“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake,
not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
– Philippians 1:29 –
This text, along with the rest of the New Testament (cf. John 16:33; 2 Tim 3:12; Jas 1:2–4; 1 Pet 4:12–16) establishes beyond a shadow of a doubt that suffering inevitably comes to the true believer in Christ. Last week’s Supreme Court ruling, which mandated all 50 states to redefine marriage, is a loud and clear statement that all who do not conform to the new (im)moral orthodoxy will not be tolerated in contemporary society. For those who submit to the authority of the Word of God, suffering, in one form or another, is sure to come.
But a question we need to ask is: Where does it come from? Does suffering originate merely in the hostility of the opponents themselves? Does it come from a random, chaotic, uncontrolled universe, so that we’ve simply drawn the short straw and need to make the best of things? Does it come from some impersonal governing force like fate, so that we just have to grin and bear it? Does suffering ultimately come from Satan or demons?
Ultimately, we have to answer, “No,” to all of those questions. Ultimately, suffering comes from God. You say, “How do you know that?” Well, for a couple reasons. One is that Scripture calls God the one “who works all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph 1:11). “And we know,” Romans 8:28, “that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and who are called according to His purpose.”
All things. Not just the good things. And not: “God turns all the bad things into good things for those who love Him.” God doesn’t just make the best of a bad hand He was dealt. He ordains all things for His purpose to glorify Himself. Joseph said that in Genesis 50:20: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” Job says the same thing: “The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity” from Him as well (Job 2:10)? And as Jeremiah stands in the rubble of the ravaged city of Jerusalem at the time of the Babylonian invasion, he asks, Lamentations 3:37, “Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?”
A Gift of Grace
But even if I didn’t have all those verses to turn to, Philippians 1:29 says that it has been granted to us not only to believe, but to suffer. Who has granted that we believe? Certainly not our opponents of the Gospel. And certainly not Satan! It’s God who has granted us faith (Eph 2:8–9). And in the same way, it is God who grants us to suffer.
And He grants us to suffer. This word “granted” is the Greek verb charizomai, from charis, which is the word for grace. It means “to give as a gift,” or “to give freely.” It’s the same word in Romans 8:32, where Paul says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” What Paul is teaching us here is that the suffering that comes upon the people of God as a result of our faithful obedience to Christ in a hostile world is nothing less than a free gift of sovereign grace.
Now, does God give poor gifts? Does He give gifts that are without purpose and without wisdom? Does He ever give gifts that are not beneficial and for the greatest good of those He gives them to? Of course not! You know all of God’s gifts to His children are good for us. Well, this text tells us that He gives us suffering, for Christ’s sake, as a gift of His loving, unmerited favor.
Keep on Rejoicing
Now if some of you are thinking, “What kind of favor is that? Suffering?!” If you’re thinking that, I want you to know that the apostles would have had absolutely no idea where you were coming from. In Acts 5, the Sanhedrin had already thrown the apostles into prison for violating their command not to preach any longer in the name of Jesus. But the angel of the Lord came in the middle of the night and freed them. And the next morning they were back in the temple preaching, and so the Jews called them before the Council again. And after some discussion about what should be done to them, it says “they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:40–41).
This generation of professing Christians seeks to run from shame as far and as fast as possible, as if it were a pure, unmixed evil! The apostles’ generation rejoiced that they had been considered worthy to receive the divine favor of suffering shame for the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ. May God grant that we see the glory that they saw—that we would be so satisfied by Christ that we would count it a privilege to meet the world’s shame if it means that we can put His glory on display.
Years after being flogged that day, Peter would write, “To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing,” and, “if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but to glorify God in this name” (1 Peter 4:13, 16).
Glorify God in This Name
See, suffering for Christ’s sake provides us a wonderful opportunity to put the worth and sufficiency of Christ on display. It gives us an opportunity to magnify Him by being more satisfied in Him than by all that this world can offer and by all that death can take.
To illustrate, the third verse of that great hymn, On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand, says, “His oath, His covenant, His blood / support me in the whelming flood. / When all around my soul gives way, / He then is all my hope and stay.” Commenting on that line, John Piper writes, “If we hold fast to Him ‘when all around our soul gives way,’ then we show that He is more to be desired than all we have lost” (Desiring God, 266). And magnifying Christ—showing that He is more to be desired than all that we could lose—is the very thing that we were created to do (Isa 43:7; Phil 1:20–21). If we understand this, it’s clear to see that it’s a divine gift to suffer on behalf of Christ. It is a gracious gift of unmerited favor to be given the privilege of being prisms to reflect the glory and sufficiency of Jesus to the world.
Jesus Doeth All Things Well
And so when suffering and persecution come from those who would oppose Christ and His Gospel—when it gets hard, and starts to hurt, and threatens those things and those people whom you most treasure—don’t try to save God from His sovereignty by supposing that those trials originate from someone other than your Father. Don’t cut the legs out from under the theology of sovereign grace upon which you stand. You would destroy the very comfort you seek if you did that.
Another great hymn says, “Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort / Here by faith in Him to dwell / For I know whate’er befall me / Jesus doeth all things well.” Where do heavenly peace and divine comfort come from? From the knowledge that whatever happens, Jesus the sovereign Lord is doing it, and He doeth all things well. So when suffering comes—and it’s coming, if it’s not already here—don’t try to save God from His sovereignty, and in the same breath steal your heavenly peace and divinest comfort. Instead, count that suffering as a gracious gift, direct from the loving hand of your Father, of the opportunity to magnify the worth of Christ in your response to it. Then, you would suffer in a manner worthy of the Gospel.