A Sign: United and Fearless with the Gift of Suffering
A Meditation on Philippians 1:27-30
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
At the recent Pastoral Staff Prayer and Planning Retreat (January 9-10) I led one of the morning devotions from these verses. My aim was threefold. First, I wanted to deepen our awareness as a staff that suffering in the service of Christ is our calling—indeed a gift of God. Second, I wanted us to see that suffering with unity and fearlessness in the cause of the gospel is a sign. Third, I wanted to inspire us to put our shoulders together and work side by side with all our might for the cause of Christ and the people of Bethlehem in 2006. Join us in seeing these things.
First, suffering in the service of Christ is a gift of God and part of our pastoral calling. Verse 29: “For it has been granted [=freely given] to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” This verse says that faith and suffering are gifts of God. And the emphasis falls on the gift of suffering: It is “not only given to you to believe but also to suffer.”
This is spoken to ordinary believers. Therefore it applies also to us who are pastors. Part of our calling as Christians is to believe and to suffer in the service of Christ. All the more so in our calling as leaders. As 2 Corinthians 1:6 says, “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort.” That was the first thing I wanted us to see. Suffering is our calling, our gift from God. It is not a curse. It is a gift.
Second, when we bear this suffering with unity and fearlessness it is a sign. Look at the unity and fearlessness of the Philippians in Verses 27-28. They are “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them [the opponents] of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.”
Unity is emphasized in the phrases “one spirit” and “one mind” and “striving side by side”. Fearlessness is emphasized in the phrase, “not frightened in anything”. The fact that this unity and fearlessness is in the face of suffering is seen first in the word “your opponents” and second in the fact that this verse is supported (see the word “for”) by the following verse which says, “For it has been granted to you . . . to suffer for his sake.” In other words: “Be unified and fearless before your opponents because your faith and suffering are a gift of God.”
And all this is said to be a “sign”. That is, your unity and fearlessness in the face of suffering is a sign of your opponents’ destruction and of your salvation. The truth and glory of Christ is seen in your unified, fearless suffering in the cause of Christ. This is our great goal as a staff and a church: to display the sign of Christ’s supreme truth and worth in the world. All opponents to the gospel will be destroyed and all who embrace this truth will be saved.
Finally, I called the staff to put our shoulders together and strive side by side. I wrote on the white board this phrase, sunathlountes te pistei tou euangeliou. You can see in the first Greek word the English “athlete”. The prefix sun means together. It’s translated “strive together”. So I challenged us to exert athletic strength and resolve, shoulder to shoulder, side by side, in 2006. This will make our suffering bearable and it will make it beautiful and fruitful. It will become a sign.
Pray for us. We love our work. We pledge our utmost for your good and Christ’s glory.
Pastor John, for all of the pastoral staff