Through Many Tribulations (Part 2): Hardships

Through Many Tribulations

When Paul explained God’s choice of Jacob over his brother, he quoted from the prophet Malachi: “Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’” (Romans 9:13; cf. Malachi 1:2-3). Jacob was chosen for prominence over his brother and for the blessings that came from being part of God’s promise (Romans 9:6-12). The Lord appeared to Jacob and said to him, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:13-15).

However, despite the fact that God chose Jacob and promised to bless him, he faced great hardships throughout his life. When he stood before Pharaoh, he said, “The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life” (Genesis 47:9). Notice some of the hardships that Jacob experienced:

  • Jacob dealt with family problems – Jacob’s brother planned to kill him, forcing him to flee to Haran (Genesis 27:41-43). While in Haran, his uncle Laban tricked him into marrying Leah instead of Rachel (Genesis 29:18-25) and also “cheated [him] and changed [his] wages ten times” (Genesis 31:7). He had to deal with the wickedness of his sons – Rueben committed fornication with his father’s concubine (Genesis 35:22), Simeon and Levi tricked and killed all of the men of Shechem (Genesis 34:25-30), and Judah convinced the rest of the brothers to sell Joseph into slavery (Genesis 37:26-28).
  • Jacob dealt with marriage problems – Jacob had to live with the rivalry and contention between Leah and Rachel (Genesis 30:1-2, 14-16). Granted, these problems would not exist if he had not taken two wives; but this still presented a real problem for him. In addition to that, Rachel was an idolatrous woman (Genesis 31:19; 35:2-4).
  • Jacob dealt with an economic crisis – Because of the famine in the land of Canaan, Jacob was forced to move his family from their home to go to Egypt (Genesis 46:5-7).

Hardships like these are ones that all people can face – Christians and non-Christians. Yet as we noted with the losses of Job, these hardships can threaten our faith. So let us consider how to handle these types of hardships.

The Hardship of Family Problems

Every family will experience problems because every family is made up of fallible people. Paul wrote, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). These sins are often against our loved ones or negatively impact them in some way. The wise man said, “Better is a dish of vegetables where love is than a fattened ox served with hatred” (Proverbs 15:17). It is difficult when family relationships are characterized by hatred rather than by love, regardless of what level of prosperity we have attained. Yet family problems are a reality for many people.

Why are family problems a challenge to our faith? Problems like these provide a distraction, hindering us from focusing on what we should. The wise man also said, “A foolish son is a grief to his father and bitterness to her who bore him” (Proverbs 17:25). In warning about difficult times that were coming, Jesus said, “Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life” (Luke 21:34). Worries of life can weigh us down and make it more difficult to serve the Lord and follow His will. When these worries pertain to something of chief importance in this life – such as our family – they can be even more of a challenge.

Furthermore, family problems are a challenge because family is often the biggest influence on us. This is the case for many people. When there are problems within the family – and more often than not, those problems are the result of sin – there can be a strong influence for us to sin as well. Paul warned the Corinthians: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals’” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Earlier in the same letter when he instructed them about the need to discipline an unrepentant member of the congregation, he warned of the corrupting influence that would exist if that problem was ignored: “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough” (1 Corinthians 5:6). When there is sinful behavior in the family, that can be a strong influence to sin – either to commit the same sin or one similar.

How can we endure family problems and remain faithful? First, we need to keep our priorities in order. As we already noted, “Better is a dish of vegetables where love is than a fattened ox served with hatred” (Proverbs 15:17). The wise man was contrasting the conditions of material scarcity and prosperity. Despite the fact that one may be prosperous, it cannot make up for the problems that exist at home. Pursuing love with family is better than pursuing wealth. This is related to the spiritual principle that Jesus stated, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). If we put the things of God first, that will take care of many of the problems that will arise in the home.

Second, we need to realize that there may be times when we need to set boundaries. Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). While the closest relationships we have in life will typically be with family members, we will have to limit our associations with those who are a detriment to our spiritual health. We must put our relationship with the Lord ahead of every earthly relationship.

The Hardship of Marriage Problems

No marriage is perfect for the same reason that all families have problems – they involve imperfect people (Romans 3:23). Yet some marriages certainly have more problems than others. The wise man said, “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who shames him is like rottenness in his bones” (Proverbs 12:4). Marriage is a great blessing if both spouses strive to follow God’s will in their marriage. If one or both of them do not, problems will abound.

Why are marriage problems a challenge to our faith? The purpose of marriage is to help one another. When God created woman, He intended her to be “a helper suitable for [the man]” (Genesis 2:18). The virtuous woman was described as one who “does [her husband] good and not evil all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:12). Likewise, the husband is to have the same type of sacrificial love for his wife that Christ had for the church when He “gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). This includes providing for his wife and the rest of his family, as Paul wrote, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). We can see from these passages that a husband and wife are to help and support one another throughout their marriage.

