Suffering, Faith, and the Sign of Fearlessness

Bethlehem College & Seminary


The following is a lightly edited transcription of the message.

God graciously gives his people suffering and faith so that they might enjoy magnifying Christ to their adversaries through the fearlessness of faith and humble love to each other. That’s the point of the message.

Here are four reasons why I’ve chosen to focus on this. First, because it is perhaps the most startling teaching in this paragraph, and it’s very close to the main point of the whole book.

Second, because joyful suffering is more central to magnifying Christ in the world in the New Testament than we often think it is — especially those of us who live in the prosperous West.

Third, because suffering in the global church is more in our face today than it ever has been in the history of the world because of social media. For example, the 21 martyrs in Libya or the 147 students last week in Kenya. One hundred years ago, you would have never heard of these things, and they were happening. More in our face than ever is the suffering of God’s people.

And the fourth reason for this point is that the lightning speed of the cultural decadence of America means that most of you will be living and serving Christ in the presence of increasing hostility to your faith.

So, let me say it again. The point of this message is God graciously gives his people suffering and faith so that we might enjoy magnifying Christ to our adversaries through fearless faith and humble love.

Prison and Gospel Progress

Paul is writing from prison, and that makes him keenly aware of the place of suffering and magnifying Christ. Go back to Verse 12, where you can smell the point already. “I want you to know brothers that what has happened to me have really served to advance the gospel.” Paul’s suffering is advancing faith in the gospel of the glory of Christ. The whole imperial guard knows he’s in jail for Jesus, and conversions are happening in Caesar’s household. We know that because Philippians 4:22 says “all the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” Fearful brothers are being made bold, right? By the imprisonment, by the suffering, they’re being made bold to fearlessly speak the gospel. And in this, Paul rejoices.

So he’s in prison and that’s suffering. The suffering is unleashing the magnifying of Christ in the household of Caesar and through the bold preaching and Paul is thrilled. We know that because of Verse 18. “What then? Only in every way whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed. And in that, I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.” So that’s almost the whole point of the message, but not quite. That’s just context, so you can smell it. You smell it all over this book, and you can smell it all over the Bible, especially the New Testament, if you have a nose for suffering in the glory of Christ. So suffering is leading people to preach Christ with boldness, fearlessness.

Paul, the catalytic sufferer, is thrilled with this. “Yes, yes. In this I rejoice. That’s why I’m on the planet.” So we’re not surprised, then, in verses 19–20, that when he gives the reason for why he says at the end of verse 18, “Yes, and I will rejoice,” it goes like this. “Because I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, this will turn out for my salvation” — not deliverance from prison. And we know that because the next verse speaks as though he might not get out prison and the salvation remains true whether he does or whether he doesn’t. So keep reading. “As it is my eager expectation and hope that I may not at all be ashamed, but that with full courage now as always, Christ would be magnified in my body whether I live or whether I die.”

That’s what I’m sure of. Live or die, I’ll magnify Jesus because the Holy Spirit and your prayers won’t let me dishonor Christ in my dying. That’s what he’s so excited about, so happy about. “I am sure. Yes, in this I rejoice. And I will rejoice, because live or die, I am going to magnify Christ and nothing makes me happier than to make Christ look magnificent. Yes, and I will rejoice.”

Or maybe he won’t die. What then? In fact, he’s quite sure he won’t die. He’s going to get out of prison. And instead of experiencing his joy in magnifying Christ by death, he will experience joy in helping them magnify Christ in his life.

So verse 25: “I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith.” So what’s the root and focus of that joy in verse 25? It’s called “joy of faith.” Verse 26 gives the answer. “So that in me, you may have ample cause to glory, boast, exalt in Christ Jesus.” So if I can’t die and make much of Christ in my body by the way I die, I’m going to live and make much of Christ in stoking your faith so that you exult in me in Christ. So live or die, I will be magnifying Christ. I will be making him look great either through my death or through your faith. That’s why I’m on the planet. That’s what I live for. So if he doesn’t get the joy of magnifying Christ in his death, he will get the joy of helping them magnify Christ by his life which brings us to our text. And the point has already made — almost, not quite.

