Tribulation: How To Prepare and Respond
How should we prepare and respond to tribulation?
First we need to recognise that we will all experience some form of tribulation as we live in this world. There is the normal suffering we can expect living in a fallen world: sickness, disability, personal tragedies and death. Second, Jesus and the apostles warned Christians to expect tribulation and suffering with a significant difference: it will uniquely come upon those who want to follow Christ and bear His name. It is how we respond to tribulation, in whatever form it may come, that is most important.
Preparing will not mean retreating into off-the-grid communes. The most important way of preparing us is to grow in Christ-like character. 2 Peter 1:4-11 outlines the key elements of character we need: faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love (here ‘agape’ love). If we have these and are growing in them God promises we will be prepared for whatever may come and not stumble.
The sources of tribulation are two-fold: first that we share in common with all humanity as we live in a fallen world which is in decay and secondly, as Christians, we become participants in a spiritual battle – between the dominion of Satan and the Kingdom of God, and between the prince of this world and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Satan works against God’s purposes and against Christians through our flesh (the sinful nature), through the world system in which we live, those who belong to the world and within the church through false teaching and sowing discord.
It is important we recognize that the world in which we live (not the physical creation) is also an unseen spiritual system antagonistic to God’s purposes.
Over 80 years ago Watchman Nee (1903 – 1972), a Chinese Christian who spent 16 years in prison and died for his faith, had this to say in ‘The Mind Behind the System‘:
Satan is utilizing the material world, the men of the world, the things that are in the world, to head everything up eventually in the kingdom of antichrist. At that hour the world system will have reached its zenith; and at that hour every unit of it will be revealed to be anti-Christian.
(Love Not The World, Chapter 1 – The Mind Behind the System, p 14 Kingsway Publications 1970).
All the things of the world Nee referred to : politics, education, literature, science, art, law, commerce, music in themselves seem neutral, even innocent. But we have and will see all these facets of this world system being used to fulfil Satan’s schemes and increasingly find ourselves in conflict with them if we are faithful to God.
And as the apostle John says:
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and [also] its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever (1John 2:15-17).
While we live in this world we are not ‘of it’. We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and so while we live in this world we live in tension, and often, in conflict with it. What may seem innocent in this world, even what seems to be just in the eyes of those who don’t know Christ, can in fact be something hostile to the will of God.
One of the most alluring ‘gods’ of this age is entertainment. At one time people had to go out of their homes to be entertained. Now it is literally at our finger tips and in our homes through the Internet. Inevitably much of this entertainment portrays life and morality which is sinful according to God’s word. ‘You can be happy without God’ is its unwritten message.
Therefore we have to tread carefully. While we are, as far as it depends on us, to be at peace with all men we will inevitably come into conflict with this world system and those of it while doing the will of God. As Jesus warned us:
These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).
Satan’s chief weapon against us is deception: by attempting to convince us that what is evil is good or what is good is evil. Because our battle is ultimately a spiritual battle we need to prepare in a spiritual way so we can stand and overcome – with the armour of God (Ephesians 6:10-18) and with the power and strength God supplies.
The key to standing and overcoming is through faith in Jesus and obedience to His words. At the end of the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5 to 7) Jesus tells us:
Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell-and great was its fall (Matthew 7:24-27).
The rain, floods and wind represent the trials and tribulation we face in this world. Only as we hear, believe and do what Jesus has asked of us in the power of His Spirit will we be able to stand and overcome. In other words preparation for tribulation is to know and take to heart the warnings He gave and do what He said.
What are the specific things we can expect now and as the end draws nearer?
1. Spiritual deception through false religion, false Christs, prophets and teachers.
Jesus’ first warning is of spiritual deception – false religion which comes through false Christs, false prophets and teachers – angels of light as the apostle Paul also warned (2 Corinthians 11:14). While there have been many false Christs over the centuries since Jesus ascended, the 20th century saw a virtual explosion (over 20) of those who claimed to be Christ or a reincarnation of Him (Ref. 1). Numerous people (including many professing Christians were and have been deceived by their claims and erroneous teachings).
The deceptive nature of false religion is that it outwardly appears good, appealing to our desires for love, inclusion and greater purpose. The leaders of false religion use terminology that is familiar: they talk of God, Christ, love, a new and better life etc and to the undiscerning sound like the real thing. They even quote Scripture. But the insidious nature of the deception are the lies mixed in with the truth. They preach a different Jesus and a different gospel. The greatest danger we face now and in the future is spiritual deception. Only if we love and know the truth of God as revealed in the Scriptures will we be able to withstand deception.
2. Conflict between nations – the 20th century saw world wars on an unprecedented scale – the first which claimed the deaths of over 15 million and the second over 70 million people. As the 21st century progresses further major conflicts can be expected despite efforts for peace.
3. Natural disasters increasing in frequency and intensity – earthquakes, storms, famine and epidemics (such as Covid-19). But these should not be interpreted as particular judgement on Christians. Though we share these things with the rest of humanity, we can show strength and give reason for hope in the midst of despair.
4. Increasing hatred and hostility towards Christians because of the name of Christ resulting in marginalisation and persecution. This is occurring on an increasing scale today in Western societies from secular humanists and especially in Islamic, Hindu and Communist societies.
5. Apostasy and betrayal by professing brothers and sisters in Christ. This apostasy will be led by those who were or claim to be Christians but spread deception through false prophecy and teaching. We can also expect the greatest hostility from such as these and will be very difficult to contend with.
Over 300 years ago, Matthew Henry, in his commentary on Matthew 24:10 said this:
One false traitor in the garrison may do more mischief than a thousand avowed enemies without…”Those that have treacherously deserted their religion, shall hate and betray those who adhere to it, for whom they have pretended friendship.”…Apostates have commonly been the most bitter and violent persecutors.
This is certainly what I have observed: many of those who have at one time professed Christ and then rejected the Faith have become its most severe critics.
6. Love will grow cold because of lawlessness . When false prophets and teaching abound there is inevitably division, suspicion and as a consequence our love will be put to great test. When love of the truth declines so does love for others. This is why Jesus commands love more than any other virtue, yet it must be love that is firmly rooted in the truth.
Jesus gave us clear warnings of what to expect and how we should prepare:
Don’t be led astray; don’t be alarmed; don’t be anxious (Mark 13:5,7,11 ESV) and…
But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand (Mark 13:23 ESV).
Christians and Conspiracy Theories
Recent research has shown evangelical Christians in the USA (and no doubt similarly in other Western countries) are more likely to believe conspiracy theories than the general public.
It seems many such conspiracy theories evolve out of a distrust of secular authorities and a particular interpretation of end-time prophecies. This is despite the scriptural warning ‘to test all things‘ and to confirm evidence on the basis of two or more reliable witnesses.
God’s people are never to bear false witness (Exodus 23:1) or as the New Living Translation states it: ‘You must not pass along false rumours.’ As children of light it becomes us to ensure what we believe is true lest we end up being propagators of error and lies.
We are to be of the truth. When we gullibly swallow conspiracy theories without checking their truth we destroy our witness as children of light and truth or at best end up appearing plain stupid.
Quote from: ‘Too many evangelical Christians fall for conspiracy theories online, and gullibility is not a virtue – Dallas Morning News, May 17 2020:
“At the core of the issue is the need for Christians to recognize how conspiracy theories actively hurt our Christian witness. When evangelical Christians indulge in conspiracy theories, we damage our credibility. While some might see this as unimportant, our credibility to know and profess the truth lies at the core of our witness, whether we are effective evangelists for what we believe is the truth. Central to our faith is our profession that Jesus dwelt among us as fully God and fully man, died on the cross that we might be forgiven, and was raised and now reigns. We believe these things in truth, not as a moralistic story.
Thus, when Scripture calls us to be wise in resisting the temptation to foolishness and warns against those who “turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:4), its point is not only in how this hurts us, but rather how it reflects the Gospel we profess. Christians have a responsibility to not be fooled. As we’ve argued before, gullibility is not a Christian virtue. Believing and sharing conspiracies does not honor the Lord. It may make you feel better, like you are in the know, but it can end up harming others and it can hurt your witness.”
Therefore Christians ought to be purveyors of truth and hope, not conspiracies based on fear, half-truths and anecdotal evidence. There is a real danger for those who fail to discern truth from error in these conspiracy theories. If we succumb to one error or lie we are more likely to succumb to another. Then we may end up losing sight of the real and most important conspiracy: the unseen spiritual battle overseen by Satan as described in Ephesians 6. This conspiracy began in the garden of Eden and continues to this day. It will eventually lead to everything of this world bringing about the kingdom of antichrist (see page 65).
A Lesson To Be Learned
So there is a lesson we ought to learn in such times: how do we determine what is the truth? Who should we trust? Do we just trust those who affirm our suspicions? Clearly this isn’t wise – we need objectivity. So we ought to seek the truth from a number of independent, credible sources (not just one or two). This is not an easy task in a world where so much information is at our finger tips through the Internet. Disinformation and outright lies spread literally at the speed of light especially on social media sites. Therefore we should be guided by trusted Christian news sources and leaders and pastors who have a track record for sound teaching. As the Proverb says:
‘in a multitude of counsellors there is safety‘ (11:14, 15:22, 24:6).
Yet like all our Christian leaders and examples – they are still fallible men. It is not good for them or us if we put them on pedestals. They can stumble in many ways just as we all do (James 3:2). Therefore it is our responsibility to test all things by God’s word as revealed in the Bible. That is our ultimate reference for truth not man.
The greatest battle will not come through an obvious temptation to sin or even persecution but through deception in a religious guise. Jesus tells us that at the end time satanic deception will be at its zenith, deceiving, if it were possible even the elect (Matthew 24:24). This is why it is essential we know God’s word through reading the Bible and personal communion with Him in prayer.
We need to put on the armour of God
Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, tells Christians to put on the full armour of God because while we live in this world we will battle against unseen spiritual forces and therefore need the armour and strength that God supplies. We can’t do battle in our own strength and wisdom:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armour of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armour of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm (Ephesians 6:10-13).
Before we ‘put on the full armour of God‘ we need to come to God with a humble heart, depending on Him and Him alone. We need to love, trust and fear Him:
But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:6-7).
Love and trust God
When we are in adversity it is very easy to lose sight of God. Yet we must love and trust Him at all times because He is in control and causes all things to work together for good (Romans 8:28). Note, it doesn’t mean what happens is necessarily good but out of adversity we learn to persevere and grow spiritually – to be like Jesus.
Peter encourages us that we are protected by the power of God through our love for, hope and faith in Christ:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to [obtain] an inheritance [which is] imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, [being] more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:3-9).
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him (James 1:12).
Fear God not man.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7).
When we face temptations in this world and pressure from man to compromise our faith and obedience to God we must fear Him and not man.
The fear of God is said to be the beginning or foundation of true wisdom and knowledge (Proverbs 9:10 and 1:7). It is the wise man who builds his house on the rock. Wisdom is said to be built on seven pillars (Proverbs 9:1) and it is the wisdom of God we need which James reveals:
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere (James 3:17 ESV).
First what is meant by fear God needs to be determined by context: sometimes it will mean being afraid and at other times it will mean an unwavering trust and respect for His authority and sovereignty. Secondly, we can only have a right fear of God when we have a right perception of who He is. He is love (1 John 4:16) but also a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). He is Saviour but also Judge. A right fear of God stems from love for Him, not just fear of judgement. We will fear doing that which displeases God because we love Him and God loves those who fear Him:
But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him and His righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep His covenant and remember His precepts to do them (Psalm 103:17-18).
Living in this world we will inevitably have to choose at some time whether to obey man or God. We are told to be subject to secular authority (Romans 13:1-5) but clearly only as far as it depends upon us. Where a direction by man contradicts what God has commanded then we have no choice but to obey God rather than man – and endure the consequences. The example of Daniel and his companions (Daniel 3:16-18) and that of Peter and the other apostles (Acts 4:19 and 5:29) teach us this principle.
By fearing God we show that we trust, love and want to obey him, even at personal cost or loss. If we love life and the things of this world, if we fear losing health, possessions, relationships or our reputation more than God we are in danger of falling away.
As Jesus said:
Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).
And David in the Psalms says:
In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? (Psalm 56:11)
The Armour of God
So having prepared our heart and mind through humbling ourselves before God, trusting and having a healthy fear of Him, we can rightly put on and use the armour of God (Ephesians 6:10-18).
Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth
To ‘gird our loins with truth’ means more than just knowing the truth in our mind – we need to live and practice from our heart the truth of God as revealed in His word, the Bible. As John states:
The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him
Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth (1Jo 2:4 & 3:18).
To ‘gird our loins‘ is to be dressed, in a state of readiness at all times (Luke 12:35) without which we will be unprepared. To know but not love and live the truth is to be a hypocrite and be spiritually naked in the eyes of God (Mark 7:6 & Rev 16:15).
and having put on the breastplate of righteousness
Like truth, we are to put on righteousness – here meaning living and doing what is right. Unrepented sin or not doing what is right leaves us vulnerable to attack by the devil.
and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace
Even in the midst of trial or battle we are to be and can give witness to the gospel of Christ – which brings peace with God.
in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one
There will be times when it seems we have no answer or in time of great suffering, seemingly have no hope. This is where our faith in God – trusting in in His promises and hope for what is not yet seen will extinguish the doubts and thoughts of fear, despair and disappointment from the devil.
and take the helmet of salvation
The knowledge that we have received deliverance from both the penalty and power of sin now and on the last day finally receive God’s salvation gives us assurance and hope.
and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
While the other armour are defensive the sword of the Spirit – God’s word is both defensive and offensive. Through God’s word we are able to counter the lies of the devil and his deceptions. Jesus repelled Satan’s temptations through knowing and quoting Scripture – “It is written” (Matthew 4:4 on). Therefore be on guard against any novel ‘interpretations’ that effectively undermine the authority of the Bible and so weaken this weapon as an instrument of defence and offence.
With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints (Ephesians 6:10-18).
Prayer which perseveres must underlie all we do – since our dependence and strength is in God’s power not our own.
I am often encouraged by the words of Corrie Ten Boom who suffered greatly in a Nazi concentration camp during World War 2: “that God’s love is stronger than the deepest darkness, that Jesus is Victor, that there is no pit so deep the love of God is not deeper still”.
Having prepared our hearts and minds and put on the armour of God we will be able to face and overcome whatever comes against us.
Expect persecution and suffering as a disciple of Jesus
A slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you (John 15:20)
Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).
The apostle Paul spoke of the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings (Philippians 3:10) – that is suffering is a part of living for Christ.
Through Church history persecution has been the norm rather than the exception. The last few decades has seen persecution of Christians in many nations increase greatly. Christians in the Western world should not think they will be spared. Nor should we think of persecution as purely of the devil. God allows persecution to refine and purify His church. Persecution is coming and we need to be prepared. It is how we respond to persecution and suffering that is crucial.
Peter likewise forewarns and encourages us with these words:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:12-14).
Note here Peter says times of tribulation are for our testing as we share in Christ’s suffering. Yet we are to rejoice and keep on rejoicing. This runs counter to our natural way of thinking but we need to take these words to heart.
Peter goes on to say:
Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. For it is time for judgement to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? and if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Peter 4:15-19).
Therefore suffering as a Christian is not something shameful but a time when we can glorify God through our patient witness. And Peter tells us God will bring judgement – first on His people for the purpose of refining and purifying us – because He is faithful and His intention is always for our ultimate good.
When we face or have to endure tribulation (in all its forms) we need to examine our hearts in the light of God’s word’ humble ourselves and where necessary repent.
Endure suffering with patience, hope, joy and peace
Are we prepared to bear the world’s ridicule and hate, the loss in this world of all we hold dear for the sake of Christ and the glory to come? Therefore, like Jesus, we need to patiently endure injustice, suffering and persecution without retaliation leaving judgement to God. But be assured; God loves and cares for us in times of testing:
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
God will not allow what we are not able to endure. Therefore we need never despair. By keeping in our heart and mind the hope before us we can always know joy and peace. Many times we are encouraged to rejoice in the midst of trial and count ourselves blessed.
rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer (Romans 12:12)
In the sermon on the mount Jesus said:
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your
reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Mt 5:10-12).
These words of Jesus teach us the right attitude in times of persecution. First Jesus says we are blessed, that is we are favoured, though understandably difficult to appreciate when we are insulted, mistreated, misunderstood, falsely accused and persecuted because we bear the name of Christ. Yet we must take these words to heart, by faith and rejoice, yes rejoice! Always keep eternity in view, our real home prepared for us in heaven.
Keep an eternal perspective and fix our eyes on Jesus:
For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (2 Corinthians 4:17-5:1).
In times of trouble and darkness, even when it seems we are in the valley of the shadow of death; keep the hope of eternity in view, for this life is temporary. Through all we must keep our eyes on Jesus:
Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:1-3).
Worship, Prayer and Praise
When we worship God our perspective is fixed on Him, whether we feel good or bad and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. He is in control. He reigns. To worship God is to love Him (1 John 2:15), to serve Him (Matthew 4:10), to honour His word in our hearts and lives (Matthew 15:7-9) and in spirit and in truth (John 4.23-24).
Prayer shows our dependence as a child on our Father in heaven. It ascends as incense before the throne of God (Revelation 5:8). In times of trouble we are encouraged not to be anxious, but to give thanks and make our requests known to God:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
One hundred times in the Psalms we are exhorted to praise God for what He has done and what He will do. Like David, praise is the outflow of a heart of gratitude and love for God:
I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth (Psalm 34:1).
While prayer shows our dependence on God praise shows our gratitude. We can praise God as part of prayer, through song (Colossians 3:16) for there is always a reason to give thanks:
The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; This is my God, and I will praise Him; My father’s God, and I will extol Him (Exodus 15:2).
We should note that Paul’s encouragement to be ‘filled with the Spirit’ is in the context of ‘singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord’ and ‘giving thanks always for all things to God’ (Ephesians 5:18-20). When we are at the end of our own strength God’s strength will sustain us. As he also says:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4).
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:26).
Love one another
Jesus forewarned us that in the end-time because of the intensity of persecution, suspicion and self-interest will cause dissension among Christians. As a consequence the love of many will grow cold and so betray one another. Many Christians will be misled by false teachers and prophets who pander to selfish interests (Matthew 24:9-12). Therefore it is paramount we maintain our love for one another, especially in times of tribulation when we will be tempted to seek our own welfare over our brother’s and sisters in Christ.
When we show ‘agape’ (unconditional, sacrificial love) for our brothers and sisters in Christ we show the world that we are His disciples and that we have been saved and born again:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34,35).
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:22-23).
For this reason we need to foster meaningful relationships with other Christians while we have opportunity. We cannot be lone Christians disconnected from our brothers and sisters. We can’t claim to love the brethren if we don’t want to spend time in fellowship with them and care for those in need. It takes resolve and effort, not feeling. It means more than just going to church on a Sunday and why we are urged not to neglect meeting regularly with other Christians in church and home settings. Through such meetings we can learn, grow, encourage, be encouraged and care for one another.
Fellowship with other Christians
Fellowship with other Christians is essential for our growth, edification and mutual encouragement. The scriptures teach us that the church, those who are Christ’s, are a body with Christ as the head. As a body we depend on others and others on us for growth and spiritual health. It is a part of how we love one another.
This is why one of the devil’s tactics is to prevent or hinder Christians from meeting. If our fellowship and contact with other Christians is limited to meeting in a purpose built building we will be seriously hindered should restrictions be imposed on such gatherings (as is already happening in many parts of the world). The early church (of the first 200 years) had no buildings purposely built or used exclusively for meeting, but met in homes or public places as the opportunity arose. This was in the midst of severe persecution and the church grew phenomenally.
Therefore we need to be prepared to adapt to circumstances in times of restrictions on church buildings and meetings. The church in China has demonstrated this over the last 70 years. Most of the growth of the church has occurred in unregistered, underground or house-churches.
We should test our hearts here: who do we prefer to keep company with – other Christians or non-Christians? We can’t profess to love God while at the same time hating a brother or sister in the faith. It is hypocrisy:
If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20).
And hate is not just having negative thoughts but being indifferent to a known need of a brother or sister (1 John 3:17).
