nice smooth ride. We don't like pressure. We don't like heavy burdens. We don't like to be squeezed. We don't like pain and suffering. But reality is much different. Reality is that life is filled with tribulation. Life is one problem after another. We just get over one problem, we think that it's going to be a little easier, and along comes something else ¾ sometimes even a greater problem. Oh the sicknesses that some of us have to endure! Oh the problems, the troubles, the messes that we have to endure! You name it; we have had it. This is true not only of the elderly, not only of the middle-aged, but even of children. There is not one person who is free of tribulation. The Bible teaches us that this is so. In Job 5 verses 6 and 7, we read, "Although affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground; Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward." Man is born for trouble. Just as surely as sparks fly up from the fire, man will have troubles. In fact, man has so many troubles that one might think that they sprout out of the ground like grass. In Job 14 verse 1 we read, "Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble." Even if we should live to be 100 years old, comparatively speaking, the years of our life are few, and those few days are full of trouble.
And this is true not only of man in general, but it is true of us. This is true of believers, true of Christians. That has to be stated very positively because there are some today who teach us that when a person becomes a Christian, all his problems go away. He doesn't have any more troubles. That is not true. That is contrary to the teaching of holy scripture. Listen to Psalm 73: "Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued and chastened every morning." Here the psalmist, a believer, is looking at the wicked, and he says that it seems like they have such a nice life: no problems, no difficulties. But look at me! I'm plagued day after day with my problems and my troubles. And that's the way it is. Believers sometimes have many more problems (tribulations) than the unbeliever. In fact, concerning the believers whose souls are in heaven, we read ( Revelation 7 verse 14), "And he said unto me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." The saints in heaven are characterized as those who have come out of great tribulation. Great tribulation. That is life. That is the life of us believers.
We might wonder why. Why does life have to be filled with so many problems? Why can't life be a little easier? There are two immediate reasons and one ultimate reason. First of all, the first immediate reason is very simply, we are sinners. Sin is the reason for tribulation. Before the fall of Adam into sin, there were no sicknesses or diseases. There were no troubles, no problems, no difficulties. All of that came about because of sin. The very first troubles (tribulations) that we read about in the Bible are referred to immediately after the Fall. The words of God to Adam and Eve ( Genesis 3): "Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy [brow] shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." That was the beginning of tribulation and affliction. We have tribulation because of sin in general which is in the world. We have tribulation because of our own personal sins.
But there is more. We believers have great tribulation, not only because of sin but because of the hatred and persecution of the wicked. In Philippians 1 verse 29 we read, "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake." God gives to us not only faith to believe in Jesus Christ, but in the giving of faith he gives to us a life of suffering. That is a reference to the persecution that comes because of our faith in Jesus Christ. If we are faithful to Christ and his word, we will live our life in such a way that it will cause the wicked to persecute us. We will have tribulations for the sake of Jesus Christ. That is true of all believers, not just those who live behind the Iron Curtain or in some land where faith in Christ is forbidden. That is true of every believer. That is true of all of us. When we stand up for the truth, we are persecuted. It is because we believe in the Sabbath Day and seek to keep the Sabbath Day that some of us don't have jobs that are as good as others in the world or cannot make the money that others do. We respect the Sabbath Day, and that hinders us with respect to making money. It is because we don't swear, we don't curse, that we are ridiculed and mocked when our associates or fellow workers laugh at a dirty joke. It is because we will not lie, we will not cheat, that many times we are left out of what is going on. All of this is persecution. Even as they persecuted Jesus Christ, they persecute us. In fact, our persecution is a filling up of the suffering of Jesus Christ that he endured ( Colossians 1 verse 24): "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church." Here the apostle Paul says, My suffering for the church is a filling up of Christ's suffering. And the same is true of us. Whenever we suffer for the sake of Christ, then we are partaking of his suffering and filling up his suffering. So that is the second immediate reason for our tribulation.
