D.L. Moody once said…
“I thought when I became a Christian I had nothing to do but just to lay my oars in the bottom of the boat and float along. But I soon found that I would have to go against the current.” 1
I think we sometimes have the notion that becoming a Christian will be a bed of roses. But Billy Graham once said,
“Within the New Testament, there is no indication that Christians should expect to be healthy, wealthy, and successful in this present age… Christ never told his disciples that they would get an Academy Award for their performances, but He did tell them to expect to have troubles.This age is interested in success, not suffering. We can identify with James and John who wanted choice seats in the kingdom. We might even ask for reclining chairs and soft music.” 2
Suffer is not a word we enjoy having in our vocabulary. Suffering is something most of us do our best to avoid. We want our lives as free of pain and trouble as possible.
And I think Warren Wiersbe had most of us figured out when he says,
For some reason, many new believers have the idea that trusting Christ means the end of their battles. In reality, it means the beginning of new battles. 3
Wiersbe is right—Jesus warned His followers to expect trouble.
John 16:33 "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
And Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy to expect persecution.
2 Timothy 3:12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
Many believers throughout history have faced persecution. Gordon MacDonald once shared this story about believers in Russia in the 1920’s,
“In the 1920s, on the heels of the Bolshevik Revolution when Joseph Stalin was extending his chokehold over all of what became the Soviet Union, he sent political speakers out to Russian towns and villages to brainwash the people about Marxism and the Russian form of Communism. Peasants were forced to hear the harangues telling them what they must believe. It was made clear that the teaching of Christian faith was to come to an immediate end. The church was no longer to be active.
What none of them realized was that hundreds of years of Russian Orthodox teaching about the resurrection couldn't be rubbed out of people's souls just like that.
One large crowd of people sitting in a public auditorium listened for three hours to the speech of a Russian commissar as he tried to convert them to Marxism and the glories of the Communist party. When he finished, he was exhausted, but he had taken his best shot. He was sure he had convinced the crowd, so he invited questions. Here and there people rose to ask questions, but he was satisfied he had done his best.
Just as things were about to end, and he was to sign his success seal over what he had done, a Russian Orthodox priest stood up at the back of the hall: "I just have one thing to say to you. Christ is risen!"
Instantly the entire crowd responded, "Christ is risen, indeed!"
This is the third time I've told that story this morning. At the end of the second worship hour, a couple came up and introduced themselves. The women said to me in a heavy accent, "I am from Russia. Thank you for telling your story; it moved me greatly. But I must tell you one more thing about that story, which you did not tell. You need to tell people that when the crowd said 'Christ is risen indeed!' they knew for certain they would all go to jail." 4
Believers in any age need to be prepared to suffer for the cause of Christ. We haven’t had to face the severe kinds of suffering for the sake of Christ that many throughout history have faced or even in other parts of the world today face. Yet there does seem to be more and more hostility in our country today toward Christianity. It’s possible we could very well face increasing opposition to the cause of Christ. But are we prepared to suffer for Christ’s sake?
This morning we’ll look at Philippians 1:28-30 and we’ll gain some insight and encouragement about suffering for Christ’s sake.
Philippians 1:28 and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. 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, 30 having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.
We’re going to find real encouragement and instruction this morning to help us when we do suffer for Christ’s sake. As we study this passage together we’ll see that we don’t need to be alarmed by our adversaries and that the outcome is in God’s hands. We’ll see that suffering is truly a gift and that suffering is shared.
Don’t Be Alarmed by Your Adversaries
Note first that in verse 28 Paul instructs the Philippian believers not to be terrified by their adversaries. Commenting about the word “terrified” John MacArthur notes the following,
It did not necessarily mean abject fright, as the King James Version’s rendering “terrified” would suggest. But it did refer to serious, fearful concern. It was used of a startled horse who bolted, often because of something perfectly harmless, and threw his rider. Christians in Paul’s day, including those in Philippi, often had good human reason to be terrified of possible beatings, imprisonment, and even execution by opponents of the gospel. Others faced somewhat less serious opponents: family members, friends, and neighbors who ridiculed and disowned them. 5
We don’t need to be alarmed or fearful over those who oppose us. Fear paralyzes us. It renders us ineffective. If we fear our adversaries we may fail to take a stand for Christ when needed. If we fear our opponents it’s easy to justify watering down God’s Word so we don’t offend them. If we fear our opponents we could compromise our obedience to God and His Word so we can fit in with them. If we fear the enemies of the cross of Christ we’ll remain silent instead of sharing the good news that Jesus Christ died to save sinners and offers eternal life to all who believe in Him.
But we don’t need to be alarmed by our adversaries. As Romans 8:31 reminds us, If God is for us, who can be against us?
We can find great comfort in knowing that the God of the universe is in control. The God that created the earth is also powerful enough to give us the strength or protection to handle adversity.
Don’t be alarmed by your adversaries. Instead take comfort in knowing that the outcome is in God’s capable Hands.
The Outcome is in God’s Hands
Notice again the second half of verse 28,
which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.
Proof of perdition is translated in the NASB,sign of destruction. You need to understand that those who oppose God and who have rejected Jesus Christ are headed for destruction. They are under God’s judgment. Sometimes we don’t believe that do we? Sometimes we mistakenly think that those who oppose God and reject Him are getting away with it.
