Sovereign Grace Blog

Sermon Summary - Christian Suffering - Philippians 1:29

We saw last week that the Philippians have been experiencing opposition because of their faith in Christ. Paul’s response is not apologetic, but rather that they should not be frightened. This isn’t an easy thing, but that response is rooted in something deep, namely that suffering is a gift from God (Phil. 1:28-29). Suffering shouldn’t be surprising, since Jesus Himself spoke of it (Mark 8:34). And that is what the Philippians are being called to in this passage (Phil. 1:30). 

So the question is, why does God appoint suffering? It is because suffering is a part of God’s plan for His people. Suffering is a gift just like faith is a gift. Suffering was part of Paul’s ministry and apostleship, and it is also for the Philippian believers. The Apostle Peter speaks twice of suffering being God’s will (1 Pet. 3:17, 4:19). Jesus Himself embraced suffering in His death for our salvation, and then He sent His disciples into the same experiences. Thus, suffering is to be expected (1 Pet. 4:12, 2 Tim. 3:12, 1 Thess. 3:2-4). 

So to answer the question of why God ordains suffering, here are five Biblical reasons why suffering is granted to the believer. First, suffering deepens faith. The writer of Hebrews puts the suffering of God’s people under the banner of God’s caring, loving discipline, with the goal of developing our faith and holiness (Heb. 12:4-10). Paul also writes this way in 2 Cor. 1:8-9, where he says the purpose of suffering is so that they will not rely on themselves, but on God (see also Rom 5:3-5). Have you ever heard anyone speak about deep lessons of life coming from times of ease and comfort? No, usually it’s from hard times and suffering. 

The second reason why God ordains suffering is that suffering increases your experience of glory in eternity. In 2 Cor. 4:17-18, Paul says that the hope of the gospel does not merely allow him to endure suffering, but it also has an effect on his eternity (see also Rom. 8:18). There is a connection between the suffering endured by God’s people and their degree of glory enjoyed in eternity. Jonathan Edwards described these as “different degrees of happiness and glory in heaven,” where “all shall be perfectly happy… but yet there will be different degrees of both holiness and happiness according to the measure of one’s capacity.”

Third, God uses the suffering of some to help others. Paul has already said this in Phil. 1:14, where his suffering emboldened others to speak the word without fear. In more modern times, this is seen in the encouragement that missionaries received from fellow missionary David Brainerd’s diary written in the 1700’s. Other examples can be found in the stories told by the Voice of the Martyrs organization. 

Fourth, sufferings are the container that carries the gospel of Christs’ sufferings. For Paul, suffering went hand in glove with preaching the gospel (1 Thess. 1:5-6, 2 Cor. 1:5-6). The gospel of Christ’s sufferings is preached by the church, often through their suffering. Paul’s suffering made Christ’s sufferings real for the church (Col. 1:24). When people see Paul’s sufferings, they see that he really thinks Christ and eternity are infinitely better than this world.

Finally, the treasure that the gospel really is, and its beauty and joy are made clearer through suffering. Paul’s thorn in the flesh caused him to have the kind of reliance on God which shows the supreme value, beauty, and power of Christ to sustain His people (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

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