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 (Living Waters 1986 Spring)
The Sweet Cup or Bitter Cup
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John Lo

            "But Jesus answered, 'You do not know what you are asking.  Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?' They said to him, 'We are able. He said to them, 'You will drink my cup......

            -Mt 20:22,23-

Many people who believe in Jesus consider the grace of the Lord only as healing of sickness, prospering in careers, and abundance of possessions.  But the grace of God has more precious and noble aspects, that is, the fulfillment and joy of the spirit, the eternal life and the reward of the HeavenlyKingdom.  Grace for the flesh is only the outer rim of God's grace.  It has the least value and is the gift desired by those who have just known God, or spiritual infants.  In order to obtain the eternal blessing, God often gives us a little bitterness to drink.  By temporarily removing His fence of protection (Job 1: 10), God let His people suffer in sickness, adversity, tribulation, or persecution in order to purify them (Is 48: 10) and teach them to walk in the right way (Ps 119:67,71; Is 30:20,21).  Satan intends to destroy our faith by affliction so that we will lose eternal life, but God allows hardships to come to us so that our spirit may be benefited (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-10).

Many people came to Jesus to drink the sweet cup, but few would take the bitter one.  Thousands followed Jesus for the fish and bread but only a handful were willing to walk with Jesus to Calvary.  Anyone who drinks the cup of bitterness given by the Lord, receives great spiritual benefits and is sanctified for eternal life and the rewards in heaven (Heb 12:9-11; 1 Pet 1:6,7).  He shall be transformed into a precious vessel for use of the Lord (Acts 7:29,30).  He who lives daily in the physical blessings of God, is likened to a flower planted in a greenhouse.  Once it is removed from its protective environment, it will die under the stress of wind, frost, rain and snow.  Only the faith which grows in tribulation will possess vitality, is capable of overcoming all challenges, and finally receives the crown of righteousness.  The purpose of drinking the bitter cup is to discipline our faith, make it stronger and more valuable.  Through affliction, our deeply rooted evil character can be removed.  We will attain perfection and are acceptable to God and men.


            When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold... "--Job 23:10-

In tribulation we become humble and willing to repent thoroughly for our sins.  By continuously  purifying our thoughts, deeds, speech and conduct, we will please God and obtain His deliverance.  What the Bible says is true, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin (I Pet 4:1) and he will be like the gold which has been refined in the fiery furnace (Mal 3:2,3).  Because he is without blemish, he can boldly enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Rev 21:7; 22-14).  Also, due to his purity, he is qualified to become the pillar of the temple and attain the power of God to perform wonderful works for Him (Ps 101:6).  Without 40 years of rigorous discipline in the wilderness, Moses could never have become a humble and meek man of God (Num 12:3).  He was able to separate himself from all the filthiness of the world, speak to God face to face, and accomplish the most difficult task in the Old Testament time.


            "And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel "-- Lk 1: 80-

The strength hidden in our spirit is often manifested during affliction.  Through the words of God and His Spirit, our faith will produce tremendous power to overcome afflictions.  Each tribulation affords us strength to overcome greater difficulties in the future.  Without experiencing the hunger and thirst by the brook of Cherith and the shortage in the widows house, Elijah would have no power to overcome 850 false prophets, nor would he be able to meet the challenge of praying for rain on the top of Mount Carmel (Lk 1:17).  Had not Daniel determined not to defile himself with the king's food and wine for three years (Dan 1:8) and prayed three times a day (Dan 6:10,11), he would not have become the highest minister in the Persian Empire and the prophet greatly loved by God.


            'My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.  But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.  "-Jas 1:2-4 KJV-

Patience is the key factor contributing to successful faith.  A genuine faith can survive the test of time, environment and circumstances.  Only when a person possesses an immovable and consistent faith, can he continue to serve God in His Kingdom until the end, to receive his rewards.