But in Psalm 73 we see that though the wicked seem to prosper on this earth their ultimate end is destruction. Psalm 73:2-12, 16-20,
Psalm 73:2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; My steps had nearly slipped. 3 For I was envious of the boastful, When I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 For there are no pangs in their death, But their strength is firm. 5 They are not in trouble as other men, Nor are they plagued like other men. 6 Therefore pride serves as their necklace; Violence covers them like a garment. 7 Their eyes bulge with abundance; They have more than heart could wish. 8 They scoff and speak wickedly concerning oppression; They speak loftily. 9 They set their mouth against the heavens, And their tongue walks through the earth. 10 Therefore his people return here, And waters of a full cup are drained by them. 11 And they say, "How does God know? And is there knowledge in the Most High?" 12 Behold, these are the ungodly, Who are always at ease; They increase in riches.
Skipping down to verse 16…
16 When I thought how to understand this, It was too painful for me; 17 Until I went into the sanctuary of God; Then I understood their end. 18 Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction.
There is destruction ahead for the wicked. God’s judgment on them is certain.
But in contrast to the destruction of the wicked we see the salvation of the righteous—those who have trusted in Jesus Christ. It should encourage us and give us joy when we face persecution knowing that it is a sign that we truly belong to Christ.
And ultimately the outcome is in God’s hands. He has defeated the enemy and His church will prevail. We don’t need to fear our opponents because our Almighty God has determined the final results. That last phrase in Philippians 1:28, and that from God, reminds us that God is in control. Those who reject Him face His judgment but those who accept Jesus Christ experience His wonderful salvation.
We may face difficulty here, but we can look forward to a blessed eternity with our Savior. Hugh MacHale knew this truth and took great comfort in knowing the blessed eternity that awaited him.
“In December 1666, Hugh MacHale, the youngest and most gallant of the Covenanters, was brought to his trial in Edinburgh. He was given four days to live and then marched back to the prison. And in the crowd on the street, many were weeping that one so young and so gallant should have only four days more to see the sun shine. But there were no tears in the eyes of this young Gallahad of the faith. "Trust in God!" he cried to the crowd as he marched past. "Trust in God." And then suddenly he saw a friend of his own standing on the edge of the crowd, and he shouted to him, "Good news; wonderful good news! I am within four days of enjoying the sight of Jesus, my Savior!" 6
We don’t need to fear those who oppose us as believers. We can take courage that God has everything under control. Don’t be alarmed by your adversaries. Be encouraged that the outcome is in God’s Hands and understand that suffering for the sake of Christ is a gift. We see the gift of suffering in verse 29.
Suffering is a Gift
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,
Notice the word granted in verse 29. As one commentator points out…
“Suffering for Christ was not to be considered accidental or a divine punishment. Paul referred to a kind of suffering that was really a sign of God’s favor. The Greek word translated “granted,” is derived from a word which means “grace” or “favor.” Believing on Christ and suffering for Him are both associated with God’s grace.” 7
Joni Eareckson Tada who was paralyzed in a diving accident as a teen said,
When life is rosy, we may slide by with knowing about Jesus, with imitating him and quoting him and speaking of him. But only in the fellowship of suffering will we know Jesus. We identify with him at the point of his deepest humiliation. The cross, symbol of his greatest suffering, becomes our personal touch-point with the Lord of the universe. 8
Suffering for the sake of Christ is a privilege. It is a gift. But you might be saying to yourself right now, “how—how is suffering for the sake of Christ a privilege, a gift?” Look with me at 1 Peter 4:12-14.
1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;
13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.
You are blessed if you suffer reproach for the name of Christ and God is glorified.
Note too that there is suffering that is brought on by our own sinfulness but suffering for the sake of Christ is a gift. It is a privilege and when we understand this we can have joy even in the midst of suffering when we suffer for His sake.
Suffering is shared
We should also realize that we don’t suffer alone—suffering is shared. Note how Paul encourages the Philippian believers with these words in verse 30,
30 having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.
The Philippian believers had seen the persecution Paul had experienced for the cause of Christ and they heard of the present persecution he was facing in Rome.
When you suffer for the sake of Christ you may feel like you are all alone but remember others around the world are suffering for the cause of Christ also. Others throughout the ages have suffered for Christ. We can be encouraged by those who have suffered for the sake of Christ and remained steadfast. We don’t need to have a pity party for ourselves thinking we’re the only ones who have ever experienced this kind of suffering.
No, suffering is not a popular topic. It isn’t something we like to think about or hear about or something that we readily embrace. Yet if we name the name of Christ we can expect to suffer for that name. That shouldn’t discourage us though if we remember not to be alarmed by our adversaries and we remember that the outcome is in God’s hands. We need to remember also that suffering is a gift and it’s shared.
It’s put so beautifully in the words of the old hymn, Be Still, My Soul…
Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change he faithful will remain. (Katharina von Schlegel)
1 D.L. Moody, Christian History, no. 25
2 Billy Graham in The Faithful Christian.Christianity Today, Vol. 39, no. 9.
3 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"–Jkt. (Php 1:28). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
4 Gordon MacDonald, "Take Your Best Shot," Preaching Today, Tape No. 127
5 MacArthur, J. F. (.). The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Philippians (electronic ed.) (Php 2:1).
6 James S. Stewart, "The Rending of the Veil," Preaching Today, Tape No. 57
7 Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
8 Joni Eareckson Tada – Edythe Draper, Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World – Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992