“Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you, it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.”Philippians 1:27-30
It seems in this season that thoughts about suffering come out of the shadows for Christians. After all, if our Savior Jesus Christ endured the unspeakable kind of persecution and subsequent suffering, such as death on a cross, should we not expect some kind of suffering for His name? And yet, with our suffering comes the promise of victory and satisfaction that none of our suffering is in vain. The Bible is full of examples of suffering for Christians, though not without hope. Paul’s own suffering in this way is mentioned in Philippians 1.
Paul was in prison—quite likely in Rome around 60-62 A.D.—for his bold and broad furtherance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. By this time, he had suffered much for the sake of the gospel, including beatings and going without food, water, and other basic needs. He knew his future would hold more imprisonment and eventually death for the sake of Jesus Christ. Yet Paul was joyful. He had hope. In the midst of suffering, Paul wrote this wonderful letter to the Philippians. His goal was to show them thankfulness, joyfulness, and contentment.
Paul modeled an attitude of joy that all of us can trust and emulate. When I consider suffering as a Christian, it is now precious to me. It is the classroom where we learn about patience, humility, grace, and most importantly, the character of God. I find myself linked, however lightly on my part, to all past, present, and future sufferers for the name of Jesus. I understand that suffering is a part of God’s sovereign plan. He is preparing me to be an instrument of His grace and a portrait of His love to a lost and dying world. It is His prerogative to choose difficult ordeals to show His character in me, to make me His useful child to His other children.
I love how Chuck Swindoll puts it: “Paul knew firsthand what it meant to be misunderstood, mistreated, forsaken, forgotten, abused, maligned, shipwrecked, attacked, starved, imprisoned, and finally left for dead.” If Paul can experience these kinds of sufferings, then I am honored to stand in the ranks with what little suffering I am called to endure. Jesus knew more suffering than Paul or any of us. And because He is victorious, we can be victorious, too. He reminds us in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”
It would be advantageous for us to remember that suffering is not new. We should resist the temptation to rethink God just because hard times come. Remember that God is doing something new in us and suffering is a part of it. Sometimes contentment must come without comfort, and in the waiting, we will see the hand of God and we will experience that sufficient grace that only comes from Jesus.
So, as we consider suffering in this season of Easter, I am reminded that He has delivered me. He is delivering me, and He will deliver me. And I count myself privileged to endure my part since He has already delivered His people from the bondage of suffering.