Unexpected Joy in Great Suffering

If there is a sub-theme for the book of Philippians it would certainly be the theme of suffering. Paul introduces this theme early on the book in chapter one:

1:12 – “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” (What had happened to Paul was that he had been beaten countless times and was now awaiting a trial that would determine whether he lived or died.)

1:20b – “…Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

1:29 – “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, engaged in the same conflict that you said I had now hear that I still have.”

The theme of suffering runs throughout this entire book, but especially through the first chapter. Right here at the very beginning we are confronted with the difficulty of this book. How can Paul possibly say that “to live is Christ and to die is gain”? The last time I checked, dying was something we usually try to avoid. Or, how can Paul say that “it has been granted to you for the sake of Christ to suffer”? These statements should smash into our sensibilities. They are unexpected at best!

The only way that these things can make sense is if, in spite of the loss, we have a treasure that is so far surpassingly more valuable than even our life or even our suffering that no matter what happens to us in life, we can call it GAIN! That far surpassing treasure is Jesus Christ. John Piper has said, “What makes God look good is when we can suffer the loss of all things and still call it gain b/c Christ is so precious to us!”

The foundation for this radical way of living is the gospel.

Philippians 1:27 – “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, 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.”

In other words, Paul is saying that the gospel of Jesus Christ is of such far surpassing value and worth that even in the midst of terrible suffering, there is no comparison to the treasure that is mine in the gospel. Peter reminds us of that in 1 Peter 1:18-19 – “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”

The gospel was the lens through which Paul could look at terrible loss and suffering and say that it is GAIN! Because in the gospel we learn how bad off we really are (everyone of us justly deserves eternal torment in hell), but we also learn what Christ has done for us on the cross.

The issue that is always before you in the midst of suffering is, where is your treasure? You can try to store up your treasures in your finances, you can try to store up your treasures in your family, you can try to store up your treasures in your 401k, but it is only when your greatest treasure in life is the precious Lord Jesus Christ that you can with Paul suffer the loss of all things and still cry out GAIN!!! All I have is Christ and all I need is Christ!

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May 24 2011 04:00 am | Devotional

2 Responses to “Unexpected Joy in Great Suffering”

  1. Kathy QB on 31 May 2011 at 8:01 am #

    As a new christian in my mid forties I first sang the words ” All I once thought gain I have counted lost….” brought such profound tears and they still do. Knowing you Jesus there is no greater thing!!!

  2. Drew on 31 May 2011 at 10:58 am #

    I’ve been singing that song all morning Kathy 🙂