This is post #7 of a 26-session blog series entitled Two Joyful Pastors – One Great Work of Christ: A Journey with Paul, Timothy, and the Philippian Church. It was Eugene Peterson who said that Philippians is Paul’s happiest letter. Join us as we explore this joyful work of Christ as it manifest itself amongst Paul and Timothy, and the early church of Christ-followers in Philippi. Just maybe, we might learn a few secrets to finding true joy in the midst of our lives as well. Here’s the homepage for the entire series.
Today’s Lectio Divina: Meanwhile, live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message of Christ. Let nothing in your conduct hang on whether I come or not. Your conduct must be the same whether I show up to see things for myself or hear of it from a distance. Stand united, singular in vision, contending for people’s trust in the Message, the good news, not flinching or dodging in the slightest before the opposition. Your courage and unity will show them what they’re up against: defeat for them, victory for you—and both because of God. There’s far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There’s also suffering for Him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting. You’re involved in the same kind of struggle you saw me go through, on which you are now getting an updated report in this letter. Philippians 1: 27-30 (MsgB)
My good friend, Steve Nicholson, long-time pastor of the Evanston, IL Vineyard, often states that if our view of life doesn’t include a healthy theology for suffering, our faith in Christ just won’t make it over the long haul.
You see, the Master said it Himself…
In this world, you will have trouble. John 16: 33 (NIV)
Notice that Jesus didn’t say if, but you will!
Now, admittedly, this part of John 16: 33 is not one of those scriptures that will be slapped on refrigerator magnets and sold in great quantities at Christian bookstores. In truth, no one signs up for suffering, struggle, and hardship. I know that I didn’t. How about you?
But here’s the truth…and nothing but the truth.
Life on this fallen planet, even when you have God in your corner, can be hard. Very hard, indeed.
And, to take this theology of suffering one step further, let me further clarify…
Life on this fallen planet, especially when you have God in your corner, can be hard. Very hard, indeed.
So, as I see it, we do no one any favors when we teach folks a theology of God and a worldview of life that insists that true Christ-followers must live a victorious, overcoming life, where Jesus, our superhero rescues us from every problem we will ever face down here on planet earth.
Yet, sadly, on nearly a daily basis, I find well-meaning Christians who take a hold of that ugly mindset, and then ridicule ‘lesser’ brothers or sisters in Christ because they simply don’t have enough faith, or there must be some form of sin or disobedience in their lives since they are not experiencing the victory of God. Hallelujah!
To that line of thinking, might I politely say, bah humbug.
You see, from the days of Paul and his first-century friends to our day here in the twenty-first century, women, men and children who have embraced Christ with all their heart, their soul, and their strength (see Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:37) will, indeed, find themselves in times of great struggle, seasons of desolation so strong that it just might attempt to squeeze out any faith in us that still remains. Suffering and hardship, you see, aren’t foreign to the Christ-experience, but actually, as Paul tells his friends in Philippi, they go hand-in-hand with our journey with Jesus!
Now, please, don’t see today’s post or podcast as a downer.
I realize that hearing this bad news (i.e. in this world we will have trouble) is not a happy message. But, do hear this. As a fellow Christ-follower, I want you to know that there’s not something wrong with you if you are walking through a season of suffering, struggle, or hardship. Know that God has not left you just because bad things seem to be happening to you. And, as a pastor, I also want you to know that you have full permission to be sad, discouraged, or despairing when the poop hits the fan.
In this world, you will have trouble.
But let me close with yet another core truth that helps balance out all this theology of suffering. A truth that is found right next to Jesus’ same words of warning found in John 16: 33…
“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Today’s Prayer: Thank You, Jesus, for these powerful reminders. First of all, I’m glad You normalized suffering and hardship for me. You have warned me, so that when trouble comes, I know that I don’t need to think less of You or less of myself in the midst of my pain. Secondly, Master, I’m so thankful that You have gone before me on this road of suffering, struggle, and hardship. Holy Spirit, help me embrace that my Savior knows what it feels like when bad things happen to good people. Thirdly, Jesus, I’m so appreciative that I have the accounts of other godly women and men who have walked before me through their times of struggle. Their example helps me immensely. And finally, thank You, Jesus, for Your continued presence with me, bringing Your peace and reassurance to me as we, together, venture through this sometimes, very difficult life. For Your Name’s sake and for Your Glory. Amen.
Today’s Questions to Ponder: So, have I allowed myself to embrace a theology of suffering, or am I struggling under the weight of some erroneous teaching that says there must be something wrong with me or my relationship with God if I’m experiencing some form of loss, pain, suffering, or despair? What might the peace of Christ look and feel like for me in the midst of my struggle? Do I feel the hope in knowing that Jesus, my friend, is there with me and that He has the power to walk me through these troubles, not just take them away?
So, how are you experiencing Jesus as we ponder together on this journey into the Book of Philippians?
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