Called To Suffer: Philippians 1:27-30

Published March 31, 2014 by

A sword requires hard steel to maintain its sharpness. However, swords made solely of hard steel are so brittle that they often shatter in battle. In comparison, soft steel does not break, but quickly becomes dull and ineffective as a fierce weapon of war. The Japanese, therefore, became skilled craftsman in the art of sword making. Their swords are known as the finest in the world. They fashion their swords from a combination of both hard and soft steel. The careful combination of multiple sheets of both strengths of metal along with precision heating, folding, and pummeling them together into paper thin laminations of metal create the perfect blade. The result is a finely crafted weapon of extreme flexibility with a blade that will retain a deadly sharp edge.

Just as Japanese sword makers repeatedly hammer together layers of metal to produce a sword that will be strong enough to withstand breaking, God also allows the pounding of suffering to build character into the lives of His children. Just as a sword made of hard metal will easily break in battle, so the self-reliant believer will break in adversity. The hard steel in our lives is God’s Word; the soft steel in our lives is dependence on God and His church. These two components are both necessary to produce vessels that glorify God (Yates). Eventually, believers are shaped into beautiful weapons or models of usefulness.

On Sunday, Chris reminded us of the privilege to suffer for the advancement of the Gospel. Today, I want to remind you of your privilege to model the gospel. Perhaps you don’t often use the word model because you don’t see yourself as a particularly attractive person. I’m with you! I don’t get particularly excited about looking into the mirror either. Nevertheless, you don’t have to be a rock star/model to be a gospel model. However, you must be spiritually attractive. In Philippians 1:27–30, Paul encourages us to model the gospel through perseverance, unity, boldness, and suffering. When we excel in these Christian disciplines, the world sits up and takes notice (Melick). Unbelievers in our life may not be eager for Jesus or salvation, but if you live a godly life, they may eventually become open to the gospel. Paul provides two challenges that will enable you to model the gospel (Pritchard).

1.    Stand strong for Christ (1:27–28). You can stand strong for Christ by exemplifying courage and unity even in the midst of personal persecution. This section begins with the word “only” revealing a sense of urgency and priority. You can almost hear the urgency of Paul as he says,  “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel”. Paul also wrote “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.” The phrase “conduct yourselves” (politeuesthe) literally means, “live as citizens.” The verb Paul uses (politeuomai) is related to our English word politics. It is a word that implies the duties of citizenship. Paul elevates the conversation to include their heavenly citizenship as well. Paul is suggesting that we are citizens of heaven, and while we are on earth we ought to behave like heaven’s citizen.

To live your life as a citizen “worthy of the gospel of Christ” means to represent Christ in all you say and do (Fee). The term “worthy”, as Chris taught us, pictures weighing something on the scales. The idea is that your manner of life should weigh as much as the gospel you claim to be committed to. Most people are not nearly as interested in discussing absolute, objective truth claims. Most people are even less interested in discussing theology or philosophy, but most people are interested in the practical questions of how to live.

It is not enough to just learn the Word; we must live the gospel out in every area of life, including our earthly citizenship. What type of citizen are you? Do you speak well of our community leaders? Or, are you hyper-critical of anyone who is not of your political persuasion? This critical spirit will not open the doors to the gospel. Are you a law-abiding citizen? Do you seek to have a positive attitude in your community, or are you a pessimistic doomsdayer? Additionally, what type of spouse are you? Do your coworkers and neighbors see something different in your marriage? Do they come to you in the midst of their relational strife? Do those who know you see you loving your kids and spending time with them, while they are pulling out their hair and running away from their own kids? Perhaps they want to know how you can enjoy your kids so much. All that it takes is for you to live a different (not an odd) life before those who don’t have a relationship with Christ.

If you want to live a worthy life and model the gospel, you must stand strong for Christ. Paul’s second challenge to live a worthy life is to…

2.    Suffer well for Christ (1:29–30). In order to suffer well for Christ, you must recognize the nature of suffering and observe positive examples of suffering (Silva). Paul states, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict that you saw in me, and now hear to be in me”. Paul explains that suffering is really “a grace in disguised.” (Sittser) His point is: God gives two grace gifts—salvation and suffering. Of course, every believer wants the gift of salvation, but the gift of suffering is the “gift that nobody wants!” We’re tempted to look for the receipt when this gift comes. Like a Christmas gift we don’t want, we’re tempted to try and return this gift! But God says: “There’s no receipt. The gift of suffering is too important and too significant.” Suffering, too, is a gift of God’s grace!

 Someone once said, nothing will facilitate growth quicker and better than suffering (Ferguson). I hate to be the bearer of bad news but it’s true. From a human perspective, suffering stinks; but from a godly perspective, suffering is for your good. God wants to sanctify you. Like Jesus, we must be perfected through sufferings (Heb 2:10). Today, will you begin to see your problems as privileges? When you are rejected at work, at school, or in the neighborhood, will you rejoice that you have been counted worthy to suffer with Christ? When your spouse, your children, or your relatives call you a fanatic or a freak, will you bless the Lord and continue to exude love and compassion? Through your suffering, God will permit you to model the gospel to those who need a witness.

Deeper In Gods Word

Tom Renew

Resources:

William Yates, Sermon – A Captive of Christ, November 2003

Richard R. Melick, Jr., Philippians. The New American Commentary

Gordon D. Fee, Commentary on Philippians

Moises Silva, Commentary on Philippians

Dr. Rick E. Ferguson, Sermon: Suffering: God’s Instrument For Growth

Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss

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