The fantastic reward of … struggling? – Zebra crossing of prayer

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The wonderful gift of … suffering?
by John UpChurch

"Because in the name of Christ you were granted not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, because you are going through the same struggle that you have seen and that I still have today." (Philippians 1: 29-30)

Philippians 1:29 is one of those verses that make me stop and shake my head in disbelief. Paul tells the readers of this letter that they have been granted suffering. Granted? "Really?" Like in "Here you go. Here's a big old helping of suffering"?

If you look at the Greek behind this sentence, you will discover the word charizomai. This word usually implies something that is released for the benefit of another. In fact, Paul uses the same word to speak of how God forgave our sins (Colossians 2:13; Ephesians 4:32); how we should freely forgive others (2 Corinthians 2: 7, 10); and how God bestows gifts or titles based on his love and strength (as in Philippians 2: 9). In Luke 7:21 the same word shows how Jesus gave sight to the blind. Free useful gifts.

All of these are good and beautiful. Why should Paul add something crazy like suffering to these other good things? Surely he must see that suffering does not fit into the same category as healing the blind and forgiving sin. They don't even have the same zip code. Correct?

Paul's example shows us that they do it. Shortly before the end of Acts (chapter 27), Paul got stuck with a stubborn centurion who couldn't wait to get to Rome and a pilot who was happy to commit. Paul warns that such a trip will end badly. They ignore him (word to the wise: never ignore Paul). When they get into a storm, things look really, really bad. People throw supplies overboard, their faces are green and hope is goodbye.

Around that time Paul was allowed to give his speech "I told you", and in this speech he uses our old friend Charizomai. An angel had appeared to Paul and had told him: "God has granted you all who sail with you" (Acts 27:24). God had given him seasick seafarers (who wanted to kill the prisoners, mind you) and a stubborn centurion who refused to listen. What kind of gift is that? God could have given him a miraculous trip to a nearby island – perhaps in a warm and not so stormy place.

But if that had been the case, Paul would not have done the other part of this verse: "You must stand before Caesar." If Paul had been wiped out, we would actually have neither Acts nor Luke (this chapter is filled with "we" from our good doctor friend who also survived the storm). The sailors and the centurion would not have seen God's mighty deed to save each and every one of them. and Paul would not have brought the gospel to the most important city in the Roman Empire. God gave Paul the gift of her life to keep the gospel going.

And that brings back Paul's suggestion that suffering be granted – a gift. Paul most likely wrote his letter to the Philippians not long after it was struck in the rocks. Despite the chaotic journey (or perhaps because of it), the message of Christ spread in the royal guard and in people all over Rome. Other Christians had a backbone to speak boldly (Philippians 1: 13-14). Things were booming everywhere.

Intersecting Faith and Life: The gift of suffering for Paul and for us does not seem to be a gift at first. But the perspective makes the difference. Suffering that comes for Christ's sake always produces a harvest of awe. This is because, in addition to suffering, God gives us the strength to endure and to see the gospel take root.

And that is why Paul can honestly say: "In addition, I consider everything a loss compared to the greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord because of which I have lost all things" (Philippians 3: 8). This is not empty when you boast of a dejected man. That is the triumphant cry of someone who sees what lies ahead.

For further reading
Acts 27-28
Philippians 1 (Read the whole; it is short and concentrated.)

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