What Are We Suffering For?
- David Fairchild
- Apr 25, 2004
- Series: Philippians
You have heard me say often that ideas have consequences. What we believe as a philosophy, theology, or worldview, has tremendous implications and consequences to how we live out our days.
Whether these thoughts are good or bad, accurate or inaccurate, how we think and what we believe will ultimately shape how we act.
There are few topics of discussion that have such important repercussions for every person that breathes air than this particular topic.
I don’t want us to get lost in this study this morning by detaching ourselves from what we’re discussing. It is easy for us to drift into a clinical view of different subjects we discuss because try to pull back so much from the subject for the sake of objectivity that we no longer feel what we’re reading or thinking about.
I want us to feel what we are talking about today. I want us to think deeply about how we have handled this subject in the past, both distant and recent. I want us to consider the ways we agree intellectually about different issues yet haven’t yet been able to live what we know to be true and right and good.
How many of you have seen Kill Bill 1 & 2? How about The Punisher, or Hellboy? What about Walking Tall? Yeah I didn’t think anyone went to see that.
Each of these movies share something in common. They are movies in which the entire thrust of the movie is dedicated to inflicting suffering on their enemies. They take this position without shame and wrap it into nifty little sayings like “righteous revenge” or “just punishment.” On the Kill Bill promotional posters as well as it’s opening line before the film begins they use the statement “revenge is a dish best served cold” which happens to be an old Arab quote which was popularized by Ricardo Montelbaum who plays Khan the Klingon in one of the Star Trek movies.
Here’s the irony with each of these movies…the “good guys” act just a merciless, just as hateful, just as unforgiving, just as violent and vicious as the “bad guys” except early on in the film an invisible white hat was placed on the “good guys” and an invisible black hat was placed on the “bad guys” which is suppose to make us all feel better that we are enjoying watching people suffer.
I’m not making an artistic critique of these films as much as I am a philosophical one. I actually enjoyed Kill Bill 1 and 2, but I enjoy them artistically while I disagree with them philosophically and more importantly theologically.
Our culture has shifted over the last few decades and this shift has caused us to rethink how we process pain and suffering. The notion that there really is no difference between a good guy and a bad guy in a movie is an important one when we think of suffering.
This washing away of the distinctions between the two has caused many to come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as good and bad, and no such thing as right and wrong, but rather each person is simply acting according to what works best for them.
Here’s the catch; it’s easy to believe that paradigm as long as no one causes you to suffer. Once we taste pain and suffering from the actions of someone else we immediately cry “foul.”
The other observation we make from watching these films is the meaninglessness of suffering. We watch a head get blown off here, an arm cut off there, an eye plucked out, a body thrown from the top of a building, a group of people slaughtered for no apparent reason with no apparent feelings of guilt and we become either desensitized to what we’re watching or we become cynical about why we suffer at all.
As we are affected by what we read and watch we begin to mirror the hopelessness and despair we see as we are asked to swallow the big bitter pill of pain, which seems to serve no purpose, or have no end in sight.
I want us to grapple with the problem of suffering this morning as we read how Paul views his circumstances and what conclusion he comes to as he experiences it firsthand.
Turn with me to the book of Philippians chapter 1, and we’ll read verse 29 before we come back to 12-20.
Verse 29- For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,
Here Paul uses a word that seems out of place when we think of suffering. He uses the word granted which literally means in the Greek to be given as a favor in kindness for free.
When we think of believing in Christ, we see how God giving us belief is a favor in kindness and we know He was under no obligation to give us a belief in His Son, it was free. We agree with that idea because we know that we would have never believed in God without God first giving us that belief and faith as a gift.
What we have a hard time accepting is the statement that Paul makes along with believing in Christ. Paul says that we have been given belief as a free gift out of kindness and we have been given suffering as a free gift of kindness.
How many of you like to open the gift of suffering? Not many. Usually the reason we don’t like to suffer is because we don’t see the benefit, and we don’t have a reason or a purpose for enduring the suffering.
Paul had a reason and his life was so centered upon that reason that even in the most difficult painful times of suffering that came to him at the hands of individuals that hated him, he was able to write this letter of joy to his brothers and sisters in Philippi to encourage them.
