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Suffering Worthy of the Gospel (Mike Riccardi)

 

Philippians 1:29–30 | Sunday, February 10, 2013 | Code: 2013-02-10-MR


 


 

Introduction

Having grown up in the densely populated state of New Jersey, I learned to drive in one of the more hostile traffic environments in America. Between the New Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway, and the occasional foray across the George Washington Bridge or the Lincoln Tunnel into New York City, I’ve been in my share of close calls and quick decisions. When you add the fact that I now live in Los Angeles and use some of the busiest freeways in the country on a daily basis, I suppose it’s rather a miracle that I’m still alive. In fact, there are many times while driving when I consciously thank the Lord that I was spared from this or that potential accident. I certainly know that my passengers have improved their prayer lives while driving with me from time to time.

Because of this rather ridiculous vehicular heritage, while I’m driving I often make it a point to observe the different patterns other drivers follow and decisions they make. Sometimes I imagine what I would have done in a certain situation—say, if a driver lost control or decided to change lanes without warning. “If he made a mistake and needed to jump in front of me, could I get out of his way?” Things like that.

Now, some of you might think that that’s a little strange, and, granted, you’re probably right. But I do it because I’ve had enough experience to know that in certain situations I might only have a fraction of a second to react. I need to be so prepared to avoid an accident that my reactions become second nature—because in the moment, I won’t have time to think clearly and dispassionately evaluate my options. The craziness of the moment simply won’t allow it. At least not where I’m driving.

And the same is true of Christian suffering. I don’t believe it’s possible to overstate how important it is to have a rock solid theology of suffering before one actually suffers. Because in the midst of some exceedingly painful trial, the craziness of the moment often doesn’t allow for cool contemplation and sound theological reasoning. The solid foundation that keeps you grounded can’t be being constructed in the middle of the storm. It needs to be set firmly in place beforehand, so that it can serve as a sure and steadfast anchor in the midst of whatever turmoil we might experience.

Well, in our text this morning, Paul seeks to lay just such a foundation for the Philippians in order to equip them to suffer in a manner worthy of the Gospel. It’s clear from the context of this passage that the saints in Philippi were experiencing opposition for their commitment to Jesus Christ. Verse 28 speaks of their opponents. Verse 29 speaks of suffering for Christ’s sake. And Paul says in verse 30 that they’re experiencing the same conflict that he had experienced.

You see, rather than being proud and dutiful slaves of Caesar, whom the Romans hailed as their “Lord and Savior,” the Philippians were now the faithful slaves of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Rather than being devoted citizens of the Roman Empire, the Philippians were now citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. And in the Kingdom of Heaven, conduct was to be ruled and regulated by the Gospel of Christ. As slaves of Christ, the Philippians were called to such purity of lifestyle that there was an evident difference between them and their pagan neighbors—so much so that in Philippians 2:14 Paul calls them “children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.” And we were reminded last time of Jesus’ own words in John 3:19–20: that the darkness hates the light because the light exposes their deeds as evil. The Apostle Peter tells us, 1 Peter 4:4, that when we who are saved no longer run with unbelievers into “the same excesses of dissipation,”—when faithful Christians no longer participate in the same sins we once participated in, in the same sins that the unbelieving world still participates in—“they are surprised,” and “they malign you,” he says.

This is what the Philippians were facing. Since they had been “called out of darkness into [Christ’s] marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9), they began to face the threat of opposition from the darkness around them. And in this context of opposition, Paul tells them what it means to conduct themselves as citizens in a manner worthy of the Gospel. He gives them three specific applications, which we looked at last time. Faithful citizens of the kingdom of Heaven are to be marked (1) by a unified steadfastness—they are, verse 27, to “stand firm in one spirit.” They are to be marked (2) by a unified aggressiveness—“striving together for the faith of the gospel.” And they are to be marked (3) by a resolute fearlessness, verse 28: “…in no way alarmed by your opponents.” They were to hold their ground amidst attacks to compromise, they were to continue their mission of propagating the Gospel behind enemy lines, and they were to do it all without so much as flinching, because the King of Heaven remains on His throne, and He is infinitely more powerful than any opposing force could ever dream to be.

