By James Metsger
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, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:29-30)
Lately I’ve been receiving text messages letting me know I have a gift that needs to be picked up at the post office. Sounds good to me! The only problem is this gift doesn’t really exist. The message is malarky; the gift is a scam! Someone just wants me to click on a link to capture my personal information. It’s a gift all right. It’s a box of rocks, a lump of coal, a rice cake. In his letter, Paul told the Philippians of a very real gift they would be receiving. To be honest, I’m not sure I would have wanted it.
For it has been granted to you that you should believe in God…. Belief! I’d like some of that. Who doesn’t want more faith? Faith in Christ is a gift that comes with so many others—salvation, forgiveness, grace, mercy. I’d take a second helping of belief any day of the week and twice on Sunday. I’m definitely picking up what Paul is putting down. But let’s see how Paul continues. For it has been granted to you that you should believe in him…but also suffer for his sake. Um. Ok, I’m out.
Plainly put, suffering stinks. I don’t want to suffer.
Recently, I was sent to the ER with the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. In fact, it may have been the worst pain any one has ever experienced! I became the proud parent to a kidney stone that day. I understand it’s not fair to compare my birth pains to that of actually birthing a child. And you’re right. It’s not fair to compare. My pain was worse.
I would’ve done whatever possible to avoid that kidney stone pain. Come to think of it, I don’t relish the idea of any kind of pain or suffering. Yet, it seems to me that suffering is actually a means God uses to accomplish something good.
Suffering is a means God uses to advance the gospel. The early church is a witness to that reality. In the book of Acts, we see the church growing in the midst of persecution. Years ago while in Cuba, I was speaking with a local pastor who told a story about Cuban officials calling their counterparts in China asking about ways to stop the spread of the church. The leader in China said the best way to stop it was to make churches legal. Make it easy for people to practice their faith and complacency will follow. The government need not intervene. People will naturally drift. Paul would probably agree since he saw firsthand that his suffering advanced the gospel.
Suffering is also a means of our sanctification. In Philippians 3:10, Paul says, “…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…”
Suffering has a way of forming and shaping us. Because Jesus suffered, we become more like him through our own suffering. This is the humbling process of sanctification. Will you submit or resist? Peter wanted the exiled Christians to understand that “though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1: 6-7). Suffering readies us for the future. It transforms and changes our perspective. When I found myself in the ER, things that at one time were very important to me seemed insignificant. While painful, I found this to be purifying. Paul faced the “gift” of suffering with confidence that God would use it for Paul’s good and God’s glory.
If you are in a season of suffering, can you see how God may use it to sanctify you?