The Grace of Suffering

(Photo: Unsplash)

The apostle Peter once wrote of his fellow apostle …

[Paul’s] letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
– 2 Peter 3:16b, NIV-1978

It is the case that Paul’s intellect was impressive. Generations of theologians have puzzled over his words to grasp the treasures embedded in them. And, as Peter notes, many have contemplated his writings to find ways to distort them to their own destruction. Daily, we see this played out before our very eyes.

I had a different blog post ready to go this week, but on Saturday found that the source file was corrupted and would not open for editing. To borrow a line from Sleepless in Seattle, “It’s a sign.”

Well, okay, maybe not a “sign,” but I did decide on Saturday morning to go a different direction with this blog post.

The Pauline statement I’m looking at this week is not one that is easily distortable for our destruction, but it is certainly a statement that gives us pause.

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.
– Philippians 1:29, NIV-1978

The word choice by Paul in this statement is borderline astonishing. It is ἐχαρίσθη, derived from χάρις which we commonly translate “grace.” Paul is asserting that it is a grace of God toward us that we are allowed to suffer for Jesus. This is one of those paradoxical realities that we all know (I’m not telling you anything new here), but we do not typically live out in our walk with Jesus.

Consider this … adversity enters our lives, and it is directly related to our faith. This doesn’t happen often in the west, but it does happen. What do we do in response? The normative reaction is to call the prayer hotline and to engage our own prayer life and ask God for relief. “God, we are suffering here. Please relieve us of this pain and burden.”

In contrast to this, how did the apostles respond?

They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name
– Acts 5:40b-41, NIV-1978

It is grace to us, grace worthy of rejoicing, to suffer for the name of Jesus.

Let’s put our target verse from Philippians in its context and see what we find.

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
– Philippians 1:27-30, NIV-1978

Warren Wiersbe said, “The Christian life is not a playground; it is a battleground.”1 It is a battle wherein we contend in unity for “the faith of the gospel,” and in doing so, we find no alarm in the opposition we face. This is a single faith, one that Jude says was “once delivered unto the saints.”2 This faith is one from which, Paul says, some will depart in latter times.3

People will not tolerate truth, and as proclaimers of that truth, we will face opposition. This opposition does not shock us or alarm us. Neither does it deter us. Regardless of the volume or source of opposition, we are to conduct ourselves as though our entire lives are worthy of the gospel message we proclaim. The only time we should be alarmed is when “all men speak well of” us.4

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
– 1 Peter 4:12-14, NIV-1978

The presence of opposition and fiery trial is what prompted Peter to say in chapter one that we must “gird our minds for action.”5 Doing so prepares us to meet opposition and mistreatment as Jesus met it.

When they hurled their insults at [Jesus], he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
– 1 Peter 2:23, NIV-1978

In the same way, we can “count it all joy”6 when we are tested.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
– James 1:2-4, NIV-1978

Persevere, brothers and sisters, so that your faith may increase as you demonstrate your allegiance to Christ.

1. Wiersbe, W. (1966). The Bible Exposition Commentary (vol. 2, p. 70). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
2. Jude 1:3
3. 1 Timothy 6:20
4. Luke 6:26
5. 1 Peter 1:13
6. James 1:2

Editor's Picks