Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Suffering Well

"For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on 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 1:29). Earlier in this chapter Paul made clear that everything is from God. Their salvation is from God and the fact that they have life is from Him. This is a necessary word in light of the Paul's explanation of suffering. People who reflect an attitude that suggests "Oh boy, I get to suffer for Jesus" should cause us to squirm. Our first though should be "That guy must have hit his head really hard when he fell off the turnip truck." Somehow he really missed the truth and he certainly can't appeal to Paul to justify such an attitude. Paul's attitude toward Christian suffering is based on Christ's teaching on discipleship, namely that servants are to be like their master. Paul is saying the same God who granted you (Lit. graced you) to believe on Him, is the same God who has also graced you to suffer for Him. Who needs such "Gracing" you might ask. The answer lies in the Christ centered nature of the Christian life. A crucified Lord produces disciples who themselves take up a cross as they follow Him. We are called on to live in the same way Christ himself lived, and died, on behalf of this fallen, broken world. And for believers, as for our Lord, the path to glorification leads through the suffering of the cross. The Apostle doesn't finish here but goes on to remind them that he and they are in this together. They are going through the same struggle they have seen him go through. They are suffering at the hands of those who oppose the gospel. He tells them that their suffering is identical to that which they saw in him. Among those who would receive this letter would be the jailer and his household and (perhaps) the young slave girl whose having been set free from Satan's tyranny, resulted in the first of Paul's sufferings on behalf of Christ that they had seen. What are we to do with suffering? If we really walk with Christ we will suffer persecution. The Philippians suffering was in kind with Paul's current Roman imprisonment. They were partners in the gospel, going through the same suffering together. All they were experiencing was on Christ's behalf. The way we respond to suffering reflects on our knowledge of Christ. Are we looking at our suffering through His eyes? Are we crying out to Him to teach us about "The fellowship of His suffering?" Are we using this season of suffering for spiritual growth, or are we just hanging on until its over? When we make the statement "I want to be like Jesus" suffering will be part of what makes that happen. Dr. Ken Copley is available for counseling, conferences, and local church ministry.

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