Live to Show Jesus’s Worth

There’s logic in the paragraph of verses 27–30 which we need to see and is seldom dwelt upon. So here we go. State the point again: God graciously gives suffering and faith to his people so that they might enjoy making much of Christ to their adversaries through fearless faith and humble love.

Verse 27: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” There is one word in Greek behind “only let your manner of life”: politeuomai. You hear politics. Poli: city, state.

This verb means to live as a good citizen; to fulfill, carry out civic duty. So “let your manner of life” means “live as a citizen.” Carry out your civic duty. And the question, Civic duty of Philippi or heaven? Bruce Winter argues Philippi. Be a good citizen in Philippi to make much of Christ. Or is the citizenship in Paul’s view in heaven not in Philippi, the Roman city-state? Philippians 3:20 says our citizenship, related word, “is in heaven. And from it, we await the savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” So I think at the root of Paul’s mind is citizenship in heaven because he says that. So he’s saying, “Live as good citizens of heaven. Your names along with Euodia, Syntyche, and Clement are written in the registry of the citizen book of heaven,” Philippians 4:3. So live like that.

However, both from Paul and from Jesus, we know that part of our responsibility as citizens of heaven is to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. So maybe the best way to translate it would be carry out your heavenly civic duty in the civic structures of the earth — something like that. Show that your supreme allegiance is to heaven as you navigate your civic responsibilities in America. How do you do that?

“Only let you manner of life be worthy of the gospel, let you manner of life, your heavenly citizenship, let your heavenly citizenship on earth be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” So the way you do it is by walking worthily, living worthily, being a citizen worthily of the gospel of Christ, which does not mean be worth Christ or be deserving of Christ.

Christ is of infinite worth. Live like He is. That’s the way you walk worthily of the gospel of Christ. The gospel is of infinite value; live to show it. You’re a citizen of heaven which is of infinite preciousness. Live to show it here. So, to walk worthily of the gospel of Christ is to live in such a way that you show the gospel’s infinite worth. Worthily is the worth of the gospel.

Why does the gospel have infinite worth? Because it’s the gospel of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:4, it is the gospel of the glory of Christ. It is the news. The gospel is the news of what Christ did so that we could have Christ.

Philippians 3:7” “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss for the sake of the surpassing knowledge of Christ. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.” It is idolatry to say the gospel is of infinite value for any reason less than by it, we gain Christ. So to fulfill your heavenly civic duty on the planet is to show the infinite value of the gospel because the gospel gets you Christ. And everything you do, every decision you make, you calculate with it to make him look great on the planet. That’s what it means to be a citizen, a good one of heaven.

Our king is not Caesar, and our treasure is not the world. Live like that. It changes everything. So the mark of the citizen of heaven is that he lives in the world to show that Christ, and not the world, is his supreme treasure, has supreme worth. Christ is the supreme king, not Caesar. Christ is the supreme treasure, not the world. Or to use the word in verse 20, which is in my main-point sentence, a good citizen of heaven on the earth rejoices to magnify Christ. Verses 19–20: “My eager expectation and hope is that I will never ever be ashamed but that always Christ will be magnified,” made much of, shown to be glorious in my life, “whether I live or whether I die.” That’s what it means to walk worthily of the gospel which gets us Christ.

The Grace of Faith — And Suffering

Now, he gets specific in verse 27. What makes him look like that? And the answer is being fearless before adversaries and being one soul with each other rooted in the Holy Spirit. I think “the spirit” here is the Holy Spirit even though the ESV doesn’t. In one spirit, we are one soul. By the Spirit, our souls are linked. We’ll come back to that. Let’s read verses 27–28.

