Philippians 1:29 says, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Now, you have to admit that even in English that’s a pretty hard verse to take. I mean how do you reconcile Paul’s words that “it has been granted to you to suffer” with the reality of the darkness and the despair of suffering in this fallen world? But when you dive into the Greek text underneath it, it becomes even more difficult.
Paul uses the word exaristhe, which means “gift of grace” to describe two significant realities, 1) That salvation is entirely a gift of grace, 2) that suffering is in the same way a gift of grace. It’s as if Paul is saying that the same grace which brought about salvation also brings about suffering. They are both equally gifts of grace and if we are to “walk in a manner worthy of the gospel” as he says in verse 27, then we must embrace them both as gifts from God.
So, the question is “How on earth do you get to a point where you can actually look upon suffering as a gift of grace?” I believe that there are two complimentary truths that help us to understand what Paul is driving at here. The first is that when we suffer for the sake of the gospel, we are actually suffering in the place of Christ.
Paul alludes to this on several occasions:
Romans 8:16-17 – 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
In Colossians 1:24 – 24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.
So, how can Paul say that he is filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? I mean, didn’t Jesus suffer enough on the cross? I think what Paul is getting at is that when we suffer for the sake of the gospel, we are doing so in the place of Christ because Christ has already ascended to the Father and yet He has left the church here as his body to continue suffering for him until he returns.
John Calvin said, “The highest honor that is conferred upon us by Divine grace is that we suffer for his name either reproach, or imprisonment, or miseries, or tortures, or even death, for in that case he adorns us with his marks of distinction.”
There are many different ways of suffering for the sake of the gospel in this life. It may be a situation at work where you won’t be able to advance any further because of your faith in Christ, or it may be a more public situation. Back when I lived in WA, there was a time when my name was dragged through the newspaper’s mud because of my stand for the gospel. It may even be from within your family. Maybe your husband is spiritually lazy, or maybe he’s just plain spiritually dead. Perhaps your wife is antagonistic to your faith and your attempts to lead her spiritually. My friends, can I remind you that as John Calvin said every tear that you cry is a mark of distinction for a man or a woman suffering in the place of Christ for the sake of the gospel.
The second complimentary truth that helps us to understand why suffering is a gift of grace is that Christ has gone before us in our suffering. Hebrews 2:10 says, “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Suffering is one of God’s primary means of drawing his people into closer fellowship and intimacy with Christ, because in suffering we have no place else to turn than to Christ who has gone before us.
Paul talked about this in Philippians 3:10 he said his desire was “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Paul actually desired to share in the sufferings of Christ, because in those suffering he believed that he would grow to know Christ better. You see, there is no valley so deep and there is no darkness to black that the precious Lord Jesus has not already gone before you and prepared the way for you.
I’ll wrap things up with one of my favorite quotes from Charles Spurgeon
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Christ was also chosen out of the people that he might know our wants and sympathize with us. “He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin.” In all our sorrows we have his sympathy. Temptation, pain, disappointment, weakness, weariness, poverty—he knows them all, for he has felt all. Remember this, Christian, and let it comfort thee. However difficult and painful thy road, it is marked by the footsteps of thy Saviour; and even when thou reachest the dark valley of the shadow of death, and the deep waters of the swelling Jordan, thou wilt find his footprints there. In all places whithersoever we go, he has been our forerunner; each burden we have to carry, has once been laid on the shoulders of Immanuel.
May 16 2011 04:00 am | Devotional