But there is an ultimate reason for our affliction and tribulation, and that is that all tribulation comes from God. God ultimately is the source of all of our troubles, all of our problems, all of our difficulties. That is the clear implication of the doctrine of providence. If we believe that God rules the world, if we believe that he controls everything, then when we have that car accident, when we get sick, when we're in the hospital, when our wife divorces us, or whatever, we have to say, This is the hand of the Lord. This is what God has brought. Sin and persecution are not the ultimate reasons. God uses them, but they are not the ultimate reasons. And certainly it is not true, as some say, that these bad things come from the devil and only the devil. Certainly the devil sends us evil things, but behind the devil is God. That's what we learn from the book of Job. The devil did not come to the Lord and initiate these actions toward Job. God said to the devil, "Have you considered my servant Job?" And when the devil went out and afflicted Job in all the ways that he did, it was because God willed him to do it and because God providentially worked in and through him to bring it about. God sends us all of the tribulations that come into our lives. This is the most fundamental truth that we must know and believe concerning tribulation. We will never react properly to tribulation unless we firmly believe this and let this truth sink into our souls: God sends tribulation.
How, then, are we to react to the tribulations which God sends? According to the text, we are to be patient in tribulation. This word "patient" means literally "to remain" and thus to persevere under misfortunes and trials. It means to endure or to bear bravely and calmly. If we look up the word "patient" in Webster's dictionary, we find a very similar meaning: "bearing or enduring pain, difficulty, provocation or annoyance, with calmness." Thus the exhortation of this text is that when we suffer tribulation, we must bear it with calmness, with courage, and with faith.
That, however, is not the way most people endure tribulation and affliction. Most people do not handle these things very well. For most people, these things are the occasion for bringing out sin and rebellion. And the same is true of us by nature. Sometimes we reject the tribulations which God sends to us. We don't want them. We don't want to be sick. We don't want the car accident. We don't want the money problems. "Take them away, Lord." A husband rejects the fact that God gave to him a rebellious wife. A wife rejects the fact that her husband does not love her as he ought. Parents reject the fact that their children are rebellious. We simply refuse to take what God gives to us.
In the second place, along with this rejection of tribulation, we are not happy with the life which God has given to us. We are discontent. Sometimes we even get angry about it. We feel miserable. Life is not pleasant for us. For some people, life is so rotten that they will do just about anything to get out of life. They will even commit suicide. As a pastor who has counseled many people, I can tell you that this is one of the greatest problems that God's people have. People are unhappy with life, unhappy with this or that or the other thing in their life. They are dissatisfied with what God has given to them.
In the third place, because we reject tribulation and are not happy with the life which God has given to us, we do an awful lot of complaining about it. Our unhappiness comes to expression in our words. We complain about it to God. We are so bold as to ask God why. "Why have you done this to me?" We accuse him of being unfair. We accuse him of not loving us. We accuse him of sending us evil things that he sends to no one else. Like the psalmist of Psalm 77: "In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: my sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed....Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies?" That's the way we talk sometimes. That's the way we pray sometimes, and not only to God but to our fellow man. Have you ever gone to a friend or a neighbor or a brother in the Lord and started complaining about all the problems in your life? Maybe we even blame other people for them, or God, because when we are unhappy with things, we usually point the finger at other people. This ought not to be. This is sin. This is wickedness. This is the way the world reacts to tribulation.
We can understand that, but a Christian, a believer, should not react this way! We ought to be different at this very point. What ought to be the greatest testimony in this world is that in tribulation we are patient. And that patience is, first of all, that rather than rejecting, we accept the tribulation. We want it because God has sent it, even though it is unpleasant for us. Look at Job. God sent him tribulation that we do not know--most of us anyway--terrible, terrible tribulation. But he accepted it. We read in chapter 1 verses 20 and 21: "Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." That is acceptance, acceptance of tribulation. He worshipped, he praised, he blessed the Lord, even though God took everything away from him, including his good health. Do we react that way in tribulation? That is our calling. We must want tribulation. I do not mean by that, that we ought to want suffering and pain. No, that is certainly not normal. But we ought to want tribulation if God sends it. Our wills ought to be in harmony with his will so that even though we do not like these things in and of themselves, we want them because God gives them to us, because God wants us to have them. That was Jesus Christ. When he faced the greatest tribulation of all--the cross, the suffering of hell--he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me; nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt." He did not like suffering any more than we do, and that's why if it was God's will, he prayed that the cross would be taken away. But he said, Only if it is thy will. If thou doth want me to go to the cross, then that's what I want. Can you say that? I want the sickness, the automobile accident, the problem, because God wills it for me.
