How Do You Respond to Suffering? – Philippians 1:27-2:11
“For me to live is Christ,” St. Paul says in Philippians 1:21. How many of you are willing to say this and live this, regardless of what it might involve?
I thought I’d get that out of the way because God is about to put you to the test. I was talking in WalMart (of all places) with a young man who is spiritually seeking, currently on his way out of materialistic Wiccanism to more of an all-religions-are-the-same-Buddhist-spiritual belief. Actually, it was his girlfriend who suggested a test to sniff out true Christians. Her test was to ask Christians if they would be willing to die for their beliefs.
It’s a good test, and one that is related to what St. Paul is about to say.
Paul begins this passage by saying that we must let our conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ. Once again, our behavior (and not just our belief) is an essential part of our faith. Paul warns the Philippians (verse 29) that they have been granted on behalf of Jesus Christ not only to believe but also to suffer for His sake.
Here is where the test of our faith comes in. When suffering comes into your life, how does it affect your faith and life in Christ? For some, it will drive them away, as if to say, “I can’t believe in a God who would allow suffering – especially mine!” For others, suffering will discourage them, and they will slowly grow distracted and weaker in their faith. Some will treat suffering with a kind of Roman stoicism, attempting to bravely endure it while trying to wish it away. Others still will attempt human means of dulling the pain.
But the Christian response to suffering is to accept it as a means of participating in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we want to be able to say with St. Paul that, “For me, to live is Christ,” then we must be willing to accept all of Him. Some Christians and churches give us the idea that the Christian life will be all health and wealth and sunshine. When, naturally, this isn’t the case, then discouragement and a sense of betrayal set in.
But God has never promised those things in this life. What He does promise is that for those who are faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, His Son will live in and through them. This life in Christ, however, includes all of Christ. It includes being raised to new life with Him, but only if a dying to self is also included. It includes the promise of glory and the resurrection, but only after we have persevered with Christ in His sufferings as well.
Even, especially, the Son of God was not given a life of ease: instead, He suffered for us. And He expects that we will suffer with, for, and through Him.
But how will we be able to bear such a difficult teaching, one that sees all suffering as potentially redemptive, and one that requires that we rejoice in our sufferings because they are uniting us to Christ?
It requires humility. It requires that you pick up your Cross, deny yourself, and follow Jesus Christ wherever He leads you. If you want to be able to say that for you to live is Christ, then you must mean it, and you must mean that you are willing to give up your own life for Him, as He gave up His for you.
The pattern that Jesus gave us and that Paul presents is that the Cross precedes the Resurrection: Good Friday first, and then Easter.
Paul says that to be united to Jesus Christ, to live for Him, you must have the mind of Christ. And what was this mind? It was a single-minded devotion to do the will of the Father – whatever the cost. The Christian way, the Christian life, is the Way of the Cross, and like Jesus we must set ourselves resolutely to be willing to go up to Jerusalem to meet the Cross.
Consider the humility that the Son has given to you as an example for how you should live. First, though He was God Almighty and the Son of God from eternity past, He “made Himself of no reputation.” This is something a lot of us are not willing to do: to make ourselves of no reputation. The King James doesn’t do justice to the word kenosis, translating it as “reputation.” What it really means is that Christ emptied Himself. And this is what you must do every day before Almighty God if you want to say that for you to live is Christ.
The Son of God humbled Himself, or emptied Himself, first by born a human being. What it must have felt like for God to become a mere human is beyond my imagination, but I do know that it took humility. The Creator became a part of the creation; He who was infinite became finite and limited.
The humility of Christ is even greater than this, for when He came, He didn’t start life as a full-grown human being but was born a helpless baby. He was not born into the family of a king but of a carpenter. When He began His public ministry and most people expected He would rule like a human king, He took the form of a servant (verse 7.) He spent 3 years not being served but serving. He lived out a life of love, giving Himself for others, even though He had every right to command complete obedience and servitude to Him.
The humility of Christ grew even greater because when it came time for Him to save the world, He humbled Himself and obeyed the Father to the point of death (verse 8.) He who was the Giver of Life gave up His life that we might live with Him. He chose not the death we might choose, a quick and quiet death by old age in our bed, but chose instead the death of the Cross, the most vicious and painful death the Romans could devise.
This is the Christ that you just said you wanted to be your life. This is way of Christ that you as a Christian must take upon yourself, if you desire to live in Christ.
It’s not likely that Jesus will require you to die the death of a martyr for Him, and yet He still commands you to surrender your life to Him completely. There are many Christians who, if asked if they would die for Christ, would raise their hands. But Jesus Christ hasn’t asked you to die physically for Him, only to die to yourself in a hundred ways each day.
He’s not asking you for one single heroic and spectacular moment of faith but for a daily life of faithfulness that often seems unheroic and dull. In fact, only those who have been quietly practicing a life of sacrificing themselves daily to God are likely to be in a position to do something heroic for Christ if and when the time comes. After all, even Jesus had to spend a lifetime of perfectly obeying the Father before He was ready for the Cross – and even then it wasn’t easy for Him.
Our hope, in this life of humble sacrifice, is that as Christ was highly exalted by the Father (verse 9), we will be exalted with Him. If we suffer with Him, we shall be glorified with Him. “This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Timothy 2:11-12; see also Romans 8:17.)
Yes, I want to be able to say that for me to live is Christ – not because I want to suffer, but because I know that if I suffer with Him I shall reign with Him in glory. And I know that if I give Him my suffering He will share it with me and transform it into glory by His gracious love and presence.
For me, to live is Christ – every bit of Him.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, I humbly ask that You would give me Your mind of humility and love. Give me the grace of Your Spirit to obey the Father and submit to His loving will. Give me the grace to follow You in Your suffering so that I might participate in Your resurrection and glory. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
- Practice submitting the disappointments of the day to Christ as a means of humbling yourself. When there are daily frustrations or disappointments, use them as reminders to turn to Jesus.
- Meditate more on the deepest suffering in your life. Pray that you might be able to see it as a means of participating in the sufferings of your Lord. Pray that God will use this as a means of your calling on Him more frequently and passionately.
Resolution: I resolve to examine the suffering in my life today and receive it as a means of humbling me and bringing me to God. It may be useful to choose one source of suffering or disappointment in particular.