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, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have
The perspective that asserts that suffering is a gift is perhaps the most foreign concept in Western Christianity. However, for first century believers, suffering was a privilege. For a believer, suffering has some implications that can only be understood in the context of submission to a sovereign God. First, suffering is not apart from the hand of God. God does not simply leave humanity alone to suffer. Rather, in an unfathomable sympathy, He walks through pain and suffering with us. Second, suffering has purpose. Consider for a moment that God may actually intend suffering for your good. (C.f. Romans 8:12-30) This radical notion was not radical to the early church, it was normative. Perhaps if modern Christians could grasp that suffering is a good thing, we would have fewer problems in our churches and greater impact on the world around us. Third, if you are given the opportunity to suffer, it means that Christ thinks you are worthy and able to suffer well. If God is not distant when we suffer, and He is sovereign, and suffering has a purpose, then it stands to reason that Christ thinks you can handle it. Finally, suffering is temporary. Suffering will not last forever, it is a temporary condition that will end. Although suffering may seem eternal and you may not be able to recognize it’s end, it is a temporary affliction.
Keeping the aforementioned implications in mind, re-read verses 29-30. Suffering has been granted! This is a gift for the believers in Philippi. Suffering is a gift to be cherished, not a condition to be denied or avoided. Too many in this world claim God does not want any sort of suffering to befall His children. However, Paul says, “it has been granted.” Suffering for the sake of Jesus Christ is a glorious affliction that will bring maturity to the believer and glory to Christ. When we suffer well, we exalt the name and character of Christ while simultaneously learning to overcome the trials and travails of this life.
Over the last 6 years I have been afflicted with a disease that causes chronic pain. Through this experience I have found the Lord molding me to be a more sympathetic and loving person. My experience in this momentary trial has led me to greater praise to God, deeper love towards others, and a greater appreciation for the labor of knowing Christ on this earth. I can personally attest that Christ is sufficient to lead you through affliction. Further, I experience the blessing of the Lord on a deeper level than those who deny that God intends my suffering. By embracing the truth that suffering is “granted,” I have found joy where it is not supposed to be. God gave me an affliction.
Christians do not suffer alone, we are granted the privilege of sharing in suffering of other believers. Such is the case with the Philippians and Paul. Amidst Paul’s suffering, the Philippians have been privileged to join in the conflict with him. They share in the same persecution that Paul endures and they are commended for it. When Christians suffer, their brothers and sisters in the faith suffer with them. This is why you need a Christian community around you. Not so that you can be comfortable or have adequate activities to fill your days and weeks. Not so that your children can be entertained or even taught the Bible. But so that you can model the life changing effects of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Find a community that will rally around you in your suffering. A community that will allow you to partake of their suffering. Find a community that will walk through suffering, continuously pointing you to Christ and His word. In this way, you will exalt the savior and delight in Him.
If you live in the Brazoria Texas area and do not have a community in which to enjoy this kind of community, come check out Sovereign Grace Fellowship. We are a small community trying to live out the gospel together. For more information check out our website: sgfbrazoria.org.