And we celebrated that fact together. The hymn writer speaks from God’s perspective in Isaiah 41:10 and says, “Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed. For I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.” Yahweh tells Joshua, “Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous” (Josh 1:5–6). And after the resurrection, Jesus commissions His disciples to preach the Gospel and make disciples in Matthew 28. And the first thing He says is: I’m in control of everything: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” And the last thing He says is: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” And Paul picks up on that and says: “You Philippians: Stand firm and hold your ground, keep striving together to preach the Gospel, and don’t fear any opposition, because, though suffering will come to the faithful soldier of Christ Jesus, the Sovereign King of the Universe is with you in all of your suffering.

But now we come to verses 29 and 30, and Paul throws more fuel on the fire of the Christian’s fearlessness in the face of opposition to the Gospel. We can suffer for the Gospel’s sake with resolute fearlessness not only because the Lord is with us in our suffering, but also because the Lord has ordained our suffering, and has graciously granted our trials to us as a gift. Look with me at verses 29 and 30: “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.”

 

What we have in this text are four truths about Christian suffering that increase the believer’s resolve to endure hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ—because both for the Philippians and for us part of what it means to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel (1:27) is to suffer in manner worthy of the Gospel. And my prayer for all of us, as we hear from God’s Word this morning, is that properly apprehending these four truths about Christian suffering will put a holy fire in our eyes—will put steel in our spine—so that when suffering comes as we seek to faithfully follow the Lord Jesus in our Christian lives, we will be undeterred, fearless in the face of that suffering—and thereby be equipped to live and to suffer in a manner worthy of the Gospel.

And here I need to make a little disclaimer. When I speak of suffering throughout this sermon I’m speaking about Christian suffering. I am not speaking about the ordinary disturbances and trials of life, though Scripture has much to say about our comfort in those situations as well. But in this text, with this context of opposition, and with the repeated phrase, “for Christ’s sake” in verse 29 (which we’ll discuss in more detail later), Paul is speaking exclusively about the suffering that believers experience as a result of the opposition from the adversaries of Christ.

 

I. Suffering is a Mark of Christian Identity

 

Well, having noted that, then, we come to the first truth about Christian suffering that we’ll observe from this text. Number one: suffering is a mark of Christian identity. Now the key to understanding this is to see the strict parallelism and close connection between “believing in Christ” and “suffering for Christ’s sake” in verse 29. Look again at verse 29: “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Though many who name the name of Christ would want to deny this, we must make no mistake: suffering for Christ is a mark of Christian identity.

This is established everywhere else throughout the New Testament. Jesus Himself spoke of this reality in that familiar text in John chapter 15 verses 18 to 21. Turn there with me. Jesus said, “If the world hates you [and the Greek construction there implies, “and it will”], you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.” The Apostle Peter wrote to suffering Christians in 1 Peter 4:12: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” Do you hear Peter’s reasoning? “Don’t be surprised as if persecution were strange. This is normal for the follower of Christ! If they persecute Him, they will persecute His followers!”

This close connection between salvation and suffering is also evident in others of Paul’s letters. Turn to Romans 8:16 and 17. Paul writes, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” And the reality that suffering for Christ is a mark of Christian identity is perhaps nowhere clearer than in 2 Timothy 3:12, where Paul states plainly and emphatically: “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” There’s no wiggle-room there. Not “All Christians in closed countries will be persecuted.” Not “All pastors and missionaries will be persecuted.” Not “All super-evangelistic, super-spiritual, super-Christians will be persecuted.” No: “All who [simply] desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Why? Because the darkness hates the light! Because the kind of life that is commanded of those who would conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel sticks in the craw of the enemies of righteousness and indicts their sinful lifestyle by exposing it in the light of holy living.

