“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake;
Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.”
(Philippians 1:29) is one of those verses that makes me stop and shake my head in disbelief. Paul tells the readers of this letter that suffering has been “given to them”…. Some versions may say “granted to them”, but either way, granted? Really? As in, “Here you go. Here’s a big ol’ heaping helping of suffering”? I was like, “wow, seriously?” when I first read this; ….
If you dig into the Greek behind that phrase, you’ll uncover the word “chadizomai” which this word usually implies “something that’s freely given for someone else’s benefit” …..
In (Luke 7:21), the same word shows how Jesus healed the sick and gave sight to the blind. Free, beneficial gifts …. All well and good. So, why would Paul add something crazy like suffering to these other good things? Surely, he has to see that suffering doesn’t fit in the same category as healing the blind and forgiving sin. They don’t even share the same zip code. Right?
Well, Paul’s example shows us that they do. Right near the end of Acts (chapter 27), Paul gets stuck with a stubborn centurion who can’t wait to get to Rome and a ship’s pilot who’s happy to oblige. Paul warns that such a trip will end badly. They ignore him: (word to the wise: never ignore Paul). When they run into a storm, things look really, really bad. People are throwing supplies overboard, faces are green, and hope goes out the door (paraphrased, emphasis mine) ……
About that time, Paul gets to give his “I told you so” speech, and in that speech, he uses this same word or meaning implied in a sentence. An angel had appeared to Paul and told him, “Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.” (Acts 27:24). God had given him, rather granted him seasick sailors (who wanted to kill the prisoners, mind you) and a stubborn centurion who refused to listen to sense. What kind of good gift is that? God could have granted him a miraculous trip to a nearby island; perhaps somewhere warm and not so stormy …..
But if that had been the case, Paul wouldn’t have done the other part of this verse: “you must be brought before Caesar.”
In other words “stand before him. If Paul had been whisked away, in fact, we wouldn’t have the books of Acts or Luke, nor would the sailors and centurion have seen God’s mighty act to save every single one of them; and Paul wouldn’t have taken the gospel to the most important city in the Roman Empire. God gave Paul the gift of their lives so that the gospel would bulldoze on, and in that, many of us are saved today …
And that brings up back to Paul’s suggestion that suffering is granted ~ yes, a gift indeed ….
Quite likely, Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians not long after being smashed into the rocks. Despite the messy trip (or perhaps precisely because of it), the message of Christ spread throughout the royal guard and people all over Rome. Other Christians actually got some backbone to speak more boldly because of this ….
The gift of suffering, for Paul and for us, doesn’t seem much like a gift, at least not at first, or even as we are enduring it. But the vantage point makes all the difference. It’s all about perspective. Suffering that comes for the sake of Christ always produces a harvest of awesome results. That’s because, in addition to the suffering, God also grants us the strength to endure despite the trials, and the chance to see the gospel take root in others as they witness our suffering, yet have strength and joy in the midst of it …. Isn’t it the least comforting to know that your pain has a purpose?
And that’s why Paul can truthfully say, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Philippians 3:8).
That’s not empty boasting from a beaten down man. That’s not coming from a man succumbing to struggles. That’s the triumphant cry of someone who sees what lies ahead, and has chosen to follow Christ no matter the obstacles, challenges, or struggles; no matter the pain, grief, sorrow, or discomfort …. and his reasoning is found in the following verses:
“And be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” (vs 9-11).
What a glorious promise of hope to hold onto. Kinda wipes out any semblance of pity that I should ever have for myself, not to mention that it should instill hope into the readers knowing that the end result far outweighs any discomforts or sorrow of which we might struggle with right now in this lifetime ….
Out lives are fleeting, and our suffering but momentary in the scheme of all things as it is written: “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” (James 4:14). Paul reminds us that we are in a race for the ultimate prize; which is to know Christ more fully, to be partakers of His suffering in that we may be partakers in the resurrection of the dead, which is to say the rapture, and finally obtain the incorruptible crown ~
“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.”
(1 Corinthians 9:24-25)
In closing, let us have hope in the midst of our struggles, for we know by God’s infallible Word and everlasting promises that if we endure to the end we shall be saved (Matthew 24:13), and we shall have the most beautiful crowns and be clothed in beautiful white robes. Let the words of our mouths be as Timothy’s ~
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Let us pray ~
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your loving-kindness and heart of sweet compassion and I thank You that in my times of deep distress and suffering, You have gently brought other people alongside me, to walk with me through the different seasons of my life; to comfort and encourage, to help and to advise. Thank You for all those whom You have used to draw near to me to be Your hands to help, Your arm to support and Your heart to love … Thank You that You never forsake us nor leave us comfortless, but so often send showers of refreshment through Your many faithful witness and other avenues of support.
Thank You Lord that You truly are the Father of mercies and God of all comfort and I pray that just as You have used many of Your children to draw alongside me and accompany me through those troubled times, that You would take my life and use me as a vessel of comfort and solace to others, who are facing similar difficulties and are themselves in need of comfort and help. Use me, I pray, to comfort others who are suffering affliction, with the godly comfort with which I myself has been comforted by You. I ask this in the name of Jesus,
God bless you!