29 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, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
Have you ever read a Scripture passage and tried to convince yourself it was a misprint? Being someone that believes that the original texts of the Bible were completely correct in saying what God intended for them to say, I don't think there are mistakes in the Bible. I do think that there could be textual transmission issues and certainly printing errors can exist.
So, when I encounter something in the text that I find incredibly odd, I start trying to find a way for it not to be accurate. This is how I felt about Philippians 1:29-30. Surely we can't be expected to see suffering as something granted to believers. That has to be a mistake!
Then I have to dial back and recognize this fact: it's not a mistake or a misprint. The truth is, there are parts of Scripture that are just, well, hard to take sometimes. It's hard to accept, down inside, some of the hard commands of God. For example, I don't much care for the idea that anger and murder really are equally sinful. Actually, the idea that all sin is equally vile is hard for me. I like to judge my own sin as either better or, sometimes, worse than other people's sin.
This certainly qualified for me, that if I suffer for the sake of obedience to the Gospel, that I should see that as something granted to me, not something that I would rather avoid!
I also, though, got to wondering on this: how do I suffer for the Gospel?
There are several ways of suffering for the Gospel. Here's just a short list:
- Real anti-Christian persecution: This is where believers in China, Iran, North Korea, and many Muslim countries live. Living for Jesus can be fatal, and is certainly met with blatant harassment from both country and culture. The majority of America knows nothing like this, although pockets of our country are tilting in that direction. Where? Well, in places where the dominant culture is strong enough to do whatever it wants. However, this is not something we see here in the South. Yet.
- Moreover, those who deal with this kind of persecution need our prayers and support.
- And we don't need to overstate our own problems. That Wal-Mart is open on Sunday isn't the same as being dragged away from your family and beaten for preaching.
- Anti-Christian inconvenience: we're pretty much here in America and many parts of the "Western" world. It's not impossible nor is it violently harassed to be a follower of Christ. There are just moments it's not convenient. Our culture has become so enmeshed with things that run counter to a Christian life that it becomes a bit hard to make it.
- Education is one place this comes out: Biblically, it is the responsibility of the Christian parent to disciple their children to follow Christ. To assist with that, the Christian church should help out or take up the slack. It's just more convenient to let the government do it all.
- Employment is another major focus of this: how many of us as believers have held jobs where we, if we are honest with ourselves, were not fully capable of being obedient to Christ in our work? Where we either slightly shaded the truth, oppressed the poor, or failed to treat others as we should be treated? It's a challenge to find and work jobs that glorify God in all we do. And it's a challenge to find and work jobs that help it be clear to those we disciple that following Christ comes first.
- The other inconvenience for Christians: the fruitcake sector that claims to believe the same way we do. The ones that blame natural disasters on people rather than helping. Seriously, help Haiti or New Orleans or Iran with their disaster first and condemn later. Typically the people in rubble asking "Why?" don't want to talk about the answer yet.
The last way in which Christian suffer is, to me, the most unnecessary. I think that when the Lord said we'd suffer, and that Paul was mainly talking about here, falls in the above categories. Especially the real persecution. It's hard to compare having trouble finding a job that's honest to being put in a forced labor camp (I'm still trying to double-check the statement's I've heard that many of the "Made in China" holiday items are made in forced labor camps). What is this last way? Church oppression. We make followers of Christ suffer in the very churches they should be growing in. We hold back people from obedience, we put up barriers to growth, we attack folks for pushing us out of our comfort zones. All in the name of protecting the church. Persecution from the outside is both expected and understandable. Why would we expect the sinful world to treat us nicely? But inside the church, that's a whole different story…
Meanwhile, it's just not a good thing to look for loopholes in the text before accepting the truth of it. You'll always be disappointed. Wrestle with the truth, and then act on it!!