Now you ask, “How in the world is telling them that suffering is certain supposed to comfort and strengthen the Philippians to face persecution?” It is comforting because Paul is telling them that suffering for Christ in the way that they have been suffering and the way that they will continue to suffer is an identifying mark of one who truly belongs to Christ. “It’s been granted to you not only to believe, but to suffer for Christ’s sake!” Suffering for Christ marks you out as a true believer!

 

John Calvin put it beautifully in his commentary on this passage. He says, “Persecutions are in a manner seals of adoption to the children of God, if they endure them with fortitude and patience. … Their adoption can no more be separated from [sufferings], than Christ can be torn asunder from himself” (48, 49). Suffering for Christ’s sake is the seal of our adoption into God’s family! It’s our birthright! It is our badge of authenticity! Back to the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 4: Don’t be surprised as if this were something strange, but, verse 13, “to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”

And so, Paul tells the Philippians, this kind of suffering that you experience for Christ’s sake at the hands of the adversaries of the Gospel is, Philippians 1:28, an evident token from God of your salvation. “Forbecause—to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” —“…because the God who has given you his salvation has with that gift also ‘graced’ you to be Christ’s people in the world, which means that you will suffer for his sake just as he did for yours, and as I do as well” (Fee, 170).

The question, then, that you’ve got to ask yourself is: Are you suffering for His sake? Now, I don’t mean to imply that the only kind of suffering that qualifies here is martyrdom and imprisonment and physical abuse. Very few of us in America will have suffered for Christ in such ways (although as I mentioned last time, those days may be drawing to a close). But I’m not speaking about that. I’m speaking about the kind of social ostracism and opposition that comes from your faithfully and obediently following Christ in the various spheres of your life.

Do you know what it is to be shunned as a hateful bigot because you refuse to compromise on the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality? Men, do you know what it is to be mocked as a prude because you won’t join the men at work in making sexual comments and evaluations of this woman or that actress? Ladies, do you know the alienation and the look of bewilderment from the other wives and mothers who don’t complain and gossip about their husbands? Do you know what it is to be looked upon by the “sophisticated” minds of society as a knuckle-dragging, Neanderthal fundamentalist because you won’t compromise on the Scriptural teaching about men’s and women’s roles in marriage and in the church—or because you won’t compromise the Scriptural teaching about God’s creation of the universe in six literal 24-hour days? When you pour your heart out to someone in proclaiming the Gospel to them, lovingly and sincerely entreating them to be saved from the wrath to come and to run to everlasting joy and salvation in Christ, only to have them mock you as a narrow-minded bigot who just wants to control people and make everyone believe the same as you. Do you know that feeling of being aliens and strangers in the world—the pain of knowing that you’re far from home?

Or can you fit right in? I mean, you go to church on Sundays, maybe Bible study one night every other week. But for the rest of your time in the world you’re just as comfortable as can be. Have you so domesticated your faith—have you so compartmentalized your relationship with Jesus Christ—that no one can tell the difference between you, a professed follower of the Lord Jesus, and a pagan who loves and serves himself? No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket (Matt 5:15). Do you stick out as a light among the darkness, or can you get along with absolutely everybody because you’ve been unwilling to stand publicly for anything that would bring any inconvenience for Christ’s sake?

We need to hear this, brothers and sisters. Because this kind of convenient, well-to-do, socially acceptable, pasted-smile, spectator kind of Christianity that provokes no hostility from the enemies of the Gospel—Paul says it’s a sham! Because to you, it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but to suffer for His sake!

