Part I: All About Tests
Part II: Who's in Control Here?
Part III: Tried and Found True [This Page]
S.I.T.s, M.I.T.s, and D.I.T.s
Part IV: Wrapping it Up
Part IV: Wrapping it Up
S.I.T.s, M.I.T.s, and D.I.T.s
If you’ve been born again for very long, you’ve probably discovered that becoming a Christian didn’t end all of your problems. In fact, becoming a Christian sometimes creates more problems.
Why do difficulties come? There isn’t one pat answer.
Like Job’s friends, there are always some narrow-minded individuals who claim that all suffering stems from God’s judgment upon individual sin. That kind of uncharitable opinion, however, doesn’t pan out in Scripture. Yes, some suffering comes as a result of God’s judgment upon sin, but not all of it, as in Job’s case for example.
Some suffering comes not as a result of disobedience, but as a result of obedience. This is certainly true of believers who are persecuted for their faith. Satan is obviously the driving force behind those evil people who persecute, torture, and martyr Christians. But why does God allow it?
Again, I realize that some people have claimed that God can’t do anything because Satan possesses Adam’s lease and is the god of this world, and so on. Hopefully, by now, you have seen enough scriptures to disprove that theory.
If God can’t stop the persecution of Christians, then why has He done it on numerous occasions? Why did God allow Stephen and James to be martyred, yet supernaturally released Peter from jail on the eve of his execution?
Beyond these incidents, the Bible is full of stories of God’s wonderful deliverances. We think of that incident recorded in the fifth chapter of Acts when all the apostles were thrown in jail and released by an angel. We think of the time when Paul and Silas were incarcerated and supernaturally released by a God-sent earthquake (see Acts 16:25-27). And what about the deliverance of the three Hebrew children who were thrown into the fiery furnace, and the rescue of Daniel from the lion’s den, or when the whole nation of Jews was saved from annihilation during the time of Esther? Jesus Himself was supernaturally delivered from an early death on several occasions.
Why does God sometimes deliver His own people from persecution and other times not? Why did He allow as many as six million Christians to die for their faith during just the first three centuries of the church’s history? That’s a subject we’ll examine in the final section of this book.
Are there other reasons why difficulties come? Yes, often we suffer because we bring suffering upon ourselves. Our problems are self-inflicted, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. When we eat too much pizza and get sick, we can hardly look for some sinister plot of Satan or some divine purpose from God!
Three Kinds of Trials
Every difficulty is unique and must be analyzed by itself. I’ve found at least three major reasons why difficulties come our way, and I’ve categorized them as S.I.T.s, M.I.T.s, and D.I.T.s (pronounced sitz, mitz and ditz).
S.I.T. stands for Self-Inflicted Trial.
M.I.T. stands for Maturing/Testing Intended Trial.
D.I.T. stands for Disciplinary Intended Trial.
Allow me to expand upon all three.
S.I.T.s. (Self-Inflicted Trials) are the trials we bring upon ourselves because of our own stupidity. They serve no real divine purpose except that God allows us to make mistakes in order for us to learn and grow. If God rescued us from every foolish move we made, we’d grow no wiser. Many parents who have never permitted their children to suffer the consequences of foolish actions have learned this truth the hard way. Their children enter into adulthood unprepared, having been bailed out of difficult situations all their childhood lives.
We all know what it is like to go through a S.I.T. Most of us have been through our fair share. The one consolation is that the more S.I.T.s you have gone through the less S.I.T.s you will go through (if you learn from the first ones, that is). As one person put it, “Good judgment is often the result of previous poor judgments.” We could avoid every S.I.T. if we’d always listen to God and follow His wisdom.
M.I.T.s (Maturing/Testing Intended Trials) are those difficulties that God permits to come our way in order to test us or cause us to mature spiritually. We have already considered a number of scriptural examples of M.I.T.s in our study. You will no doubt remember some of the difficulties Israel encountered when wandering in the desert. God’s leading them to the bitter waters would be classified as a M.I.T. The Scripture plainly says that God tested them there.
The case of the disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee when the fierce gale arose is another example of a M.I.T. God was giving them an opportunity to exercise their faith. We’ll later examine some M.I.T.s in the lives of well-known Bible characters.
D.I.T.s (Disciplinary Intended Trials) are those difficulties that God permits to come our way because we are in disobedience to His will. Through them, God is trying to arrest our attention in order to bring us to repentance. There are scores of examples of D.I.T.s in the Scriptures, and if you know your Bible, you can immediately think of several.
If you are facing a trial, how can you know if it is a S.I.T., M.I.T., or D.I.T.?
S.I.T.s should always be easy to identify. A S.I.T. occurs when you have done something foolish and find yourself suffering the consequences. What should you do? Repent for being so foolish, and then ask the Lord to help you out of the mess you’ve made as quickly as possible. Trust Him until you experience your deliverance and then thank Him. Stated more simply in four easy steps: (1) Repent, (2) Trust, (3) Thank, and (4) Do not repeat previous mistake!
There is an element of M.I.T.s and D.I.T.s in every S.I.T. In God’s sovereign permissive will, we do grow and mature from suffering a S.I.T., which makes every S.I.T. somewhat like a M.I.T. During a S.I.T., the suffering we endure as a consequence of our foolishness has a disciplining effect on our lives, and is therefore somewhat like a D.I.T.
Maybe your trial cannot be labeled a S.I.T. So either it’s a M.I.T. or D.I.T. The difference between the two is that D.I.T.s come as discipline for sin; M.I.T.s can come even when you are completely obedient to God.
If you find yourself in the midst of a D.I.T., then repent and trust God for deliverance. If you find yourself facing a M.I.T., then you don’t need to repent. Just find one of God’s promises that applies to your particular difficulty and trust Him for help or your deliverance, which will always come if you persevere in faith.
A King’s Trials
Let’s look at the life of a man who faced two M.I.T.s and then a D.I.T. His name was Asa, better known as King Asa, once ruler over the nation of Judah.
Asa became king after the death of his father, Abijah, and it is recorded that there was peace during the first ten years of his good rule, something that Judah had not experienced during the corrupt reign of Asa’s father. The Scripture says:
The land was undisturbed for ten years during his days. And Asa did good and right in the sight of the Lord his God, and he removed the foreign altars and high places, tore down the sacred pillars, cut down the Asherim [female idols], and commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers and to observe the law and the commandment. He also removed the high places and the incense altars from all the cities of Judah. And the kingdom was undisturbed under him. And he built fortified cities in Judah, since the land was undisturbed, and there was no one at war with him during those years, because the Lord had given him rest. For he said to Judah, ‘Let us build these cities and surround them with walls and towers, gates and bars. The land is still ours, because we have sought the Lord our God; we have sought Him, and He has given us rest on every side.” So they built and prospered (2 Chron. 14:1-7).
Notice how many times this passage credited God as the One who was responsible for the peace, and that He had given peace because of the obedience of His people. Judah peacefully prospered for ten wonderful years.
That peace was abruptly shattered, however, during the eleventh year. Zerah the Ethiopian, along with an army of one million men equipped with three hundred chariots, invaded Judah’s territory. Rising to meet the challenge, Asa, with his army of 580,000, went out to meet him.
Judah was outnumbered almost two to one, and faced an army that was technologically superior for its day. Imagine the tactical advantage that a man in a chariot has over a man who stands on his feet. And the Ethiopians had three hundred chariots. Unless there was a miracle, Judah was about to lose half a million of its men and be annexed by Ethiopia.
Believing Brings Blessings
Before the men of Judah went out to battle, Asa prayed:
“Lord, there is no one besides Thee to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O Lord our God, for we trust in Thee, and in Thy name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, Thou art our God; let not man prevail against Thee” (2 Chron. 14:11, emphasis added).
God answered Asa’s prayers and the Scripture says:
The Lord routed the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled....and so many of the Ethiopians fell that they could not recover, for they were shattered before the Lord, and before His army. And they carried away very much plunder. And they destroyed all the cities around Gerar, for the dread of the Lord had fallen on them; and they despoiled all the cities, for there was much plunder in them. They also struck down those who owned livestock, and they carried away large numbers of sheep and camels (2 Chron. 14:12-15).
God was not trying to gain Judah’s repentance by allowing difficulties to come their way, so this trial wasn’t a D.I.T. In addition, the people of Judah had made no foolish mistakes that resulted in an Ethiopian invasion, so this trial wasn’t a S.I.T. This trial that Judah faced was obviously a M.I.T.
Think about this: Couldn’t God have stopped the Ethiopians even before they got out of Ethiopia? Of course He could have, and He could have done it in a thousand ways. So why didn’t He? Because by allowing Ethiopia to invade Judah, an opportunity was provided for the people of Judah to exercise their faith in the Lord. They did, and they were greatly blessed as a result. Without faith it is impossible to please God, but, generally speaking, without trials it is impossible to demonstrate faith.
Only when we maintain a biblical view of God’s sovereignty can we properly understand this story. Note that twice in 2 Chronicles 14:6-7, the affirmation was made that God is the one who gave Judah rest from war for the first ten years of Asa’s reign. If it was God who gave Judah rest for the first ten years, why then didn’t He give Judah rest on the eleventh year? Surely if He did if for ten years, He could have done it for the eleventh. So why didn’t He? It could only be because God wanted to bless His people for their obedience. Interestingly enough, God’s blessing came in the form of an Ethiopian invasion.
God wasn’t permitting Ethiopia to invade Judah to bring disaster to Judah—He was permitting the Ethiopians (who were no doubt deserving of judgment) to invade Judah in order that Judah might be blessed. After the invasion, the people of Judah had more wealth than before the invasion. The Bible says that “the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous” (Prov. 13:22)!9
Consider it All Joy
Too often, Christians who are faced with difficulties search in vain for some sin they’ve committed that opened the door to their trial. Trials occur, however, when we are obeying God as well as when we are disobeying God. If we are experiencing a M.I.T. when we think we are experiencing a D.I.T., we may miss out on a blessing from God because all we see is Satan’s attack, rather than God’s sovereign hand of love.
So you lost your job? Rejoice! That means that God must have a better job for you! So you have been hit with sickness? Praise God! Think of how many people with whom you can share the testimony of your healing! People might give their lives to the Lord once they hear about what God has done for you. In addition, other sick people might have their faith encouraged by your testimony and be healed themselves.
Actually, M.I.T.s could also be classified as B.I.T.s, meaning “Blessing Intended Trials.” That is why we should “consider it all joy” (Jas. 1:2) when trials come our way because they are really opportunities for blessings. When we complain or fail to trust God in a M.I.T., as we will soon learn from Asa, we then miss out on the blessings God intends for us to have.