Verse 12- But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel,
Paul essentially says this: All the things that have happened to me; the beatings, the false imprisonment for the last 4 years, the lies and rumors, the plot to kill me, my freedom to go wherever I want, the insults of those that hate me, the shackles around my ankles and around my wrists as I’m chained to Roman guards is a beautiful gift from God and it has turned out to advanced the Gospel.
Paul’s suffering isn’t random and it isn’t without a purpose. His suffering is for the forward progress of the Gospel.
He has something in mind that keeps his emotions, his physical pain, his spiritual struggles in perspective…it’s the Gospel and the Gospel is about Christ.
Paul is saying that his pain and suffering that he is enduring is causing the good news to go forward.
Do we view our suffering and pain as something that is a free gift granted to us in kindness by God for the purpose of advancing the Gospel?
Paul uses terminology that gives the Philippians an accurate picture of what he’s talking about. When Paul says furtherance he is using a word in the Greek that means "to cut or strike forward." It was a lumberjack word describing the army woodcutters who went before the warriors cutting down trees and underbrush in a forest so the military could advance and conquer the land.
He is saying that his pain and suffering, the things which happened to him, came as a woodcutter to clear the path for the advancement of the Gospel. What a beautiful way of looking at his suffering.
Why does this matter?
Either way, you and I are going to suffer in this life. We are all going to experience loss, we are all going to experience grief, physical, emotional and spiritual pain. Each of us are going to lose someone close to us, lose friends, family, or spouses.
We will all drink from the same bitter cup more than once in our lives.
I’m convinced the way we view God, the way we view the purpose for our lives, the way we think about pain and suffering will dictate the way we drink our cup when it is passed to us.
We can become as bitter as the cup we drink, or we can be sweetened by it and give off an aroma of joy, of peace, of purpose in the midst of our suffering. It all depends on how we view why we suffer.
We have been appointed to it and we can’t avoid it. Yet it isn’t meaningless, it’s for Christ, to advance the message about Him to those that have tasted the bitterness of life and can barely stomach another drink.
Paul says his suffering is for others benefit.
Verse 13- so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ;
Paul was chained to Roman guards who were the Emperors personal army. Nero’s bodyguards would take 4 hour shifts with Paul and they would chain themselves to him.
What was Paul’s entire mission in life? To tell people to who don’t God about God and bring them the good news of who Christ is and what He has done so that we can have life with God. Guess who gets to hear this message every 4 hours? Another hardened Roman bodyguard.
Can you imagine the amazement of these men as they talk about this little Jew that instead of being bitter and hateful because of what’s happened to him, he tells everyone good news about Jesus.
Everyone from a human perspective saw Paul as a prisoner of Nero, Paul tells everyone he’s a prisoner of Christ! His suffering isn’t from the chains of Nero, it’s from the chains of Christ!
This message spread to all of the special guards. There is estimated to be 16,000 of these guards for Nero.
Paul’s suffering reaches more Roman guards than his public preaching could have ever.
Who else benefited from Paul’s suffering?
Verse 14- and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Other Christians were benefiting from Paul’s suffering.
The Jews wanted the followers of Christ to be fearful when they saw what happened to Paul. It had the opposite effect. They became bold!
They saw how God strengthened Paul in his suffering and it caused them to have greater faith and speak with greater boldness.
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1:4 that God…comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
God comforts us in places of suffering and pain, and that comfort makes us able to comfort others who are in pain.
This is exactly what Paul is doing. He is comforted by God, and in return he is comforting the Philippians, bringing words of comfort to the Romans as he tells them about God’s grace in Christ, and he is giving confidence to other brothers in Christ because God has comforted Him.
He is living in response to God’s grace and mercy upon Him. He is living in response to the comfort and peace that passes all human understanding, and that response shows itself in the way he thinks and the way he acts to what happens to him.
Verses 15-18- 15 Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from good will: 16 The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; 17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.
There are some preachers that preach out of jealousy and in their jealousy add to your pain and suffering as they added to Paul’s.
They want to become well know, they want to receive accolades from their peers, and instead of bringing you good news, they preach insincerely and add to your chains.
Is Paul jealous or upset? Did the selfish preachers add succeed in adding to Paul’s affliction? No. Paul says that as long as Christ is preached, he will rejoice!
Verse 19- For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
Again Paul has confidence he will be delivered through the prayers of the saints in Philippi, by the supply of the Spirit of Jesus.
Paul then says what we all need to say each day, and in every circumstance.
Verse 20- according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.