“We must enter into the Kingdom of God through many tribulations.”—ACTS 14:22.
1. Why does tribulation come as no surprise to God’s servants?
DOES it shock you that you can expect to face “many tribulations” before you gain the prize of everlasting life? Likely not. Whether you are new in the truth or you are a longtime servant of Jehovah, you know that hardship is an aspect of life in Satan’s world.—Rev. 12:12.
2. (a) In addition to problems that affect all imperfect humans, what type of tribulation do Christians face? (See opening image.) (b) Who is behind our tribulations, and how do we know?
2 Besides difficulties that are “common to men”—problems that affect all imperfect humans—Christians face an additional type of tribulation. (1 Cor. 10:13) What is it? Intense opposition because of their steadfast obedience to God’s laws. Jesus told his followers: “A slave is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20) Who is behind such opposition? Ultimately, it is Satan, whom the Bible describes as “a roaring lion” who is “seeking to devour” God’s people. (1 Pet. 5:8) Satan will use any means he can to try to break the integrity of Jesus’ disciples. Consider what happened to the apostle Paul.
TRIBULATION IN LYSTRA
3-5. (a) What tribulation did Paul face in Lystra? (b) In what way was his message about future tribulations strengthening?
3 More than once, Paul was persecuted because of his faith. (2 Cor. 11:23-27) One such incident occurred in Lystra. After healing a man who was lame from birth, Paul and his companion Barnabas were hailed as gods. The two had to beg the ecstatic crowd not to worship them! All too soon, however, Jewish opposers arrived, and they used slander to poison the minds of the people. Quickly the tide turned! The people now pelted Paul with stones and left him for dead.—Acts 14:8-19.
4 After visiting Derbe, Paul and Barnabas “returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. There they strengthened the disciples, encouraging them to remain in the faith and saying: ‘We must enter into the Kingdom of God through many tribulations.’” (Acts 14:21, 22) At first, that statement might seem strange. After all, the prospect of going through “many tribulations” would seem distressing, not encouraging. How is it, then, that Paul and Barnabas “strengthened the disciples” with a message that pointed to more tribulation?
5 We can find the answer if we look carefully at Paul’s words. He did not simply say: “We must endure many tribulations.” Rather, he said: “We must enter into the Kingdom of God through many tribulations.” So Paul strengthened the disciples by emphasizing the positive result of a faithful course. That reward was no mere illusion. Indeed, Jesus stated: “The one who has endured to the end will be saved.”—Matt. 10:22.
6. What reward is held out to those who endure?
6 If we endure, we will have a reward. For anointed Christians, that reward is immortal life in heaven as corulers with Jesus. For the “other sheep,” it is everlasting life on earth where “righteousness is to dwell.” (John 10:16; 2 Pet. 3:13) As Paul noted, though, we will face many tribulations in the meantime. Consider two types of trials that we may encounter.
7. What type of tribulation could be described as frontal attacks?
7 Jesus foretold: “People will hand you over to local courts, and you will be beaten in synagogues and be put on the stand before governors and kings.” (Mark 13:9) As those words indicate, some Christians will face tribulation in the form of physical persecution, perhaps at the instigation of religious or political leaders. (Acts 5:27, 28) Again, consider Paul’s example. Did he cower at the thought of being subjected to such persecution? Not at all.—Read Acts 20:22, 23.
8, 9. How did Paul show that he was determined to endure, and how have some in modern times shown similar determination?
8 Paul bravely stood up to Satan’s frontal attacks and stated: “I do not consider my own life of any importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear thorough witness to the good news of the undeserved kindness of God.” (Acts 20:24) Clearly, Paul did not feel intimidated by the prospect of persecution. On the contrary, he was determined to endure, come what may. His primary concern was to “bear thorough witness” despite any tribulation.
9 Today, many of our brothers and sisters have shown similar determination. For example, in one country some Witnesses have endured almost 20 years of imprisonment because of maintaining their neutrality. Their case was never brought to trial, for that land had no provision for conscientious objectors. While in prison, they were denied visits even from family members, and some prisoners were beaten and subjected to various forms of torture.
10. Why should we not fear sudden tribulations?
10 Our brothers elsewhere endure tribulations that arise suddenly. Should that happen to you, do not give in to fear. Think of Joseph. He was sold into slavery, but Jehovah “rescued him out of all his tribulations.” (Acts 7:9, 10) Jehovah can do the same for you. Never forget that “Jehovah knows how to rescue people of godly devotion out of trial.” (2 Pet. 2:9) Will you continue to trust in Jehovah, knowing that he can deliver you from this wicked system of things and allow you to enjoy everlasting life under the rule of his Kingdom? You have every reason to do so and to face up to persecution courageously.—1 Pet. 5:8, 9.
11. How do Satan’s subtle attacks differ from his frontal attacks?
11 Another kind of tribulation that we may face involves subtle attacks. How does this differ from the frontal attacks of physical persecution? Frontal attacks are like a tornado that blows into town and destroys your house instantly. Subtle attacks are more like a colony of termites that slowly creep in and nibble away at the wood of your house until it collapses. With the latter, a person may not even be aware of the danger until it is too late.
12. (a) What is one of Satan’s subtle tactics, and why is it so effective? (b) How was Paul affected by discouragement?