Back to Asa
After his first great victory over the Ethiopians, and through the encouragement of Azariah the prophet, Asa instituted even more far-reaching reforms in his nation during the next five years:
Now when Asa heard these words, and the prophecy which Azariah the son of Oded the prophet spoke, he took courage and removed the abominable idols from all the land of Judah and Benjamin and from the cities which he had captured in the hill country of Ephraim. He then restored the altar of the Lord which was in front of the porch of the Lord. And he gathered all Judah and Benjamin and those from Ephraim, Manasseh, and Simeon who resided with them, for many defected to him from Israel when they saw that the Lord his God was with him. So they assembled at Jerusalem in the third month of the fifteenth year of Asa’s reign. And they sacrificed to the Lord that day 700 oxen and 7,000 sheep from the spoil they had brought. [The Lord was the Lord of their possessions.] And they entered into the covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and soul; and whoever would not seek the Lord God of Israel should be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman. Moreover, they made an oath to the Lord with a loud voice, with shouting, with trumpets, and with horns. [When people get serious about serving God, their worship tends to become more enthusiastic.] And all Judah rejoiced concerning the oath, for they had sworn with their whole heart and had sought Him earnestly, and He let them find Him. So the Lord gave them rest on every side (2 Chron. 15:8-15).
Asa’s sincere dedication to the Lord was further revealed when he removed his own grandmother from her position as “queen mother” because she had “made a horrid image of an Asherah.” The Bible informs us that Asa “cut down her horrid image, crushed it and burned it at the brook Kidron” (2 Chron. 15:16). True disciples love their God more than their own relatives.
The final words of this chapter detailing Asa’s reforms are, “And there was no more war until the thirty-fifth year of Asa’s reign” (2 Chron. 15:19). So there were at least twenty-four years of peace after the Ethiopian invasion.
Asa’s Second Trial
Notice again that the Lord was given the credit for this period of peace in verse 15, but as verse 19 intimates, another M.I.T. was on the horizon.
This time, Baasha, king of Israel, was preparing to invade Judah. (The kingdom of Israel was divided into “Judah” and “Israel” after the death of Solomon.) This time, however, Asa did not trust the Lord. Instead, he used the silver and gold from the “treasuries of the house of the Lord and the king’s house” to pay Ben-hadad, king of neighboring Syria, to break his covenant with Israel and attack her. Ben-hadad obliged, and as a result, Israel ceased its preparations to invade Judah. That is not the end of the story, however, because God was not pleased.
At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the Lord your God, therefore the army of the king of Aram has escaped your hand” (2 Chron. 16:7, emphasis added).
In other words, God would have defeated both Israel and Syria if Asa had trusted God, but Asa actually paid Syria to deliver Judah from Israel. God was going to cause something bad to work together for good for His people. His intention was that they trust Him and be blessed.
Now think about that. The only reason God permits M.I.T.s to come our way is that ultimately we might be blessed. That is why we should “give thanks in everything” and “rejoice always” (1 Thes. 5:16,18). To those who believe, trials are doors to blessings from God. Now let’s read further what God said to Asa:
“Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim an immense army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet, because you relied upon the Lord, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the whole earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars” (2 Chron. 16:8-9, emphasis added).
I don’t know if the future wars that God promised would come as S.I.T.s or M.I.T.s (or possibly even D.I.T.s.). They may have come as S.I.T.s because the nations surrounding Judah would now have the courage to attack her—courage that they never would have gained if Asa had trusted God for a great deliverance. Or, those future invasions may have come as M.I.T.s because, as I have stated previously, if you fail one of God’s tests, you get to take the test over.
Asa’s Final Trial
Did Asa repent at God’s rebuke? No, he did the equivalent of someone who beats the newspaper boy because he doesn’t like the headlines. Asa had Hanani the prophet thrown in prison, and “Asa oppressed some of the people at the same time” (2 Chron. 16:10). It’s clear that Asa fell into a backslidden condition.
Of course, his actions didn’t go unnoticed by the Lord. Still, Asa was mercifully given three years to repent. In the thirty-ninth year of Asa’s reign, however, he “became diseased in his feet” (2 Chron. 16:12). Now this was a D.I.T. God permitted Asa to be afflicted in order to bring about his repentance
Did Asa repent? No, the Scripture says that Asa’s “disease was severe, yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord but the physicians. So Asa slept with his fathers, having died in the forty-first year of his reign” (2 Chron. 16:12-13).
The implication is clear: If Asa had repented at some point during his two years of misery, God would have healed him. Asa’s affliction didn’t soften him, however; it hardened him, and he died before he should have.
In review, Asa experienced at least three major trials in his life: two M.I.T.s and one D.I.T. He blew it during the second M.I.T. and got mad at God, which resulted in his D.I.T.
We must not forget that even D.I.T.s are manifestations of God’s love for us. Jesus Himself said in the book of Revelation: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3:19).
I am a father of three children, and I love them very much. When they disobey, I discipline them because I love them. I want them to turn out right so they can have God’s best and be pleasing to Him. God loves us as a Father.
If you find yourself suffering in the midst of a trial, I encourage you to seek God to find out if you are in a S.I.T., M.I.T. or D.I.T. If you need to repent and ask the Lord’s forgiveness, then do it, and trust God for deliverance. If you don’t need to repent of anything, then just start rejoicing, trusting that all things work together for good and that blessings are on their way. God loves His children dearly, and He delights in their faith.
In this and the next few chapters, we’ll continue studying some well-known Bible characters whom the Lord tested. Specifically, we’ll examine how God tested them in order “to do good to [them] in the end,” to borrow Moses’ words (Deut. 8:16). God planned a divine destiny for each one to fulfill, just as He has a divine destiny planned for you to fulfill. All of these Bible characters, however, only fulfilled their destinies after first being tested.
Joseph is first on our list. With at least eleven chapters dedicated to his story, no person has been given more space in the book of Genesis. The Bible clearly states that Joseph was a man tested by the word of the Lord:
And He [God] called for a famine upon the land; He broke the whole staff of bread. He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. They afflicted his feet with fetters; he himself was laid in irons; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him (Ps. 105:16-19, emphasis added).
As a teenager, Joseph had two dreams revealing that his brothers and father would one day bow down before him. Given only a glimpse of his future, Joseph’s divine destiny was much greater than he ever imagined. God chose to exalt him to preserve the lives of many people, including his own family, so that the promised seed of Abraham, the Savior, might one day be born on the earth.Beyond that, Joseph would unknowingly prefigure Christ Himself, paralleling Jesus’ story in amazingly similar ways, offering further proof to all men that Jesus is truly the Messiah. Joseph, just like you and me, was a person of destiny and had a unique role to play in God’s plan for the ages.
Humiliation Before Exaltation
We know that it was Joseph’s destiny to become prime minister over all of Egypt, but none of us would have ever suspected the means that God would use to exalt him. Often God’s way up is first down. Humiliation frequently precedes exaltation.
Joseph’s brothers hated him because he was their father’s favorite son, and they resented Jacob’s giving Joseph a “varicolored tunic” (Gen. 37:3). Eventually, they sold him to a band of Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver, and Joseph found himself as a slave in Egypt.
It was certainly not God who motivated Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery, but there is no doubt that God permitted them to do so. God would use it for good in two ways. First of all, Joseph would be geographically located in the country in which God would exalt him. Second, God would use Joseph’s sufferings to prepare him for godly leadership.
Do you suppose that Joseph was tempted to be bitter toward his brothers? How would you feel if your own family sold you to be a slave? Joseph was just as human as you and I, and bitter thoughts and visions of revenge probably assailed his mind for some time—until he gained mastery over them. Whenever that day arrived, I’m sure it was a landmark in Joseph’s life.
Chances are, you’re like the rest of us—you’ve had people selfishly use you, stab you in the back, damage your reputation, or in some manner offer you a wonderful opportunity to extend some of the mercy that you yourself have received. What have you done with that opportunity? Has it made you bitter or better?
Never lose sight of the fact that whatever happened to you could never have happened if God hadn’t permitted it. Don’t forget that He loves you dearly. He promised to cause all things to work together for your good (see Rom. 8:28). What have you done with your opportunity to show mercy? Until we gain mastery over bitterness, we put our spiritual progress on hold. We who have been shown so much mercy have an obligation to be merciful to others.
Realize that showing mercy is something you can and should do towards everyone. Forgiveness, however, can only be granted to those who request it. Until the offender desires restoration and asks for forgiveness, your relationship cannot be the same as before the offence was committed. A breach has been placed there that can only be removed by repentance.
In the meantime, however, you are required to pray for your offender and open wide the door of your heart, loving the offender and longing for the restoration that comes with repentance. That is what God does. And that is what Joseph did. Once his brothers expressed true repentance, he welcomed them back into his fellowship.
May I also suggest that you make certain you have a valid complaint against someone before you classify that person as an offender. The truth may not be what you think. You may be the guilty one. That’s one reason why Jesus told us to confront any offending brothers privately with their offense (see Matt. 18:15). When you do, you may discover that you’re the one who needs to repent.
When people ignore, mistreat, use, hurt, hate, or abandon us, we should view our mistreatment as an opportunity to develop the fruit of love in our lives. Confronting and overcoming bitterness was one of Joseph’s first steps toward fulfilling his divine destiny.
In Egypt, Joseph was purchased by an officer named Potiphar and became his slave. That was Joseph’s next test. Would he grumble and question God? Would he rebel against his master, or would he be a faithful slave? In God’s kingdom, no one will rule who hasn’t first proved himself to be a faithful servant. Jesus said that if anyone wants to become great, he must become a servant of all (see Mark 10:42-45).
I wonder how many of us have found ourselves in similar circumstances as did Joseph, but have never passed that particular test. We would rather be in the forefront, leading others, but have proved ourselves unworthy because we are unwilling to serve without honor. The admiration of others is more important to us than God’s praise. How can God entrust us with much if we haven’t been found faithful with little? Joseph was faithful to Potiphar as his slave, and Potiphar entrusted him with all his household, recognizing God’s blessing upon him.
Suddenly, however, a dramatic turn of events takes place. Potiphar’s wife, bitter at Joseph for resisting her sexual advances, falsely accused him before her husband. Consequently, Potiphar had Joseph thrown into prison.
Joseph was tested once again. This time I’m sure he was tempted to say to God, “So this is what I get for obeying You? If I would have committed adultery, I would still be working for Potiphar!” There is no record of Joseph’s complaints, however; he was found faithful in prison, and the chief jailer soon put him in charge of all the other prisoners. You can’t keep a good man down.
Let me restate that God did not orchestrate all those difficulties in Joseph’s life, nor did He inspire anyone to mistreat him. Yet God did permit those circumstances and used them all for good.
