Photo credit goes to Brittany Cunningham.
“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…” Philippians 1:29
I like to visit a place called Advancing Native Missions. It’s a ministry that the Lord has raised up that exists to support native missionaries as they obey the Lord in their home countries. On Thursday mornings they have a Bible study that’s open to the community. And after that Bible study, some missionaries will share their testimony, their story of what You, Lord, have done and are doing in their lives. I hear some of the hardships that these brothers and sisters have gone through or are going through and I weep with them. Really. And I have personal friends who are native missionaries. And I know their struggles. And my heart goes out for them. But did you know, that’s not enough? God’s granted us the ability to do more than feel sorry for our brothers and sisters as they suffer for His sake. You, Lord, have granted for those who believe on You, to be included in those who are also suffering for Your sake.
So what does believing look like to You, Lord. Well, it also looks like someone who suffers for Your sake. But I must understand this. This is not a suffering of complaining and discontent. No, this is very different. Well, before I get into the meaning behind Your words, it would probably be beneficial to look at Paul’s example. So, let’s rehash what he’s sharing in chapter 1 that leads to this statement.
Now, where was Paul when he wrote this letter to the Philippians? Paul was in prison in Rome. Why was he there? Had he done something wrong? Had he broken the law? Absolutely not. He was doing exactly what God had purposed for him to do and he was exactly where God had purposed him to be. As a matter of fact, God had granted him to be in jail in Rome. This was Your favor over him. This was Your gratuitous kindness to him. Want me to prove it? I can, thanks to what was shared at the last ANM Bible study.
Remember Paul’s conversion on the way to Damascus. He was the number one persecuter of the believers. And on his way to wreak some havoc upon them, the Lord knocks him down, blinds him temporarily, speaks to him, and sends him to wait in a house. Then he sends a believer to him to share Your purpose for him and to make You known to him. And this is what You tell Ananias about Your plans for Paul. “…[H]e is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15, 16) Now how’s that for a great way to start off a ministry? Suffering from the start. Not only suffering, but “how great” suffering.
So did knowing that he was going to suffer greatly deter Paul from following You? Absolutely not. It shaped everything he believed and how he acted upon that belief. He fully understood “from the getgo” that the Gospel was a confrontation to the culture he was living in. He also understood that he wouldn’t just be defending himself. He was defending the Gospel in everything he did now. His preaching was to be his defense of God, of You. Suffering was part of his calling in You and for You. Everything that happened to him would be in accord with this calling You had for him. He understood that. And because he understood that, it shaped everything that happened in his life.
Let’s jump ahead to Acts 26 where Paul is finally before Agrippa in Rome. They think Paul is there to be judged. But why does Paul see himself there? He wasn’t afraid because He knew God had arranged this for His defense before kings! This was an audience for Paul to share Jesus before! Paul’s circumstances of suffering where God ordained circumstances for sharing the Gospel in order to open the eyes of those who would not normally hear. Paul’s agenda, whether in comfort or suffering, was to share You, Lord. But suffering was just a greater and stronger opportunity to share You in these God-designed ways.
So, in Philippians, Paul is writing from prison, where he is praying for and rejoicing for all his fellow believers whereever they are. He prays about his confidence that God, You would continue the good work that you had started in each one, until it would be fully performed when Jesus fulfills all. He could pray that because he knew the truth of it in his own life. And that’s why he says he can say that. He has the right to say that because God, You have shown it true in his own life, that God, You were bringing to pass Your plans for him just as You had shared with him. He was seeing the truth in his sufferings and in the way You were using them to draw more people to You.
I love Paul’s prayer for believers. I love that we can pray this for ourselves and for others and we can expect You to bring it to fruition in our lives as we faithfully submit to Your leading. Paul prayed for believers that their love would abound more and more in knowledge and judment. That way they would know the things that You consider excellent and live in them. That way they could make life choices that were sincere and without offense before You. That way they would be filled with the fruits of righteousness in Jesus for Your glory and praise before the world.
But it was also important to Paul that the believers (which includes us today) understood about his sufferings. He’s saying that the things that have come against him, have come so that he could further the Gospel. His suffering is Your way of giving him opportunity after opportunity to show the depth of his relationship with Christ and to share that with others. Now, as Paul rightly responds to these glorious opportunities, he gives confidence and strength to other brethren who must face suffering also. Not only that, but I think he’s talking of some “Hebrew brethren,” non-believers, who are spreading the Gospel without really trying as they share his story mockingly with others. So on one hand, brethren in the Lord are strengthened and have more of the testimony of the Lord to share, and non-believers are sharing the story too! I mean, that’s a win-win situation if we look at it through Your eyes, Lord.
Yes, every day and every experience of suffering has taught Paul that You are in the process of delivering him. This is his confidence through prayer. He does not have to be ashamed because this is all according to Your plan. He can be bold in Who he knows. He is being given the opportunity to glorify You, Jesus, in word and life, by his body as well, in life or death. His living is about You and if he must, then his dying will be all about You. And he is fine with either one because he knows that You will be made known and proclaimed. And he knows Who he belongs to and where he is going. And he is praying that we would have this same understanding, that we would be one in thinking and living with You, Lord, and therefore with each other.
And once we line up our thinking with Yours and understand that every circumstance is under Your control and designed for Your glory, then I don’t have to be terrified of any situation. They might see things as set up for my defeat and my death, but You’ve set it up for my deliverance in You, as an opportunity to shine for You and make You known. Because suffering wasn’t just a gift for Paul. He is telling us that it’s a gift, a generous gift that God has given us in Christ also. It’s not enough to just believe. If I believe, it means I enter into the life of Christ. Christ suffered for my sake, and in Him, I am called to suffer for His sake.
Funny, but we all want Your gifts except this one. Give me wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophesy, discernment, tongues, interpretations of tongues, but don’t give me suffering. Maybe the fact of the matter is, if I’m not willing to embrace the suffering, I won’t ever really be able to embrace any other gift You give me in the right way. And maybe, if I can’t embrace suffering for You, I haven’t ever really embraced You.
See, the interesting thing is that You grant me this benefit to suffer with You. You see this as a favorable, gratifying thing for my life. You were gracious and benevolent in granting me this opportunity to suffer with You. In granting my pardon, You suffered. You freely gave and bestowed Yourself for me. You graciously restored us to You through Your suffering. You preserved me from peril through Your suffering. When did I merit any of it? If You so willingly and freely did that for me, how can I not repay my gratitude with a life that is willingly and graciously handed over to You and Your plans? How can I be a believer without entering into the suffering You have planned for me?
Agrippa saw and heard Paul. God arranged through Paul’s suffering for Agrippa to be presented with the truth of Christ. What was Agrippa’s response? “Paul, you almost persuade me to be a Christian.” Almost, but not. Agrippa had another agenda, not God’s. Paul had God’s agenda. He was willing to obey and labor, and labor comes with toil and suffering. God was worth that much to him. What’s my agenda? What I do matters. What will my response be? Will I be afraid of suffering for You, Lord? Or will I embrace You and the suffering that comes with You? “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58) When God brings suffering into my life, it is never in vain. Will I surrender to Your suffering and allow You to use me as Your light in it’s midst? Please, grant me that blessing with my brothers and sisters, Lord.