The biblical definition of tribulation in the 5th Chapter of Paul's Epistle to the Church at Rome is “affliction, stress, disease, and other difficulties". Why do these things occur to Christians? What should be the attitude of the Christian toward these particular afflictions and stresses that are referred to as tribulation. What follows is a brief look at what the Apostle Paul describes as the correct attitude toward tribulation and afflictions and the reasons why. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Rome and said the following:
“And not only so but we glory also in tribulation knowing that tribulation worketh patience and patience experience and experience hope and hope makes us not ashamed for the love of God is spread abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which is given unto us. (Romans 5:3-5)
The great Apostle, being led by the Holy Spirit, tells us that we should actually glory in tribulation. What is the meaning of the word tribulation? The Greek word for tribulation used in this section of Romans means affliction, stress, and other difficulties, including diseases. He tells us that these stresses and afflictions are given to us from the hand of God in order to produce patience. Dr. D. Martyn- Lloyd Jones says “it means here afflictions, pressures, stresses, difficulties, illnesses or persecutions." So the real meaning of the word tribulation is any kind of trial that we undergo as Christians. Each and every trial that comes our way during our lifetime comes from the hand of God, if we are Christians. We see in Hebrews 12: 6 where the Lord says, “whom the Lord loves He chastens and scourges every son whom He receives." (Hebrews 12:6)
Taking a brief look at what the Apostle Paul says regarding our attitude toward tribulations, we see first that our attitude should not be one of disgust, or blaming someone else. It should not be one of murmuring and complaining and faultfinding and grumbling, as we are told that we are to put these things away from us and "rejoice in the Lord always". As the Apostle Paul sets forth clearly, our attitude is to be one of glorying in the tribulation. He has just used "glory" in verse two of Chapter 5 where he says, “by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the Glory of God." (Romans 5:1, 2) We also learn here that the word “rejoice" as it is used in verse two and the word “glory" as it is used in verse three are actually the same Greek word and that means to "exalt, rejoice, and to glory in".
Of course, this does not mean that we cannot pray that God would make the trial or tribulation short. It also doesn't mean that we are masochistic, in that we are taking pleasure in the fact that we are hurting or suffering, and, it doesn't mean that we are just being stoic or "gritting our teeth and bearing it". No, by God's great grace we realize what He is doing through the tribulation which He has given us at that particular time and we actually glory IN the midst of that tribulation. That is we are learning to have joy in the Lord and to actually glory IN the tribulation itself. Not merely glorying in what it will produce, but we glory because of the tribulation and we learn to rejoice IN the tribulation itself. We can do this because God's Word tells us here in this text what He is doing with the tribulation that He is giving to us.
“Tribulation works patience"! When we get to the 8th Chapter of Paul's Epistle to the Church at Rome we learn in verse 29 that “whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” (Romans 8:29 KJV) Therefore, in reality, what the Lord God is actually doing in each and every one of His children is to refine us and to make us be conformed to the image of Christ! That refining process, like the refining of gold, takes putting us in the fire, the purpose of which is to make us grow to be like Christ! Building physical muscle requires resistance. So also does building spiritual muscle.
We also see in this passage in Romans Chapter 5 verse 3 that "tribulation" works "patience" in us. Now patience is not merely passive, but it actually means “endurance, steadfastness, constancy, and perseverance. Therefore, as we gain knowledge we see that God gives us afflictions, pressures, stresses, difficulties, illnesses or persecutions, in order to help us to become like Christ. The immediate result of such difficulties is that it produces in us endurance and steadfastness, or constancy and perseverance. In Hebrews Chapter 10, God's Word says “now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him". In other words, if any man does not endure to the end, he will not be saved.
In Hebrews Chapter 3 in verse 14, we also find the following: "we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end." That doesn't mean that I will be made a partaker of Christ at the end of my life; what it means is that a true partaker of Christ, one who has by faith committed his life to Christ alone for his salvation through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ, will be made a partaker of Christ and therefore will hold steadfast unto the end. Therefore, we see clearly that from these tribulations we receive this endurance, this steadfastness, to "hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end."
The next thing we see from what the Apostle writes with regard to tribulation is that we gain experience: “… But we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation works patience, and patience experience….” The Greek word that is translated “experience" is “DOKIMĒ" and what it means is “proof” or “approvedness". That is the triedness which is proven by testing. Indeed, the Apostle Peter says in First Peter 1:7 speaking of the trial of our faith the following: “that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto the praise, and honor, and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” Therefore, what we are seeing is that the “experience" that is spoken of in the third verse of the 5th Chapter of Romans is the "approvedness" or "proof" that comes as a result of having been tried. This proof is not for the benefit of the Lord God, but this proof is for the benefit of each of us who are being tried. We get that proof by enduring the tribulation that we are experiencing at that time. This tribulation produces steadfastness so that I have staying power. It gives the proof, or approving that my faith is real. As Martin Luther said, “tribulation does not make people impatient… It proves they are impatient, so everyone may learn from tribulation how his or her heart is constituted." That's really just saying that afflictions and difficulties and tribulations bring out what is in our hearts. Therefore, what we see is that tribulation, affliction, stresses, illnesses, pressures, difficulties, and persecution and the such really lets each one know what God has done in his or her life! Psalms 66:10 -12 says, “for thou, oh God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried. Thou has brought us into the net; thou laidest affliction upon our loins. Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place." This is just saying that God has tried us and we came out proven and tested and true!
