What’s your attitude toward suffering? Perhaps you’re like me, you don’t really consider any of the various trials or difficulties you’ve experienced as truly suffering, compared to the kinds of things others go through. I’ve never been hungry, or homeless, or truly afraid for my life. I’ve never been to prison, and for the most part, I’ve been loved and accepted by those whose opinions I value.
We’ve all suffered, however, according to the biblical definition of the word Paul uses in Ephesians 3:13.
Therefore, I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.
Tribulations is translated from the Greek thlipsis; it’s also translated as affliction, trouble, anguish, persecution, or burdened. Its literal meaning is “a pressing together, pressure” and refers to anything that burdens your spirit. The verb form thlibō describes the pressing of grapes, or a narrow, contracted, compressed way.
When life squeezes you, you are suffering … and it comes in many forms.
Paul’s particular brand of suffering was to be beaten, chased out of town, or put in prison. When he’s writing to the Ephesians, he’s sitting in jail, likely chained between two guards. In light of this, all his talk about the abundant blessings we have in Jesus takes on a whole new meaning.
Paul knows how unworthy he is to carry the gospel; he’s grateful and humbled that God chose him to be the messenger to share a mystery that was hidden for ages. That mystery was the creation of the body of Christ, the church, from both Jews and Gentiles – all those reconciled to God in Christ. If he suffers along the way in delivering this great message and calling others into the kingdom, it doesn’t seem to bother him.
What kept Paul going as the trials of life pressed in upon him? It was the knowledge that he was loved so deeply, so completely, he could not fathom it. The Creator of all that exists loved him personally knew him personally, and was filling him up daily with the glory and knowledge of Christ. It is the same experience that he desired for the first-century believers and is available for us today.
Ephesians 3:14-19 – For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
Is this possible? Can we be so filled up with the love of God that when life presses in on us it has no effect other than to drive us deeper into our relationship with Jesus? Can we be so rooted and grounded in this love that nothing can deter us, shake us, or cause us to fall away from Him?
Not in our own strength. We cannot lay hold of this knowledge and confidence with our flesh. It is God in us, the Holy Spirit, who grants this ability according to the riches of His glory (v. 16). That’s why Paul prayed this prayer. He knew very well that suffering could also result in a turning away from God; the pressures of life can cause us to lose heart (v. 13).
That word translated “lose heart” is an interesting one, too. The KJV uses “faint not;” it means to be utterly spiritless, to be wearied out, exhausted. It is to lose courage. The pressures and burdens of life can be heavy; we can be bent over both spiritually and physically as we carry them.
Are you discouraged because life isn’t turning out the way you thought it would?
Is your faith fainting at the increasing wickedness and ungodliness around you?
Are you weary, exhausted by never “catching a break”?
Are you overwhelmed by your daily burdens?
Ask God to give you a fresh understanding of His love. When you think you’re too exhausted to open His Word, do it anyway, so you are rooted and grounded in His love. Pray for the ability to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of His infinite, glorious, righteous, unchanging love that He has for you. Let Him fill you up to all the fullness of God.
Do you think He can?
Does He have the power?
Is He willing?
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us… (Ephesians 3:20).
We often quote that verse as a reassurance that God can fix all our problems. He could, but He might not. The greater benefit is that He is able to sustain us in those difficult times, revealing a deeper knowledge of Himself to us far more abundantly than we can imagine.
This is the love that Paul knew – a divine love that brought him through many afflictions. That same love is available to us today, right now, no matter how pressed upon we are. If you belong to Jesus, you’ve already experienced that love. You know how good God is. When life is hard, lean into that knowledge. Near to the heart of God is the best, and only, place to be.