 

II. Suffering is a Gift of Divine Grace

 

And so suffering is a mark of Christian identity. The second truth about Christian suffering that we can observe from this text is that suffering is a gift of divine grace. Look with me again at verse 29: “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”

So we’ve established that suffering inevitably comes to the true believer in Christ. But the question is: Where does it come from? Does it originate merely in the hostility of the opponents themselves? Does it come from a random, chaotic, uncontrolled universe, so that we’ve simply drawn the short straw and need to make the best of things? Does it come from some impersonal governing force like fate, so that we just have to grin and bear it? Does suffering ultimately come from Satan or demons?

Ultimately, we have to answer, “No,” to all of those questions. Ultimately, suffering comes from God. You say, “How do you know that?” Well, for a couple reasons. One is that Scripture calls God the one “who works all things after the counsel of His own will,” Ephesians 1:11. “And we know,” Romans 8:28, “that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and who are called according to His purpose.” All things. Not just the good things. And not: “God turns all the bad things into good things for those who love Him.” God doesn’t just make the best of a bad hand He was dealt. He ordains all things for His purpose to glorify Himself. Isn’t that what Joseph said, Genesis chapter 50:20: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” A few chapters earlier, Genesis 45 verse 8, Joseph tells his brothers, “It was not you who sent me here, but God.” Job says the same thing, Job 1:21: “The LORD has given, and the LORD has taken away.” Job 2:10: “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity” from Him as well? And as Jeremiah stands in the rubble of the ravaged city of Jerusalem at the time of the Babylonian invasion, he asks, Lamentations 3:37, “Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?”

But even if I didn’t have all those verses to turn to, you know how else I know that suffering for Christ ultimately comes from God? Because Philippians 1:29 says that it has been granted to us not only to believe, but to suffer. Who has granted that we believe? Certainly not our opponents of the Gospel. And certainly not Satan! It’s God who has granted us faith, Ephesians 2:8 and 9. And in the same way, it is God who grants us to suffer. This suffering ultimately comes from God.

And in what manner does it come from God? Does it come from a cold, disinterested deity who has no heart or feeling for his people? Does it come as a divine punishment for some sort of moral or ministerial failure? Does God merely allow suffering, as if it never entered into His mind to have His people suffer until something or someone external to Him asked for permission?

Here again we must answer all these questions in the negative. Why? “Because it has been granted to us to suffer. This word “granted” is the Greek verb charizomai, from charis, which is the New Testament word for grace. It means “to give as a gift,” or “to give freely.” It’s the same word in Romans 8:32, where Paul says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”

Dear friends, what Paul is teaching us here is that the suffering that comes upon the people of God as a result of their faithful obedience to Christ in a hostile world is nothing less than a free gift of sovereign grace. And I ask you: Does God give poor gifts? Does He give gifts that are without purpose and without wisdom? Does He ever give gifts that are not beneficial and for the greatest good of those He gives them to? You know that He doesn’t! You know all of God’s gifts to His children are good for us. Well, this text tells us that He gives us suffering, for Christ’s sake, as a gift of His loving, unmerited favor.

Now if some of you are sitting there and thinking, “What kind of favor is that? Suffering?!” If you’re thinking that, I want you to know that the apostles would have had absolutely no idea where you were coming from. Turn to Acts chapter 5. The Sanhedrin had already thrown the apostles into prison for violating their command not to preach any longer in the name of Jesus. But the angel of the Lord came in the middle of the night and freed them. And the next morning they were back in the temple preaching, and so the Jews called them before the Council again. And after some discussion about what should be done to them, verse 40: “…they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So,” verse 41, “they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.” Our generation of so-called Christians seeks to run from shame as far and as fast as possible as if it were a pure, unmixed evil! The apostles’ generation rejoiced that they had been considered worthy to receive the divine favor of suffering shame for the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh may God grant that we see the glory that they saw that we would be so satisfied by Christ that we would count it a privilege to meet the world’s shame if it means that we can put that glory on display! Years after being flogged that day, Peter would write, 1 Peter 4: “To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing,” and, “…if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but to glorify God in this name.”

