In the Face of Suffering

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” - Philippians 1:27

Dear Friends, If ever there was a time for these next words of Paul from Philippians, it’s now! We left off last week with the enteral struggle between what’s good for us personally, and what’s good for the community. Paul speaks of this in relation to his own arrest and potential sentence of death - that it’s better for him personally to die and experience Jesus face-to-face, but better for them if he stays so he can serve them and continue to equip them for ministry. The uncertainty of his personal outcome - will he survive his travels? Will he survive his imprisonment? Will he survive his trial and be acquitted… or sentenced to death? These uncertainties fuel his introductory “Whatever happens…” and lead to his commendation: “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Paul isn’t looking to become the spark that ignites a fire to sweep across the Roman Empire and bring it down. He’s not concerned about his life. Truth be told, he’s not concerned about the Empire either! He’s concerned about the good news of Jesus being shared as widely as possible. And he recognizes that the conduct of believers - the words they speak, the way they speak them, the acts of service they do for their neighbors, matters so very much. Because the “gospel” is literally “good news” and so must not be argued from a place of anger or violence - but from a place of love and care! He continues that if they act in this way, when he hears about them or sees them in person, he’ll know two things. First, that they’re “standing firm in the one Spirit” - meaning that they’re acting rightly, in accordance with God, because that’s the way Jesus acted, guided by the same Spirit. And second, that they are together - because they’ll also be reflecting the same good news and the same attitude that Paul has demonstrated throughout his captivity. What’s especially pertinent for today is his comment “without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.” Here, Paul is connecting their good conduct, “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ,” with not having to be afraid of opposition. The flip side would be that if they conducted themselves in an unworthy manner - if they were rising up with torches and pitchforks, threatening people’s lives and livelihoods… they would be acting in ways that would raise legitimate fear. But acting peacefully, speaking in love, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, will allow you not to be afraid of opposition. Paul basically says that their opposition is a sign of their destruction and the Philippians good conduct, in spite of opposition, is a sign of their salvation - by God. And then we have the reminder… “it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him…” Following Jesus, the one who suffered and died at the hands of the religious and political establishment… will likely bring suffering. But, it should be noted, that there are really two types of suffering, three really, but only two apply here. There is general suffering that has little or nothing to do with our own actions, and there are two types of suffering that have to do with our own actions. There is suffering because we’ve done the wrong thing - we speed, and we get a ticket. We gossip, and we demean a person’s character and lose a friend. We cheat on our taxes and we pay fines, penalties or even serve jail time… the list can go on. That kind of suffering is not the kind of suffering Paul is talking about. That kind of self-inflicted suffering is the kind that hopefully will lead us to turn around, repent, and live according to God’s Kingdom instead of the Kingdom of this world. The other kind of suffering… is for doing the right thing… in the face of those who don’t want to, or can’t imagine living for anything less than themselves. The kind of suffering that we will experience for Jesus, is the kind of suffering that will not allow love and forgiveness to rule. It’s the kind of suffering that Jesus endured when he was willing to sit with sinners and tax collectors, when he wouldn’t let a woman caught in adultery get stoned to death. We will suffer in this world for being too generous, too kind, too loving, too sacrificial. And for saying that this is the way to life… in the face of kings and kingdoms who claim otherwise. Welcoming You to Grow in Jesus… suffering too, Pastor Don

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