Rejoice In Hope
Patient In Tribulation

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 63b of 83

“Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

[Our text is part of a series of participial clauses which augments Paul’s instruction to the members of the church to be kindly affectionate one to another (v. 10). We have previously considered what it means to “[rejoice] in hope]. In this continuing exposition, we will study what it means to be “patient in tribulation.” –JJL]

2.  Patient in Tribulation

The word ‘patience’ literally means ‘to remain behind.’ In most other places in the New Testament, it is translated as ‘endure.’ But the idea is that we must not run away or give up, or succumb to pressure when we encounter tribulations in our lives.

What are tribulations? Well, we all know that tribulations include severe trial such as wars, natural disasters or religious persecution. These things would, no doubt, be included as tribulations. Many of the early believers were severely persecuted by the Romans and by the Jews; and Paul would no doubt want to encourage them to endure these persecutions cheerfully.

However, most of us here this morning are not affected by these things—at least not yet. Does it mean that Paul’s exhortation is not applicable to us? Or does it mean that we should keep it in our heart so that when tribulation falls upon us, we may be encouraged to endure?

Well, let us understand that the word ‘tribulation’ is not only about severe trials. The word ‘tribulation’ is a big word in the English; but the Greek word (θλίψις, thlipsis) speaks of a pressing together or anything that burdens us or pressurises us. We may not be burdened by wars and persecution, but we are burdened or pressured by many other things.

And yet we are burdened by many other things, are we not? So all of us are experiencing some form of tribulation.

·     Some of us are pressurised by work. Sometimes the pressure is so bad that we find it hard to concentrate when we come for worship. This is tribulation too.

·     Some of us are facing pressure at home. If you are a homemaker, I know you are you are facing tremendous pressure daily looking after your husband and children. You work 25 hours a day, 8 days a week, and unlike your husband you cannot tender your resignation! Is this not tribulation?

·     Some of us are facing pressures because of our in-laws. Maybe they expect us to go back home to eat too frequently. Maybe they are interfering with our upbringing of our children. This is also tribulation because it is extremely pressurising to have in-laws interfering with our lives.

·     If you are still a child, I know are facing not only pressure at school, but pressure from your parents! They want you to do well at school, and they want you to do well at catechism, and your music lessons and your sports. And yet they want you to sleep enough and to be well-behaved all the time. This is tribulation isn’t it?

·     Now, I am sure you know that tribulation does not only occur at home, at work or at school. It happens in the church too.

·     For some of us, the mere coming to church can be a tribulation! Why? Because they feel some inexplicable pressure whenever they come to church. Pressure in church comes in many different forms.

For one it may be because she is bearing grudges against some members in the church.

For another it may be because he thinks that some brethren are holding some things against him. So whenever he steps into church, he feels that he is being watched. Maybe he perceives that he is not living up to the expectation of some people. Maybe he is indulging in secret sins. But for whatever reason, coming to church can be great a tribulation to him.

·     Serving in the church can also be a tribulation. Yes, the elders and deacons in the church often face tremendous pressure in their service. They feel pressure because of the sense of responsibility they bear. But that is the least of the pressures. The greatest pressures come when there are disagreements over some issues. Very often these issues are very minor, but pride is a 5000 litres per hour air pump. It quickly inflates the issues so that quarrels erupt over the smallest things. And the smallest things become great burdens over the shoulders. This is the tribulation that officers in the church often face. It is no wonder that the apostle Paul urges us to have the mind of Christ, that we may humbly esteem other better than ourselves (Phil 2:3-5).

 So then, everyone of us is facing some kind of tribulation. As long as we are facing some pressures and stress, we are facing some form of tribulation.

What are we to do in the face of tribulations or pressures? Paul teaches us that we must be patient. We must learn to endure. We must not crumble under it or run away from it.

Of course, there are tribulations which we can do without—for which we can escape from. For example, if your job is destroying your spiritual life or your family life, you can quit your job! Or if your school is destroying your life, you can transfer to another school.

We are not saying that you cannot seek a change in your present circumstance. Paul writing to the slaves in the Corinthian church says:

“Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather” (1 Cor 7:21).

So we are not saying that you cannot change your circumstance if there is a legitimate reason and a legitimate means for doing so.

However, as long as you are in the situations of pressure—whether it is a situation you can change or not—you must be patient. You must endure patiently. You must not allow yourself to be crushed by it, or act rashly to run away from the problem.

You know what it is to run away from problems, don’t you?

Remember Jonah? Remember how he ran away because God wanted him to preach to Nineveh, but he did not want to do it. He was, no doubt, facing tribulation in his soul. He was facing great conflict and pressure. How did he handle his tribulation? He ran away! He was not patient under tribulation. God had to bring him back through a painful whale of a lesson.

Now, many of us are like Jonah in our hearts.

When the pressure at our workplace mounts, many of us will be tempted to quit the job without making any attempt to resolve the problems. Again I am not saying that there are no legitimate reasons to leave a job. But is it not true that many would simply bail out rather than try to bail the water out.

Likewise in the family: When the husband and wife marry they vow unto God, “Till death us do part,” not: “Till problems be too great, us do part.” And yet are not many of us tempted to leave our husband or our wife when the problems become too great. This is very sad and very wrong, but it happens even in Christian marriages.

Most Christians know that they can sue for divorce if their spouse commits adultery. And so they are tempted to take that route, forgetting that the scripture also urges us to be patient in tribulation.

In like manner, members of the church would often quit the church when it they cannot take the pressures they face any more. Rather than dealing with the problems biblically and patiently, they take matters in their own hands.

They take up the scalpel and the amputate themselves from the body of Christ.

Again, I am not saying that there are no legitimate reasons for leaving the church of our membership. But is it not true that many who leave the church leave without proper biblical reasons nor in the proper biblical manner.

And yes, even officers of the church are known to want to run away when the pressure become too great. Instead of seeking to bear with the infirmities of one another and giving and taking so that there is harmony in the leadership; there is often a temptation to resign and to flee.

But all temptation to flee from the church or from the office comes from the devil; for we are set in our place in the body by Christ the head of the church.

We must not take things into our own hand and decide to cut ourselves off or not to use the talents that Christ has given us. That would be to act like the one talent man who was condemned by the Lord.

Whether in the family, at work, or in the church the solution to tribulations is not to run away. It is to patiently endure or to remain behind to sort it out by the grace of God.

This is what Paul means by “patient in tribulation.” We must be patient in tribulation.

We must not murmur and complain; and neither should we take things in our own hand and run away from the problems we face. We must try, rather, to seek God’s grace to handle the situation in the most God-honouring manner.

But, let us understand that we must not merely endure the tribulation like a block of wood. When I was in the army, and things got really tough, we would encourage one another to ‘tong’ (Hokkien for “endure stoically”).  No, no; we must endure with prayer remembering that Christ has endured the Cross for us and is at the right hand of God upholding us in prayer. Indeed, we must understand that all tribulations come to us through the good hand of our heavenly Father.

They are sent for our sanctification. They are burdens upon our shoulders to make our knees buckle so that we look up to God in prayer upon our knees. Thus, Paul adds that we must be continuing instant in prayer.

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim