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Faith Under Pressure
“‘I know your tribulation… Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life’” (Revelation 2:9, 10, ESV) .
Jesus said to the church in Smyrna, “I know your tribulation.” The English word “tribulation” translates the Greek word thlipsis. “I know your thlipsis,” Jesus says. Interestingly, thlipsis has a very specific meaning in the New Testament. It is never used to refer to the normal challenges of life—a bad head-cold, failing a test, inflation, your car breaking down (again). Nor is it used in reference to struggles brought by sin and temptation—having another drink, lacking patience, buying something you don’t need on a credit card. Every time thlipsis is used in the New Testament, it has to do with the kingdom of God.
Thlipsis refers to the trial, struggle, opposition, and tribulation we face because of our faith in Christ and our citizenship in heaven.
When we live as citizens of heaven, our values come into direct conflict with the world’s values. That creates thlipsis, not because we’re disobeying God’s Word but precisely because we are obeying it. This is what Peter was writing about in 1 Peter 4:12-16.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”
We should not be surprised when we suffer because of our faith. Rather, we should be surprised if we do not experience push back for being a Christian. Perhaps we’re not living according to God’s Word as much as we think we are. We might go to church, but do we really live differently than our non-Christian neighbors? Maybe we do, but we’re not experiencing thlipsis because we don’t have much interaction with unbelievers. It’s so easy to become insulated from the world—our only friends are our Christian friends, and our lives have little to no impact on the unbelievers around us. If we don’t come into contact with unbelievers, there’s no chance for our Jesus way of life to create friction with their anti-Jesus way of life.
As the world strays farther from God, it is becoming increasingly difficult to be a cultural Christian. There are no cultural benefits to being a Christian anymore. There is only a growing thlipsis as the kingdom of God collides with the kingdom of the world. And when we face the tribulation that comes from being a Christian, the nature of our faith will be revealed. Either we’ll step away from Jesus or we’ll remain faithful through the trial. Lord, give me faith!