Our reading comes from Philippians 3:7-11
These words come from the pen of Paul who is in prison at the time, yet he speaks of joy in the midst of his sufferings. Today let’s consider another basic matter of Christian faith: The burden and benefits of Christian suffering.
Philippians has four chapters. In each we see Jesus Christ as the theme. In chapter one, Christ is our purpose: verse 21 – for me, to live is Christ, to die is gain! Chapter 2, Christ is our Pattern: verses 5-11 – have this mind in you which was also in Christ… Chapter 3, Christ is our Prize: verses 10-14 – I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Chapter 4, Christ is our power: verse 13 – I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Last week we explored Hebrews 12:1-3 where we are urged to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has now sat down at the right hand of God. Picture this: joy set before Him, shame and death on the way. Isn’t this true of much of life here on this earth? So how does this all work? What’s the purpose and goal? The Bible tells us.
Philippians 3:7-11 in our reading speak of the greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord and being found in Him. This passage has a lot to do with loss and suffering. That’s part of how we come to know Jesus Christ! We don’t like suffering. Jesus didn’t either. But this is a basic part of Christian development. It tests us, proves our faith, unites us with one another and builds our relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Bible reveals that suffering as a Christian is as basic as being baptized into Christ’s death, buried with Him in baptism into death and raised with Him to walk in newness of life. In fact, there is a lot more said in the New Testament about suffering as a Christian than most of us are comfortable with (no pun intended).
So let’s talk about this.
Does anyone here remember what Charlie Brown would always say when he was frustrated? Good Grief!
Charlie Brown’s little two word expression may be helpful to us here. Is there such a thing as good grief? Is there a kind of grief or pain that produces something good? Like a good cry. Or a good spanking. Suffering is not without its benefits. In fact, the New Testament reveals that without suffering there would be no salvation for us.
What we have here in Philippians as well as elsewhere, gives us what is the greatest benefit of suffering that there can be. It is through suffering as a Christian that we can come to know Jesus Christ. But not only that, it is through our suffering that others can come to know Jesus Christ as well!
Those who are NOT willing to suffer as a Christian are actually turning away from knowing Jesus Christ. Listen to Hebrews 10:32-39.
Also, suffering together is perhaps one of the most unifying experiences one can go through. Men who fight together side by side in war experience a bond that nothing else can produce. Christians who serve and evangelize together share life and one anotherness that is unmatched. Suffering squeezes stuff out of our hearts and surfaces deep matters that we carry. It has a pressure that tests us and proves us.
Look at these passages with me: James 1:2-8, 1 Peter 4:1-5, 5:6-11, Rev. 2:8-11.
What’s common about all these is this: suffering has a place and benefit in the Christian walk. It’s not just punitive. It’s discipling. No pain, no gain is true.
We are saved by grace through faith, but not without ongoing experiences that develop us into Christ’s likeness. Part of that is suffering. But notice this strange statement of Paul in Philippians 1:29. To you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him. Wow! Is that not an unexpected message? Is suffering for Christ a gift? Is it actually a valuable resource for spiritual growth? Yes. Like rabies vaccine shots after a bite from a rabid dog, it’s painful, but life saving.
Notice also Colossians 1:24 where Paul says: I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of His body, which is the church.
Now there’s a quandary for us to consider! What irony in those words: I rejoice in what I am suffering for you… Rejoice? That’s just what all the other scriptures tell us to do in times of trial. Jesus said, “blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven!”
There’s your highest benefit. Every pain for Jesus here is greatly rewarded there. Paul says in Romans 8, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” What glory? He just said it in verses 16-17. “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings.” We will inherit glory that is beyond compare! But that only awaits those who share in His sufferings. Now I can see why Paul would rejoice in what was suffered! He’s being assured of eternal, all surpassing glory with Jesus Christ in heaven!
Mission song: verse 2 –
Jesus died to be our Savior and He rose to be our King.
Now He calls us to His glory through the path of suffering.
As we’re seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness,
Saving the lost by His grace as we share His word,
Serving like Him with His love as His hands and feet,
Counting it all for joy!