Study 3 THE MINISTRY OF SUFFERING
(Scripture Portion: Philippians 1: 22-30)
There is a vast difference between viewing suffering as a mystery and as a ministry. Philippians 1:29 makes it clear that rightly understood suffering is a ministry entrusted to the believer by the Lord. This is a subject which must concern every Christian, for every real Christian without exception is characterised by two things: faith and suffering. As Christians, we are believers (John 14:1), and the one great mark which distinguishes us from the world around is that we believe. But the second distinguishing mark is that we have to suffer because we believe (1 Peter 4:16).
The experience of suffering comes to all people, everywhere – to the Christian and the non-Christian alike. Here is something which touches us all, irrespective of our class or creed. Suffering is universal: the king suffers, and so does the commoner – look up Job 5:7 and 14:1. It has been said that: “Existence and suffering are one. As long as we are bound to the wheel of existence, we are bound to suffer, not accidentally, but intrinsically and inescapably.” How true these words are, for we all suffer, whether it be physically, mentally or spiritually, and the presence of so much suffering in the world presents great problems to the thoughtful person, and even to the Christian. There is, for instance, the age-long problem of “the suffering of the innocent with the guilty” and for the guilty; or, there is what we may call “the unequal apportioning of suffering.” The only solution to the problem of suffering is to be found in the Word of God. It is important to notice, however, that the suffering referred to in Philippians 1:29 is that form of suffering which is unique to Christian experience – it is suffering experienced by Christians, and only by Christians, and because they are Christians.
1. CHRISTIANS HAVE TO SUFFER BECAUSE THEY ARE CHRISTIANS
There is a form of suffering which comes to God’s children because they are His children; those who are not His blood-bought ones escape it.
- See what Paul says: “to you” (verse 29), and if you will turn to Philippians 1:1, you will see that he is writing to “all the saints…at Philippi”…or anywhere!
- Look at verse 28. When a Christian suffers because he is a Christian, this is a token that he really is a Christian. If we are experiencing no suffering we need to search our hearts to see whether we really are witnessing Christians.
- Look at Matthew 5:10-12; 16:24; John 16:33 and 1 Peter 4:16.
- Read through the Book of Acts and notice the sufferings which came to the early Christians, and particularly to Peter and John (Acts 4:3); Paul (Acts 14:19); Stephen (7:54-60) and James (Acts 12:1-2). If we are Christians we must expect to suffer, simply because of our attachment to the Lord Jesus. The more determined we are to be out-and-out followers of Christ, the more we must be prepared to suffer for Him.
- Included here is also every other form of suffering which the Lord permits in our lives. It does not come because of our witness for Christ, but the Lord permits it for other reasons, and it is therefore in accordance with His permissive will and is allowed for some loving and wise purpose – look up 1 Peter 4:19; 5:10 – and compare 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
2. THIS SUFFERING IS A GIFT
Philippians 1:29 literally reads: “For you have had the privilege granted you not only to believe on Him but also to suffer…” Here is something which will transform suffering. Read Philippians 2:5-9, and note the word “gave” in verse 9. The same word is translated in Philippians 1:29, “it has been granted” and it means “a divinely bestowed honour”. When God the Father wanted to bestow the highest possible honour upon His Son, He gave Him a Name (2:9); when He wants to bestow upon His children the highest possible honour, He gives them the privilege of suffering for His sake (1:29). This is the explanation of Acts 5:41 and 16:23-25.
3. WHY IS IT SUCH AN HONOUR TO SUFFER AS A CHRISTIAN?
Philippians 1:29 suggests that there are two important reasons:
- We “suffer for him”. Compare Acts 5:41 – “for the Name”; and 9:16 – “for my name”. All suffering is not “for His sake” – look up 1 Peter 4:15! Here we see the secret of the believer’s endurance. It is “for His sake”.
- We suffer “on behalf of Christ.” That is, “in His stead”. The sufferings of Christ and of His people are one – compare Zechariah 2:8 and Acts 9:5. When we suffer for Christ we enter into a unique experience of fellowship with Him – look up Philippians 3:10; Colossians 1:24 and 1 Peter 4:12-13. What a privilege it is to be sharers with Him in His sufferings!
4. WHAT IS GOD’S PURPOSE IN ALL THIS?
He loves us so much, and therefore He must have some loving and wise purpose in permitting us to suffer. That purpose is five-fold:
- In order to test our Faith. Turn up Deuteronomy 8:2 and 1 Peter 1:7. God permits us to suffer to see if our faith is genuine and to strengthen our faith – look up and compare Matthew 13:20-21.
- In order to mould our Character. Look up Hebrews 2:10 – and compare Philippians 1:6 and 2:13.
- In order to further the Gospel. We get this in Philippians 1:12.
- In order to encourage the Saints. Look at Philippians 1:14 and 30
- In order to make us homesick for Heaven. Look up 2 Timothy 2:12 – and compare Philippians 1:21-23!
May the Lord lead us as believers to think and speak not so much of the mystery of suffering as of the ministry of suffering – Philippians 1:29!