Building Ourselves Up to Endure
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2: 5-11, ESV)
For church this week, Sam and I decided to go to an in-person service. During the sermon, the pastor started talking about Paul. Specifically, how Paul and some of the people that traveled with him went through some
pretty severe persecution for being preachers and teachers for Christ. And while I can agree with what he was trying to say, which was that Paul and his friends counted their suffering as joy for the cause of Christ and that suffering was the worldly price for Godly obedience; I didn’t agree with his delivery of the point.
Essentially, He asserted that Paul and his friends rejoiced and were visibly happy with their pain and trials. And while I can appreciate trying to encourage a congregation of believers to see their suffering as a means to see how strong their faith is, and that process should build us up, I don’t believe that Paul necessarily loved being persecuted.
Yes, Paul sang to God while chained in jail with Silas. He was flogged and imprisoned and beaten for talking about Jesus. But that doesn’t mean he proverbially jumped for joy at those things.
None of us desire persecution or pain. None of us beg for it and turn cartwheels when it comes our way. So it’s silly to assume that Paul was not the same way. The difference? Paul accepted it as a necessary part of the Christian walk. He leaned into it and yes, counted it all joy that out of persecution, his faith would be made more steadfast, whole, and lacking nothing. Paul rejoiced in the product of suffering and appreciated the suffering as the means of qualifying a tested faith.
If we’re looking for examples of Paul’s suffering or the times he encouraged other believers to not shy away from worldly persecution, we’d be here all day. There are mentions along these lines in Galatians, Philippians, First Timothy, and Romans; and most of Acts is examples of Paul’s suffering in detail. As a teacher, I know that if I often write devotions focusing on the same areas I need to build myself up in, then maybe Paul did it just the same in his letters to the early churches.
But just because suffering is something that the flesh tends to shy away from doesn’t mean that we should just throw our hands up in the air and excuse ourselves from the process entirely. Because the fact of the matter is that any suffering we might think we’re going through today doesn’t hold a candle to what Paul faced. Floggings? Beatings? Jail time? It all makes our ideas of suffering seem small and self-centered.
I’ve never faced physical torture because I love Jesus. Maybe I lost a relationship. Maybe I was passed on a promotion. Maybe I dealt with grief or anxiety or depression, but I never faced the brutal and humiliating persecution the early church did. Truth is, we’re spoiled. We may never know the level of that suffering and the emotions that come with it. But Paul did, and still, Paul was bold in the face of it.
And that makes us seem a little bit spoiled. Maybe the fact that we share the same religious freedoms that our forefathers did has made us soft, but if persecution makes our faith stronger, it’s no wonder that some Christians struggle to tell their coworkers about Jesus, let alone putting a bumper sticker on their car that broadcasts their beliefs. And so maybe that’s where all that joy comes from: the fact that the suffering produces a boldness for evangelism in us that comfort never could.
Jesus suffered, and ultimately, He wasn’t exactly visibly happy about it. The night that He was arrested, He was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” (Mark 14:33) and prayed to God searching Him out for another way before ultimately yielding to His will. Jesus humbled himself, emptied himself out, obeyed God’s will, and suffered so far as to die and you know what? God was highly exalted for it.
Does a grape yearn for the wine press? Does iron wish for the fire of the forge? No, and just the same, we don’t beg God for the heartache that creates in us a better faith, but that promise of being closer to God after the fact is more than a reason to rejoice. And beyond that, there is the comfort that we serve a God who existed above all that heartache and still chose to step down into it so that we could be together again.
He knows our complex hearts and minds, friends. He knows the trials hurt, but He’s hoping that we’re bold enough to go through it anyway. He’s rooting for us to be strong enough to stay the course, and that He is enough reward for us to put aside our comfortability enough to keep going.