New Thinking About Suffering
A study in the Book of Philippians
by John Dugas
1 Julyy 2018
Presented at Grace Bible Church, Tulsa
(I am using a transcribe program. Would you like to edit and clean up the text? If you would like to make notes on the outline, please post a comment below.)
New Thinking About Suffering
When Paul and Silas first went to Philippi, God rewarded their faithful ministry. Lydia was saved along with the other people in her house. She invited the missionaries to stay with her. They were afterward gathering for prayer when Paul cast a demon out of a servant girl. A good thing, right? Well, it wasn’t received that way. It caused opposition and a great commotion and Paul and Silas found themselves in prison. Not the way you’d expect faithful service to be rewarded.
Now, yes, the Philippian jailer and his household were saved after an awesome display of God’s power. As cool as that was, it was after Paul and Silas received a beating in public. In prison, in the midst of their suffering for Christ, they showed an uncommon mindset—they “were praying and singing hymns of praise to God” (Acts 16:25)! How could they respond that way? They were faithfully serving God and as a result they were treated horribly. That just doesn’t sound right, does it?
Probably none of us have been beaten for serving Christ or imprisoned for it. But if you have shared the gospel with people, if you have stood firm and done what is right (1 Pet 3:17), if you have lived with good, godly behavior (1 Pet 3:13-17), if you have lived out your faith as a Christian (1 Pet 4:16), then you are no stranger to suffering for Christ. You’ve been treated differently, badly, hatefully. Have you ever thought that this just isn’t right? Why is your faithfulness repaid with suffering?
Twelve years after Paul’s first visit to Philippi, he is suffering imprisonment once again and the Philippian believers are suffering too. They have been faithful to serve God as partners with Paul.
We saw last time that Paul called the Philippians to stand firm in the face of opposition. If they do, God will make their response a double sign: a sign that their opponents will face destruction and a sign that they will be vindicated in their salvation. After saying all of that, he now feels the need to explain why it is that they are called to suffer and how is God related to that.
His answer is that God gives the believer a two-fold gift. God graciously gives His children both salvation and suffering. The salvation part sounds good but to call suffering a gift of God kind of takes your breath away. Why do believers suffer? Paul explains by giving two reasons why believers suffer. Believers are related to Christ and they are related to one another in the work of ministry.
Paul doesn’t give commands here. He is laying a foundation of truth so that they will think rightly about their suffering. It is vital for a believer to understand why he or she suffers. Maybe not the specific reason in a given situation but to understand how it fits into God’s plan. And so this morning we have before us truths that we must believe. How do we apply that? The application is to believe them, rest on them, and embrace them so that they affect the way we think and behave.
All believers will suffer because this is who we are. We shouldn’t expect our suffering to look the same for every person or in every experience. Peter said that they are multi-faceted (1 Pet 1:6). Like Joseph’s coat, suffering comes in many colors. If we are engaged in sharing the gospel with sinners, we will experience at times the heartbreak where they respond with something like “I’m glad that helps you, but it’s not for me”.
At other times we will experience the pain of outright rejection or ridicule. But there’s also the suffering that comes from “doing ministry”. As you get involved in each other’s lives, you will suffer. Again, sometimes you will come away with a broken heart over the situation. At other times you will experience real, inner pain. Like Epaphroditus (Phil 2:27), you may suffer serious illness while serving Christ or while living out our faith.
When Paul told them in Phil 1:28 that if they stand firm amidst opposition, that their response would be a double-sign: a sign that their opponents will one day be destroyed but also a sign that faithful believers would be vindicated in salvation. It is evidence that they are saved. Paul said that all of that was “from God”. Calvin wrote that “persecutions are seals of adoption to the children of God” (p. 242). Salvation and suffering come from God? Explain that Paul!
I. Believers suffer because we are related to Christ by salvation (29). [read 29]
So Paul sets out to explain (For) what he said. Theology isn’t just for seminary or books. Here is an example of how useful theology is to us. By it, Paul explains why believers suffer. But first, there is a great truth that must be believed. God has given His children a double gift.
Granted is a word that was built from the common word for grace, charis. It means ‘to give graciously’ in that we didn’t earn it. God’s gift is given freely (1 Cor 2:12; Rom 8:32). While saying it this way is a bit redundant, this double-gift is a grace gift. What is the first part of this gift?