What happens when one or both spouses are not helping one another as they should? This can produce bitterness about life. The wise man talked about this: “It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman” (Proverbs 21:9). “It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and vexing woman” (Proverbs 21:19). His focus is on the wife simply because he was writing to his son. But this applies both ways. A poor husband can be a cause of bitterness to the wife in the same way. Such bitterness can lead to sin. The Hebrew writer said, “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:15). The word defiled signifies being stained by sin.

However, despite the bitterness and problems that may exist, there is no God-approved way to escape a difficult marriage. The Pharisees asked Jesus if it was “lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all” (Matthew 19:3). In response, Jesus stated the rule: “And He answered and said, ‘Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6). In other words, it is not lawful to put away one’s spouse for any reason. Jesus gave only one exception to this rule – fornication (Matthew 19:9). While there are many reasons why a marriage may be difficult, the Lord only permits one to put away a spouse for the cause of fornication.

Also, one who is married has a responsibility to focus on his/her spouse. Paul wrote about this to the church in Corinth: “One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided” (1 Corinthians 7:32-34). Because of the attention that must be paid to one’s spouse, it provides that much more of a distraction from spiritual things when problems arise.

How can we endure marriage problems and remain faithful? First, we need to be committed to one another. Jesus said that a couple who has been “joined together” by God is not to become separated (Matthew 19:6). Malachi indicated that marriage is a covenant relationship between two people (Malachi 2:14). Therefore, whenever problems arise, we should not be tempted to find someone “new.” Instead, we need to be committed to one another and to fulfilling the vows we made when we entered into the covenant of marriage.

Second, we need to work through problems that will inevitably arise with patience. Paul wrote, “Love is patient” (1 Corinthians 13:4). In the marriage relationship, we need to exercise this patience with one another. Paul told Timothy, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged” (2 Timothy 2:24). Though this passage has its direct application to Timothy’s work in preaching the gospel, the principle applies to every area of our lives as Christians – including marriage. When problems arise in marriage, we need to respond with kindness and patience rather than with a quarrelsome attitude.

Third, we need to put the Lord first. This is the same idea as we noted earlier of the need to keep the right priorities when dealing with family problems. It is just as necessary when dealing with problems in marriage. We must “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). We need to remember that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord and the second is to love others (Matthew 22:36-37). If we love the Lord as we should, this will affect how we treat one another. John wrote, “We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (1 John 4:19-21). In every relationship we have, we must show love to the Lord by showing love toward others.

If marital problems reach the point that we have been deserted by our spouse, then these points about patience and commitment to the Lord become all the more important.

The Hardship of an Economic Crisis

Riches are uncertain. This was one of the things that Timothy was to teach to the rich: “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). Economies go through cycles. We have seen this in our country and will continue to see economic conditions change. Economic hardships can affect us directly (we may lose our job due to our company’s downsizing or closure) or indirectly (through inflation or scarcity of products).

Why are economic problems a challenge to our faith? As we noticed with the example of Job, worrying about material things can prove to be an obstacle in our spiritual lives. In the parable of the sower, Jesus said, “The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries…and bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14).

Depending on how the particular economic conditions impact us, we could be forced to do things we do not want to do (work a second job, find a job we do not like after losing a job we did like, cut back on expenses, move to a new city to find work that will allow us to support our family, etc.). When this happens, we can find ourselves being resentful. As we noticed in the previous point about marital problems, such bitterness can lead to sin (Hebrews 12:15).

How can we endure economic problems and remain faithful? First, we must be good stewards of our blessings from God. The wise man wrote, “Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds; for riches are not forever, nor does a crown endure to all generations” (Proverbs 27:23-24). Governments fall and economies collapse, yet God’s providence endures. Therefore, we need to be good stewards of the blessings that God has given us. This necessarily requires us to be thankful to God for what we have in this life and recognize Him as the giver of all good things (James 1:17; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Second, we need to remember that this life and the circumstances in it are only temporary. John wrote, “The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17). If we experience an economic crisis, we know that it is just part of a cycle that exists in this life. No matter how long the difficulties last or how severe conditions become, we have the promise of the riches of heaven to look forward to for eternity.

Conclusion

Jacob lived “one hundred and forty-seven years” (Genesis 47:28) – much longer than any of us will live (cf. Psalm 90:10). Yet when he appeared before Pharaoh seventeen years before his death, he said, “The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life” (Genesis 47:9). Jacob was certainly blessed by God, but his life was also filled with hardships.

Like Jacob, we will face problems in this life; but we cannot allow them to distract us from our service to God. Life is short. Let us not allow temporary problems – no matter how severe they seem in the moment – to hinder us from reaching the eternal reward that the Lord has prepared for us in heaven.


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