The Gift of Suffering
The greatest threat facing the Western church is not persecution or opposition, rather the greatest threat to the church is comfort. Our culture resists anything that is inconvenient and produces discomfort and as a result, when our Christian walk becomes uncomfortable, we shy away and look for an easy road. But that is not what the Christian life that we are called to.
If comfort is our goal and our pursuit, we will never attain to the full measure of the calling of God on our lives.
In Philippians 3:27-30, we see three characteristics of the New Testament church that applies to us today.
1. The Unity of the church (Verse 27).
Paul was writing to another Roman city, the Philippians were part of the Roman Empire, and as such, they had to live and abide by the rules of the Roman authorities, but more primarily they were citizens of Heaven, and ought to be living according to the laws of that Kingdom (Philippians 3:20).
When we become followers of Jesus Christ, we take on a new citizenship and we commit to living a life that abides by the principles and laws of that citizenship. Whether we like it or not, the world is watching our walk to see if we behave as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. It has been said that the most powerful influence on an unbeliever is not a book or a video presentation, but rather it is the consistent life of a believer.
Verse 27, continues, “…so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,”
Paul is writing about church unity; the alternative is disunity which results in a church that is unable to accomplish that which God has called them to. Church unity is everyone’s responsibility, unity comes about as we serve, pray and worship together, uniting around the mission of the church.
In this verse, Paul writes something that seems to go against our 21st century church culture, “with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel”. Striving together is a term that speaks of an athletic contest or a sports team standing shoulder to shoulder defending their goal line. This is the picture of the church that is standing firm and close, protecting each other and working together. In the church, there can be no passengers, we are together in a spiritual war, without unity there is a weakness that the enemy will use to his full advantage. Gossip, slander and apathy are weaknesses that will prevent unity and prevent us from taking the ground that the Lord has called us to take. Are you all in? Are you prepared to sacrifice your personal preferences for the purposes of Jesus in His church?
2. Opposition to the church (verse 28).
This is another one of those comforts that we wrestle with in the western church. We have grown accustomed to the church being a respected part of society. However, you may have noticed that this is not the case in the twenty-first century. The Bible is full of warnings to us that we will be hated by the world, Jesus himself spoke about this in Matthew 24:9.
Does this mean that we must live in fear, cowering in the corner? Absolutely not, as we stand firm, courageous and united, those who oppose us and what we stand for, will be convicted by the Holy Spirit of their own spiritual condition.
In Acts 16, we read about Paul and Silas being in prison in the Philippian jail. After the earthquake struck and their chains had fallen off the jailer was about to kill himself because he thought his prisoners had all fled. However, Paul called out to him and saved his life, resulting in the jailer and his whole family becoming followers of Jesus. Why did Paul and Silas not escape? Because they were not afraid, they had no fear of their opposition and they were proclaiming the Good News of Jesus during their suffering.
As Christians we don’t need to be afraid of those who oppose us because we are Christians. As we live our lives as Christs ambassadors, expect to encounter opposition.
3. The suffering of the church (Verses 29 and 30).
We know that salvation is a free gift from God, we cannot earn it, we simply receive it. But along with the gift of salvation, Paul says that we get the gift of suffering. Have you ever received a gift you didn’t want?
Suffering is when things we desire, love and enjoy, are taken away from us. We suffer when we lose a loved one, our health, our career or we lose our home in a tragedy such as a storm or natural disaster. Suffering comes because of situations that are out of our control. We don’t ask for suffering, but suffering is a very real part of life, even the life of a Christian. But how can suffering be a gift?
Suffering becomes a gift when seeing and treasuring Christ above all else is your goal.
David Platt said, “when we pursue Christ in a world of sin and suffering, then we will experience sin and suffering. And the more that suffering takes things away from our lives, the more we’ll be drawn to Christ.”
Paul wrote this letter from prison, he was suffering and yet during his suffering he saw the purpose of God to spread the Gospel. There is a connection between suffering and the spread of the Good news of Jesus. If you profess to be a Christian and everything goes well in your life, the world does not notice that. However, if God allows you to experience suffering and you go through that loss with joy and peace and hope in Christ, the World will take notice of that because it speaks of a supernatural power in your life, the power of God.
Job knew this, he experienced unimaginable pain and yet could say what he did in Job 19:25-26.
(See also 1 Peter 4:12-13)
God doesn’t waste suffering; will you allow Him to use your pain to bring glory to the name of Jesus?