Monday, April 11, 2011

Gleanings in Philippians ~ The Gift of Suffering for Christ’s Sake: Phil 1:29-30

In Philippians 1:29, Paul is talking about two gifts, faith and - perhaps surprisingly to you - the gift of suffering for Christ.

The Philippians are worried. The Philippians themselves face enormous opposition and they are discouraged, and so in verse 28, Paul has urged them not to be threatened, discouraged, or overwhelmed by their situation.

In verses 29-30, Paul encourages them with a reason why they should not be overwhelmed by the sufferings. He tells them to remember that not only did the Lord give them the gift of faith for the sake of Christ, but that He gave them the gift of suffering for Christ.

Paul wants the Philippians to see that not only is faith a gift, but suffering for Christ is a gift. It’s not a sign that God has abandoned them, it is not a sign of their lack of faith; rather, their suffering for Christ’s sake is an enormous privilege. It is a blessing from God. It is a gift from Him, under His complete control.

That encouragement that He gives to the Philippians ought to force us to think together about at least two things. The first thing is, “What does it mean for us to suffer for Christ’s sake?”

Secondly, this verse asks us to think hard about the general meaning of suffering in our lives: how God uses it; what it is for. We live in a day that sees the avoidance of suffering at all costs as a wise course of action. We live in a day in which when suffering happens, God is immediately called on the carpet, because we assume that suffering is inherently wrong and shouldn’t happen.

Within the Christian world there are people who say, ‘If you really trust in Christ, you won’t suffer. God wants you to be blessed, happy all the time. He doesn’t want you to have trials. If you are experiencing suffering, it is because you do not have enough faith.’ It is taught everywhere, and Christians today are very confused as to what to do or think or say about suffering.

Our forebears were not so unwise. They were not surprised when they encountered suffering for the sake of Christ, they went to work in prayer seeking what lessons God would have them learn in that.

The Philippians are confused about the suffering that they are experiencing, and God has a word for them through Paul as to how they are to view suffering, and suffering for Christ.

There are three things to look at in this, but I only want to look at the first with you today: One: the issue of suffering for Christ in God’s sovereignty; two: the Bible teaches that there is more than one kind of suffering; three: our preparation for and embrace of suffering for Christ and suffering in general.

I. Suffering for Christ’s sake is a gift from God.
In the midst of their experience of being opposed and threatened and persecuted by their contemporaries, being deeply discouraged by that circumstance, they are not adequately responding to the truth that God is in control and in charge of that suffering, Paul says to them point blank, ‘Don’t you understand that just like your faith was a gift from God, so also this suffering that you are experiencing is a gift to you from God? This is not a mistake. It’s not something that God didn’t see coming. It’s something that God has in view in His good and perfect plan for you.’ Now when Paul says this he is not speaking as some kind of dry-land sailor who doesn’t know anything about suffering.

To understand why he knows suffering is a gift from God, you have to turn back to Acts 9. Before Paul was “Paul,” he was Saul of Tarsus, the leader of the group that was designed to stamp out Christianity. He was on his way up to Damascus to cause Christians to suffer, and something funny happened on the way to Damascus. Jesus met him. And he lost his sight, he was blinded. And then the men who were with him took him on to Damascus and left him in the home of a man named Judas. And then Jesus rang up Ananias and said, ‘Ananias, I want you to find a man named Saul of Tarsus, I want you to take him in, minister to him.’ And Ananias says, ‘Ah, Lord, I’ve…ah…I’ve heard of this guy, and he was coming to Damascus to look for me. You’re saying you want me to go look for him?’ ‘Yes, Ananias.’

And then Jesus gives Ananias two encouragements. First He says, ‘Ananias, go find Saul, because he is praying. Saul is prostrate, blinded, utterly dependent upon Me. I have humbled him to the dust. He knows He needs Me. He’s in such deep need right now, he doesn’t know what to do. He’s waiting for a word from Me, and I’m going to give that word to Him through you.’ And then the second thing that He says to Ananias is, ‘I am going to show Saul how much he will suffer for Me.’ So the very first thing that Saul hears from this Christian who is the first person given to disciple him is, ‘You know, the Lord Jesus has told me how much you are going to suffer for Him.’ And Paul’s response to that is, ‘You mean I get to suffer for the One whom I caused so much suffering? What a privilege! Because I am less than the least of the apostles, and yet God has counted it His will to give me the privilege to suffer for Christ.’

And Paul now says to the Philippians, ‘You get to enter into that same privilege, too, because you’re Christians.’ God is in control even of your suffering at the hands of His enemies, and He has purposes in view even in that suffering. Be encouraged. This is not a mistake, this is not an accident, this is part of God’s plan.

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