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that [this is what I want to see when I come or hear about when I’m absent] I may hear of you that you’re standing firm in one spirit, with one soul striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, not frightened in anything [death, shame, loss of job, nothing; you cannot rule me by fear] by your opponents.”

Now the mention of fear here, “not frightened in anything,” means that the opposition was dangerous, right? There was no point of bringing up fear if something they weren’t threatening or would ordinarily cause fear. So there’s a threat of harm or real harm. I don’t know how far it’s gone there in Philippi. And Paul calls for fearlessness in the face of the threat of trouble, pain, death, whatever. Don’t be afraid in anything. And he calls them to the bonding of souls by the Spirit in the struggle to bring faith to the people of Philippi, the faith of the gospel.

A Sign to Your Opponents

A word about the bonding of the souls here. One soul, we know from just a few verses later, in chapter 2, that as he unpacks that kind of unity, it’s the kind of unity produced by being like Jesus who emptied himself and took the form of a servant. So it’s the unity of not counting myself more significant than you. It’s the unity of not taking thought for my interest only but also for your interest. To be one soul. As you stand beside another Christian, it’s not to have the same taste, even be totally agreed in all of your doctrine. It’s to look at him and say, “I’ll die for you. Your interests are my interest. I’m going to be to you like Christ was to me when he came from heaven.” That’s the way you link arms and walk into the jaws of the lion who prowls around trying to destroy faith.

So there’s this magnificent humility-rooted unity, and there’s this glorious fearlessness. And Paul says that is a clear sign in verse 28 at the end. “This is a clear sign.” Spirit-wrought humble, loving, other-interested, self-sacrificing love and unity and fearlessness before opposition is a sign in the world. A big placard has just gone up in Philippi. Bright shining sign to the adversaries or anybody who would look at it. It’s very real. Whether people see it or not, it’s real.

There are millions of such signs in the world today. Do you have eyes? That’s another thing the social media are for in God’s providence: to see the signs that are all around us. Philippians 2:15, “You shine like lights in a dark world.” I’d love to unpack the connection between those two texts as well as Philippians 4:4, where not being anxious for anything is letting your gentleness be known to the world.” This is all over the place in Philippians and in the New Testament, but we’ll just stay here.

2 Thessalonians 2:10: “They are perishing because they refused to love the truth.” There is a perishing. This is a sign of what? This is a sign of what? You’re saved; they’re not, right? Verse 28: “This is a clear sign to them of their destruction and of your salvation.” Your humble love of one another and your fearless stand for the gospel in the presence of opposition is a real sign that you are saved. And those who oppose people who are saved are lost. They’re going to destruction. Their end is destruction. Their God is their belly. They glory in their shame. They’re enemies of the cross.

Their end is destruction. They need a sign to that. They needed a sign. They need to see that written on big sign. You’re it: they’re damned. The aroma from death to death and from life to life. Then Paul says, that sign is from God: “and that from God.” That humble loving unity among the brotherhood and that fearlessness before adversaries, God did that. God lifted the banner for the world in you. God lifted the banner. That’s God’s sign. That sign is from God. How did he make it? How did he build it?

Verse 29: it’s this sign of fearlessness, and humble loving unity is built by God, because it has been granted to you, namely by God, who’s showing the sign, that for the sake of Christ, you should not only believe but also suffer. Why is it a sign from God? Because he gave you two gifts; suffering and faith.

Another little Greek excursion here: the word give is not didómi. You can didomi a punch in the nose. You can give somebody a punch in the nose. You cannot charizomai a person a punch in the nose. This is love. This is all grace, all good, all kindness, all undeserving, all blessing. God graciously gives you the precious gift of suffering.

Surely, Paul wants us to feel the tension in that. He graciously, mercifully, lovingly gives this wonderful gift, not only of faith. The accent falls on suffering. Free gift, here it is. I love you. It has been granted to you for the sake of Christ, for the glory of Christ, for magnifying Christ, that you should not only believe but also suffer. That’s a gift. So, two gifts. Now think with me: How did those two gifts produce the sign of fearlessness in particular?