Why should we view suffering as a gift of divine grace—as a high honor and a privilege? Well, for a couple reasons. First, suffering is a means of conforming us to the image of Christ. James chapter 1 verse 2: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Second, suffering is a means of increased fellowship with Christ. Paul speaks of the driving passion of his life in Philippians 3:10 when he says, “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” We know Christ more deeply when we partake in the fellowship of His sufferings. And we’ll talk more about that just a bit later on.

And finally, we should view suffering as a high honor and privilege because it provides us a wonderful opportunity to put the worth and sufficiency of Christ on display—an opportunity to magnify Him by being more satisfied in Him than by all that life can offer and by all that death can take. You’re all familiar with that hymn, The Solid Rock. Do you remember the third verse? “His oath, His covenant, His blood / support me in the whelming flood. / When all around my soul gives way, / He then is all my hope and stay.” John Piper writes, “If we hold fast to Him ‘when all around our soul gives way,’ then we show that He is more to be desired than all we have lost” (Desiring God, 266). And friends, magnifying Christ is what we were created to do. There is no greater joy than knowing Christ in the fellowship of His sufferings and making Him known through our sufferings.

Don’t you see: it’s a gift to suffer on behalf of Christ. It’s a gracious gift of unmerited favor to be given the privilege of being prisms to reflect the glory and sufficiency of Jesus to the world. And so when suffering and persecution come from those who would oppose Christ and His Gospel—and when it gets hard, and starts to hurt, and threatens those things and those people whom you most treasure—if you’re suffering for Christ’s sake and the Gospel’s sake, don’t try to save God from His sovereignty by cutting the legs out from under the theology of sovereign grace. You would destroy the very comfort you seek if you did that. Instead, count that suffering as a gracious gift, direct from the loving hand of your Father. Then, you would suffer in a manner worthy of the Gospel.

 

III. Suffering is Endured for Christ’s Sake

 

Well, we have seen, truth number one, that suffering is a mark of Christian identity. And we have just learned, truth number two, that suffering is a gift of divine grace. The third truth about Christian suffering that Paul teaches us in this text is that Christian suffering is endured for Christ’s sake. Read verse 29 with me again: “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” You can hear that repetition; twice in the same sentence you have, “for Christ’s sake,” or “on the behalf of Christ.” Paul actually uses intentionally awkward grammar to emphasize that the suffering he is speaking about is suffering that is endured on the behalf of Christ.

Now I won’t spend much time belaboring this because I’ve been mentioning it throughout. But this is the exegetical justification for my relating everything I’ve said so far this morning to suffering that comes upon believers particularly as a result of opposition to the Gospel. This is persecution, in the more narrow sense. One commentator puts it helpfully when he says, “The suffering in view here is not everyday headaches and heartaches. Suffering on behalf of Christ is caused by public identification with Christ in a world hostile to Christ” (Hansen, 102). Some of you, and some of your dear family members and friends, suffer from chronic pain, whether physical or emotional. And the Bible has glorious truths and promises about how to respond, righteously, to that kind of suffering. And certainly the truths we have already observed this morning can be carefully and legitimately applied for those circumstances. But that is not the kind of suffering that is in view in this text. “In no way alarmed by your opponents,” Paul writes in verse 28.

And like the other truths we’ve explored this morning, this one also enjoys testimony from the rest of the New Testament. For the sake of time we won’t turn to these texts, but be sure to note them for further study, and listen to the repeated emphasis as I read them.

Matthew 5:10 and 11 – “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.”

Mark 8:35 – “…but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

Mark 10:29 – “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake but that he will receive a hundred times…”

John 15:21 – After saying the world will hate and persecute the disciples, Jesus says: “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake.”

And one we’ve come back to multiple times this morning, 1 Peter 4:12 to 16: Don’t be surprised as if something strange were happening to you, “but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.”