12 Satan would like to destroy your relationship with Jehovah, whether with frontal attacks of persecution or by slowly nibbling away at your faith through subtle attacks. One of the most effective subtle tactics Satan uses is discouragement. The apostle Paul admitted to feeling discouraged at times. (Read Romans 7:21-24.) Now, why would Paul—a spiritual “giant” who likely was a member of the first-century governing body—call himself a “miserable man”? Paul said that he felt this way because of his imperfections. He really wanted to do what was right, but he felt another force working against him. If you on occasion struggle with such feelings, do you not find it comforting to know that even the apostle Paul faced a similar challenge?
13, 14. (a) What causes some of God’s people to become discouraged? (b) Who wants to see our faith collapse, and why?
13 At times, many brothers and sisters feel discouraged, anxious, and perhaps even worthless. For example, a zealous pioneer whom we will call Deborah says: “Over and over again, I think about a mistake I’ve made, feeling worse about it each time. When I think about everything I’ve done wrong, it can make me feel as if there’s no way anyone can ever love me, not even Jehovah.”
14 What causes some zealous servants of Jehovah, like Deborah, to become discouraged? There could be a number of reasons. Some may simply have a tendency to think badly of themselves and their circumstances in life. (Prov. 15:15) For others, negative feelings might be rooted in a physical disorder that affects the emotions. Whatever the cause, we must remember who wants to exploit those feelings. Really, who wants us to get so discouraged that we give up? Who wants you to feel the same weighty condemnation that looms over him? (Rev. 20:10) It is Satan, of course. The truth is, whether by means of some frontal attack or through more subtle attacks, Satan has the same goal—to worry us, to weaken our zeal, and to cause us to quit. Make no mistake, God’s people are involved in spiritual warfare!
15. How can we show that we are determined not to be overwhelmed by discouragement?
15 Be determined not to give up the fight. Keep focused on the reward. Paul wrote to Christians in Corinth: “We do not give up, but even if the man we are outside is wasting away, certainly the man we are inside is being renewed from day to day. For though the tribulation is momentary and light, it works out for us a glory that is of more and more surpassing greatness and is everlasting.”—2 Cor. 4:16, 17.
PREPARE NOW FOR TRIBULATION
16. Why is it important to prepare now for tribulation?
16 As we have seen, Satan has a number of “crafty acts” at his disposal. (Eph. 6:11) Each of us needs to follow the admonition found at 1 Peter 5:9: “Take your stand against him, firm in the faith.” To do that, we need to prepare our mind and heart, to train ourselves now to do what is right. To illustrate: An army of soldiers will often go through a series of grueling drills long before there is even the threat of a battle. It is similar in Jehovah’s spiritual army. We do not know what our warfare may involve in the future. Therefore, would it not be wise to do some significant training during a time of relative peace? Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Keep testing whether you are in the faith; keep proving what you yourselves are.”—2 Cor. 13:5.
17-19. (a) In what ways can we test ourselves? (b) How might young ones prepare to defend their faith while in school?
17 One way that we can heed Paul’s inspired advice is by making a serious self-examination. Ask yourself such questions as: ‘Do I persevere in prayer? When faced with peer pressure, do I obey God as ruler rather than men? Do I attend Christian meetings regularly? Am I bold in speaking about my beliefs? Do I really try to put up with my fellow believers’ shortcomings—just as they put up with mine? Am I submissive to those taking the lead in the local congregation and to those responsible for doing so in the worldwide congregation?’
18 Note that two of the questions are about boldly defending our beliefs and standing up to peer pressure. Many of our young ones have to do that while in school. They have learned not to be timid or embarrassed about their beliefs. Rather, they speak up with boldness. Helpful suggestions in this regard have been published in our magazines. For example, the July 2009 Awake! suggests that if a classmate asks: “Why don’t you believe in evolution?” you could simply reply: “Why should I believe in evolution? Scientists don’t even agree on it, and they’re supposed to be the experts!” Parents, be sure to have practice sessions with your children so that they are prepared to face such pressures from their peers at school.
19 Granted, it is not always easy to speak up or to do other things that Jehovah asks of us. After a long day at work, we may have to push ourselves to go to the meeting. Getting up in the morning to engage in the ministry might call for overcoming the comfort of the mattress on our bed. But remember: When bigger trials come in the future, you will be in a better position to face them if you have developed a good spiritual routine in advance.
20, 21. (a) How can meditating on the ransom help us combat negative feelings? (b) What should be our determination regarding tribulations?
20 What about subtle attacks? For instance, how can we counteract feelings of discouragement? One of the most powerful ways to do so is to meditate on the ransom. That is what the apostle Paul did. He knew how he felt at times—miserable. But he also knew that Christ died, not for perfect people, but for sinners. And Paul was one of those sinners. In fact, he wrote: “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and handed himself over for me.” (Gal. 2:20) Yes, Paul accepted the ransom. He recognized that the ransom applied to him personally.
21 That same viewpoint—seeing the ransom as a personal gift from Jehovah—can help you tremendously. This does not mean that discouragement will instantly vanish. To an extent, some of us may have to battle this subtle attack until the new world. But remember: The prize will go to those who do not give up. We are ever closer to the glorious day when God’s Kingdom will establish peace and restore all faithful humans to perfection. Be determined to enter into that Kingdom—even if through many tribulations.