Next we see that this "proof or approvedness," which is translated here as experience, produces hope. Hope does not mean what many people think it means and actually how many use the word hope today. It's not just saying in response to a question about a particular thing “well I sure hope so". Hope, in the Biblical sense as it is used here, means a "confident expectation of being with God in glory"; of being, ultimately, saved and all of the future aspects which that involves! When my faith has been tested by tribulations and afflictions and stresses and I have endured and been steadfast, or patient, in the face of these tribulations, this is real proof, or approvedness, which then produces this hope. This hope is confident expectation, or assurance, being with God in glory and it is built on a solid and secure foundation. I, therefore, begin to realize that the Lord God has really done something in my life and it is real. My hope is secure.
Next we see that "hope" makes us "not ashamed". (verse 5) We know from Philippians Chapter one in verse 6 where the Apostle Paul says, “I am confident of this very thing that he which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6) that it is God who is the one who has begun this good work in me, and we have confidence in Him that He will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. We do have to stand fast. We do have to endure. But God upholds us and completes the work which He has begun. This hope, produced in me by the Lord God Himself, makes me not ashamed. According to Dr.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones this expression “hope maketh not ashamed" is a figure of speech which is known as “LITOTES" which is a way of asserting a positive by using the negation of its opposite. For example, in the first Chapter of this Epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Romans 1:16) Actually what is being said there is, the Apostle is saying, 'I am very proud of the Gospel of Jesus Christ'. I make my boast in it. I glory in the Cross of Christ. So that is what is being said here, “and hope maketh not ashamed…", to wit, that hope makes us very proud! We will never be ashamed because the Lord God has begun that good work in us and He has given us that endurance, that steadfastness, that approvedness, to know that He will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ!
Finally, in this 5th verse in the 5th Chapter we see the reason that this hope will never disappoint us."… Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." (Romans 5:5) This is not our love for God, but God's love for us. In verse 8 we see the Apostle Paul writing “but God commended His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). The Lord God through these difficulties, afflictions, stresses and persecutions (tribulations) has worked patience in us, which is endurance and steadfastness and perseverance. This produces experience, which is "proof to us, or approvedness" given to us by the Lord God Himself, which then produces hope. Hope is the confident expectation of being with God in glory because God Himself has shed abroad in our hearts His love for us by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us. Man alive! What a great gift!
What a difference in the way that I view tribulation. This love of God that is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us, in part is given to us to complete our assurance. The Holy Spirit points us to the Cross of Christ which is what gives us assurance of the love of God for us.
At some point back in time a young minister by the name of Harry Morehouse had the privilege of preaching in Chicago in the church where Dwight L. Moody was the senior pastor. Dwight L. Moody was in England on an evangelistic tour. Young Harry Morehouse preached on John 3:16. In his sermon he said “if I were to climb Jacobs's ladder, go through the gates of Paradise and speak with the Archangel, Gabriel, asking him to describe to me the love that God has for sinful man, he could do no greater than simply say, ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life’.” (From A sermon by Dr. Frank M. Barker Junior, on September 29, 1974)
Therefore, the conclusion of this brief look at our attitude toward tribulation is that it is God's purpose to make us like Jesus and to give us endurance, steadfastness, perseverance, and approvedness, and hope which is that confident expectation of being with God throughout Eternity. We look to the Cross of Christ and the fact that Jesus Himself bore our sins in His own body on the Cross. The result of this hope is that it makes us not ashamed, but proud, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. This gives us assurance of our salvation. In Romans 8:16, we find the Apostle Paul saying, “the Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God."
I hope that this brief look at these verses dealing with tribulation helps you, as it has helped me, as we learn and purpose to glory in tribulation for we see in these verses, “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 Spirit which is given and to us." (Romans 5:3- 5 KJV)
The great result or benefit of the love of God being shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit that is given to us is that we gain and grow in assurance of our salvation. In other words, it is this steadfastness and endurance which also produces in us this approvedness that we have actually been tried in the fire and that it is God who works in us both to will and to do of His own good pleasure and to make us like Jesus and that produces in us assurance that we are actually saved. It's not a matter of a man just “saying" that he has faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, or, just saying that Jesus is Lord, but that we realize that we are the bond slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ and when we say that "Jesus is Lord" we are confessing that we believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has died for us as the propitiation for our sin and has purchased our pardon – redeemed us – at the cost of His own blood. We can comprehend and understand what we find written in Philippians 1:6 where Paul says, “being confident of this very thing that He who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ". Someone has written:
“The work which His goodness began, the arm of His Strength will complete; His promise is yes and amen, and never was forfeited yet.”
When the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which is given unto us, we can say that we have nothing but Christ. As the hymn writer wrote:
“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand!"
As Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said regarding these verses in chapter 5 of Paul's Epistle to the church at Rome, “these five verses are wonderful and marvelous. Do we realize what they tell us? They tell us that the three persons in the Blessed Holy Trinity are interested in us, and interested in our salvation. We have peace with God the Father, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost is given unto us. Shame on us Christian people for being lethargic and cold and lifeless and so lacking in Joy! Why do we not realize that these three Blessed persons in the Holy Trinity are interested in us and concerned about us, and have done amazing things in order to rescue and to redeem us, and to bring us into the family?" YEA AND AMEN!
And now may the love of God be shed abroad in your hearts through the Holy Spirit which is given unto you.
Your Friend and Brother in Christ
Worldview Weekend Foundation
PO BOX 1690
Collierville, TN, 38027 USA