After Paul had his near death experience (the stoning at Lystra – Acts 14:8, 19), the group packed up and headed to Derbe (Acts 14:20). They preached the gospel faithfully and then went back through the previous cities to strengthen the believers by telling them that “we must suffer many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21, 22). The converts needed to be reminded to stay true to the faith.
What did Paul mean using the word, “must?” He meant that it was inevitable in the nature of things. Hardship has a place in the life of a believer, check out 2 Corinthians 4:17, mentioning “our light and momentary troubles achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweigh them all.” Perspective helps us to see that what happens on earth is temporary but our eternity is worth it. Our struggle is not against fresh and blood but against spiritual forces that would have us fail (Ephesians 6:12). A great reminder comes from 1 John 4:4, that God is greater than our common enemy who wants us to fall.
At first we may not think a message of unavoidable troubles very appealing, but check this out:
Recognizing inevitable hardships can motivate us to redirect our energies; fear of the trial can consume more energy than just facing the trial. In redirection, we change our focus from fear to faith. I’m not talking about a prosperity gospel that says if one has enough faith these hardships won’t defeat us, but to stand on what Peter says that hardships will prove that our faith is genuine (1 Peter 1:7).
Believing a heretical prosperity gospel can leave us disappointed, broken, wounded and discouraged. A friend once told me “the only people who believe such a gospel are baby Christians in America.” I tend to agree. I have seen great faith of believers in Africa, who regularly suffer greatly. I see their faith to be genuine, not a result of what they get out of a relationship with God. It is such an insult to their faith to say that if they only had enough faith they would not have children die of worms or malaria, or they would have plenty of food on the table.
We also know unbelievers who may suffer as terribly as believers, but the difference is that our suffering is never in vain; Paul says that we will enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).
Application: Do you ever feel that God is against you when your life seems to be falling apart? Take courage in the fact that you and the apostles and early believers are in good company. They did not escape the hardships of life, so why should we be immune to them? See life from God’s perspective, he walks through life with us. We may not experience his deliverance as we would like, but we always have His presence. Paul encouraged Timothy that all who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12, John 15:20). Sounds like a certainty to me. Keep the faith.