“For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for his sake.” Philippians 1:29
The work “granted” in this passage means to give graciously as an act of kindness. Suffering may be seen as a gift of God’s super-abounding grace? (Cf. 1 Pet 5:10; 2 Cor. 12:7-10.) No one goes around looking to suffer, but suffering on behalf of Jesus and His gospel is different (1 Pet. 4:15). Jesus Himself called such suffering a blessing (Matt. 5:11-12). But therein lies the rub. It is never easy to view suffering as a blessing, Is it? It all depends upon one’s mind-set. As we Christians develop a sense of purpose and single-mindedness, and see things in view of Jesus and eternity, we can be encouraged even during times of suffering for Christ’ sake. Why?
Suffering brings the soul of the Christian nearer to Christ. Paul spoke of knowing Christ and ”the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil 3:10). When we love someone so much we are willing to suffer with him and for him, that is sacrificial love. The writer of the book of Hebrews exhorts us to “bear His reproach” (Heb. 13:13). And Paul spoke of bearing in his body the marks of Jesus (Gal. 6:17). Anything that would cause us to draw nearer to God, to commune more richly with Him, is good and is a blessing (Rom. 8:28-29).
Suffering reminds us that others are experiencing the same type of conflicts. The company we keep in suffering for Christ’s sake is beautiful company indeed. Paul instructed Timothy to be strong in God’s grace, to commit to faithful men the gospel, and to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:1-3). There is a sense of unity, togetherness and oneness in knowing that we are in the noble company of the faithful of the ages. After all, no Christian, not even Jesus Himself has ever lived apart from suffering.
Suffering gives one a sense of Christian assurance. Suffering for Christ is one important barometer of spirituality. 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” Rather than complain about suffering, we should endeavor to realize that suffering can give us a sense of assurance by helping us to shape an unshakeable faith (Rom. 5:3-4). This can help us to rejoice, even in the midst of calamity (1 Pet. 4:14-16).
Suffering for Christ is Indispensable to growth. Peter said, “You have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:6-7). It’s typical to want spiritual gain without any pain. We want greatness without humble service, depth without experience, and growth without paying the price. But it doesn’t work that way. While trials will be of “every stripe” when suffering for Christ’s Sake, God’s grace is seen to be more than adequate for the difficulties (1 Pet. 4:10; Rom. 5: 3-4). And such insight leads to greater spiritual growth (2 Pet. 1:5-11).
Suffering for Christ frustrates Satan. It should give us no small amount of pleasure to know that our attitude toward suffering can greatly grieve the devil. When God staked His integrity on Job’s faithfulness, Satan thought that suffering would cause Job to turn his back on the Lord. How wrong the devil was (Job 1:6-12; 20-22). Paul’s thorn in the flesh was described as “a messenger of Satan,” but whatever the specific nature of that “thorn,” the apostle later came to be thankful for it (2 Cor. 12:7-10). It reminded him of his weakness and of God’s strength. To put it simply, it kept him humble. And Paul’s attitude undoubtedly frustrated Satan.
The bottom-line question is this: “Will Jesus be magnified and glorified in my life no matter what?” Paul said “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 2:12). In a very real way, suffering for Christ is rewarded both here and in the hereafter. We truly can speak of the grace of suffering.