Rejoice in Your Suffering

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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 1:27-30
In the book Philippians Paul writes to the Philippian church from prison. He begins the letter with a greeting, giving thanks, and praying for them. He tells them of his situation and that ultimately Christ is glorified because the gospel is being preached. He is transparent about how the gospel and his call to share it has brought him suffering but instead of losing hope or being angry, he rejoices. Any Christian in Paul’s time knew that following Christ meant an expectation of some kind of suffering. Jesus calls his followers to take up their crosses. The cross was widely known as the most brutal form of Roman torture. It should be no surprise that Christians face suffering for the sake of Christ.
Paul encourages that Christian suffering is something to rejoice over.

But how and why are we to suffer for the sake of Christ? 

 Paul had experienced such suffering that he saw death as something to be gained and to hope for because a departing from this life means being with Christ. On the other hand, life contains fruitful labor. God had a purpose for Paul’s life; to preach the gospel to the world. Paul’s perspective, as echoed through his other letters, was to be content in whatever situation God has placed you in. Whether it be in life or death, peace or strife, comfort or suffering. He didn’t rejoice because suffering made him more valuable or worthy. Suffering was a privilege because it was the fruit of the purpose that God had for him.

Jesus greatly exemplifies this to us. He is the suffering servant that bore the cross for God’s ultimate purpose. God calls us to a life of suffering not to burden us but to find satisfaction in our following in the life of his son. In love, Jesus was sent to join in our human suffering, taking on more than we will ever have to because of what he did on the cross. Paul is mirroring Christ’s actions in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus prays that God would relieve his suffering but ends with praying that the Father’s will be done and not his own. In the same way Paul concludes that while he has a desire to be relieved from his suffering, his ultimate desire is to do God’s will. God doesn’t promise that we would not experience suffering, we should expect it, but trust that even in suffering, he has a redemptive plan for us in Jesus.

We all have a purpose in this life and we should look to Christ for what that is even amidst suffering, as Paul did. May we rejoice in our suffering because we live for the sake of Christ and may God be glorified as we run to him as our sole comfort and peace.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:11-12

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