The gift of suffering

In Phil 1:29, Paul writes, “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”. He wrote this to the Philippians who were facing persecution. His gratitude to the Lord drove him to reach many people for Christ in spite of the many sufferings he had to go through (2 Cor 11:22-23, 2 Cor 12:7, 2 Tim 1:15). In Phil 1:29, the word “granted” means “to show favour, grant, bestow, and graciously confer.” Essentially, Paul is saying that suffering for Christ is a privilege. To know Christ is to participate in His suffering. Just as faith is a gift, Paul considered suffering a gift.

This teaching might seem strange if not for other passages in Scripture that support it, like 1 Pet 4:12: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings”; and James 1:2: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds”. John Gill, a Baptist theologian from the 18th century, commented on the privilege in this way: “Now to suffer in name and character, in estate or person, not as an evildoer, but as a Christian, is a gift of God, as faith in Christ is; all the sufferings of the saints are appointed by God; their being called forth to suffer shame for the sake of Christ, is an high honour conferred upon them.”

Why is Christian suffering a privilege?

Suffering purifies us to shine for Christ (Phil 2:14-15)

When we suffer, we tend to grumble and complain. Paul exhorts us to refrain from doing so, so that, by our testimony and witness, no charge can be sustained against us and we may be able to shine for Christ. In Daniel 6:4, when the high officials and the satraps sought to find a

ground for complaint against Daniel, they could not because Daniel was faithful even though others tried to make life difficult for him.

 

Suffering allows us to experience Christ more deeply (Phil 3:10)

In Phil 3:10, Paul writes, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death”. In order to know Christ more deeply, Paul wanted to live as Christ lived, and that includes suffering as Christ did.  He knew that the servant is not above His Master. And as Jesus had to suffer to receive glory, so Paul wanted to follow in the footsteps of Christ.

 

Suffering for Christ equips us for ministry (2 Cor 1:4)

In many of Paul’s afflictions, he was conscious of God’s comforting presence. The word “comfort” here does not only mean consolation but also encouragement and exhortation. Just as he was comforted by God in his suffering, he was able to comfort others with the same comfort that God gave to him.

 

Suffering for Christ deepens our faith (1 Pet 1:6-7)

God compares our faith to gold. Of all the substances known to man, gold is one of the most imperishable. Yet, true faith is more precious than gold. We may undergo severe tests and trials, but instead of destroying our faith, these tests and trials strengthen our faith. We are more inclined to cling to God like never before and, in the process, God will give us the ability to see His strength, love and power for our lives.

 

As Philip Yancey puts it, “Faith in God offers no insurance against tragedy.” Instead, suffering is God’s divine way of moulding us to become more like Christ. Let’s take comfort that our sufferings are neither purposeless nor fruitless. May we be comforted by the fact the Christ is always near. He wants us to cast our cares on Him for He cares for us (1 Pet 5:7). A Christian’s suffering is never final, for an “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” is waiting for us (2 Cor 4:17-18). That should cause us to rejoice in the Lord indeed, even or especially in the midst of our sufferings!

(Reference: William MacDonald. 1989. Believer’s Bible Commentary. Thomas Nelson)

Eld-elect Sim Chow Meng