“For to you it has been given, for Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, having this struggle, one such as you saw in me and now you hear is in me.”
“For to you it has been given…” The term in Greek that we translate as “been given” refers to the granting of a privilege. But wait just one minute…this “privilege” that Paul is speaking about has to do with suffering for one’s faith. In fact, as he writes to thank and encourage the Philippian believers, he is essentially saying that persecution is coming and it is a good thing…a privilege to endure for the sake of Christ.
How radically different that mindset is from our own mindset in the west. For us, blessing is comfort and any form of suffering is met with distaste. We go to lengths to remove any form of discomfort from our lives (we air-condition our homes and our vehicles, we take medicines that remove the discomfort of sickness even if they don’t stop the cause of our sickness, we like easy and shy away from hard, it is not good enough that we have clothing and shoes but instead, people want the most comfortable clothing and shoes to wear…it is all about removing sorts of discomfort from our lives). In contrast, Paul is saying that the church should be excited. They have been faithful and because of their faithfulness, God is granting to them the privilege of suffering for their faith. While we might balk at the idea, the idea is intensely scriptural.
Doesn’t John the Apostle say, that if we are of God, the world will not listen to the things we say (1 John 4:6)? Didn’t Jesus say that the world would hate followers of Jesus (John 15:18)? Should we then not see persecution from the world as a sign that we are doing something right? In turn, should we not see comfort as a sign that we have compromised something that we ought not have compromised? How we have allowed ourselves to get things backwards in this modern age.
So, why does God bless his church with suffering and trial? Because that is the tool that God uses to refine his people (see James 1:2-4). Should that surprise us? It better not. If you want to excel in a specific sport, can you do so by laying back on a comfortable chair? No, you work hard and discipline your body, training it until you have mastered the sport in question. When you want to master a now academic subject, can you do so by ignoring the text book and playing games? Clearly not. Hours of long and intense study are involved. Growth does not come when we are at ease, it comes when we are challenged. The same holds true with faith. May we not shy away from the privilege of suffering for that faith when God so deems we are ready.