In the second place, to be patient in tribulation means that we do not simply resign ourselves in sorrow to what God sends, but we accept it with joy, and happiness. We ought to be so patient in tribulation that we rejoice. We rejoice when it comes. We sing a song, for it is God's will. It is our calling, not merely to accept God's will but to be happy in God's will, to love God's will, to rejoice in God's will. Listen to Habakkuk 3 verses 17 and 18: "Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet will I rejoice in the LORD. I will joy in the God of my salvation." Tell me, if all of this came to you, if you suffered total economic collapse, would you still be able to say, I rejoice; I rejoice in the Lord? And that is especially true when the tribulation is persecution. We must joy in persecution. Jesus teaches us in Matthew 5, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." When we suffer persecution, we must rejoice. I think of Paul and Silas in prison, singing! Singing! Tell me, if you were put into jail for the sake of Christ, would you sing? Would you sing because you were happy for the tribulation which you suffered for the sake of Jesus Christ?
In the third place, to be patient in tribulation means that we not only accept it and are happy with it, but we express that acceptance and joy. When we pray, rather than complaining, rather than accusing God, we thank him. We thank him for what he has sent. We express our happiness to him and our satisfaction with his will for our lives. And when we talk to other people, we express our belief in divine providence as that affects our own lives. We show others that in the midst of our troubles, we rejoice in the Lord so that we encourage one another rather than drag one another down, so that we build each other up in this holy faith. That's what it means to be patient in tribulation. We accept it rather than reject it, we are happy rather than sad, and we express that in our words.
There are several reasons why it is important for us to be patient in tribulation. First of all, we have to understand that regardless of the tribulation which God sends to us, we deserve worse. That's part of the meaning ofPsalm 103 verse 10: "He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities." God, in dealing with us, God in sending tribulation to us, is not dealing with us strictly according to our sins. If he would deal with us according to our sins and give to us exactly what we deserve, the affliction, the tribulation that we ought to have right now is hell. That's what we deserve: the everlasting torments, torture, of the Lake of Fire. We ought to remember that next time we start to complain about the troubles God has sent, next time we think that our problems are so very bad. We deserve hell. That's where we would be.
Secondly, we have to be patient in tribulation because tribulation is the means that God uses to show to us, his people, his great mercy. Lamentations 3 verse 32: "But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies." Oh yes, God causes grief, God sends the tribulation, but he sends that as a means by which he might bestow upon us his great mercy, show us how much he cares for us and loves us. It gives to God the opportunity to save and deliver us. We see that same thing in Isaiah 63 verse 9: "In all their affliction, he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old." In a certain sense, God is afflicted with our afflictions. That is, God so loves us, he so feels for us, that when we suffer because of tribulation, God suffers with us. He's like a parent who sees his child hurting and hurts with him. That's God mercy. He feels for us in the midst of our troubles. If we pray that we will never be afflicted, if we pray that all tribulation will stay far, far away from us, we are really praying that we will never experience the mercy of the Lord. It's wrong to pray that God will not make us sick, that he will not do this or that or the other thing. When we pray for mercy, we're praying for trouble, because God shows us mercy in the trouble.
In the third place, we have to be patient in tribulation because its the means whereby God gives us all kinds of good things. We don't have time to go into everything, but I want to mention very briefly three good things that God gives us through tribulation. First of all, by tribulation God leads us away from sin. Tribulation is a means whereby God chastens us. Just as a father spanks a wayward child in order to drive that child back to what is right, back to what is good, so God chastens us with trouble, with sickness, with problems, with difficulties, in order to drive us away from our sin and turn us back to him. That is why, whenever we have tribulation, one of the first questions that we ought to ask is, Could this be the chastening of the Lord? Could there be some particular sin in my life that I must turn from, and that is why I feel the hand of the Lord upon me? That does not mean that we ought to look at all tribulation as chastisement, but we ought to certainly be conscious of this truth: God chastens us and turns us from our sins through tribulation.
In the second place, God strengthens our faith through tribulation. He causes us to trust him more, to wait upon him, to lean upon him. Unless we have hard times, we will never grow spiritually. We will be like the son of a father who gives him everything, does everything for him. That poor son will never grow up into a man. He will always be just a boy because he never had anything hard to do himself. So someone who is a babe in Christ will never grow up to be a mature Christian unless he has hardships. In order to develop your muscles, you have to suffer. You have to fight against pressure. And the same is true of the Christian life. If we want to be mature Christians, there must be tribulation.