The longer we have believed in Christ, the more important our faith becomes, for we are closer to the day of redemption (Heb 10:36-39).  If we can hold fast the first faith to the end, we will have a share in Christ (Heb 3:4).  Hence, God often builds up the patience of our faith through tribulation.  If we can endure to the end, God will definitely open a way of grace (I Cor 10:12).  If Job had not endured the great tribulation of losing his children, wealth, and suffered from terrible sores all over his body, his weakness of self-righteousness would not have been removed, and his faith would not have become perfect.  Finally he was healed and blessed with a double portion by God (Jas 5:7,8,10,11).  Had not Joseph fallen into the great tribulation of being sold as a slave and unjustly put in prison, he would not have become the Prime Minister of Egypt and fulfilled God's will of sustaining the people of Israel.  The time factor is vital for the excellent work which affliction is to accomplish.  If the gold is not refined long enough in the furnace, it can never become pure.  Therefore, the believers in the last days who will face terrible tribulations must learn to endure to the end in order to be saved (Mt 24:13).


            Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us "-Rom 8:35,37-

Genuine love survives tests.  God often disciplines our love for Him through affliction.  God even tested the love of Abraham who had followed Him faithfully for 40 years.  When the position of Isaac, Abraham's only God-given son, was gradually elevated to replace that of God in his heart, God decided to correct this situation lest Abraham loses His greatest promise.  For this very reason, God demanded that Isaac be offered as a living sacrifice to Him on MountMoriah.  Through this most agonizing test, Abraham once again put God first in his life.  Hence, the greatest blessing of God is secured (Gen 22:1-18).

There were countless marks of suffering on the body of Paul and tremendous burdens on his spirit (2 Cor 11:23-29), yet he considered all these afflictions which he had borne for the sake of repaying the love of Christ.  Therefore, whenever he suffered, he remembered the suffering of the crucified Lord.  He said....... for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus." (Gal 6:17).  The greater the tribulation he encountered, the deeper the love he had for the Lord.

God often teaches us how to love people through witnessing the suffering of others.  The Priest and the Levite, men who served God daily and acquainted with all the commandments and laws, were tested for their love for others, when they saw a badly wounded person, at the side of the road.  God intended to teach them that knowledge is not equal to love and to practice love is not merely by words, but by sacrificing themselves and the performing of actual deeds of helping others (Lk 10:25-37; 1 Jn 3:16-18).  God constantly disciplines our concern, help and intercession for others through the affliction of other members in the church because He wants us to learn how to love genuinely our neighbors as ourselves (Mt 22:39).


Prayer is like two wings of faith.  It must be exercised in order to gain strength to soar higher.  For the purpose of training the young eagle to fly, the mother eagle reluctantly stirs up the nest, then flutters over her young.  She spreads out her wings, catching and bearing them up when they weaken.  After several attempts at this kind of dangerous training, the young eagle finally is able to fly (Deut 32:10-12).  Our Heavenly Father is in pain when He watches His beloved children suffer in the furnace of affliction (Is 63:7-9).  If we rely upon Him wholeheartedly through prayer, He will be with us and lead us through the valley of the shadow of death (Dan 3:24,25; Ps 22:4).  God purposely trains us to pray by tribulation so that we may build up a praying life, and learn to offer prolonged, fervent, and fasting prayer.  Hence, after affliction, we naturally become a "praying man" and through prayer the image of the divine character may be imprinted in us. We may attain the spiritual power and gifts (2 Cor 3:18; 2 Tim 2:21), and prepare ourselves to perform more valuable work for God.  If Jacob had not encountered the prospect of being killed by Esau, it would be impossible for him to become a prayerful person.  He was forced by this peril to engage in overnight prayer, and put forth his total being to wrestle with the angel until he was assured of God's deliverance and blessings.  As a consequence, his name was changed to Israel (the prince of God) (Gen 32:22-32).


Determine to obey God's will and drink all of' the bitter cup is Our most powerful spiritual weapon (I Pet 4:1,2).  When a Christian has no fear of suffering and death, Satan will be afraid of' him and flee (Jas 4:7).  In tribulation God will preserve and strengthen us so that we can overcome all the suffering (I Pet 5:9-10).

Perhaps we are now freshmen in God's school of affliction.  May we all learn to drink the bitter cup and advance continually in the lessons of suffering.  Eventually, we will become the precious vessels of God and the chariots and its horsemen of Israel, to fight the good fight for the Lord and receive the crown of eternal life.

And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher And your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.

Isaiah 30: 20, 21

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer by human passions but by the will of God.

I Peter 4:1-2