“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.”
Among Paul’s many intentions in writing to the Philippians was to encourage them in their suffering. This is clear from the apostle’s exhortations in 1:27–28 for the Christians in Philippi to live a life worthy of the gospel and stand united in one mind and Spirit against their opposition. Remarkably, however, the apostle not only acknowledges the reality of suffering for the gospel; he also identifies this suffering as a gift from God to His people (vv. 29–30).
We are not prone to consider persecution as, in a sense, something that is granted to us by the Lord. Yet the Bible tells us this is so in many ways. Jesus, for example, explains that “a disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master”; thus, we cannot expect to escape suffering for the gospel if the Lord of the gospel Himself had to endure tribulation (Matt. 10:16–25). Colossians 1:24 reminds us that our suffering fills up the messianic woes, the set number of sufferings that God has determined His people must endure before the consummation of His kingdom. We could list other examples, but the point is that though we should not necessarily be going out of our way to find persecution, we should not be surprised that it, along with faith itself, is our Creator’s gift to us.
How can suffering for the gospel be considered a gracious gift of God? There are many answers to this question. Philippians 1:29–30 implies that suffering is a gift because it proves that we are on the same side as the apostles who also endured persecution for Christ’s sake. And if we are on the same side as Paul, Peter, James, and so forth, then we have assurance that we belong to the Father. James 1:2–4 tells us that our various trials are used by God to create a steadfast Christian character within us. Certainly that is a benefit as we seek to reach others with the gospel.
No matter the benefits that result from suffering for the gospel, we can be sure that we do not rely on ourselves to endure emotional and physical pain for the sake of Christ. For if the same One who grants suffering to our lives also grants us faith, we can be sure that He will sustain our faith through persecution to the end of life (Phil. 1:29–30). From the first moment we believe to our final breath, we remain utterly dependent on Him for our gospel loyalty.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
If we are surprised when persecution comes, then we will find it more difficult to endure it and experience the grace of God in our suffering. Yet as we remember that both belief and suffering are granted to us by the Lord, we will not be taken aback when pain comes our way for believing in Jesus. We will also be looking for ways that we can mature as we suffer for boldly proclaiming the gospel.