The first part of this grace gift is to believe in Him. Faith or believing is the sinner’s response to the gospel message. But we can’t miss an important point here. Faith is a gift from God (Eph 2:8; Rom 12:3; 2 Thess 3:2; Acts 3:16). You were not born with the ability to believe in Christ (Rom 8:7). Like Lydia, God has to open your heart to believe (Acts 16:14).
So then, do you just sit back and wait for it? No. “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom 10:13). If you call upon the Lord, He promises to save you. That means that He will give you faith. He will give you the ability to believe in Jesus as your Savior—as the One who has paid in full, the penalty for His people’s sins. Not everyone here has done this. I plead with you. Call upon the Lord and ask Him for the faith to believe. He will grant it and you will be saved.
This gift of salvation is for Christ’s sake. This all revolves around Christ. We are saved so that we might glorify Him (2 Thess 1:10-12). We are to be His bride (Eph 5). We are a people for His own possession so that we can proclaim His excellencies (1 Pet 2:9). Now the second part of the gift.
Paul said that not only have we been grace gifted salvation, but also something else. So there is more to come! It is a two-fold gift. It is double grace. Along with the gift of salvation each believer can count on receiving a second gift from God’s good hand. It reads this way in Greek, “For to you it has been graciously given for Christ’s sake, not only in Him to believe but also for His sake, to suffer!”
The second part of the “grace gift” is to suffer for His sake. You may be thinking, “What kind of gift is that? It’s worse than getting socks on your birthday. It would be like getting a whipping for your birthday!” But truly, suffering is a grace gift from God to us. The apostle Peter promised that after we have suffered, God Himself will “perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish” us (1 Pet 5:10) and that our suffering will give us occasion for great rejoicing when Christ is revealed (1 Pet 4:13). Suffering is a gift because we get to suffer as did Jesus (Heb 2:10), it produces endurance in us (Jam 1:3-4), and by it our faith is tested by fire and proven as genuine (1 Pet 1:6-7).
While suffering doesn’t seem like a gift, we can misunderstand it as evidence that God is displeased with us. Aren’t you tempted to think this way when unpleasant things come your way? “Is God repaying me for something bad I’ve done?” While it is right that we are sometimes chastised because of unrepentant sin (1 Cor 11:27-32), there is a difference.
The suffering that Paul is talking about here is suffering for Christ’s sake. That is, you are suffering because you are sharing the gospel, or because you are trying to live “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil 1:27; “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” 2 Tim 3:12), or because you are performing the ministry God has given you or you are carrying out the commands of Scripture.
II. Believers suffer because we are associated with other believers in serving (30). [read 30]
The Philippians are suffering because they are associated with Paul in gospel ministry. They too are experiencing something similar to what Paul is experiencing. For conflict, Paul uses the Greek word (agōn) from which we get agony or agonize. It was a word used in the world of athletics to describe the “agonizing” struggle that athletes engage in as they train and participate in a contest in the arena. It also came to be used in philosophy to describe the ethical struggle that pious people engage in as they live in this world. We are in a real conflict or battle that brings suffering.
When Paul was in Philippi and was beaten and jailed, they saw his conflict first hand. And through this letter and possibly other reports, they’ve heard about the same struggle he is still experiencing (1 Thess 2:2; Col 2:1). But as they’ve heard in this letter, the struggle for Paul is “in me”. This is the real arena for his struggles. They are in his inner man. We’ve seen that already in this chapter.
They are suffering in part because they are associated with Paul in Christian ministry. We too will suffer when we are associated with other believers who are living and serving faithfully. It is something that we all share in together. We should embrace suffering together.
These are truths that we must believe. Believe that God has graciously given you salvation. Remember that. It applies to many things. Believe that God has graciously given you suffering. He is good and wise. He knows what He is doing. And believe that both gifts are for Christ’s sake. They are for His glory. When you have difficulty with suffering, recall these truths and apply them to your situation. See that your suffering is a gift from your loving Father and is for Christ’s glory. And never forget that your salvation is also a gift from your loving Father and is for Christ’s glory.