Because you have been graciously given this on behalf of Christ:
not only in Him to believe,
but also for Him to suffer. (Philippians 1:29, excessively literally)
I’ve been meditating on two texts as the new year begins, Philippians 1:27-30, and Ephesians 5:1-2. I’ve been kind of ignoring this suffering thing so far. But last night listening to music in worship at Freedom Church Pensacola, it suddenly struck me to think: Do we have any songs in which we actually praise or thank God for suffering? There may well be, but I don’t recall one off-hand.
This is certainly not a criticism of the church I was in at the time I thought it. I don’t recall this sort of thing anywhere. We don’t talk about it in the way Paul does here. In fact, we don’t really want to acknowledge the reality of suffering. Often our singing, praying, preaching, and indeed our living presents the pretense that nothing ever can or will go wrong. Have you ever heard anyone say in church, when a testimony is called for, that they have had a horrible week and just don’t know how they can go on? No! That’s a sign that they’re crazy. The intelligent and sane ones pretend.
I don’t think Paul is saying here that suffering is wonderful and good in itself. I think the privilege is that the suffering that will come—and despite our desires, it will—is not vain and of no worth, but rather it is suffering on behalf of the kingdom. It’s not cheering that there is pain, but rather cheering from the pain that whatever happens is not in vain.
This reminds me of the Battle Hymn of the Republic and the frequent change of the line “as He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free” to “as He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.” (You can find more on this here.) Those who have served in the military know that dying may be necessary. It’s not what you live for, but many people have faced death for their nation. Many Christians have faced or are now facing death for their faith. It’s a reality, but just as we change the line in the song, we’d rather not talk about it. Certainly, we don’t want to sing about it.
Conducting ourselves in a way that is worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27) may involve annoyance, discomfort, suffering, and even death. God’s gift is that we do it in, with, and through Jesus Christ.