We worship comfort in America. Unfortunately the worship of comfort isn’t strictly from a non-Christian perspective. Comfort has seeped into the gospel thought process; the evidence of salvation is a comfortable life – financially, relationally, emotionally. Pain and suffering are signs God has abandoned you, or you have disappointed God. Not only is success a sign of salvation, but it’s where and how we find our joy.
It’s a lie.
Comfort is not your aim. Growth is. This is the message Paul writes to the church of Philippi.
Jesus, the suffering servant
Many of Paul’s letters address major sin issues or dissent within the congregation he writes to. The book of Philippians seems to be a different in this regard. It’s written while Paul sits in prison, and things do not look good for his release. So reading between the lines, Paul seems to address how we handle suffering as followers of Jesus.
We should expect to suffer, and we should seek joy in the midst of our suffering. In the middle of his letter, Paul writes one of the New Testament’s few poems. It’s a short but beautiful story of Jesus, the suffering servant.
“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” -Philippians 2:6-11 NLT
Jesus’ existence on earth was not comfortable. He gave up his “God” status. He became a slave to his human body and abilities. Jesus was nailed to a cross. So why should we expect life to be easy? Christianity does not guarantee comfort. Humility and suffering should be expected.
Joy and Suffering
Then Paul has the audacity to tell us in all the pain we experience in life…to rejoice.
“But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy. Yes, you should rejoice, and I will share your joy.” -Philippians 2:17-18 NLT
Your pain should lead to joy.
Joy in the midst of pain is not a natural response. Joy is always a choice. Paul didn’t want to die, but he was willing to die, and he chose to rejoice in his suffering – in both death and life.
Together we rejoice
Additionally, joy is not for me alone. My joy…found in my suffering should be contagious.
One of our church’s long-time missionaries recently returned home on furlough (an extended break). Over the past several years, this missionary has battled various forms of cancer…each time winning that battle. Just a few weeks ago, he found out he had a new type of cancer attacking his muscular system. He is slowly muscle mass, and already he is barely able to walk.
In several conversations with both him and his wife, I know the diagnosis and the reality of his disease is very difficult for him. Yet each conversation I have with him, I walk away with joy. I am joyful because his joy is contagious. His joy is contagious because he has chosen joy despite his suffering.
Suffering + Joy = Growth
I’ll end with this last bit of encouragement: joy in suffering builds character in me.
James, the half-brother of Jesus, puts it like this,
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” -James 1:2-4 NLT
May you see your current pain/suffering/hardship/struggle as an opportunity for joy. May this joy strengthen you and develop the character which will allow you to endure to perfection.