Philippians Part One: Deep Dive
SUFFERING FOR CHRIST | KATIE HALDANE
In this Deep Dive, I want to address something that has been on my heart for a long time. It is not popular, it may even offend your prosperity gospel, but we cannot read the New Testament without getting a deeper understanding of persecution and suffering. I know in the Western Church, these words are almost taboo. Most Pentecostals lean towards the sermons that tell us that we are called to be blessed, prosperous, safe, healthy and wealthy but I think there are incredible blessings and keys in the New Testament that mature Christians can embrace without losing the concept of God’s provision.
Would you say that Paul was in the will of God? What about Jesus? Was Jesus in the will of God His whole life? For me, the answer to both is yes. So if both were in the will of God their whole lives, and they were living Plan A for their life, then why were both of their lives filled with persecution and suffering? Paul was single, no children, he didn’t have a house (that we know of), he was beaten, whipped, shipwrecked, robbed and then died a martyr (read 2 Corinthians 11:24-33). Jesus didn’t have a house, had to borrow a donkey, was hated and persecuted and died a criminal’s death.
For those of you looking at your life thinking God can’t be with you because you’re struggling, not married, wealthy, or healthy—you are wrong. You are blessed because God is with you in every season, you will see the glory of your life in heaven, you will see that the wounds that we suffer here on earth mean far more than we know.
the blessed life
Most Christians measure their life by the material blessing that surrounds them. If they are blessed with money, houses, car, family, children, then God is with them and they are prosperous. On the flip side, most western Christians feel that people are not in the will of God when they are sick, being persecuted, suffering, single, divorced, when things are not going right, their church is not growing or their plans are not succeeding. We can feel that God has left us when the material blessing that Christians expect is not evident.
I agree that God wants to bless His children, take care of them, protect them. He wants for us to multiply and be blessed to be a blessing. But what happens if our perspective of what a blessed life is is actually incorrect? What happens if a life poured out for Christ, a life that isn’t always perfect, a pastor that keeps going even when the church isn’t growing, a life that keeps preaching Jesus even though they are persecuted and tortured for doing so, a life that stays faithful to Jesus despite losing everything, who keeps praising even though they are not getting healed—what happens if that life is the life that is blessed with every spiritual blessing? Let me tell you something: the wounds that Jesus received on earth, the stripes on His back, the nails in His hands, these are the things that He kept in His resurrected body. The wounds of His suffering on earth became His glory in heaven.
As we read Philippians, Paul is boasting about being in prison for Christ! When was the last time you heard a podcast about rejoicing in suffering? This is where your true spiritual blessing comes from, you grow more in the hard times than you do in the easy seasons. It is all about perspective and Paul wants you to have the perspective of heaven!
blessed in all circumstances
Paul teaches his churches that suffering is part of their everyday Christian life. In 2 Corinthians, he boasts about all he has suffered. Imagine that: all of us getting up at church and instead of boasting of what material things we have, we boast about all we have suffered for Christ!
2 Timothy 3:12 All who desire to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
Now, as usual, let’s balance this out—we don’t look for suffering or go back to the monastic society that beat themselves to keep humble before God. That is not what Paul is teaching! He is saying you are blessed when you are persecuted, blessed when God brings you trials, blessed when life doesn’t go as you plan because it is then that God is developing your spiritual maturity. It is then that the roots of your Christianity are going down deep! It is more about your perspective than it is about your circumstances.
You are blessed now, because of Jesus Christ and what He has given you: the status of being a child of God. That identity doesn’t change when your circumstances in this world change. You are blessed—full stop. Not ‘I will be blessed when I get that house, or get married, or get a better job, or when my circumstances change’. No! You are blessed right now because you are in Christ and in Him we are given every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. You can rejoice, celebrate and be confident now.
Ephesians 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
blessed to grow
I once went to a conference and one of the speakers shared that he just found out his grandchild had cancer and he was battling in his mind about God and His goodness. He then said something that rocked me to my core. He said, ‘Don’t all you Christians out there come up and try to fix me’. He went on to explain that this was his journey and he was going to walk through the suffering and the goodness of God and come out better for it. He didn’t want to shy away from the pain, he was going to let the pain mold and change him for the better.
See, some of us face things and well-meaning Christians have told us it was because we have sinned, because we disobeyed God or, perhaps, that God was not with us. Job’s friends tried to explain his suffering that same way, but Job did not sin against God, he hadn’t disobeyed God; God was doing something that far outweighed earthly blessing and earthly materialism. He was fashioning a man of God for His glory. In your life, your trials and suffering are producing perseverance, character and hope (read Romans 5:3-5). You can’t have character and hope without going through the the first two. You are blessed when people insult you, when you are persecuted, hated for the sake of Christ. The Bible actually says rejoice at these times, because great is your reward in heaven!
Matthew 5:11-13 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad,because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
As you read Philippians, you’ll see Paul in prison, writing from victory and rejoicing! He is not ashamed of his suffering, he knows that this is working out for the good of the gospel. He is not doubting God’s presence or Jesus’ victory over his life, he knows that God is in control and can work everything out. He is not looking for earthly blessing but the blessing that comes from a life poured out for Christ—our reward is in heaven! Live your life knowing that you are blessed, you will have persecution and you will have trials but in every season God is with you and will bring you through victorious and rejoicing! You will come out the end with the same understanding as Paul and be able to say ‘I have learnt to be content in all circumstances, whether with plenty or in lack! Why? Because I can face all things with Jesus who strengthens me!’