How many of us have found ourselves victims of circumstances beyond our control, and instead of being faithful in them and trusting God, have complained and lost faith? How many potential Josephs are reading this right now who have stalled their spiritual progress by allowing circumstances to push them away from God rather than draw them nearer?
Joseph faced another major test when he interpreted the dream of the incarcerated chief cupbearer and requested him to entreat Pharaoh on his behalf. Once he was restored, the reinstated cupbearer ungratefully and selfishly forgot about Joseph. As a result, Joseph spent two more full years in prison. Think about that. Two more years!
Surely Joseph was tempted to harbor bitterness toward that cupbearer, and surely he was tempted to question God—“Why did You supernaturally help the cupbearer to be released from prison and not me? What did I do to deserve this?”
I’m sure you know the end of the story. God eventually gave Pharaoh a dream that Joseph interpreted, and he was then exalted to the position of prime minister in Egypt. How old was Joseph when he first caught a glimpse of his divine destiny? Around age seventeen. How old was he when he was exalted in Egypt? Thirty (see Gen. 41:46).
From slave to prime minister was a thirteen-year journey, and another seven years would pass before his brothers arrived from Canaan wanting to buy grain. Twenty years after Joseph’s first dream about his brothers bowing before him, his dream was fulfilled. Two years later, his second dream was realized when his father arrived in Egypt.
The Proper Perspective
At age forty-nine, after the death of his father Jacob, Joseph was confronted by his brothers once again. They feared that Joseph would now take his revenge against them. His classic response should inspire us all:
“Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen. 50:19-20, emphasis added).
Joseph had related earlier to his brothers: “It was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gen. 45:8).
Joseph knew God didn’t inspire his brothers to mistreat him, but he recognized God’s overriding sovereign hand in his life. God had permitted it all for a divine purpose. Joseph had endured a number of M.I.T.s (Maturing/Testing Intended Trials), and God had caused “all things to work together for good” (Rom. 8:28).
We should learn from Joseph’s life that we too should show mercy to those who wrong us; we should be faithful if we want God to promote us; we should trust that His sovereign hand is working in our lives. God loves you just as He did Joseph, and He has a unique role for you to fill in His divine plan. You are a member of the body of Christ and, therefore, have been given a special ability—and with it comes responsibility. God wants all of us to mature unto the full stature of Christ and find our special function in the body. God
is working to that end. Are you cooperating?
One of the Bible’s Most Precious Promises
Let me close this chapter by making one more mention of the promise, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
It is unfortunate that some (the hyper-sovereignists) have taken this scripture to the extreme by saying that God causes all things, which it doesn’t say. It is just as unfortunate that others (the non-sovereignists) have reacted against the hyper-sovereignist view with another extreme opinion on this wonderful promise. Some of them, trying to wriggle out of the clear meaning of this verse, have devised a strained interpretation. Based upon the verses that precede it, they claim this promise speaks solely about intercessory prayer.
If we take Romans 8:28 in its full context, it obviously has application to much more than intercession. I encourage you to read the eleven verses preceding Romans 8:28 and the eleven verses following it in order to see what I mean.
For example, verses 17 and 18 say (read slowly and honestly):
And if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom. 8:17-18, emphasis added).
Let’s also read verses 33 through 39 (reading slowly and honestly again).
Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:33-39, emphasis added).
Within the context, what did Paul mean when he said that “God causes all things to work together for good”? He meant just what he said—God causes all things to work together for good, even things that don’t seem to be good, such as hardships and persecutions. Even when we are “slaughtered like sheep,” we “overwhelmingly conquer,” as we immediately find ourselves in God’s heavenly kingdom.
Notice that the promise doesn’t say that God causes all things, or that all things are good. The devil and his people cause many things, and many things are not good. God does, however, cause all things to work together for good, that is, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
Once you believe that promise, your life takes on a whole new dimension. Circumstances are no longer circumstantial—they are opportunities to grow spiritually. Adversities are no longer just adversities—they are opportunities to trust God’s Word and believe in His goodness. When you can see God’s sovereign hand working for your ultimate good, life becomes an adventure. Are you enjoying the ride like you should?
David, the son of Jesse, was divinely destined to be king of Israel, and God revealed His plan to him when he was just a shepherd boy. If David was divinely destined to be king, is it possible that he also was destined to be a shepherd first? Did God leave the first years of David’s life up to chance? Was God just waiting until the shepherd boy reached the time when he would fulfill his divine destiny to be king? I don’t think so. All of David’s life was a preparation for kingship. Starting off as a shepherd was certainly appropriate training for one who would one day shepherd the flock of God.
Often what we perceive as wasted periods of our lives are part of God’s training process—periods to prepare us for His ultimate purpose for our life. God can use even our mistakes to better equip us for the “good works which [He] prepared beforehand” (Eph. 2:10).
How did the Lord prepare David for the big challenges he would face one day as king? Just as you may have guessed—by the same method He used to prepare Israel to take Canaan and by the same method He used to train Jesus’ twelve disciples. God permitted small difficulties to challenge David as a shepherd. He was tested.
We know that as a boy David exercised his faith at least twice when he fought with a lion and a bear to protect his flock (1 Sam. 17:34-36). Do you suppose that God could have stopped that lion and bear before they ever got near enough to stalk David’s sheep? I’m sure He could have, but He didn’t because He was preparing David for the greater challenges He would ultimately face.
His next trial came when he stood against Goliath, whom he killed with a single stone from his sling. It wasn’t so much David’s skill with a sling and stone that brought him victory as it was his faith, which continued to grow stronger. Every challenge we face can serve as a stepping stone for promotion in God’s kingdom. Too often those potential stepping stones wind up being stumbling blocks when we fail to trust God.
Learning From the Mistakes of Saul
David was providentially placed in service at King Saul’s house so he could learn firsthand the evil effects of unrestrained jealousy and the corrupting influence that power can have on those who are not submitted to God. No textbook or university education could compare with what David learned by watching King Saul in action.
On several occasions, David barely escaped with his life as jealous Saul tried to pin him to the wall with his spear. Only those who know danger can learn to trust God for protection in danger. Later, David spent years running for his life from Saul in the wilderness. During that time, he learned more valuable lessons about trusting God and the corrupting influence power can possess. All these things “worked together for good” to prepare David to fulfill his divine destiny.
In God’s sovereign plan, David was permitted to suffer a great deal during those years, and the majority of his sufferings were entirely unjust. David didn’t deserve such relentless, unkind treatment from his king whom he had served so well. What was God’s purpose in permitting Saul to persecute David? The answer must be that David was being trained. Once we have suffered under corrupt leaders, we are more apt to be incorruptible when God promotes us to a place of leadership.
I have many friends who are ministers, and quite a few of them have a story to tell about suffering under the power of some semi-corrupt church board or leader during the early years of their ministries. Only God knows of the many men and women who are not in the ministry today because they grew bitter over being mistreated early in their ministries. They disqualified themselves from being promoted because they quit when the going got rough. If God has permitted a corrupt person in authority to mistreat you, it may be because He is preparing you for leadership. Perhaps God is teaching you not to be corrupt when your time of promotion arrives.
Character Tests and Blunders
David was given the opportunity to take his own revenge against Saul on two occasions when he was fleeing in the wilderness. Both times, however, he mercifully spared Saul’s life, returning good for evil. What a test of his character those incidents were! We, too, are commanded to be merciful, just as God is merciful (see Luke 6:36). How can we expect God to promote us if we are not?
David wasn’t perfect, of course, and he once doubted God as he grew weary of running from Saul. Even though David knew full well that God had promised to exalt him one day to be king, we find him once saying, “Now I will perish one day by the hand of Saul” (1 Sam. 27:1). That doesn’t sound like faith, does it? David then made the mistake of going to live in the territory of the Philistines for a year and four months. The resulting troubles he faced taught him valuable lessons about compromising his faith in God. He also learned about God’s abundant mercy (see 1 Sam. 27:1 - 30:20 for all the details).
When we make mistakes, we sometimes feel as if we have ruined all of God’s plans for our lives. As a result, we carry regrets with us for years. David’s blunder, however, did not thwart God’s plan to make him king. God knew David would make that mistake before he was even born, and God could have easily prevented David’s mistake, but He didn’t. God would use David’s mistake to better prepare him to fulfill his divine destiny. David would learn and grow and ultimately be a better king for it.
Your mistakes are no different. God knew you would make them, and He could have stopped you. Even before you were born, however, He prepared a plan to redeem your mistakes and use them to ultimately help you fulfill your divine destiny. Bury your regrets and thank God that He is causing “all things to work together for good” (Rom. 8:28).
Pass the Test, and be Blessed
Finally, after the death of Saul, David was exalted to be king of Israel. The promise was fulfilled. He, like Joseph, was exalted at age thirty after approximately fifteen years of preparation, fifteen years of M.I.T.s (Maturing/Testing Intended Trials) and S.I.T.s (Self-Inflicted Trials). David himself testified with his own writing that the Lord had tested him:
Thou hast tried my heart; Thou hast visited me by night; Thou hast tested me and dost find nothing (Psalm 17:3, emphasis added).
David also said in another psalm that God tests all of us:
The Lord is in His holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men. The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked (Ps. 11:4-5a, emphasis added).
How does all this apply to your life? You may not be called to be a king, but you are called to do some task that is uniquely yours to fulfill. Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians:
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
God has prepared beforehand certain good works for all of us to fulfill. Wouldn’t it be tragic to stand before the judgment seat of Christ (which we all will) and hear the Lord say, “You never fulfilled My plan for your life. Certain specific good works that I called you to walk in were left undone. Had you obeyed, it could have resulted in blessings for yourself and others.”
Ideally when we stand before Jesus, if we have obeyed His calling upon our lives, we will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21).
God is going to reward us according to our faithfulness. What does it mean to be faithful? To be faithful means to keep going even when you feel like quitting. No on ever said, “I’ve been faithful to enjoy ice cream for my dessert every night for a week!” No, being faithful implies a temptation to be unfaithful. It means hanging in there when you feel like abandoning ship.
David later experienced a D.I.T. (Disciplinary Intended Trial) when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for the murder of her husband. It cost him dearly as God disciplined him. Hopefully many other people have avoided D.I.T.s from reading about the consequences of David’s sin. That is the reason so many D.I.T.s are recorded in the Bible. They are “written for our instruction” (1 Cor. 10:11).
How can we avoid D.I.T.s? By simply being obedient. How can we always avoid S.I.T.s? By always using godly wisdom. But there is no way to avoid facing M.I.T.s. As long as God loves us and we are on the earth, “Maturing/Testing Intended Trials” will be part of our experience.
When you face a M.I.T., what should you do? You should do whatever the Word of God says you should do. If it’s sickness or disease, you should trust God for healing. If it’s lack, you should trust God to supply your needs. If it’s depressing circumstances, you should rejoice in the Lord. If it’s hatred against you, you should do good to your enemies.