And so when I say that we need to shine as lights in a dark world, I don’t simply mean that we have to be different in some sort of general sense. You cannot claim these promises of comfort for suffering for the sake of a generic morality that holds doors, pulls out chairs, doesn’t use foul language, and is generally respectful of people. Friends, in the horizontal, man-to-man sense, even pagans can be moral people. What Paul is calling us to is the kind of suffering that happens on the behalf of Christ.

And when I say that we need to eschew this convenient kind of Christianity that provokes no hostility, I don’t mean that provoking hostility in and of itself is a virtue. If you suffer hostility because you’re belligerent and annoying, or if you stick out from the world just because you’re a strange person, that is not Christian suffering. I love what one preacher said, “This is not a Christian kookishness that counts it the highest virtue to go around disturbing people by being different.” No, this is suffering particularly and specifically as a result of our attachment and likeness and commitment to Christ.

And so our suffering is to be endured for Christ’s sake. And friends, I ask you: Is there anything that you cannot endure for His sake? For the sake of the innocent Lamb of God who bore the unfettered wrath of His own dear Father on the cross so that impure, unholy, treasonous rebels like you and me could be purified, reconciled as friends, and seated around the table of the King? To bear reproach for His sake? That’s no trouble at all! What are the frowns of a few fellow mortals—if I can see His smile! If I can know Him! If I can walk more closely and more intimately with the Savior who is the apple of my eye, who is at the very bottom—the very bedrock foundation—of all my joy and comfort! Surely, we can endure suffering for His sake.

 

IV. Suffering is a Means to Sweet Fellowship (v. 30)

 

Well, so far we’ve learned, number one: that suffering is a mark of Christian identity; number two: that suffering is a gift of divine grace; and number three: that suffering is endured for Christ’s sake. The fourth truth about Christian suffering that will prepare us to suffer in a manner worthy of the Gospel is that suffering is a means to sweet fellowship. Look with me at verse 30: It’s granted to you to suffer, “experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.”

And what we see here in verse 30 is what one writer calls “a masterful stroke of pastoral comfort” on the part of the Apostle Paul. After comforting his friends by reminding them that the suffering they face is a gift of divine favor from their loving Father on the behalf of their cherished Savior, he now comforts them by reminding them that he himself has experienced the very same kinds of suffering that they are going through, and that he continues to experience such suffering.

Now, why is this such a masterful stroke of pastoral comfort? Well, we’ve mentioned plenty of times the unique bond of affection that Paul had with these dear believers in Philippi. This letter to the Philippians is the most intensely personal of all Paul’s letters. The Philippians had participated in Paul’s ministry in a way that no other church had. There wasn’t another person on the planet that the Philippians loved more or had a greater affection for than the Apostle Paul. And here he tells them that they are engaged in the very same conflict—the very same struggle—that they witnessed in him when he founded the church at Philippi, and that they would now hear about him as report returned with Epaphroditus as he delivered the letter. He tells them that they are brothers in arms!

They would remember like it was yesterday the beatings and the imprisonment that Paul suffered at the hands of the crowds in Philippi (Acts 16:22–24). Paul certainly remembered it as he wrote to the Thessalonians. In 1 Thessalonians 2:2 he speaks about how he had “suffered and been mistreated in Philippi” and faced “much opposition” there. And now they’re hearing of his resolute fearlessness in the midst of his sufferings, his resolve to magnify Christ whether by life or by death, and his preaching the Gospel unto the conversion of many in the Praetorian guard. And as they think of all this amazing suffering endured for the sake of the Gospel, I’m sure they came to regard Paul just like we do! As a hero! As a kind of quasi-celebrity, but in a good sense.

And Paul is saying: You’re now experiencing that very same thing! The Philippians would have been thrilled to hear that! Because there is a sweet fellowship that exists between brothers and sisters who suffer together for the cause of Christ. And I think that their knowing that Paul regarded them as having that kind of fellowship with him would have strengthened their hand to stand firm, to continue striving together, and to be courageous and undaunted in the face of opposition.

