Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Finding Purpose in Suffering
We had the chance to travel to Italy a few years back. It was a vacation we had dreamed of for a long time. There were two experiences that stood out to me as I was contemplating the section of Philippians we are tackling today.
We visited the town of Vernazza in the Cinque Terre area. One morning we were eating breakfast at a lovely outdoor restaurant when a raised voice at the next table caught our attention. It was a tourist loudly demanding certain foods. He spoke English only and when the server didn?t seem to understand he just spoke louder, as if that would communicate more effectively. He was very rude and we were ashamed and just wanted to shrink back in our seats. It was our worst fear: the Ugly American. It spoke very poorly of our country. We as citizens of heaven are in a foreign country, much like American tourists in Italy. We should stand out, but in a good way. That?s at the heart of what Paul is telling his Philippian friends.
The second situation I remembered occurred at a local caf? in Tuscany. We would walk to the little village each day near the place we stayed and order cappuccino. One of my goals was to speak as much Italian as I could. The locals really appreciated me trying to speak their language. I discovered on our last day there that I?d been ordering the coffee wrong the whole time. But they said it in a very helpful way that wasn?t shaming. For us believers, we translate the words of life in the gospel to another language; the language of this age. We are most effective in that endeavor as we live our lives as an example of Christ, work well together, and do not let the enemy draw us off of our purpose?realizing that good times and bad are both gifts from God who is in ultimate control?and that?s what forms the core of what Paul is saying in the final verses of Chapter 1.
Verses 27 through 30 comprise one single sentence in the Greek. It is nearly impossible to tease it out and translate it clearly into English. That?s why our translations vary so much. Paul is in essence trying to fit all of what he?s saying in this letter into four verses.
Remember, the Philippians were experiencing difficulty both from within and from without. Internally there was some dissention going on in their ranks, and externally there was pressure not to represent the gospel. Both of those realities are addressed in these verses as well.
The Holman translates the beginning of this verse: ?Just one thing.? ESV and KJV translate it ?only?. It?s like Paul is saying: ?Let?s put a laser focus on this. Let?s make this our singular aim.? There are a lot of things competing for our attention. Paul narrows that down to just four things, two of which are in this verse.
1. Live as an example
The word ?live? here is where we get the word ?politics.? It means: ?live as a citizen.? You know how we?ve talked about Philippi being a Roman colony. Paul wants them to live not as citizens of Rome only, but as citizens of heaven and the church as an embassy of heaven in Philippi.
In 2 Corinthians 5:20 Paul says ?we are ambassadors for Christ.? We really need to think of ourselves not as citizens of this age but citizens of heaven, sent on a mission to a fallen world to share the love of Jesus. If your life communicates clearly the values of God?s kingdom, people will see the difference and be attracted to Jesus.
As Jesus said: ?In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven? (Matt. 5:16).
How do you ?live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel?? He gets into the details as we move forward, but let?s never forget where we come from and whom we represent. It ought to come out in everything we do and say in his foreign land.
2. Work side by side
Paul wants his friends to act like ambassadors whether he?s there or not. That works by:
- Standing firm in one spirit. This comes from a military analogy. The Roman armies were battle ready no matter the size of the army they faced. In Ephesians 6 Paul states over and over that we as soldiers in God?s army are to stand, which means not be moved off your post and your mission, and not distracted by the alluring bobbles of this age. We face a daunting foe in this age?the values of the culture and the enemy who inspires them which are all contrary to the gospel. But no matter how big the enemy, God is bigger and the gospel more powerful.
- With one mind (?mind? means: ?same soul?). We are all disciples of Jesus. The enemy would seek to break us apart by divisiveness. It happens when one group or individual thinks they are better than another and starts complaining about it openly.
- Working side by side is the outgrowth of having an outward attitude to service and an inward attitude of oneness. The term comes from athletics where a team competed together for a prize. On a football team, every member must perform their function or the ball will not get moved down the field. The lineman cannot just decide to be the halfback or the quarterback can?t just decide to throw himself a pass. It means looking to God to show you your strengths in the body of Christ, and then act in those strengths, using your abilities to build the whole.
