Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Thought about Suffering Part I

Philippians 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.” (ESV)

This verse has always been somewhat of an anomaly for me. I dare say for many others also. I have heard the first half of this verse quoted frequently in my Christian experience; however, I do not often hear the second portion quoted as well.

The average American evangelical avoids the topic of suffering, excuse me, like the plague. We don’t even like to talk about it publically since it risks the chance of suffering to attach itself to us. We think if we talk about trials, tribulations, or testings we will “catch it.” I have actually had believers tell me to be very careful with books of the bible like James or Job otherwise I will enter into some form of suffering by the virtue of simply reading them or handling them.

As much as we avoid suffering, it is the one thing we need the most. Suffering is the vehicle by which we are made more into the image of Christ than any other means. C. S. Lewis once wrote:

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience,
 but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Verse 29 is part of a paragraph that includes Paul’s most ardent desire for these Philippian believers; “…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 desires that these believers stand firm, to strive or agonize in standing firm. Paul uses a verb that means to persevere or persist in standing. The verb is in the present tense meaning to continually stand or to always keep standing. Why? The answer is found in verse 27, “…let your manner of life be worthy of Christ…” The everyday conduct of our life should be worthy, or suitable to our profession. In other words when we say we are in Christ then our everyday conduct is to reflect that claim.

Paul realizes that in our everyday living, which is suitable to Christ, will produce opposition. We find Paul telling these Philippians “…to not be frightened in anything by their opponents.” Opposition, persecution, and suffering are real. It cannot be patently dismissed or ignored.

Then he makes that mind-boggling statement: “…for it has been granted to you…also suffer for his sake.” What does granted mean? The root gives us the idea that it is something pleasant or agreeable. It includes the idea of a favor in which one is gratified. It can also give the idea that one is gracious in the giving of such favor or gift.

Paul is saying to these dear Philippians that God has shown Himself to be gracious and has bestowed a favor that is pleasant and agreeable upon these believers by the means of suffering. Of course we know why God gives us this gift, not for the pain, but for the product that the suffering is designed to produce.

Paul’s idea would be very surprising to these believers and even more so to us. Allow me to say again that we do not like to think about suffering. As a matter of fact we take at least three (3) different paths concerning suffering:

 We feel that we have made spiritual progress if we grit our teeth, and resign ourselves to the fact that suffering cannot be avoided, so we determine to experience it

 We take the path that blessing comes from God and suffering comes from the enemy; therefore we will avoid it, deny it, repress it, and otherwise reject it

 We take the ultimate and extreme path and simply ignore the topic totally. This allows the enemy to disengage us from the conflict at hand and renders us useless.

This suffering that Paul is talking about is suffering that takes place for the sake of Christ. We are to expect to suffer at the hands of opposition for our devotion to Christ. Isn’t this what Paul meant in II Timothy 3:12? We will suffer for being identified with Jesus Christ.

The idea that Paul is conveying is that suffering for the sake, or the cause, or the person of Jesus Christ is not punishment, nor is it a “hindering nuisance;” but it is a gift. It is no secret that most believers want salvation and heaven without any confrontation, suffering, or opposition. It has been said many times before that we want the crown without the cross, heaven without the horrible, and glory without the grizzly.

What we have to keep in mind is that persecution or suffering is the surest sign that God is blessing us and looking on us with favor! This was one reason that suffering for Christ as a martyr got so out of hand in the first century.

Some early Christians sought out and welcomed martyrdom. Some Roman authorities tried to avoid Christians because they "goaded, chided, belittled and insulted the crowds until they demanded their death." A group of people presented themselves to the Roman governor of Asia, C. Arrius Antoninus, declared themselves to be Christians, and encouraged the governor to do his duty and put them to death. He executed a few, but as the rest demanded it as well, he responded, exasperated, "You wretches, if you want to die, you have cliffs to leap from and ropes to hang by.” (Quoted in Bowersock, G. W. Martyrdom and Rome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, 1. Bowersock cites Tertullian.)

God has shown Himself to be gracious to us to give us the gift of suffering for His Son’s sake. Though it is an abuse of God’s gift to eagerly solicit suffering for suffering’s sake, it is equally an abuse of God’s gift to avoid it, despise it, fear it, reject it, and denounce it.

We must be “out there.” We must be an active, vocal, serving witness that consistently testifies to what we know and have experienced. We must be involved in the work of Christ in order to encounter suffering.

Don’t miss your gift! Embrace your gift in dependence and with trust in God who has given it. Lord, willing tomorrow I will list some of the reasons why God has given to us this gracious gift of suffering.

What say ye? Leave a comment let me know you where here!

1 comment:

Pilgrim Mommy said...

I've had more than my share of superstitious fears about suffering in the past. It is sad that believers run from the proof that they are true children of God - the discipline and chastisement of the Lord.