Everyone knows that negative circumstances come to everyone, and from a divine standpoint, these trials offer us an opportunity to grow. By successfully passing the tests of life and growing during the times of difficulty, we (just like Joseph and David) put ourselves in a position to be greatly blessed—and to be a greater blessings to others.
The Pruning of the Father
Before I close this chapter, let’s take a look at a very applicable passage of Scripture, recorded right from the lips of Jesus:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that does bear fruit; He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2).
If we are going to mature spiritually, we are going to be pruned by the Father, because as we just read, He prunes every branch that bears fruit.
What does it mean to be “pruned by the Father”? Obviously there is some symbolic meaning that Jesus is trying to get across to us. We want to be careful that we don’t take the symbolism to an extreme by saying that our pruning always happens once every spring, and so on. At the same time, we don’t want to ignore the Lord’s obvious reason for choosing the analogy of the vine and vinedresser.
At bare minimum, Jesus wants us to understand that to prune a vine, branches must be cut off if the vine is to reach its greatest potential to bear fruit. The untrained observer who watches the vinedresser and who has no understanding of the pruning process might think the vinedresser is making a big mistake. To the untrained it seems as if by cutting off branches, the vine will bear much less fruit. The vinedresser, however, knows better. An unpruned vine will produce fruit, but a pruned vine will produce more fruit and fruit of higher quality.
If we’re going to produce more fruit and higher quality fruit than we are at present, we must be pruned. When we are, at first it may look as if we are going to bear less fruit than in the past. If, however, we will patiently trust God, we will eventually understand what God has been doing. The process will result in greater fruit in our lives and ministries.
There are probably a thousand different ways whereby God accomplishes His pruning process in the lives of His children. If you’ve read all of the previous chapters, you have at least some idea as to how God might prune us. I’m not going to discuss the methods—I just want to make you aware of something that too many Christians are missing: God prunes all of us who are bearing any fruit. The Bible promises, “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles… (Gal. 1:15-16a).
Paul, first known as Saul of Tarsus, was another person of divine destiny, just like you. His specific calling was to be an apostle to the Gentiles. You may not be called to plant churches, but you are called to do something. You were “set apart from your mother’s womb” for a divine purpose. The circumstances of your life have not occurred by pure chance.
Unfortunately, many Christians have a sub-biblical view of their existence. If you ask them, “Why are you here?” they respond with something like, “When two people are married, they usually have babies. I was one of those babies born into the world.” They see themselves as a number—another product off the assembly line.
Stop and think about how supernatural the creation of a human being is. I’m not just talking about the formation of a little body within its mother’s womb. Where does the little spirit come from that lives within that little body? It must come from God Himself, “the Father of spirits” (Heb. 12:9). When God places that tiny spirit inside that tiny body, there is a divine destiny that goes with it. You, just like Paul, were born for a reason. You are special.
I once told my oldest daughter, Charity, attempting to let her know how special she is to me, “Charity, when your mother was pregnant with you, we were both hoping it would be you. And the day you were born, we were so happy, because it was you!” That’s not easy for the average adult mind to grasp, but my daughter seemed to understand what I meant! Can you grasp the fact that God had something special in mind when He created you?
The Unsaved Apostle Paul
I’m sure you know Paul’s story. We know that he was set apart from his mother’s womb to be an apostle to the Gentiles. In the Bible, we are first introduced to him as a young man in the seventh chapter of Acts. Do we find him there fulfilling his calling, preaching to the Gentiles? No, we find him holding the coats of the folks who were stoning Stephen—the church’s first martyr. That seems like a strange place to find an apostle! Why would a man who is called from his mother’s womb to be an apostle be holding the coats of the men who were stoning a saint? Because (you guessed it) Paul wasn’t exactly fulfilling his divine destiny at that point in time. God, however, knew how to get the attention of this zealous, yet misdirected young Pharisee. After being struck down by a blinding light on the road to Damascus, Paul wisely decided to cooperate with God from then on (see Acts 9:1-7).
Shortly thereafter, God began to reveal to Paul the destiny that he was to fulfill. When Ananias, who was commissioned by God to go and lay his hands on Paul, protested that Paul was not the kind of person whom Christians wanted to be near, God said to him:
“Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts. 9:15-16).
There you have Paul’s divine destiny in a nutshell. He was destined to bear Jesus’ name before (primarily) the Gentiles, (secondarily) kings, and (thirdly) the Jews. As a result, he would suffer a great deal for the cause of Christ. If you know his story, you know that every bit of what God said came to pass.
How long did it take Paul to fulfill his divine destiny? The rest of his life. He began his spiritual journey as a believer who shared with others what God had done for him (see Acts 9:19-22), which is the starting place for all of us.
Even as a young Christian, Paul did a very convincing job of proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. In fact, he was so effective that some Jews in Damascus planned to ambush him outside the city. Upon discovery of their plot, some of Paul’s own new converts let him over the city wall of Damascus by night, and he escaped from his enemies. This initial episode prepared Paul for the larger trials he would later face.
According to Paul’s own narrative, after escaping from Damascus he left for Arabia, and later returned to Damascus. Three years after his conversion, he traveled to Jerusalem and stayed with Peter for about two weeks. Following another threat on his life, he traveled to Syria and Cilicia (see Gal. 1:15-21; Acts 9:28-30; 22:17-18). Fourteen years later, he went to Jerusalem again (see Gal. 2:1; this visit to Jerusalem is either the one recorded in Acts 11:29-30 or 15:2).
Paul continued preaching all this time, and according to Acts 13:1, sometime during those initial years he was called to the ministry of a prophet and a teacher. Finally, during a prayer meeting in Antioch, he was directed by the Lord to begin his apostolic ministry (see Acts 13:1-2; 14:14).
How long was it from the time of Paul’s conversion until he entered into his apostolic ministry? Scholars are divided on the answer because the scriptural chronology is somewhat unclear, but as I see it, the absolute minimum time would be eleven years. It could have been possibly fourteen or more. Paul was promoted as he was found faithful, which is true of anyone else who works for God.
Paul later wrote to Timothy:
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service...(1 Tim. 1:12, emphasis added).
In order for a person to be found faithful, he must of necessity be tested. Accordingly, Paul also wrote to the Thessalonians:
For our exhortation does not come from deceit or uncleaness, nor was it in guile. But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts (1 Thes. 2:3-4, NKJV, emphasis added).
Notice Paul said that God had tested his heart, he had been approved, and, therefore, had been entrusted with the gospel. You can be certain that Paul was tested in the same manner that Israel, Joseph, David, and Jesus’ twelve disciples were tested. Paul was tested in trials and temptations.
God’s Refining Pot
Solomon wrote in Proverbs 17:3: “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests hearts.”
What is the similarity between refining silver and gold and the Lord testing hearts? When silver and gold are refined, they are heated up until the impurities rise to the surface. Then those impurities are scraped off leaving behind a purer metal.
It is in the fire that the pureness of gold and silver are determined, and the same is true for us. If you want to know how much faith a person has, put him in a place of difficulty. If you want to know how much love a person has, put him in a place where people hate him. If you want to know how much patience a person has, put him in a place where he will be tempted to be impatient. If you want to know how devoted a person’s heart is to God, watch him when he is tempted to sin.
When we are assaulted by difficulties, that is when any doubts within us will rise to the surface. It is when people mistreat us that any self-centeredness within us will rise to the surface. When temptation beckons us, our true heart-attitude toward God will rise to the surface.
If we understood this truth, we would realize that we are being tested all the time. When the impurities in you rise to the surface during those times “in the furnace,” do you recognize them and scrape them off, or do those impurities just settle back into you when things cool down, leaving behind the same impure vessel?
I once heard a well-known pastor relate some of his experiences in the first church he pastored. After every service, a certain carping old lady would criticize his sermon as she walked out the door and shook his hand. “You were dangling your participles today, pastor,” she would say and so on. Beyond that, she was generally a troublemaker in the church, spreading strife and gossip among the members.
That pastor said he constantly had two prayer requests that he made to the Lord each day: (1) “Lord, please make me more like Jesus” and (2) “Please remove that obnoxious lady from my church!”
One day the Lord spoke to him after he reiterated those requests and said, I’m answering your first prayer by not answering your second prayer. I’m using that lady to help you become more like Jesus. Furthermore the Lord said, I’ve trained several young pastors through that lady.
Back to the Apostle Paul
It took Paul at least fourteen years from the time his divine destiny was revealed to him until the time he was commissioned as an apostle—that which God had destined for him even before he was born. Isn’t it interesting that Joseph and David also experienced approximately the same time span between revelation of their calling and the beginning of the fulfillment? Paul had to be found faithful, just as he said in his first letter to the Corinthians:
Let a man regard us in this manner, as stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy (1 Cor. 4:1-2).
If I had a million dollars, and you were my steward, I wouldn’t entrust all of my money to you. I might first entrust you with one hundred dollars to see how you handled it. If you invested it wisely and made me some profit, I’d be inclined to entrust you with more—say five hundred dollars. If you brought me a good return on that, I’d entrust you with more. Still, it would be a few years before I’d entrust you with all my money! Do you think God operates the same way? Of course He does, and He’ll test us to see if we can be trusted.
As Paul was found faithful, God entrusted him with more and more. We read that many years after he entered into his apostolic calling, God anointed Paul to an even greater degree:
And God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out (Acts. 19:11-12, emphasis added).
How many people do you know whom God is supernaturally using to that degree? I’m not claiming that God wills that all of His children be used to the same degree as the apostle Paul. I am certain, however, that there are some of God’s children who are called to be supernatural church planters, and it is their divine destiny to be used like Paul—if they will remain faithful and pass the tests that come their way.
The Final Years of Paul’s Ministry
Up until the 24th chapter of Acts, Paul had not yet been given the opportunity to testify before “kings” as God had revealed to Ananias a few days after Paul’s conversion. Beginning in Acts 19, however, Paul began to take some Spirit-led steps that eventually opened up an audience for him before a number of kings, and even Nero himself, who, as Roman Emperor, would have been considered as high as anyone could go.
After Paul had met with much success preaching in the city of Ephesus, the record of the book of Acts tells us:
Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome” (Acts 19:21).
Notice that Paul “purposed in the spirit,” meaning that he knew in his spirit that God was leading him to travel through Macedonia and Achaia, and then to Jerusalem and ultimately on to Rome. Obediently, that is the course he followed.
On his way to Jerusalem, after spending several months in Macedonia and Achaia, Paul stopped near Ephesus and gave his farewell sermon to the pastors there:
“And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God (Acts. 20:22-24, emphasis added).
