“Therefore, I ask that you not become discouraged in my tribulations for you, for this is your glory.”
How is it that Paul’s tribulations are for the glory of the Ephesian church? True, it has been through Paul’s sufferings that the Gospel has come to the city. Yet, there is more to this statement if we read a little deeper. The term θλῖψις (thlipsis) always refers to severe times of trial and distress — persecutions and affliction in the life of the church. Paul faced persecutions throughout his ministry and the Ephesian church, if they proved faithful, would face persecutions as well. And, it is often the model of those who have gone before us that encourages us to face those trials that we find in our paths.
Our temptation, of course, is to presume that we are the first persons to encounter the kinds of persecutions that we face. Yet, truly, there is nothing new under the sun and the saints of the past have seen what we have seen (and in many cases, far worse). And so, by looking back at their lives, we can draw encouragement for the awful trials that lie ahead of us. Yet, when we neglect to take courage from the past, then we often sacrifice the benefits that come from their example on the altar of our own vanity.
We must make one more note here in terms of the idea of trials and tribulations. Somehow we have fallen into the trap of assuming that the Christian life is one removed from trial. Yet, Jesus said just the opposite (John 16:33). In fact, God has always strengthened his church through times of persecution. Though it does not feel like a blessing when we are enduring such times, it is one of His blessings to the church. The notion that some Christians hold, that God will remove the church in the end times to spare them from tribulation is the notion that God would withhold the blessings of His refining fire. To borrow the language of C.S. Lewis, to ask for less tribulation is to ask God for less love and not more.
God promises the blessings — even the glory — of rule with Him as His grand bride to those who overcome. Yet, to overcome, there must be something for you to overcome. And such are the tribulations that God permits to strike us. Take courage, Christian, from those who have walked this road before you and from the one who has ultimately paved the path on which you walk. It is a path to glory, but this path can only be traversed while bearing the cross that has been placed upon you.