Why do Christians suffer for their belief in the gospel? Does our suffering for the gospel even have a point? These are questions that Paul answers in his letter to the Philippians.
The Philippians were being persecuted by those in Philippi for their Christian beliefs. They were being imprisoned, beaten, ostracized, and even killed. Paul, knowing this, writes to encourage them. One way he encourages them is by telling them the point of their suffering.
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. 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, (Philippians 1:28b-29 ESV)
Paul’s answer to why Christians’ suffer for the gospel in these verses is tied to the how and why of our salvation. So in order to answer the why question of suffering, we need to first answer the why and how question of salvation.
How and Why We are Saved
At the end of verse 28 and the beginning of verse 29, we are told that our salvation is from God and it is “granted on behalf of Christ.” Granted carries the idea of graced or gifted. This means that our salvation is given to us as a gift from God. It is not something we earn, nor is it something we have to accept. Rather, it is a gift from God.
The reason we are saved is for Christ’s sake. More specifically, we can say it is for His glory. This means that while salvation benefits us, it is not ultimately for us. It is ultimately for Jesus Christ and His glory.
Now that we understand how we are saved and why we are saved, we can take the same idea and apply it to suffering for the gospel.
How and Why We Suffer
In verse 29, Paul tells us that not only is our salvation for Christ’s sake, but our suffering is also for Christ’s sake. So we see that not only has God gifted us with our salvation for the glory of Christ, but God has gifted us with our suffering for the glory of Christ.
This means that our suffering for the gospel is not pointless. It, just like our salvation, is for Christ’s glory. So when someone is fired from their job because of their belief in the gospel, it is for the glory of Christ. When someone is ostracized from their community, because of their belief in the gospel, like what is happening with Chick-fil-a right now, it is for the glory of Christ. When someone is beaten, jailed, or even martyred because of their belief in the gospel, it is for the glory of Christ.
So then, when we face persecution, we should be encouraged, knowing it is not pointless, but it is for the glory of Christ.
Questions for Reflection
- Have you ever thought that your suffering is for Christ’s glory?
- Does it provide you comfort knowing that your suffering is for Christ’s glory?
- What do you make of God gifting us with the privilege to suffer for Christ’s sake?
- How does suffering play into your understanding of Christianity?