Notice Paul said he was “bound in spirit.” That means the Holy Spirit through his own spirit was impelling him to go to Jerusalem. He had an inward conviction, which is how God leads all of His children. He also said that he really didn’t know what would happen to him when he arrived there, but that in every city in which he stopped as he traveled toward Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit was foretelling him that bonds and afflictions awaited him there.
We have a perfect example of what Paul was talking about in Acts 21. When Paul’s ship landed at Tyre, he stayed with the disciples for seven days. The Bible says that those disciples “kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4).
Was the Holy Spirit trying to warn Paul not to go to Jerusalem? No, He was leading Paul to go to Jerusalem, but the disciples in Tyre sensed by the Holy Spirit that when Paul arrived in Jerusalem there would be trouble. From a natural standpoint, however, they didn’t want their beloved Paul to suffer. William’s translation says it this way: “Because of impressions made by the Spirit they kept warning Paul...”
This is a perfect example of what Paul meant when he said that in every city the Holy Spirit testified that bonds and afflictions awaited him in Jerusalem. It is also a perfect example of what is quite prevalent in some churches today—false prophecy. Christians who are sensitive to the Holy Spirit sometimes receive certain revelations, but they then put their own interpretations on these revelations, like these people of Tyre did.
Paul also stopped in at Philip the evangelist’s house in the port of Caesarea. While he was there, a well-respected prophet named Agabus came down from Judea:
And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles’” (Acts 21:11).
Once again the Holy Spirit was testifying that bonds and afflictions awaited Paul in Jerusalem. Notice that Agabus did not say, “Therefore, Paul, the Lord says that you are not to go to Jerusalem.” No, the Holy Spirit was only confirming to Paul one more time what he had perceived in his spirit months before.
Of course, when everyone in Philip’s house heard what Agabus predicted, they begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Paul responded:
“What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!” (Acts 21:13-14).
Paul, of course, knew he wouldn’t die in Jerusalem because God had already told him he would go to Rome after he’d been to Jerusalem (as we have already read).
God was leading Paul to a place that would result in hardship, but He had a divine purpose. Paul’s divine destiny was to testify before kings. How could a person in Paul’s day get an audience with Felix, Festus, Agrippa, and Nero? Would he knock on the palace door and say to the guard, “I’m here to share the gospel with the king. Does he have an hour that he can spare?” Hardly. The only way one could have opportunity to share the gospel with the king was if God gave one the opportunity. That is exactly what God was going to do for Paul.
Unfortunately, some who are non-sovereignists have a hard time accepting this. They think God would never lead us into a situation that would result in hardship for ourselves. Unless God takes us first class—they think it isn’t God who is leading! We fail to realize that our own personal comfort is much less important than the need of the lost to hear the gospel. Furthermore, God can use adversity to perfect us. God obviously knew full well the suffering that Paul would endure; He knew it before Paul was born—but He still led him to go to Jerusalem.
As he had been warned, affliction awaited Paul in Jerusalem. A Jewish riot started several days after he arrived, and the rioters would have killed him except for the timely arrival of a Roman commander on the scene. No doubt Paul had perfect peace through it all, having been so well-warned in advance.
A few days later, while in prison, Jesus Himself visited Paul in his prison cell, and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also” (Acts. 23:11).
Notice that Jesus did not say, “Paul, what are you doing here in Jerusalem? I tried to warn you not to come here! Now look at the trouble you’ve gotten yourself into!” No, Paul was in God’s perfect will, and he had heard from God months ago when he felt impressed that he would go to Rome. Is it possible to be in the center of God’s will in a jail cell? Paul was.
Now let’s think about this story for a moment. Jesus got into Paul’s jail cell, and He also got out of Paul’s jail cell. No demon or devil could stop Him. Do you think Jesus could have released Paul from that jail cell? Jesus had freed Paul from prison once before in Philippi, so of cours, He could have done it in Jerusalem. Jesus released all the disciples from jail once, and on another occasion had delivered Peter out of prison (see Acts 5:17-21 and 12:1-19). Jesus, however, didn’t free Paul from his jail cell this time. Why not? Because that is where He wanted Paul. Behind the scenes, Jesus was arranging for Paul to testify before a few kings.
This helps us to understand why God spoke to Paul through such spectacular means, through a prophet and through a vision of Jesus. When God speaks to us through spectacular means, it is because things are going to get rough. He knows we’ll need the extra assurance of spectacular guidance to bring us through the hardships we’ll face. If you need spectacular guidance, you’ll get it. Otherwise, just rely upon the inward witness of the Holy Spirit.
Paul remained in jail in Jerusalem for a short time, and then was moved to Caesarea, where he was imprisoned for two years. During that time, however, Paul was given opportunity to witness of Christ before governor Felix and his successor, governor Festus. Finally, he proclaimed the gospel before King Agrippa and his wife Bernice, which resulted in his being sent to Rome at the expense of the Roman Empire to testify before Caesar.
Do you think Paul sat around and sulked in his jail cells in Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome? No, I’m sure he had a wonderful time, fellowshipping with the Lord and sharing his faith with the other prisoners. Paul later wrote from a jail cell in Rome:
Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear (Phil. 1:12-14).
Now there’s a guy who believed that “all things work together for good”! (He should have, since he’s the one who originally coined the phrase!) I can almost imagine the Lord saying to Paul, “You’ve been working so hard for so long, so let Me give you some rest. I’m sorry that you’ll have to be imprisoned, but there are some people in jail that I love very much, and I want you to share the gospel with them. At the same time, there are several kings you’ll get a chance to tell about Me. In your spare time, you can work on writing the New Testament!”
What about the suffering Paul had to endure? Paul had a wonderful (and absolutely proper) attitude about that:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us....For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17, emphasis added).
Glory be! When we suffer for the sake of the gospel, it just means we will have all that much more reward in heaven! Jesus said:
“Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and heap insults upon you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven...” (Luke 6:22-23, emphasis added).
Many times we feel so sorry for the persecuted Christians in other countries. I’m telling you the truth—one day they’ll be feeling sorry for us who were rarely persecuted as they compare their heavenly rewards with ours.
On to Rome
I’m assuming you know Paul’s story. If you don’t, I encourage you to read the last seven chapters of the book of Acts. Paul was put on a ship for Rome and perceived in his spirit that the ship was in danger unless it harbored immediately before the winter arrived. The captain wouldn’t listen to him, and the result was that the ship was caught in a violent storm. The crew jettisoned all the cargo and waited to see what fate would bring them (they were all non-sovereignists).
Thankfully, at least one man on board (Paul) knew that he was on the path of his divine destiny, and he stood before the rest to reassure them:
“Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete, and incurred this damage and loss. And yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there shall be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those you are sailing with you.’ Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God, that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on a certain island” (Acts 27:21-26).
Paul boarded that ship as a prisoner and ended up being the captain!
If God could save the lives of everyone on that ship, do you suppose He could have stopped that storm? Of course He could have.
I know some will say He couldn’t because Jesus gave His authority to the church. All right, let’s say you are correct (which you aren’t), and God couldn’t have stopped the storm because He gave His authority to the church. But let me ask you: Why then didn’t Paul use his authority and rebuke the wind and the waves? Or why didn’t the angel tell him to rebuke the storm, rather than tell him that they were going to lose their ship and run aground on a certain island?
Is it possible that God didn’t stop the storm or instruct Paul to rebuke it because there were some people on an island whom He loved very much and wanted to hear the gospel? That is exactly what happened. Just as the angel had told Paul, their ship ran aground on a reef, was destroyed by the force of the waves, and all two hundred and seventy-six people on board either swam or floated on the ship’s planks onto the shores of the island of Malta.
If you look at a map of the Mediterranean Sea, you will see that from a natural standpoint, there is about a one in fifty chance of a ship that is being blown westward to land on Malta. (That is one more proof that God is sovereign over the wind.)
Once ashore, Paul was bitten by a deadly snake while gathering firewood, but he miraculously suffered no ill-effects. (He didn’t have to worry about dying because God had promised him that he would see Rome.) The result was that the natives of Malta thought Paul was a god. The apostle then had an opportunity to pray for the ailing father of the chief of the island, named Publius, who was consequently healed by the Lord.
The end result was that all the sick people on Malta came to Paul requesting that he pray for them, and they too were healed. Although the Bible doesn’t give us all the details, there is no doubt in my mind that quite a few native Maltese, as well as many of Paul’s sailing partners, came to know Jesus as their Lord. Once again, Paul could say that his “circumstances had turned out for the greater progress of the gospel” (Phil. 1:12), even though his circumstances (the shipwreck and the snakebite) could certainly have been viewed as devastating tragedies. Yet God had caused “all things to work together for good.”
I’m convinced that God will cause all things (even bad things) to work together for good in our lives, too, if we will cooperate with Him and trust Him. However, we must look beyond the circumstances, the adversity, the devil, and selfish people—to God who is in sovereign control.
Paul was a person who fulfilled his divine destiny. A few years before his martyrdom, as we have already read, he said during his farewell sermon to the Ephesian elders:
“But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus” (Acts. 20:24, emphasis added).
It seems that even then Paul realized his divine destiny included martyrdom. He wrote several years later to the Philippians:
That I shall not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death (Phil. 1:20, emphasis added).
Finally, from a Roman jail cell, perhaps just days away from his death, Paul penned these words:
The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing (2 Tim. 4:6b-8, emphasis added).
Will you be able to say at the time of your departure from this earth that you have finished the course God planned for your life? Will you have realized your divine destiny? How will you answer the great Judge when He asks you on that day, “Did you follow My plans for your life or your own?”
Many Christians prefer to ignore or avoid the book of Job because it challenges or perhaps contradicts their theology. We must be humble enough to admit, however, that when our theology contradicts the Bible, it isn’t the Bible that needs to be changed—it’s our theology. I can hardly believe that God wants us to ignore any book of the Bible, much less one that contains forty-two chapters.
Job experienced one of the most severe trials that any person has ever faced. His was a M.I.T.—a Maturing/Testing Intended Trial. Job’s friends, however, considered his trials to be D.I.T.s—Disciplinary Intended Trials. In their minds, all suffering is God’s judgment upon sin, so they assumed Job must have sinned to a great degree to deserve such severe punishment. Job himself was baffled as to why he was being afflicted. We, however, have a supreme advantage over Job and his friends because we have the book of Job to read. There we find the reason why such bad things happened to this good man:
Now there was a day when the sons of God [angels?] came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. And the Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered [literally, ‘set your heart to’] My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Hast Thou not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Thy hand now and touch all that he has; he will curse Thee to Thy face.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the Lord (Job 1:6-12).
We know precisely why Job was afflicted: Satan accused Job of serving God only because of the blessings he received. Supposedly, according to Satan, if God didn’t bless Job so much, Job would stop serving Him, and he’d curse God to His face. As a result, Job was tested, and God permitted Satan to take away practically every blessing Job had ever received. Satan (through various means) killed Job’s livestock, his children, and most of his servants. He lost everything except his wife and his health.
