I was able to finally return to my home church today, and how refreshing it was! After being away for the last couple of weeks due to random extracurricular activities, I was glad to finally hear some solid biblical preaching. Pastor Gavin Kajikawa gave a sermon about “Worthy Living” using Philippians 1:27-30 and it really spoke to my heart. The passage speaks about “living your life worthy of the gospel,” that is to say that the only thing we should be living our lives for is the gospel. It was refreshing to see how Pastor Gavin had exposited the passage, using historical context of the church in Philippi and presenting a basic understanding of Paul’s reason for exhorting his readers to be better citizens of God’s kingdom. After hearing a couple church sermons featuring whimsical rambling and the absence of Scripture the past two weeks or so, my heart was relieved to once again acknowledge the doctrine of sola scriptura–Latin meaning “by scripture alone”–that my home church upholds so well. What a relief!
Pastor Gavin spoke about one thing that struck me violently today (I use the word “violently” because it was as if my conscience was standing in the aisle behind me today and smacked my upside the head when Pastor Gav so articulately brought it up. Usually things don’t hit me until I at least sit down to eat lunch and have time to process the sermon, but today was exceptional). It was about the blessing of…suffering. Yea, that’s not a type-o, I’m talking about the blessing of suffering.
In Philippians 1:29 (as was graciously pointed out to me this morning) Paul writes, “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.” In my mind, this point fell into a large bin labeled: “things-I-don’t-think-about-everyday-but-should”. The sermon outlined how we had to live worthy of the gospel, and mentioned a couple gifts that God has granted us in light of our salvation. The first gift Paul acknowledges is easy enough–salvation. The second is often something that many Christians overlook or ignore: suffering for the sake of Christ. Paul is essentially telling us that God has graciously given us suffering on his behalf, that this suffering is not only a gift, but it’s also evidence that God looks upon us with favor!
Now let me be clear: not all suffering falls into this category. I’m not talking about the pain we go through when we break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or the horrible gut feeling we get when we see blood gushing out of a paper cut. Au contraire mon frere, if we look back at the verse we see that this suffering is characteristically “for his sake,” meaning for Christ‘s sake or suffering for the gospel. Paul was exhorting Christians in Philippi to advance the gospel, to live a life worthy of God’s salvation, to stand firm in one spirit (v. 27) for the faith. All the while, Paul was sitting in prison, having suffered tremendously for the gospel already, he wrote this letter living out every word that his pen put onto paper–and his suffering was still far from over.
But Paul suffered gladly, knowing that suffering for the sake of Christ was a gift, granted to him by the almighty God. Later he writes, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Phil. 3: 8-9). Paul clearly understood the blessings that came with suffering for the sake of Christ; Paul’s faith was manifested in his suffering and he knew that not only was his suffering fulfilling God’s plan, but it was all temporary in comparison to the eternal salvation found in Christ.
In examining my own heart, I have truly failed to apply this understanding to my life. Most Christians, myself included, are comfortable and suffer-free. Praise God for blessing us so much! But we have to understand that the life of a Christian should not be “smooth sailing” if Christ’s purpose is truly locked in our hearts. We often shy away from any challenge that involves “suffering,” opting instead to keep relations with our non-Christian friends or family cordial while we pray in the closet that God would strike some sense in to them. Persecution is part of the Christian life and unfortunately we don’t hear about it enough. We never walk into a Christian bookstore looking to find books on “persecution” or “suffering for the gospel” because it’s not usually considered a happy subject; we listen to stories of missionaries and martyrs, while in our hearts we’re just happy we aren’t them. We have to change our mentality, our understanding of suffering for the gospel! Philippians 1:29 clearly tells us that it is a positive thing, that suffering is a gift! “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ …” It was granted, it’s a gift! When we share the gospel and get rejected, or lose friends because of our faith, these are all moments of suffering ordained by God as a blessing and a testimony to our salvation. Therefore, Christians embrace the persecution that you face for the sake of the gospel as it is a gift, a blessing from God.