Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gleanings in Philippians ~The Gift of Suffering for Christ’s Sake: Phil. 1.29-30 (Part II)

Yesterday we began to look at some encouragements Paul gives for the Philippians as they are about to suffer. He first of all tells us that suffering is a gift of all. Now, I want to look at suffering in scripture.

II. Suffering in the Scripture
Suffering for Christ is not the only kind of suffering that the Bible speaks about. There are different ways we could enumerate it, here are seven different kinds of suffering that are spoken about in the Scriptures.

There is the suffering of justice – when people get what they deserve – like when the children of Israel rebel against God in the wilderness, and 14,700 of them die of the plague.

It’s not the only kind of suffering in this world, but it does exist. The problem with Job’s friends was that they thought that Job was suffering because of his sin and disobedience. They failed to recognize that there are other kinds of suffering in the Bible.

Secondly, there’s the suffering of discipline, as when the Lord says in Hebrews 12:5,6, that “whom the Lord loves, He disciplines.”

And then there’s the suffering of fellowship – empathetic suffering, where one person’s grief affects another, like in Isaiah 63:9, where the Lord says, “All of your afflictions are mine.”

Then there’s the suffering of witness. It’s the kind of suffering that we see in the story of Job, where Job’s suffering was going to witness to some grand truth about God and His glory and was going to teach millions and millions and even billions of people truths about God. There is a lesson hidden there as you evaluate your own suffering in this life.

Then, fifthly, there is final and eternal suffering in the Bible; that is, the suffering that comes at the end of this age. Though it is final suffering, it never ends.

Sixth, there is the suffering of substitution – vicarious suffering, suffering in another person’s place. It is the kind of suffering that the Lord did on the cross. It was not a suffering He deserved, but He willingly, voluntarily, took the suffering in your place so that you would never have to experience the suffering of the full and unmitigated wrath of God’s just judgment poured out on you. He suffered as a substitute.

And then there is the suffering of discipleship, mentioned here in Philippians 1:29: suffering for Christ’s sake, as when the Christian has the privilege of enduring the rejection and trials and persecution because of loyalty to Christ.

There are many different kinds of suffering in this world, so Paul wants us to understand that suffering for Christ’s sake is a gift of God; second, that suffering for Christ is not the only kind of suffering in the Christian life; but the third: Christians should expect and prepare to suffer for Christ’s sake.
III. Christians should expect and prepare to suffer for Christ’s sake.
Christians should expect and prepare to suffer for Christ’s sake. We need to be ready to identify with Him when His person and cause are despised. Are you ready for, are you prepared to suffer for Christ? Perhaps not everyone will face a direct threat on his life because of his confession of faith, but most persecution in the Christian world in the first three centuries under the rule of Rome was not like that, it was much more subtle and it may be that “subtle” kind of persecution that you or I will face too.

Perhaps you will have the opportunity to lose your job because of your faithfulness to Christ. President Bush nominated a new Surgeon General who was a member of the United Methodist Church and had been on a panel in which that church was dealing with homosexuality, and he had recommended against the practice of homosexual ordination. When he came to be examined by the Senate, that did not sit well with his examiners. He lost a job because of his fidelity to the truth. You may have the opportunity to lose a job soon because of your fidelity to Christ and to Scripture.

But I want to say one other thing, too. What about our other suffering? What about suffering that is not explicitly and directly because of persecution against us for the faith of Christ? Well, John Piper has some very wise words that I want to share with you:
In choosing to follow Christ in the way He directs, we choose all that this path includes under His sovereign providence. Thus, all suffering that comes in the path of obedience is suffering with Christ and for Christ. Whether it’s cancer or conflict, all experiences of suffering in the path of Christian obedience, whether it’s from persecution or sickness or accident, have this in common: they all threaten our faith in the goodness of God, and they tempt us to leave the path of obedience. Therefore, every triumph of faith and all perseverance and obedience are testimonies to the goodness of God and the preciousness of Christ, whether the enemy is sickness, Satan, sin, or sabotage.”
Do you see what Piper is saying? When the job is lost and you’re tempted to say, “Lord, You’ve abandoned me”…when you’re tempted to lose faith, and you say, “Lord, I will magnify Your name. I will believe in You”…when you stay in a marriage and you’re facing impossible situations, and you say, “Lord, I will do this for Your glory”…when you’ve gotten the terminal diagnosis, and you say, instead of ‘Lord, You don’t care about me,’ but rather, “Lord, I want You to get the glory in this, and I want this to be a witness to my children and to my grandchildren, and to all of my friends,” that general suffering is being offered up as a sweet smelling aroma to Christ: “Lord, take this and be glorified by it.”

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