And friends, it should be no different for us! We should be enticed to a resolute fearlessness in the face of opposition by knowing that suffering on the behalf of Christ is a means to sweet fellowship with all of our brothers and sisters throughout the ages—all of the faithful soldiers of Christ who have been engaged in this same conflict. I mean just think of it! Justin Martyr, Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch, William Tyndale, John Hus, Martin Luther, John Rogers, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, John Knox. All of these, and thousands of others of whom the world was not worthy (Heb 11:38), who loved not their lives even unto death (Rev 12:11), are our brothers in arms—our band of brothers.

And suffering, even for us, is not just a means of sweet fellowship with other believers, but with the Apostle Paul himself! This is a man who laid down his life to travel the known world, who endured all manner of hostility, who wrote half of the New Testament, and who is a spiritual hero to every Christian who ever lived. We can spend our lives suffering for the same Gospel mission that he suffered for!

 

Conclusion

 

And GraceLife, I want to know: Don’t you want your life to count for something? Don’t you want to live so that you don’t waste your life? Don’t you want to invest yourselves—to spend and be spent—for something that is truly worthwhile and meaningful, something that will outlast this earth where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal? I mean, talk about being a part of something that’s bigger than yourself! We can be engaged in the very same conflict as the Apostle Paul himself—provided that we’re willing to follow him as he followed Christ and lay down our lives—to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel, in a way that cuts straight across the grain of the world that we live in.

And it gets better! The suffering that you experience for Christ’s sake not only provides you with the opportunity for a unique and intimate fellowship with other faithful soldiers of Christ throughout the ages. It also provides you with the opportunity for a unique and intimate fellowship with Christ Himself! When we become willing to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to preach His Gospel, to walk in holiness just as He walked, we will provoke the same hostility from sinners against us as were hostile against Him. And in counting Christ as more satisfying than all that life can offer and all that death can take we suffer for the same cause of righteousness as the Lord Himself, the Creator of the Universe, the Author and Perfecter of our faith!

That is what it means, Philippians 3:10, to know the fellowship of His sufferings! It means a camaraderie—a unique intimacy—that we can have with our Savior by sharing in the sufferings that He experienced! And that should be an enormous amount of fuel, to lay down our safe, comfortable lives, and to lose our lives for Christ’s sake, and the Gospel’s sake. Oh, it is worth enduring all manner of hostility and unpleasant circumstances if we get to know Him more intimately because of them—if we get to see more of Him in ways we wouldn’t otherwise know if we kept ourselves in the safety of our Christian bubble. Are you willing to lay down your life for Christ? Are you willing to go to Him and bear His reproach?

Turn to Hebrews chapter 13 verse 11. The writer continues to draw parallels between (a) the Old Testament sacrifices and (b) the Lord Jesus as the perfect sacrifice. And he makes the point in verses 11 and 12 that just as the sacrifices were burned outside the camp, signifying a place of uncleanness and shame that was cut off from the community of God’s people, so was Jesus sacrificed outside the camp of Israel, in hostile territory. And then in verses 13 and 14 he gives the implications for the church. So Hebrews 13 verse 11: “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.”

You see? We are to leave the securities and comforts of the camp, and we are to go out and bear His reproach. And the magnificent sweetness of this verse is that we do not simply “go out,” but that we “go out to Him!” He is out there on that road of suffering! Jesus is out there waiting for you on that path of suffering endured for the sake of the Gospel! And He is calling us to come and enjoy the sweetness of the fellowship of His sufferings.

And in response to that call, the hymn-writer writes:

Go, then, earthly fame and treasure,
Come disaster, scorn, and pain
In Thy service, pain is pleasure,
With Thy favor, loss is gain.

“With Thy favor, loss is gain.” To live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil 1:21). I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ (Phil 3:8).

May God grant that it would be true of us, GraceLife.