Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Privilege of Suffering

Philippians 1:21  For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22  If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23  I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24  but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25  Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26  so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again. 27  Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28  and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God's doing. 29  For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well-- 30  since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Paul is in a reflective mood. He writes of living in the space between life and death, and of how each is an option for him. He does not cling to either, and lives content that everything “is God’s doing” (Phil 1:28). Then he makes the startling assertion that God graciously grants the privilege of suffering.

But: Nobody wants to suffer – in fact we human beings do everything we can to avoid suffering!  Deep in our human psyche is the knowledge that we ought also to alleviate suffering in other people. No human being should suffer, as suffering debilitates the soul. So is Paul suggesting that God sends suffering? Not at all.  Paul is not suggesting that suffering is God’s will. Instead he says that if someone suffers for their faith they can choose to embrace their suffering as part of being a disciple. It is at this point that all of us who follow the way of Jesus are challenged. We can spend our time and energy complaining about the difficulties of being a Christian; or we can walk in the footsteps of the martyrs and get on with the business of living a life worthy of Jesus – who suffered, and died for the truth.

Prayer: Lord, set me free from my fear of suffering and death, so that I might live life to my fullest potential. Amen    

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
10 “The Authority of God’s Word”
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 71.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.    

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