In order to create a sign, a big bright unmistakable, irrefutable sign of fearlessness, what do you need? You need something to be afraid of, and you need faith so that you won’t be afraid of it. It doesn’t make any sense otherwise to say you got fearlessness. You think anything to be afraid of? No, that’s ridiculous. To say I want to erect a sign of fearlessness means I’m putting enemies in your face, and I’m giving you faith. The two gifts of verse 29 create the sign of verse 27–28. That’s what the ground clause is for.

God wants this. God designed America as it is conflicted today. He has ten thousand reasons for doing it. We might now know three. That’s all you need to know in order to walk worthily of the gospel, that is to be unified in love and to be fearless.

Receive the Gift of Suffering

Okay, let’s sum it up by thinking backwards. First there’s a sovereign God, right? We’re going to build the argument like this. Right at the bottom here, there’s a God who gives what he pleases. Down there is God, sovereign. And he’s gracious because that’s what the verb says. Charizomai. He’s giving faith and suffering, verse 29.

This suffering comes in the form of hostility from opponents. So God is giving that. So is the devil. The devil roars around like a lion trying to consume and gobble up your faith, but he’s on a leash. Everything from Satan is from God as well in a different motive and design. What’s the motive here? The motive here is I’m going to produce a sign with the suffering and the faith as they collide. When the threat of suffering collides with the gift of faith, what’s born? Fearlessness. The sign is lifted up and they can see it. And persevering love and unity. Few things start to tear our church, our family, our marriage apart like suffering. That’s why the divorce rate in families with disabled kids is higher.

When life gets hard, unity gets hard, love gets harder. And God is giving them faith that God will meet every need according to his riches and glory in Christ Jesus. So humble love and fearlessness are the signs that are lifted up. And though it may not be on Paul’s front burner, you can see this sign too. It’s a sign for the adversaries. But think of it. Paul is drawing the suffering church’s attention to the fact that they’ve got a sign that they’re saved. They give the sign. They see the sign. In giving the sign, it is either the aroma to life or death for those who see the sign. When they see it, they say, yes, I’m real.

It’s exactly the way it works in Romans 5 as well. Tribulations work patience and patience works provedness, and provedness works hope. I’m real, I’m real. There’s a sign. I’m saved. How do you know? I didn’t get afraid. Or better to say it like this: “I didn’t let my fear stop me.” I did the hard thing that I knew Christ wanted me to do to magnify the gospel. And when I was done with that, I slept so well that night. My doubts went away because I felt real. That’s what signs are for.

The enemies may or may not see them. You should see them. You should see that love rising up in your heart ready to sacrifice for a brother or sister, and you should see the fear being conquered by faith, the gift of faith. And you should then say, “I’m a Christian, I am. I’m a Christian.” That’s sweet. How then can you not rejoice in magnifying Christ? How could it not be charizomai as the right verb? If it’s that precious, it’s going to help me know as I give the sign and see the sign. I know I’m a Christian. Of course he’d give me suffering and faith if that’s the outcome. What a precious gift.

You Are Saved, They Can’t Win

Let’s take the main point again. God will graciously give you suffering and faith so that you might enjoy magnifying Him through the fearlessness of faith and the humility of love. He will. He’s wonderful. He won’t let you down. He will give you suffering. In small ways and large ways, you’re all going to suffer as you strive together for the gospel. Now, you can minimize these by not striving for the gospel. Woe to you if that’s your choice.

But if you choose to strive for the advancement of the gospel at home and around the world among the numerous people of the world, you will suffer, and the suffering will go up as the striving becomes greater to spread the gospel and build faith. The design of this double gift that he’s going to give you is your humility, your love, and your fearlessness. And written on that sign for your own soul to see and for your adversaries to see is, “You are saved, and they can’t win.” You are saved and they can’t win. That’s what’s on the sign of your love and fearlessness. So therefore, be good citizens of heaven and rejoice in magnifying Christ as your supreme treasure.