When Job learned of the tragedies, did he curse God? No, he amazingly fell to the ground and worshiped the Lord, saying, “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Obviously Job had no idea that Satan was the one who actually did the taking away, but at least he recognized the sovereign hand of God. His trials could never have happened without God’s permission as we have been reading from the Scriptures.
Job’s Second Trial
Some amount of time passed, and again Satan appeared before God:
And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered [literally ‘set your heart to’] My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil. And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him without cause.” And Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. However, put forth Thy hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse Thee to Thy face.” So the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head (Job 2:3-7, emphasis added).
Still Job didn’t react as Satan predicted. Even when his wife encouraged him to curse God, Job said, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not adversity?” (Job 2:10). From what I can tell, Job passed the test. He never cursed God.
I can’t answer every question that the book of Job raises, but I can say that it comes as no surprise to me that Job was tested. We have already looked at numerous examples of people whom the Bible says God tested.
God tested Adam and Eve in the garden. God tested Abraham when He commanded him to sacrifice Isaac. God tested all of the people of Israel at the bitter waters of Marah, as well as at other times. We’ve read that God tested Joseph and David. In addition, there are plenty of other people whom the Bible says God tested and many other scriptures that refer to God’s testings that we haven’t had the space to examine. (If you are interested in every biblical example, see the appendix.) In fact the Bible says that God tests everyone. So why should we be shocked to find that God tested Job as well?
It does appear that Job’s testing was more severe than any other biblical character, but possibly God had a higher purpose in mind. Some have suggested that if Satan could prove that the best man on earth was actually only outwardly righteous, but inwardly wicked, then he could prove that no person was worth redeeming. I don’t know if that is true or not because the Bible doesn’t say. Regardless, the point is, Job was tested.
Notice that when Satan accused Job of only serving God because of what God did for him, God did not reply, “So what if that is why Job serves Me? I don’t care!” No, obviously God does not want us to serve Him solely because of the blessings we receive. We should obey God because He is God, regardless of any promised rewards. Perhaps we should ask ourselves how we would react if we were tested to the degree that Job was. How many people have become angry at God for lesser difficulties?
Was Job to Blame for His Trials?
Some well-meaning people who want to exonerate God in this story, try to place the blame on Job for his problems. If we can find some flaw in Job, then we can let God “off the hook.” We need to be careful, however, in looking for flaws in a man about whom God Himself said, “There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil” (Job 1:8).
Some have suggested that Job opened the door to Satan through his fear, based upon Job’s statement in 3:25: “For what I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me.” They say that if Job hadn’t been afraid, he never would have lost his children, servants, health, and livestock.
I must ask, If Job opened the door through fear, what is the point of the first two chapters of the book of Job? Why did Satan have to appear before God before he afflicted Job?
If Job was full of fear and not faith, why would God brag about him as the one person on the earth who stood out among all the rest? Especially when we know that “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6)? Job was a man of much greater faith than the average person, as demonstrated by the fact that he worshiped God after being afflicted. How many of us would have lost all faith in God if we had been in Job’s place?
If Job’s fear was the reason for his affliction, did he become more fearful after the first test and, therefore, open the door wider to lose his health?
If Job opened the door through fear, why did God or Satan never mention that fact?
If Job opened the door through fear, why didn’t the loving God tell him so he could resist Satan and not be afflicted? Or why didn’t God mention to Job that he opened the door through fear during the final chapters when He spoke directly to Job? Foremost, why did God say to Satan, “You incited Me against him, to ruin him without cause.” (Job 2:3, emphasis added)?
Again, if Job opened the door through fear, then what is the point of the first two chapters of this book? The idea that Job opened the door to Satan through fear is certainly not valid, and such an interpretation, although well-meaning, is strained at best.
I might also mention that Job said in 30:26: “When I expected good, then evil came; when I waited for light, then darkness came.” By taking another scripture out of context, we could just as easily (and wrongly) prove that Job opened the door to Satan by expecting good things!
A Happy Ending
Job persevered during his months (see Job 7:3; 29:2) of being tested. He spent some of that time debating with a few of his friends who had nicely packaged God into their own theological box. Although they relentlessly tried to convince Job that his suffering was punishment from God because of his sin (a D.I.T.), Job steadfastly maintained his innocence.
Understandably, Job also spent some of his time in prayer, and there were a few times when he questioned God as to what he had done to deserve the treatment he had received. He concluded that God hated him and was treating him unfairly, punishing a righteous man. For that, in the end, Job was rebuked by the Lord Himself:
Then the Lord said to Job, “Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it....Now gird up your loins like a man; I will ask you, and you instruct Me. Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified?” (Job 40:2, 7-8).
Job never cursed God, and to that degree he passed his test. Job could have done better, but who can criticize him except God?
True to God’s character, Job was blessed at the end of his test:
And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning, and he had 14,000 sheep, and 6,000 camels, and 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. And he had seven sons and three daughters....And after this Job lived 140 years, and he saw his sons, and his grandsons, four generations (Job 42:12-13, 16).
God’s blessings made Job even wealthier than he had been before his testing, enabling him to do even more good than he did previously. Job had first proved himself trustworthy, and it was now obvious that Job did not serve God only because of the prosperity that came with obedience.
Are God and Satan Arguing About Us?
When we find ourselves in the middle of a “M. I. T.,” is it because God and Satan have had an argument about us? I don’t think so, but then I don’t really know. Other scriptures do indicate that Satan may still have access to God’s throne (see Zech 3:1-2; Luke 22:31-32).
Satan is referred to as “the accuser of the brethren” in the Revelation 12:10. In fact, the scripture there says, “The accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them before our God day and night.” Still, that doesn’t prove that every M.I.T. is a result of an argument between God and Satan. To me, this is one of “the secret things that belongs to the Lord our God” (Deut. 29:29). We just don’t know everything we would like to know. Job’s story, however, does illustrate the same truth that we have seen in other scriptures: God may allow Satan to bring a trial in order to mature or test us.
What Can Suffering Do For You?
Job became a better man because of his trial, both materially and spiritually. According to the Bible, suffering can have many positive results. We have already learned that by passing tests, we can prove ourselves trustworthy to handle more blessings and responsibilities. That’s one positive result of persevering under trial. Beyond that, Paul wrote:
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character (Rom. 5:3, emphasis added).
Notice again that through persevering in tribulation, we prove our true character.
The apostle James wrote:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (Jas. 1:2-4, emphasis added).
When we endure during the times our faith is tested, the result is that we are perfected and completed, finally lacking in nothing. That is why we should count it all joy when we face difficulties. They are a part of God’s divine plan to make us more like Jesus. God is dedicated to our spiritual growth, and whether we care to admit it or not, Christ-like character is forged in the fires of afflictions, tests, and trials.
PART FOUR... Wrapping it Up
When Christians are Persecuted
How I would love to examine the lives of other Bible characters as they journeyed to fulfill their own divine destinies. We could walk with people like Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Esther, Gideon, Jeremiah, and Daniel. All were born for a reason; all experienced difficulties and were tested; all watched the working of the sovereign hand of God; all matured. All of them, to some degree or another, could be compared to you and me. I encourage you to take the time to read about their lives in light of what we’ve learned so far. You’ll be blessed.
In this final section, I want to finish opening the package I’ve been presenting to you. We’ve uncovered a lot of scriptural truth, but I’m not quite finished yet. In this chapter, we will study the subject of the persecution of Christians and look to the Word of God for answers to some very perplexing questions.
As Christians who live in the Western world, we know very little about real persecution. To many Christians in other countries, however, persecution is a day-to-day reality. According to the figures in the World Christian Encyclopedia, edited by David Barrett, in 1980 about fifty percent of the world’s people lived “under restrictions on their religious freedom.” Furthermore, sixteen percent of all Christians (224 million) lived “under severe state interference and harassment in religion,” and there were 319,000 Christians in the world who had “to endure living for Christ in states committed to the total suppression or eradication of Christianity and all religion” (in places such as Albania).
I was privileged to speak with David Barrett as I wrote this book, and he assured me that all of these figures have improved dramatically since the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Yet he also stressed that in many places around the world, Christians continue to be objects of persecution. At this writing, China is still communist, and it is estimated that there may be as many as seventy-two million believers living there.
According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, in 1970 there were about 230,000 Christian martyrs. These are not martyrs in the traditional sense of the word, that is, great Christian leaders who were burned at the stake for preaching the gospel. For the most part, they are ordinary Christians who have been murdered for following Christ or for committing themselves to a righteous cause because of their commitment to Christ.
Barrett estimates that in 1980, 270,000 believers died for their faith. In 1989, the estimated number rose to 325,000. Dr. Barrett told me that in 1992, the number has decreased to an annual rate of about 150,000. For those of us who live with little persecution, this is difficult to fathom, and we can’t help but ask, “Why does God allow wicked people to persecute and even kill Christians?”
Some would answer by saying that Satan is the god of this world and is running everything; therefore, God can’t do anything about the persecution of His people although He would like to stop it. I think we have sufficiently proved that idea is very unscriptural in light of the number of times God has supernaturally delivered some of His people from persecution.
There has to be a better explanation as to why God sometimes permits His people to be persecuted, why He sometimes delivers them from persecution, and sometimes why He does not. I’m not claiming to have all the answers. No one does.
One possible explanation is that trials of persecution fall under the categories of either M.I.T.s (Maturing/Testing Trials) or in some cases D.I.T.s (Disciplinary Intended Trials). Let’s first look at trials of persecution that fall under the category of D.I.T.s.
Persecution as Discipline
God may allow persecution to come upon His people if they have been disobedient in order to bring them to repentance. Anyone who has ever read the Old Testament knows that much. Time and time again, God permitted foreign nations to dominate Israel to bring them to repentance. We also have evidence of God’s permitting persecution under the New Covenant to discipline His people.
If you’ve ever studied the book of Hebrews, you know it was written to persecuted Jewish Christians who were being tempted in their sufferings to revert to Judaism. Did you ever notice, however, that the author indicated that their persecutions had been permitted because of God’s discipline? Let’s look at Hebrews 12:3-11:
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which we all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:3-11, emphasis added).
I think it should go without mentioning that God only disciplines those who are disobedient. What kind of a father disciplines his children when they obey him? Persecution is one way that God might discipline His disobedient children. (You may also want to examine 2 Thes. 1:4-5, which might possibly be referring to an incidence of persecution being permitted by God as discipline.)