In the third place, God gives us the good of living the life of a pilgrim in this world so that we are always looking for the coming of Jesus Christ. When we suffer tribulation in this world, it keeps us from becoming too attached to this world. We see that this world isn't so nice, this world isn't such a pleasant place to be, this world is a world of suffering This life that we live is a valley of tears so that we don't want to be here forever. We want to go to heaven. We want Christ to come because when we go to heaven, we know there will be no more tribulation, no more suffering. Therefore, we pray for the coming of Christ, and we eagerly watch for that coming. All of these things are good reasons for being patient in tribulation.
That brings me finally to my final point, and that is the blessedness of faithfulness to this calling. First of all, I want to mention some temporal blessings. One of the greatest blessings that comes to us who are patient in tribulation is that we come to appreciate what Jesus Christ did for us when he suffered and died for us. Christ suffered. Christ endured tribulation that we will never know, the suffering of hell itself, the agony of an eternity of the wrath of God. How are we to appreciate that unless we taste suffering? Oh I know, our suffering is nothing compared to his, but if our life were free from hardship, free from difficulties, if there were no adversities in our life, we would know absolutely nothing about what Christ did for us. But when we are on a bed of sickness, when we are in the hospital, when we suffer pain, when we hurt, when we cry, we taste just a little bit of what Christ did for us and learn of his great love for us. He gave up pure pleasure for pure agony. That ought to help us get through any tribulation.
We are blessed also in that when we are patient in tribulation, we are drawn closer to God. A person who never has tribulation, who doesn't have any difficulties in life, is far from God. Oh, he might know all the doctrines. He might say and do things that are just the way they're supposed to be, but he doesn't know God. He doesn't need God. If you don't have any troubles, you don't need God. We know that in times when we have less trouble, we are further away from God. But as soon as he puts us on the bed of affliction, what do we do? What's the first thing that we do? We look up and we cry, "Help me. Be merciful to me. Be with me, Lord. Get me through this." It draws us closer to God. That man who suffers, and suffers much in his life, is a man who knows God better than anyone else.
In the third place, we are blessed in that we are made humble. By nature we are proud. By nature we are egocentric. We think highly of ourselves. But when we suffer tribulation, that has a way of cutting us down. When we see that we can't handle our situation, that we need help, when we have to get on our hands and knees and cry out to God, that's very humbling. And what a blessing! How terrible this world would be if we were all left in the fullness of our pride! We need to be humble. We ought to be humble. Tribulation brings that humility.
But there are also eternal blessings besides these temporal blessings. The primary one is that anyone who is patient in tribulation will enter into the joy, the glory, of the new heavens and the new earth. We read in I Peter chapter 4 verse 13, "But rejoice inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's suffering, that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy." Have you suffered for Christ? Have you shared in his tribulation? Then your reward is that you shall also share in his glory, the glory of the new heavens and the new earth. On the other hand, if you have never suffered for Christ, if you have never known persecution, then you will not know, either, the glory of Christ when he comes. And that glory will be wonderful. Revelation 21 verse 4: "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are past away." You may endure great pain today but, beloved, when Christ comes, every tear will be wiped away. There will be no sorrow--only joy. No death--only life.
And that glory which is coming, will be much greater than all the tribulation which we suffer now put together ( Romans 8 verse 18): "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Sometimes we think that we suffer very greatly. And I do not mean to minimize our suffering. Indeed, some of us do suffer very much, but in comparison to the greatness of the glory that is coming, that suffering is nothing. It's not worthy to be compared to the glory. It's like comparing a baseball to the sun. They're both round, they're both spheres, but there's no comparison. The one is just a little ball that we play with. The other is the sun ¾ that glorious, huge ball of fire that God uses to give light and life to the earth. The baseball is not worthy to be compared to the sun, and so our tribulation is not worthy to be compared to the glory that awaits us.
Therefore, don't reject tribulation. Don't be unhappy in tribulation. Don't complain in tribulation. Receive it. Rejoice in it. Praise God for it. If you do that, then when you say "I believe in the providence of God," you will be expressing what is truly in your heart. Amen.
Let us pray: Gracious God, our Father, we thank thee for tribulation. We pray, Give us grace to be patient in that tribulation. For Jesus' sake. Amen.
Rev. Steven R. Houck
Ordained: September 1979
Pastorates: Home Missionary (Hope PRC, Walker) - 1979; Peace, Lansing, IL - 1990
Emeritus: 2009Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Rev._Steven_Houck
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