Nor should we fall into the error of thinking we only need to care for those in our particular church or who share our unique doctrinal position. We might ask here “Who is my brother?” Jesus tells us:
Whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother (Mark 3:35).
This is why love for our brothers and sisters who are suffering under persecution is of particular importance. We are told to remember those in prison, as if with them:
Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body (Hebrews 13:3).
What we do or don’t do for them is the same as we do or don’t do to Jesus (Matthew 25:35-45). We may not be able to physically visit them but we can support them practically, and most importantly, pray for them.
Love your enemies
But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ’You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous ( Matthew 5:39-45).
It is one thing to endure unjust suffering, but to love and pray for those who are responsible for the suffering – that for many is ridiculous. Yet that is what God expects of his children, because he is kind and merciful to the undeserving. It is the way of those called by Jesus to inherit the kingdom of God. Loving those who love you is natural. Loving your enemies is supernatural but it is the love He expects of His followers in the power of His Spirit.
This love means we are to pray for and forgive those who sin against us, never seek vengeance and never repay evil with evil but with good. If our enemy is hungry we are to feed him, if thirsty to give him a drink and as far as it depends on us, be at peace with all men (Romans 12:17-20). In so doing we show ourselves to be children of God.
These words of Jesus teach us to act in ways which to most seem counter intuitive: do good to those who hate and mistreat you, bless them and pray for them. The next instruction of Jesus: to offer our other cheek to be struck also is one, which to the natural mind, does not seem to make sense at all. It is one thing to endure hurt but is Jesus saying we should deliberately seek more hurt? No, I don’t believe this is what Jesus is saying here.
What we learn here is that we do not respond in kind, we do not retaliate and do not take revenge. By offering our other cheek is to say ‘Strike me again, but I will not strike you’ … ‘strike me again but I will not deny Christ’. It is an initiative by the power of God’s Spirit within us which is other-worldly and demonstrates the way of God’s kingdom here on earth. Many have been convicted and bought to faith in Christ through seeing a Christian endure unjust suffering, insult and mistreatment and responding, not with complaint, but with love and grace.
False accusation is one of the chief means the devil uses (through other people) in an attempt to destroy our witness. We may be accused of sexual misconduct, financial wrong-doing, association with dubious organisations or individuals and crimes against society. When we are falsely accused we must stand our ground and not be pressured into making a false confession and so compromise the truth. God will ultimately vindicate us as we continue in good conscience to live and love as Jesus taught us. As Peter encourages us:
and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ will be put to shame for it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong (1 Peter 3:16-17).
Be a witness for Christ
Our mission in this world is not so much to change it but to be salt and light in it:
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men (Matthew 5:13).
As salt we are the ‘taste’ of God on earth. Like salt as a seasoning – its influence is great though small in amount. But if we live in a way indistinguishable from the unsaved our witness is void and we become no good for God or man.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).
In the same way as light in the world we show the love of God through our deeds and living. We bear witness for Christ – in our life and testimony – whether we are free or in jail. Whether we live or die we must be faithful to Jesus and His words, calling others out of the world and into God’s kingdom.
Through our participation in preaching the gospel of Christ, by the power and conviction of the Holy Spirit we make disciples of every nation. We should note here that Jesus will not return until the gospel has been preached to every nation (Matthew 24:14).
To be a faithful witness for Christ means we need to live a holy life above reproach and so be salt and light in the world. The name of Christ suffers greatly when Christians, and particularly leaders, fall into sin. As Paul says:
…so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain (Philippians 2:15-16).
Invest in the kingdom of God not the world
While we live in this world we are urged to be not of it and put our ‘treasure’ – our possessions and assets into God’s kingdom. As Jesus said:
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).
Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12:33-34).
First we should minimise or eliminate debt in whatever way possible. I think Christians can achieve this, especially in wealthy countries, by adopting a minimalist lifestyle. We ought to ask ourselves – what do I really need? So much of our western life style is taken up with unnecessary possessions and time needed to maintain them.
Help our brothers and sisters in need and invest in the kingdom of God, that is, invest in projects and missions which advance the kingdom of Christ on earth.
Remember the assets and possessions God has entrusted to us we will one day have to give account.