God’s Discipline Of Believers
Are there any of us who can claim to have been perfectly obedient to God from the day of our new birth? I don’t think so. The author of Hebrews said that all of us have experienced God’s discipline, yet to many believers, God’s discipline is an unfamiliar idea. When God disciplines them, they start rebuking Satan. What they need to do is first rebuke themselves and repent! The apostle James wrote that before anyone resists the devil, he needs to make sure that he is first submitted to God: “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7, emphasis added).
God may discipline us by permitting persecution, but that is not the only means He may use. We have already learned in an earlier chapter that God may permit Satan to bring various trials in order to bring about people’s repentance. One of the trials that God may allow Satan to bring is to afflict a believer with sickness. Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians and told them just that:
For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world (1 Cor. 11:30-32).
You probably know that the Corinthian church was full of strife. They were constantly breaking the commandment that Jesus gave to the church—“Love one another even as I have loved you.” Consequently, they were disciplined by the Lord (no mention of “opening the door to the devil” here) by the means of sickness. Some had even died.
Paul said that we can avoid God’s judgment if we judge ourselves (1 Cor. 11:31). That means if we will confess our sins and repent, we will avoid God’s discipline.
Does this mean that every Christian who is sick has disobeyed God and is being disciplined by Him? Is sickness always a D.I.T.? No, certainly not. Sickness can also fall under the category of a S.I.T. or a M.I.T. If you mistreat your body and get sick as a result, for example, that is a S.I.T.
Undoubtedly, some of the sicknesses that Christians suffer are a result of God’s discipline. He removes His protective hand and allows Satan to afflict their bodies so that they might come to repentance.
If sickness attacks me, I immediately do a spiritual checkup to see if somehow I’ve opened the door to God’s discipline in my life. I encourage you to do the same. Don’t run to your pastor or Bible study leader or best friend—go to God yourself and find out directly from Him. He lives inside of you by the Holy Spirit.
When Christians take this idea to an extreme, however, they make matters worse. They get sick and say, “God must be trying to teach me something. This must be His will. So I’ll just suffer, and if it’s His will to heal me, He’ll heal me.” That is wrong thinking. Yes, it could be true that God is trying to teach you something (if you are suffering a D.I.T.)—like trying to teach you not to commit a particular sin that you are persistently committing. But it is not God’s will that you remain sick. So repent of whatever sin you have been guilty of, and then trust God for your healing.
Also See Is Physical Healing Included In The Atonement? Too many good Christians striving to “believe” their sickness away, and finally collapsing into self-condemnation and utter discouragement over their “lack of faith” or the “sin” in their lives.
And Does God Want Us To Be Rich? (Both in the Word Faith Section)
Persecution for Maturity or Testing
Persecution may also be permitted by God as a M.I.T. (Maturing/Testing Intended Trial).
Some have claimed that if Christians just have enough faith, they won’t be persecuted. With all due respect to those who make such claims, that is not true. Jesus never promised us exemption from persecution—He guaranteed that we would be persecuted (see John 15:20). Paul stated that “indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). He told the saints of Thessalonica that they were destined for persecution (see 1 Thes. 3:3).
Some have even gone so far as to say that if we have enough faith, we are guaranteed that we will never be martyred. That is ridiculous, too. The very first martyr of the church, Stephen, is described in the Bible as a man “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5, emphasis added).
Moreover, the list of the heros of faith in Hebrews 11 mentions a number of people who were tortured and martyred (see Heb. 11:35-37). All the original apostles (excluding Judas, of course) were martyred, with the possible exception of John. During the first three centuries of the church, as many as six million Christians were martyred. There have been millions more since then, and the Bible predicts future martyrs during the Tribulation.
Other Reasons Why God May Permit Persecution
God may permit persecution in order to further the spread of the gospel. Jesus Himself said:
“But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My names’ sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony” (Luke 21:12-13, emphasis added).
Paul wrote from a Roman prison to the Philippians:
Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in Christ has become known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear (Phil. 1:12-14).
Through his imprisonment, Paul was able to personally share the gospel with people whom he otherwise could never have reached—just as Jesus promised. Persecuted Christians should look to see if somehow their persecution is giving them opportunities to share the gospel that they would not have had otherwise.
Not only was the gospel being shared in prison by Paul, but his imprisonment stirred up those brethren on the outside, resulting in the gospel being spread even more.
If you have ever been around someone who is sold out completely to God, it has a way of shaming you for your lack of consecration. When my father was saved, he immediately began sharing the gospel and winning people to the Lord. Because I had been a Christian longer, I felt ashamed of myself for not being as effective a soul-winner as my father. I repented and started witnessing more. As a result, there are people serving the Lord today because my father’s example stirred me into action. The same was true in Paul’s case. When your fellow Christians begin to be persecuted, and you see their dedication to the Lord, it affects your spiritual walk.
Not only does persecution have a profound effect upon Christians who witness the persecutions of their brothers and sisters, but when Christians endure persecution (especially joyfully) it has a profound effect upon unbelievers. There is hardly a greater witness for the reality of Jesus than a Christian who will endure hardship for the sake of the gospel. When someone is willing to be tortured and even die for his faith, people take notice. When a Christian prays for his persecutors and blesses those who curse him, it is obvious to all that he has had a miracle happen in his life. The world looks on, incredulously.
God can also use persecution for good because His people can mature during their persecutions. In that sense, persecution can be a M.I.T. The God who is kind and merciful to ungrateful and evil people desires that we become like Him (see Matt. 5:39-48; Luke 6:35-36). Even unbelievers love those who love them, but when we love our enemies, it reveals that we are sons of God (see Matt. 5:44-46). Persecution gives us an opportunity to manifest God’s amazing love and to develop all the fruit of the Spirit.
How Spiritual Christians View Persecution
Truly spiritual Christians count it a privilege to suffer for Jesus’ sake.
After the twelve apostles were threatened by the Sanhedrin and painfully flogged for preaching the gospel, the Bible says that they went on their way “rejoicing that they might be considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). It should be an honor to suffer for the one who suffered so much for us.
Paul expressed the same idea when he wrote to the persecuted Philippian Christians:
For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake [cause], not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake [cause] (Phil. 1:29, emphasis added).
Notice Paul said that it had been granted them to suffer. It must have been God who granted them the opportunity. Not that God sent the suffering, but He obviously allowed it.
If someone grants you something, that usually means you’re glad to get it. Why would anyone be glad to suffer for the cause of Christ? There are two main reasons among others.
First, because as I said before, truly spiritual Christians count it an honor to show their love for their Savior by suffering if need be. Second, because those who suffer for the cause of Christ are eventually rewarded for it. Jesus Himself said:
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me....Be glad in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven (Matt. 5:10-11; Luke 6:23, emphasis added).
Jesus said we are blessed when we are persecuted because our reward in heaven is great. How great is our reward in proportion to our suffering? Is it really worth it? Read what Paul said:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us....For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison... (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17, emphasis added).
The difference between our sufferings and the future reward is not even comparable. I suspect that those of us who experience so little persecution are going to be wishing we had lived in North Korea or China once we get to heaven and compare our reward with those of our brethren who were so persecuted for their faith.
God’s Sovereignty and Persecution
God’s sovereign control over persecution is implied in the scripture we just examined in Philippians, which said it had been granted the Philippians to suffer for Christ’s sake. Other scriptures make this point even more clear. Peter wrote to persecuted Christians and said:
But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed....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....Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Pet. 3:14a, 17; 4:19, emphasis added).
You can’t argue with that. Suffering persecution is something that falls under the sovereign, controlling hand of God, just as we have already seen in the gospels and in the book of Acts. The idea of God wanting to stop persecution, yet being unable to because Satan is the god of this world, is foreign to the Bible.
Persecution as a Test
Peter also offered us some additional insight as to why God might allow His people to be persecuted:
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 upon you....if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God. For it is time for judgment 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?....Therefore, let those who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Pet. 4:12-14, 16-17, 19, emphasis added).
Peter plainly stated that their “fiery ordeal” came upon them for their testing. Why were they being tested? Because it was time for judgment to begin with God’s household. Judgment only comes after testing, and God may use persecution as a test.
Again, I am certainly not saying that God sends persecution or inspires anyone to persecute His people. I’m just saying what the Bible plainly states: God will use persecution to test His people. Most of us know that when the church is persecuted, it is purified because all the hypocrites bail out. God knows who is really His when persecution starts.
Read what Jesus Himself said to the believers in Smyrna in Revelation 2:10:
“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10, emphasis added).
In light of the many other scriptures about God’s tests we have studied in this book, scriptures like these should come as no surprise to us. Jesus said that some of the Christians in Smyrna would be tested in prison and implies that some will die a martyr’s death. (Notice He says nothing about how they should “believe God” and escape these imminent trials, or how they should rebuke Satan in order to avoid them.) God used these persecutions, even though they are from the devil, for His divine purposes.
Suffering Persecution for God’s Glory
Finally, sacrificially suffering for the sake of the gospel can bring glory to God. You may want to argue about that, but you’ll have to argue with the Bible, not me. The apostle John recorded the following words of Jesus addressed to Peter:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself, and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God (John 21:18-19a, emphasis added).
Tradition states that Peter was crucified upside down, and the Bible plainly declared that his death glorified God. Paul also said that Christ would be exalted in his body, “whether by life or by death” (Phil. 1:20: emphasis added). Suffering persecution can bring glory to God.
So let’s briefly review this chapter. God may permit His people to be persecuted (1) to cause them to mature, (2) to test them, (3) to discipline them, or (4) that the gospel might be furthered. Furthermore, when Christians willingly suffer for the cause of Christ, it glorifies God. Finally, those who do suffer for the cause of Christ will be abundantly rewarded in the next life. Those are all positive things, which they should be, because God is love, and He “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28)!
When the Beginning Ends
In every believer’s life, there are three days that stand out above all others: the day of his birth, the day of his new birth, and the day of his judgment. Of those three, the day of his judgment is by far the most significant. That day is what makes the other two days as significant as they are.
The foremost significance of your birth was that it set in motion a life that would one day be judged by God. The foremost significance of your new birth was that it marked the beginning of a new life, which, if continued, would result in your inheriting eternal life at your judgment.
Think about how significant every person’s day of judgment will be. Some people, who rejected Jesus Christ as their Lord, will from that day on, be banished to hell forever. Unlike any other day, from the day of birth to the day of death, the day of judgment ends all opportunity for a person to change where he will spend eternity. From that day on, there will never be another chance for the sinner to repent.
This life serves as a test for every person. All of us are given our lifetime to make an eternal decision: Will we make Jesus our Savior and Lord, or will we serve self and Satan? Our decision will determine where we will spend eternity. Only those who have believed in Jesus and served Him will have passed God’s test, and therefore, be permitted to live with Him in His kingdom forever. The rest will spend eternity separated from God—an eternity suffering for their rebellion (see 2 Thes. 1:9). No person will have any excuse before the God who knows all there is to know and who is perfectly just (see Rom. 1:20).
