God’s Grace in Suffering

Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. 27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 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, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:18b-30)

Our world, our society is changing rapidly, in many ways, right before our eyes. We used to talk in the old days about a particular difficulty with evangelism in the US, particularly in the south, or what has been called the “Bible belt.” That difficulty was that everyone we talked to said they were already Christian. Many found it difficult and still do trying to convert people who didn’t believe they needed converting. 

Combined with that, there has been a parallel problem and that is those who are actively in our churches, many are indistinguishable from those outside the church in thoughts, actions, behaviors, so much so that we may all have been generally confused about what Christianity really is, what it should look like. Is everyone saved? What is salvation? What does it look like practically? So many questions, much confusion. 

We may hear people around us, or pick up on attitudes from fellow professing Christians that indicate a desire for things from God but maybe an absence of simply desiring God. Like, “I want a lot of things, good things from God, nice things, things that make me comfortable and happy, I want God to do things for me that make life good and that’s about it. God, I believe in you so now do for me.” What may be missing in that is, “Do I really love Christ?” Are our lives lived longing for Him, relating with Him, wanting to be near Him? Or as Paul says, are we desiring Him?

Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8)

Paul is saying the saved are those who love His appearing, who are longing not just for good things from Jesus but who love Him, those who know Him, desire Him, who are living with a sense of great anticipation of His return so we can be with Him. Why does Paul say, “To live is Christ and to die is gain?” To live is to live for Him, in a relationship with Him, and to die is to have more of Him, to be with Him in person, face to face it’s to have, to live with more of Christ. That is why dying is gain.

That may seem philosophical to you, just talk without practical understanding or application, but it doesn’t have to be. We are not talking about a fictional character, a figure or an idea, we are talking about the person of Jesus Christ, God incarnate, someone we can really love and long for.

I love my wife. And I love her appearing. That is not hard to understand. When I get home, I love to see her. When I come home the first thing I usually do is find her and speak to her, speak with her. If I am away, I wish she were there, I don’t just love what she does for me, though she does a whole lot for me, no I love her. I want to be with her. If she couldn’t do for many things any longer I would still love her. We are companions.

That can help us understand Christianity and relationship with Christ. Christianity is more than a prayer that gets us stuff. It is about a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is fellowship with Jesus, it is a life that must change from the old life because being in Christ is a whole new focus and brings a new outlook on life. Sort of like marriage should do. We are in Him, for Him, with Him, we stand for Him, reborn into His kingdom, His realm. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old things have passed away, behold new things have come.” Our passage this morning makes no sense if we don’t understand what real Christianity is. If we hold to a Christianity that is simply a saying a prayer and believing that that prayer means we now get whatever we want from God then or passage this morning makes no sense. So I just want to warn you about that this morning.

As we look at our passage we have to look at it within the context of true saving faith, of real Christianity, of a new position in life where we are in God’s family, in His Kingdom, as Paul has said earlier in Philippians, citizens of heaven. We are in a new way that does not often line up with what we call the “world,” meaning we are in a new way, a new way of living that is contrary to the the old way, the old way being the philosophies of the world, the ways of the world. This may be challenging for us. If we are no longer buying into the ways and philosophies of this world then certain things will happen. To go upstream is tough in the world. Paul is trying to help us see what those things are, he wants us to see what happens when we begin living the Christian life, real vibrant Christian life, which is a life contrary to the philosophies, the ways of this world.

We are to think differently about life. And as we do there are some things that are going to happen. Today we are going to talk about what will happen,as we live this new life in Christ in relationship with Him, following Him.

29 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, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:29-30)

A fascinating passage for us and very revelatory regarding this life we now have in Christ. Paul continues his thoughts regarding suffering. Paul gives us an explanation, a theological explanation for suffering and it comes in two parts. In verse 29 Paul puts suffering in terms of their, our, relationship with Christ, and in verse 30 he puts suffering in terms of their relationship with Him. Paul is clear to put their salvation as something coming to them as a gift from God, It has been granted to them to believe, to enter into an intimate relationship with God through Christ. This is a gift, a gracious gift from a sovereign God.

29 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,

That any of us believe for salvation, this is a gift, belief is a gift, it is a component of salvation and a gift from God. To say it another way, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourself it is a gift from God…” Faith or believing is at the heart of our salvation. What does it mean to believe as far as salvation? Let me give you three components necessary for believing, for saving faith.

A component of belief is understanding content, understanding the content of the gospel. Hearing the message of the gospel of Christ and understanding its content. Hebrews 10:26 says, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,” Knowledge of the gospel is necessary but it alone does not save. One can know the facts, must know the facts of the gospel message but there must be more than knowledge alone.

Another component then of saving faith or belief is an intellectual assent or an agreement with the gospel facts. I understand mentally what the gospel of Christ of salvation is and I agree that it is true. James 2:19 – “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” The demons have more than a knowledge of God, they intellectually know God for who He is and this is why they shudder! Belief includes knowledge, it includes intellectually assenting to that knowledge knowing that it is true but there is more that is very important. Belief includes a transfer of reliance from oneself to Jesus alone for justification. Philippians 3:9 – “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith”

This involves godly sorrow and repentance, an about-face and all-out pursuit to love, submit, fully trust in and follow. This is where our worldview changes from loving the philosophies of the world to embracing the philosophies of the Word, of Christ. This is how we can understand Christ when He says, “If you love me you will keep my commandments!” He is saying if you are mine, have believed then you will keep my commandments because they are the new philosophy of life that is contrary to the world. It is a switch in our minds in our ways. Not some immediate perfect adherence to God’s commands, but a buying into, a “Yes, this is now my direction, will be my way, this is how I now will live!” And then an ever-growing consistency in this new way of life!

