Perspective in Suffering

Perspective in Suffering
Phil 1:27-30
“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for his sake.”

The call of Christ is a call to suffering.  We often think of the Christian faith to be a life of celestial joy as we rejoice in the salvation Christ has given us.  We listen to messages and read the devotionals telling us how much God loves and desires to bless us.  Yet the reality is often far different. Indeed, God gives us joy and peace as we experience our hope in Christ.  But this joy is often not realized in times of blessing but in times of sorrow and pain.  It is not when life is good and everything is going well that the blessings of God are fully understood; it comes when life turns dark and foreboding, and we are experiencing deeply felt hurt and pain.  

The circumstances confronting Paul and Philippi's people were deeply troubling.  They were facing increasing opposition and attack not only by the Gentiles but also by Jews who saw the Christians as a threat who distorted and corrupted Judaism.  There were people who were infiltrating the church and attacking those who desired to follow Christ.  Because of his suffering, Paul understood their pressure and the danger of spiritual compromise.  As a result, he wishes to encourage them in their faith.

However, his words are surprising.  Rather than promising them a future of blessing and joy, he reaffirms that suffering is a reality of being a follower of Christ. In shocking words, Paul refers to suffering as a privilege and an act of God’s grace.  The word “granted” comes from the same word translated as “grace.”  It speaks of something that is given as a sign of one's goodwill towards another.  To suffer for Christ is a gift bestowed upon them when they become followers of Christ.  To participate in Christ’s salvation is also to join in his suffering.  When we suffer on behalf of Christ, it reveals our identification with Christ and thus serves as a testimony that we are participants of the kingdom.  Just as the death of Christ had a redemptive purpose, our suffering for Christ has a redemptive purpose, for it further confirms our identification with Christ. It serves to confirm our faith by confirming our union with Christ.  It draws us closer to Christ, for it solidifies our faith's genuineness. Suffering is the spotlight God uses to manifest the genuineness of our faith in a world living in darkness.  Rather than suffering being an indication of our lack of faith, it strengthens and builds our faith.

Furthermore, it enables us to expand our service for Christ.  The school of suffering teaches us compassion and grace so that we can provide answers and hope to those suffering, especially those who have no hope because they have no salvation in Christ. Through our suffering, the world seeks the contrast between the hopelessness of a fallen and decaying world and the hope we have of eternal life (1 Peter 3:15).
When we are suffering, instead of questioning God’s love and concern, we look to God for wisdom to discern what he seeks to accomplish in and through us. Christ suffered for us, so how much more should we be willing to suffer for Christ?  Amid our suffering, we need to remember that this suffering is transitory and it is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Instead of doubt, we are to respond by conducting ourselves in a “manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  Instead of living in fear of opposition, we can live with confident expectations of the salvation that comes from God (Phil 2:28).  In faith, our salvation is attained and realized; in suffering, our salvation is confirmed and manifested to the world.  

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