Summary: God stacks up treasures for his people through our suffering for his sake.
Jesus calls us blessed when reviled and persecuted on his account. We hear that and probably grit our teeth and determine to bear it should the need arise. The possibility of suffering frightens, and the culture of comfort surrounding us suggests we avoid situations where we might be troubled for our faith. But today’s text offers suffering as a gift of God’s grace. Let’s give attention to God’s word, then see how we might accept it with faith and joy.
[Read Philippians 1.29-30. Pray.]
“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.” The Greek word for “granted” is (Word in Greek) [charidzomai]. Its range of meaning includes: “to grant or give graciously; to deal generously with, forgive, or pardon; to release a prisoner or cancel a debt.” It appears 23 times in the New Testament. For example, when Jesus gives sight to a blind man, the verb is (Greek word). When a storm destroys Paul’s ship, God (Greek word) (gives) the lives of the other men as a gift to Paul. Romans 8.32 tells us that God “graciously gives” (Greek word) his people all good things. And in Philippians 1.29, suffering for Jesus’ sake is a (Greek word), gracious gift.
D. A. Carson (professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) explains: “The Philippians’ call to suffer on behalf of the gospel has been granted to them; it is a gracious gift from God! Not only have they enjoyed the privilege of coming to faith, they currently enjoy the privilege of suffering for Christ…. That is not the way we normally think of suffering, not even the suffering of persecution. But that is what Paul says. If their salvation has been secured by the suffering of another on their behalf, their discipleship is to be demonstrated in their own suffering on his behalf…. In what sense could it be said of us that we follow Jesus Christ, if there is not cross-bearing in our life?”
How do we embrace such a gift with joy, when the very thought naturally repels us?
The gold bricks at Ft. Knox weigh nearly 30 pounds. Suppose I stack some on the stage and say, “I have a gift for everyone in the church. I’m sorry that they are so heavy, but if you are willing to endure the “misery” of carrying a 30 pound brick to your car and the “hassle” of finding a place to sell it, you may pocket the profit.”
So you lug one to your car, find a gold dealer, carry it to their office, fill out the paperwork, sell the gold, and at this week’s prices, deposit a check for $468,000.00.
Next week at church I meet you at the front door and before you can say I word, I begin to apologize: “I am so sorry I made you carry that heavy burden. I feel so bad using your time and effort to find a place to sell it. I have a heavy and guilty conscience; will you please forgive me for putting you through that, so that I can take communion this morning?”
You may wonder if I am crazy, but there are two responses you are unlikely to give. First, you probably will not be angry with me, holding a grudge, bitter because of the heavy load I made you carry. Was there a “cost” to obtain the cash? Yes; but to haul the brick to the car and sell it was so small in comparison that you would never think of it as a true burden or an offense against you. Second, you probably will not brag about your work in earning almost one-half a million dollars. You do have a part in the transaction, but not one that deserves praise (at least not in comparison to the giver of the gift).
I think you would you say: “Don’t be silly; it was no burden at all. Thank you for the great gift.” You might even say the time and effort you put into hauling and selling the gold, “not worth comparing” to the benefit.
It is a silly illustration, but it may be closer to a Biblical answer than we imagine. At least it seems that Paul thought so. Listen to how he describes his troubles in 2Corinthians 4: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus….” The life of faith was hard on the apostle; so we might expect the next verses to be filled with either complaint or self-congratulations. But he does neither because the burden was easy and brief compared to the reward. 2Corinthians 4.17-18: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”