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
The concept of suffering in the Christian experience is not unique. In fact, we could argue the lack of suffering most Christian’s have experienced in recent generations is unique. Paul had no concept of “not suffering.” It was expected, anticipated, and it was “granted.” Not only is faith a gift from God, but so is suffering. Why does it surprise us today that we would, should, or even must suffer for the sake of Christ and the gospel?
It is time we marvel at the words Paul uses to describe his situation, and consider why suffering is so beneficial to him and to those around him.
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Philippians 1:12-14
Paul was in jail at the time he wrote the letter to the Philippians. He is grateful for his suffering. It has given him a unique perspective. Suffering forces a person to depend upon God, and it causes the outside observer to question why one would willingly endure such things? It was no different for Paul.
So what is it about the Christian life that can take joy in reproaches, insults, and derision? For the Christian sufferer, it drives them to Christ. It weakens the bondage the flesh has over them. It leads them to more fervent prayer. It softens them when dealing with other people’s trials. It gives them a better appreciation of what Christ went through. It encourages other Christians to be more steadfast in their own trials. It encourages Christians to be bold in the proclamation of the gospel, regardless of the hardship it brings.
In all of this, Paul said, it especially serves to advance the gospel. The guards saw what Paul endured. They were shocked that he would joyfully submit to his suffering. They were shocked by his continued boldness and patience. Other Christians were perhaps the same way. They were encouraged that Paul’s faith never wavered.
Christian, do you lack boldness? Has your witness lagged? Has your spiritual life become dry? This is something that every Christian will likely go through at some point in his or her walk. We need a boost. We need a lift. Rather than turn to self-help books or gurus, perhaps it’s time we suffered for the gospel.
The gift of suffering helps us to depend on God. This is not to say we should intentionally look for suffering or hardship. As Peter stated, we should not suffer as evildoers, but suffer for doing good (1 Peter 4:15-19). But it is to say that as we live out our lives as obedient Christians, especially in the pagan West, we will meet a culture that is hostile to biblical truth. This will inevitably lead to suffering, and it is a cause for rejoicing, not shame.
A more obvious source of suffering comes from evangelism, whether it is gospel focused open air preaching or 1-1 on the streets, college-campus, abortion clinics, or even with a relative on the phone. As we expose the folly of unbelieving worldviews and contrast it with the consistency of the biblical worldview, we will incur the hostility of the lost. Spurgeon said it well: “If you really long to save men’s souls, you must tell them a great deal of disagreeable truth.”
Telling the truth has always had a way of bringing persecution, whether in Jesus and Paul’s time or our own. We are not to shrink back, but rather to press on, realizing that our Master has followed the same path. Paul and the disciples have done the same. Now it is our turn. Suffering is a gift from God, so rather than be surprised by it, let us rejoice and keep going in the good fight of faith.