On The Purpose of Suffering

11-5-2021 Philipians 3:8-19

Paul here calls to question not only the turmoil that he and the Church in Phillipi were encountering, but something that I feel we can all fully relate to. Far removed from the motivational speeches of the prosperity gospel, where God serves as a divine butler getting us whatever we happen to want, Paul is actually recounting all of the things that he has lost. And this is so important for us to heed as well, he recounts all that he has lost, and yet all of those things he counts as gain because in losing these earthly things, he has gained that which was more important, Christ. And this true righteousness that all of us seek is the relationship with Christ, Who is eternal life. This faith in Christ is contentment, it is the meaning of life. And yet, it’s not a mere affirmation of His existence, this faith is to actively seek after Him, to be a true follower of Christ. See, we could obtain millions in earthly riches, we could be idolized around the world, but without Christ it is all for naught. Paul tells us, “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (verse 8). And that is what it means to be a true follower of Christ. It means that the world may not understand, it may despise you, you will suffer for it. Christ Himself has warned us of that. But the eternal gain is so much more. To reside with Christ, to attain to Paradise with Him, to live in His presence, all of that is so much more important than anything that this world could ever offer. Consider that Paul was imprisoned when he wrote this, and yet all of his losses were rubbish to him because in so losing, he gained Christ. And it all served a purpose and drew him even closer to God.

For ourselves, we must remember this. A faith that obeys Christ is a faith that likewise requires us to deny ourselves everyday. Let us not forget the words of Christ, “whoever would come after Me, let him deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). To live a true life in Christ, to be a true follower, does not, nor has it ever meant, that life will magically get easier. Consider all of the martyrs who have died for their undying faith in Him. Consider all of the saints who have gone on before us, none of them were granted great riches and beautiful houses because they prayed for those things. To be a true follower of Christ doesn’t mean that we pray to win the lottery and then buy all of our problems away. No, it means that no matter what happens to us, we can be content and know that whatever does happen to us, it’s because God allows it. It means to search for the lesson in the suffering, or be thankful in the prosperity. True prayer should never be focused on material things, otherwise we disbelieve the Lord’s prayer. When we pray, “Thy will be done,” there should not follow a shopping list of demands if we truly meant the prayer that we prayed.

Oftentimes, on a personal level, I have found that the better my life is going, the harder it is for me to think about God. When everything is going great, work is amazing, my family life is flourishing, my bank account and refrigerator are both full; those are the times that I have to struggle to not take God for granted. I think that a lot of people could say that. We may go to Church, pray the prayer rule, etc. But, it’s when things go wrong that our faith is really deeply tested. And I think that that is when most of us really mean our prayers. We pray from our hearts and our souls instead of our heads. It when we actually mean our thanks for the things that we have been blessed with. A near-death experience makes church much more to us than a Sunday morning social club, it becomes our family that we turn to and plead for prayer, we beg for help. And it is through those times of those people being there, praying for you, talking to you, that we begin to understand what the Body of Christ really means in our lives.

And, look what we gain in the process. Paul considers all of his loses as gain, because he is made righteous, not through his own righteousness, but “righteousness from God through faith in Christ. And faith is the name of this relationship that gives us full participation in the life of Christ, His death, His suffering, His resurrection. Yes, faith is a set of beliefs that we maintain and rules that we follow, but it is also the knowledge that Christ is fully active in our lives. And whenever we suffer, we are sharing in Jesus’ suffering and ultimately death on the cross, for our sakes. We can’t pick and choose which parts of this faith that we like and then discard the rest. Faith in Christ will be amazing at times, and at times, it will be suffering. We have to be thankful for all of it and understand that it is through suffering that our faith will either shine or shatter, it will either strengthen or be broken. And He allows that suffering for that very reason, that we might test ourselves to see whether we are in the faith or not.

My brethern, let our faiths shine, let our strength increase, with thanks to God, trusting that He knows much better than we do whatever we may need. Let us join in, following Paul’s example as true followers of Christ, never deviating what it means to be His true followers. Let us follow in the pattern set forth before us, not deviators enslaved to lust, power, greed or the politics of the world, thereby becoming the enemies of Christ.

Christ is in our midst.

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