At every person’s judgment, his or her test is over. It marks the end of the beginning, and the beginning of the end. This is not only true for the unbeliever, but also for the believer.
The Christian’s Judgment
The believer, unlike the unbeliever, has passed God’s initial test—he has believed in Jesus and, if he continues in faith (see Col. 1:23), will escape hell. Just because a person passes God’s initial test, however, does not mean he will not be further tested. On the contrary, all of God’s children will be tested again and again—to see if they do continue in faith, and for the purposes of promoting them to higher responsibilities and entrusting them with greater blessings.
Obviously, God will entrust more to a consecrated believer than to one who is less committed. This fact will never be more apparent than when each believer stands before God’s judgment seat. There, every believer will be recompensed for his works and will receive his position in God’s kingdom. We are saved by grace, but we will be judged and rewarded according to our works. This is what the Bible teaches.
Let’s consider three sobering scriptures:
But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God (Rom. 14:10-12, emphasis added).
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10).
Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God (1 Cor. 4:5, emphasis added).
Many Christians unfortunately think that when they die, they will just go to heaven and move into their mansion. Then, once they are settled in and adjusted after a few days, they will stroll over to where God lives and stop in for a little chat. They don’t realize that they are going to have to stand before God’s judgment seat and give an account of themselves.
This won’t be a judgment to determine salvation or damnation—this will be a judgment to determine rewards. Each will receive praise or reprimand, reward or loss, exaltation or humiliation, all depending on what he has done on earth. Jesus Himself plainly taught that in heaven, some will be called least, and some will be called great (see Matt. 5:19).
Just as David and Joseph realized their ultimate divine destinies when they came into their kingdoms, so, too, all of us will realize our ultimate divine destinies when we come into God’s kingdom. Then we will be aware that this present life has been, more than anything else, a preparation for the next life. We will fully understand God’s original intention from the beginning—to have a family of free moral agents who have chosen to love and serve Him from their own hearts and who will live with Him, obey Him, and serve Him in His eternal kingdom forever.
There will never be another chance for a rebellion (after the final rebellion at the end of the Millennium), because Satan and all who have chosen to follow him will be forever incarcerated. At the same time, God will have the guarantee that none of His children will ever rebel either because they have proved their love and faith through many testings. Those who can be trusted with much will be entrusted with much, and those who can only be trusted with little will be entrusted with little. Time will no longer exist, and we will live with Him for eternity.
God’s Eternal Purpose
I hope you see that God has had an eternal purpose in doing what He has done (and in allowing what He has allowed) down through the ages. Paul affirmed this when he wrote, “This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:11, emphasis added).
God has made no mistakes. Nothing has caught Him by surprise. He has been working (at least) since the creation of the world to bring His plan to pass. What exactly is that plan? Paul wrote:
Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself (Eph. 1:4-5a, emphasis added).
Some have unfortunately twisted scriptures like these to conclude that God has predestined some to be saved and some to be damned. Yet we must be careful that we don’t ignore the hundreds of other scriptures that make it clear that we are free, moral agents who are given the right to receive or reject Jesus. Thus, when Paul says that we have been predestined, he can only be referring to all of us who have chosen to repent and believe in Jesus, otherwise he would be contradicting himself. God predestined that all who would believe in Jesus would be adopted as sons to Himself.
It is also clear from Scripture that God foreknew all of those who would one day choose to believe in Jesus. 1 Peter 1:1-2 says:
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who...are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father (1 Pet. 1:1-2, emphasis added).
God knew long before you were ever born that you would choose to believe in Jesus.
John wrote in the book of Revelation:
And those who dwell on the earth will wonder, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world... (Rev. 17:8).
If you believe in Jesus and will continue to believe in Jesus, your name has been written down in God’s book from the foundation of the world. And God foreordained that all believers would become like Jesus:
For whom He foreknew [that’s us], He predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son...and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified (Rom. 8:29-30).
What was God’s eternal purpose? To have an eternal family—free moral agents who would choose to love and serve Him—sons who would be holy and blameless. Of necessity, all free moral agents had to be tested in order to determine who qualified to live in God’s kingdom forever and who would be trusted with greater or lesser responsibilities in that future kingdom.
For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10, emphasis added).
God’s eternal purpose was to bring “many sons to glory.” Praise God that all who believe are God’s sons, destined to live with the Lord forever in a kingdom of glory where there is no unrighteousness, no hatred, no selfishness, no sorrow, no sin, no sickness and no wars. It’s beyond our finite understanding. This life is primarily a preparation for the next life, and we are all playing a part in a master plan that God pre-planned ages ago. (If you want to look at some exciting scriptures that reveal how long ago God formed His plan, see Rom. 16:25; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:4-5; 3:8-11; and 2 Tim. 1:9-10.)
What Will be the Rewards?
That is not the easiest question to answer. The Bible speaks of various crowns and special responsibilities that we might receive. Let’s look at a familiar parable of Jesus, one which He spoke a few days before His death:
He said therefore, “A certain nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return. And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Do business with this until I come back.’ But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’
“And it came about that when he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him in order that he might know what business they had done. And the first appeared, saying, ‘Master, your mina has made ten minas more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, be in authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Your mina, master, has made five minas.’ And he said to him also, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’
“And another came, saying, ‘Master, behold your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down, and reaping what I did not sow? Then why did you not put the money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’ And he said to the bystanders, ‘Take the mina away from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ And they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas already.’
“‘I tell you, that to everyone who has shall more be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here, and slay them in my presence’” (Luke 19:12-27).
For the most part, the meaning of this parable is quite clear. Jesus is obviously the nobleman who received a distant kingdom for Himself. Those of us who have chosen to serve Him are comparable to the slaves who were each given some money by which they were tested. I assume that the money represents the gifts, abilities, and opportunities that we are given with which to serve the Lord. The citizens who hated the nobleman represent all the unbelievers.
Notice that the two faithful slaves were praised and then rewarded with greater responsibilities. They were to rule over a certain number of cities. The Bible teaches that we will rule and reign with Christ during His Millennial reign, so this parable correlates perfectly with that truth (see 1 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:26-27; 5:10; 20:6). Our position of authority in God’s kingdom will be determined by our faithfulness during this life.
Commentators debate if the unfaithful servant in this parable represents a true believer or not. Regardless of the answer to that question, our points have been well-served: God will reward us if we are faithful; those rewards could include promotion to positions of authority in God’s future kingdom; and, obviously, if rewards are going to be passed out, then the faithfulness of believers is being tested now.
What Will Be Rewarded?
The deeds we do in Christian service for the right motives, at the instruction of the written Word of God or the Holy Spirit, will be rewarded. Jesus made it plain that good deeds done for the wrong motives will not be rewarded by our Heavenly Father:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
“And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
“And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matt. 6:1-6, 16-18, emphasis added).
We can’t judge others, but we certainly can’t help but wonder how much of what is done “for the Lord” is really done to be seen by men. How many pastors have had checks personally handed to them by members of their congregations because those checks were “too big” to put in the offering basket as it was passed on Sunday? We can check our motives by doing deeds that no one but the Lord will know about.
Paul’s Revelation Concerning Our Judgment
The apostle Paul had something to say about the kinds of deeds that will be rewarded when we stand before the Lord:
For we [Paul and Apollos] are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it [Apollos]. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Cor. 3:9-15, emphasis added).
Notice that Paul listed six categories of works: gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and straw. Three are combustible and three are non-combustible.
One day, every believer’s works will be tested by going through a fire. I always imagine a big furnace with a conveyor belt passing through it. I imagine every Christian loading his or her works on one side of the furnace and then walking around to the other side to wait and see what comes through the fire. Each Christian’s works may well look the same going into the fire—his prayers, his tithes and offerings, his witnessing, his deeds of kindness, his sacrifices, the persecutions he endured, and so forth, although every Christian will have different amounts of each.
The fire, however, will burn everything that is done for the wrong motive and everything that was not done at the direction of God’s Word or the Holy Spirit. Those deeds that were done for the right motives, at the instruction of the written Word of God or the Holy Spirit, will come through the fire as gold and silver and precious stones.
Now can you imagine some successful (but hypocritical) preacher bringing his works to the judgment seat? He loads his works on the conveyor belt, then parades to the other side of the furnace to proudly wait for his reward. Won’t he be surprised when all that comes through is a small pile of ashes? “Lord, what about all those great sermons? What about that church that I built? What about the books that I wrote, and the crusades I preached?” And the Lord replies, “You did it all to be seen by men, and much of what you taught was unscriptural.”
Can you imagine the little old lady who shyly approaches the judgment furnace, who loads her seemingly small works on the conveyor belt, and then meekly shuffles to the other side to wait and see what might possibly come through the powerful fire? Won’t she be shocked to see great piles of diamonds and rubies along with bars of gold and silver? “Lord, what did I do to deserve all that?” And the Lord replies, “You faithfully taught the six-year-old Sunday School class for thirty-six years. You were a secret prayer warrior. You did just what I called you to do. I’m going to place you in charge of ruling ten cities!”
At that judgment seat, there will be cases of: “The last shall be first, and the first last” (Matt. 20:16). At that moment, we will fully comprehend the truth that “from everyone who has been given much shall much be required” (Luke 12:48).
Even “small deeds” will be rewarded then, as Jesus said:
“And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you he shall not lose his reward” (Matt. 10:42).
Some Seats Are Already Reserved
Even now, some future seats of authority in the Millennium are already reserved. Jesus said to His twelve disciples:
“Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, shall receive many times as much, and shall inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:28-29).
So the twelve (perhaps Paul will be Judas’ replacement) will have jurisdiction over the twelve tribes of Israel during the Millennium. Anyone who has sacrificed anything for Jesus’ sake will be repaid in that age many times over by comparison to his sacrifice.
Thy Kingdom Come
Again, we must realize that our divine destiny will be ultimately realized in the kingdom if we are faithful and pass our tests now. How many will “finish their course”? How many will fall short?
God said to Daniel, recorded in the final verse of his book, these words of which we all should take notice: “But as for you, go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again to your allotted portion at the end of the age” (Dan. 12:13). Will you rise to your allotted portion?
It is my conviction that it was a part of your divine destiny to read this book. It was no accident that you came to this website.
hat you do now, in this life, will have eternal ramifications, not only for yourself, but for others as well. You, like every other person, are on a journey to stand before the great Judge (see Matt. 5:25-26). Therefore, there is nothing more important than for you to pass your tests by trusting and obeying.
Paul wrote an admonition to a man named Archippus which has some application to us all:
Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it (Col. 4:17, emphasis added).
Will you fulfill your divine destiny?
And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth (1 Pet. 1:17).
The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil (Ecc. 12:13-14).