The Force of Tribulation
Bible Text: 1 Samuel 26:24 | Speaker: Dr. Harold J. Sala | Series: Guidelines For Living |
As surely as I valued your life today, so may the LORD value my life and deliver me from all trouble. 1 Samuel 26:24
On a warm summer day, a youth struck out across a lake, swimming at a measured pace, confident that he could easily swim across; but about half-way across the lake, he panicked, fearful that he wasn’t strong enough to make it. He turned around and swam back to the side from whence he had come—exactly the same distance as it would have been to the other side.
I sometimes think of that youth when I read the letters of people who write to us here at Guidelines, people who are uncertain that they can make it through their distress or difficulty in life. Jesus warned the disciples in no uncertain terms that in life, they would face difficulties. “In the world,” He said, “you will face tribulation”—tribulation is one rendering of the Greek word which Jesus used, but more often the word is translated “difficulty, hardship, or trouble.”
Sometimes I’m not content to take someone else’s word for it. I want to know exactly what a word means. The most authoritative lexicon used by Greek scholars today is one produced by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich. These two scholars provide exhaustive word pictures of how words were used in both the New Testament and in secular documents of the same era, thus providing insights which you won’t get apart from their years of study.
They say that this word has a variety of meanings. In extra-biblical writings, it meant pressure or pressing circumstances. If Jesus was aware of this, and I believe He was, He was saying, “Look, you’re going to face pressure and stress in the world.”
They also point out that the word was used to describe distressful circumstances. For example, it described the anguish of a woman in childbirth, or intense physical suffering due to illness. It also described the mental anguish you faced when you were slandered or persecuted when someone didn’t like you and wanted to make life miserable for you. It was used of difficulties that confronted people who had been accused of wrongdoing—both just and unjust.
They also point out that the word was used to describe emotional and spiritual distress. Paul talked about those who caused him trouble in his imprisonment, preaching the Gospel in such a way as to create difficulty for him (Philippians 1:17). Frankly, there isn’t much by way of negative or difficult circumstances not covered by this word. Simply put, it describes the negative aspects of life which are all part of the battle. This we know about, but what we sometimes lose sight of is the hope which Jesus attached to His statement of reality. He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace… I have overcome the world” (John 16:33), and with those words, light and fresh air penetrate the dark dungeons of our distress.
There is a way out, and you are never so deep into a pit of despair that you cannot find a ladder of escape. This is the hope that allows God’s children to walk through the fire and to escape the flames, that enables His servants to endure the persecution of the enemies, and to outlast the evils of slanderous men and women.
Hope is the weapon which fights discouragement and difficulty, and you must never, ever lose this. It is an inward spiritual strength which no one can ever take from you.
A closing thought: Strangely enough, the word Jesus used was rarely used outside of the context of the Bible. But then again, perhaps that should not be considered so strange because only those who link God and hope with their difficulties have much positive to say about trouble.
Resource reading: Jeremiah 18