What is the end game here? It is the ?faith that comes from the gospel.? We should never forget that our purpose as ambassadors, as soldiers, and as team members is so that others will grow to love and trust Jesus just as we have.
So what stops us? The enemy comes along with one aim: to keep us from sharing that gospel.
3. Do not be frightened
The verb here for ?frightened? was used by soldiers to describe a horse that was easily startled. I rode a horse like that once. Or should I say I attempted to ride a horse like that once. It bucked me off so fast that I hit the ground before I knew what had happened. What had frightened that horse? I don?t know ? but there is nothing more frightening than a horse that is startled and out of control
Here, Paul is using that analogy to describe the opponents of the gospel, inspired by Satan, who wanted the Philippians to not represent Jesus in their culture. Today there are many opponents out there, and more all the time, that would silence you. Slowly but surely, the character of God is being maligned and if you stand up for Jesus and for God?s character you are seen as bigoted, narrow-minded, and perhaps even criminal.
So how do you represent God in the face of opposition without becoming like the ugly American tourist? One time I was trying to order train tickets to Rome and the train agent spoke not a word of English and got more and more angry with me as we tried to communicate?but I didn?t give up. Eventually we got it figure out. But I didn?t back down and just turn away and leave.
As Christians we face that translation problem all the time. People think Christians are judging them. It?s not true and it?s not our job. Our job is to speak and live like Jesus?have God?s character, and to speak of the love and forgiveness of Jesus. It means we won?t do the things this age wants us to do, nor will we agree with them, but we can?t ?clean ?em before we catch ?em?.
The opposition wants us to silence that character and the gospel. Paul says not to be frightened by the big show of force trying to keep you living out the character of Jesus like a rearing horse. Stand your ground.
Satan goes about ?like? a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8) but if you resist him, he will flee like a frightened mouse (James 4:7).
This doesn?t mean everything will always go well for you. Sometimes the enemy inspires people to actually hurt you, emotionally or even physically. Paul wants his friends to know that it is okay. Not everyone will choose Jesus, and their continual fight against Him will end up in destruction for them, but you will be delivered safely to God?s kingdom.
4. Belief and suffering are both ?gifts? (charis) from God.
Believing in Jesus means you will suffer for Jesus. Paul said: (Tim. 3:12) ?In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.?
How can opposition and suffering be a gift? Isn?t it more like the ?booby prize?? No. It?s because it is ?on Christ?s behalf.? Suffering also brings glory to Jesus. Paul is going to go into more detail on this in Chapter 3, in one of the most profound statements of what it is like to really know Jesus.
But what does suffering do?
- It makes us like Jesus (Hebrews 2:10 ?perfect (complete) through sufferings?.
- It leads to ultimate joy (1 Peter 4:12-14 ?be glad with exceeding joy? God?s Spirit rests on those who suffer and Jesus is glorified)
- It shows the character of Jesus (1 Peter 2:19-21 ?Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.?
- It brings people to salvation (2 Corinthians 1:5-7 ?if we are afflicted it is for your consolation and salvation.?
- It brings about sweet fellowship with Jesus and with the body of Christ (here: ?having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I have.?)
So what kind of suffering or persecution for the gospel might we encounter?
Example 1: In the workplace. Conversation between a supervisor and employee where the employee tells the boss that they?ve just been confirmed in their church. The supervisor says: ?I?m a recovering Catholic.? And: ?I don?t understand how you can believe that stuff.? A few months later the employee is fired without notice or reason.
Example 2: At home. You announce that you have accepted Christ as your savior. Your family says: ?It?s just a fad,? and then ridicules you for taking stands that reflect the character of Christ.
Example 3: In the community. A city planner has the bright idea to restrict certain zones in the city to specifically exclude churches.
Example 4: In your nation. The Supreme Court declares that something the Bible says goes against God?s character is both legal and accepted.
These examples all happen to be true. They happened to me or to people I know. What do you do? We go back to these verses:
- Live as an example of Christ
- Work side by side toward the gospel without dissent
- Don?t be afraid of the enemy
- Know that suffering is real, that?s part of belonging to God, but that He?s in control