“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)
As Jesus prepared his disciples for the cross he told them he would be leaving them. He told them to expect trouble. The word translated as trouble is thlipsis “a pressing, pressure.” The word is often coupled with other words such as stenochoria “anguish,” ananke, “distress,” and diogmos “persecution.”
There are in our day, as there were in the first century, those “who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” (1 Timothy 6:5). Such people often teach that we have a supernatural ability and God given favor to walk in victory. Our wallets will be full, our houses will be blessed, our bodies will be healthy, our children obedient. And when these things do not happen, it is the attack of the enemy on our faith. We respond by simply digging deeper and pulling ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps of faith.
The Bible and life say otherwise. The truth is that in this world we will have trouble, pressure, anguish and distress. That even in the lives of good people, godly people
- Children will die
- Health will fail
- Marriages will fall apart
- Careers ended
- Businesses bankrupt
- Homes foreclosed
How do we survive when thlipsis comes? When the crushing pressure of loss and pain comes down upon us what holds us together? When these things happen we need an unshakable, firm foundation.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-15 NIV)
Jesus tells us to “take heart”, not because we have anything within us, but because he has overcome the world. In this overcoming, Christ himself gave us something bigger than ourselves, the body… the church. He gave us each other, he gave us gifted people to teach us, to equip us and to build us up together in love so that we won’t be infantile in our understanding and thus vulnerable to tricksters who claim that God promises health, wealth and prosperity.
I have been in the school of thlipsis for quite a while. I can tell you that I have learned things from this pressure that could not be learned any other way. Perhaps the most important lesson is that I am not sufficient. I do not have within me the strength, the power and the faith to overcome this on my own. I was not saved by the blood of Christ to stand alone. I was saved to become a part of the body of Christ… the Church.
In our day people often say that they are spiritual but they don’t like organized religion. I wonder if they would prefer disorganized religion? When they say this what they really mean is that they prefer the Church of Me. Where I go if I want. Where the message is always what I like. Where I worship Me and I become the end of all things. Spiritual things then become a means by which I get what I want.
God gives us thlipsis as a means of grace by which we learn that I am not sufficient; that I am not god, I do not have the power and if I continue to worship myself that I will ultimately lead myself into darkest hell.
Instead, God gives me a church, a body, a family so that together we grow up into Him. We worship Him. We call on Him who has the power. Him who has loved us, called us, chose us, saved us and commanded us to obey. I am not the goal, Christ is all!
so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:5 NIV)
We belong to each other. When one aches, we all feel the pain. When one rejoices we all rejoice! We use our grace given gifts to help and heal each other. This is just one way in which we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice in worship.