The greater our debt and possessions the greater will be the temptation to compromise and fall into bondage as in the parable of the sower (Luke 8:14).
Read, know, memorise your Bible
It is crucial in times of tribulation that we know God’s will and know what He is saying to us. We cannot rely on our own wisdom and strength. Therefore if we have a Bible we need to read it. We mustn’t make excuses such as ‘I don’t have enough time’ or ‘I find it hard to understand’. Like any discipline it takes effort but with time we will understand. It is our infallible guide and reference. As the Psalmist says:
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).
The Bible is our indispensable source of truth by which we can discern error and so not be deceived. As the Psalmist says:
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105).
We need to have more than a superficial knowledge of the Bible to test inner voices. The Holy Spirit will never contradict what is written in the Scriptures. Thoughts and ideas which contradict Scripture are not of God.
Therefore by God’s word and the leading of the Holy Spirit we are able to discern truth and error. Through the Scriptures we are corrected and trained in righteousness so that we will be equipped and prepared to do every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Clearly the Bible has a very practical purpose and not for intellectual curiosity or gratification.
As time goes on truth will become increasingly hidden or distorted. We will not be able to rely on the secular media for objective truth. It is essential therefore our point of reference is always God’s word, not what we see or hear through the media. Like the Berean Christians (Acts 17:11) we will also need to check what we have heard from other Christians against God’s word as revealed in the Bible to ensure that it is the truth.
If we neglect to do these we are in danger of deception, unable to test and discern false teaching – from men or from the spirit realm. I believe the greatest danger in this day and those ahead is not from another religion such as Islam, but in a counterfeit Christianity, which has the form of but lacks the substance and power of the true faith.
The leaders of such ‘Christianity’ may selectively quote Scripture (and so did Satan) to prove their case but inevitably fail to declare the whole counsel of God. It may sound good, logical and appealing but is a distortion of the truth, a half truth which is more dangerous than an outright lie. False ways find receptive ground in those who know something of God’s word, but not enough to discern error. This will be particularly true as the time of the end draws near when there is great tribulation for God’s people.
As the writer to Hebrews encourages us, we need to feed on the solid food of God’s word, the word of righteousness, not just the milk (the pleasant things), if we are to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:12-14).
So we need to have a passionate commitment to the truth of the Word of God if we’re going to avoid being deceived and we can only do that through knowing and obeying what is written. So I encourage you to do everything possible to fill your hearts and minds with God’s Word. Read it daily, study it, meditate on it and if you don’t like reading, then there are many ways to listen to the Bible. We need more than Sunday morning sermons and occasional online messages. Our faith will only survive if we are connected to the true Vine – Christ, and relying on the Scriptures for our daily spiritual food.
Shepherds of the flock have a particular responsibility to teach the whole counsel of God impartially and will be held to account by Jesus on the day of judgement. It is a serious neglect to not teach truthfully parts of scripture for fear of offending people.
Treasure your Bible
For many Christians in the West having a Bible is an assumed right. But for many others in the world it is a privilege and in many places a restricted, even unobtainable book. We therefore should not assume here in the West that the Bible will always be obtainable. The media and governments are becoming increasingly antagonistic towards traditional, authentic Christianity. Censorship in various forms is becoming a reality and we can expect that even on the Internet Christian content will be restricted or censored (as it already is in a number of countries around the world).
I would suggest that we store Biblical and Christian information off-line (for example on a smart phone, a portable hard disc or solid state drive, a USB flash drive or SD card) in the event online sources are unobtainable. This is also why memorisation of scripture pays great dividends – now and in a possible future time when the Bible becomes a restricted book and even access to storage devices becomes difficult.
From the apostle Peter to encourage Christians in the end-time:
Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless (2 Peter 3:14).
And these words of Paul give us hope and strength in times of trouble for God himself gives us the strength to endure through our faith in him:
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:11-14).
If we are prepared, if we have built our house on the rock – Christ – through diligently reading, listening and meditating on God’s word – the Bible and doing what He has asked us to do we need have no fear of what is to come, we won’t be deceived and will stand through the coming storm. Jesus promised us : “In Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (John 16:33, Matthew 28:20).