James 2:26 – “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” Christianity is a changed life! A new life! Believing, saving faith brings change and with this change new things begin to happen; we should expect that, right? New things begin to happen in life, in and around us, when we belong to Christ, we are His. What are those things that begin to happen? Paul says in verse 29, “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,”

We got the belief part but what about this other component, what about suffering? To grant, the word “grant” is from the same root as the word we translate “grace.” It means to “give, render or grant graciously.” Like to give you a gift of grace, to graciously give to you. In this sense we have been given, graciously given for the sake of Christ…to what? To suffer.

Herein lies the challenge. Is this what Christianity is supposed to be, suffering? But someone told me, “Come to Christ and suffering ends!” Or, “Come to Christ and problems go away, just try Christ and your relationships will be fixed, your wallet will be filled, your earthly dreams and desires will come to fruition! What is this of suffering, is this what I get from God? And how am I to see it as a gracious gift from God?” We may say, “it seems to me that a gracious gift would be an end to suffering in this life!” What is going on here with this suffering being a gracious gift? Maybe we need to work this into our evangelistic presentations. 

There is an important tie back to verse 28 where Paul speaks of clear evidence of their salvation as being found in the fact that they have opponents. It goes something like this from verse 28 to verse 29 – “This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God…because the God who has given you his salvation has with that gift also, graced you to be Christ’s people in the world (in a world of philosophies opposed to Christ), which means that you will suffer for his sake just as he did for yours, and as I do as well.” 

“You are my people, and being my people, you now get to represent me to a people who, well, naturally hate me and my ways.” Isn’t that right? If true salvation really means being transported so to speak into a way of thinking and living that is contrary to the world’s philosophies, then with that salvation will naturally come suffering. If we are faithful representatives, we will have opponents; those opponents will be those who desire to stick with the world’s philosophies, we are the ones who have changed, embracing God’s ways. We have changed as believers and the world has not. The fact that we suffer is an extension of grace and should not surprise us. Instead of overwhelming us it is rather evidence that “God looks upon us with favor and has made us His.”

Okay, now I mentioned that the Christian life is different than living the philosophies of the world and now you’re thinking, “Yes, that’s different.” It’s different to think suffering is evidence of how God looks upon us with favor. Craziness to the world, yes, but true for us. It is important to see here that in this passage Paul is not speaking of, offering encouragement to believers regarding suffering in general, regarding any kind of suffering, but here he is specifically speaking of their living for Christ in a world that is openly hostile to God and resistant to his love. Suffering in this context is narrow and is focused on suffering for living out the Christian life in a world or society that is hostile to Christ.

Here is how it works: to those who have received God’s grace to believe, to these He has also given them the grace to “shine out like stars in a wicked and perverse generation.” All for Christ’s sake, for the cause of Jesus Christ. So if you are suffering directly as a result of living faithfully for Christ, living a life of loving God, and loving your neighbors in His name, if you are suffering while living that way, then take heart. This is evidence of God’s grace, His hand upon you. Why else would you do that other than out of love for your Savior? We may suffer for a lot of different reasons, but here this grace of suffering is given to them to stand firm in the name of Christ as His witnesses to a lost world.

Paul adds on more thing in verse 30: “engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.” Paul is in the fight too. Paul is suffering in the same conflict. They had seen his suffering while in Philippi years earlier and and they know his suffering continues while in prison waiting for his trial for the cause of Christ, the gospel of Christ. He was and they were suffering directly because of their faithful walk with the Lord.

We may be tempted as followers of Christ to still protest regarding suffering. Like, “I’m not so sure I am ready to just be willing to suffer for Christ in this world, is there another way?” We may really fight against this and try to find another way to live our faith and reject this truth on suffering, I mean who wants to suffer, right? We may say.

And yet we are, most of us are more than willing to suffer in some cases. For example, I mentioned earlier, I spoke of my love for my wife. You know what, I don’t and I wouldn’t think twice about standing up for her, standing with her standing, for her, in any setting that may result in my personal suffering. How about you with someone you love? Your spouse? Your boyfriend or girlfriend? Your child? Are you willing to suffer if that is what might result if you stand for and with your child? Probably not. 

How much more can we say, “Yes, I will live faithfully, stand for and with Christ, be that light in this world, shine brightly in this darkness, proclaim Christ and proclaim His ways loudly, speak of Him openly, open up His word to others when it may be hard. I love Him, I will suffer for Him, thank you Lord for granting me belief and suffering for your cause for your glory. Thank you for calling me into service, even to suffering for the sake of your great name.”? I think that is what Paul is saying, and by God’s grace we too can live as we have been called for Him.

In chapter 2 this emphasis will continue. Live life for Christ, in humility, with a radical focus away from ourselves, for His glory.

29 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, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:29-30)