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Suffering…Oh Joy!



Anyone in the midst of the struggles now upon the mainline church will have experienced some form of suffering by now. In case you were curious, surveys indicate that most people dislike suffering. Our culture even associates suffering with some form of failure. We spend vast amounts of resources avoiding and /or alleviating our own personal experience with any form of suffering. On occasion we have even been known to spend small portions of our own time and money alleviating the suffering of others.

In Philippians 3.10 Paul reflects on his experience with a particular type of suffering. Writing to the Church that gathered at Philippi, Paul goes on to explain what was true about suffering in the context of serving the Gospel. He had already unpacked what it meant to share the same attitude as Christ Jesus and in doing so revealed some values counter to what most of us were raised with in the West. Apparently Christ valued humility over entitlement. Submission to the Father over finding his own way in life. Jesus found purpose in suffering out of obedience to the Father. Paul wanted to be like Jesus. And Paul had a rather annoying habit of asking us to be like him.

So, in chapter 3 verse 10 we find Paul praying that he might be found worthy to suffer in the same way that Christ did- that is to be counted worthy of paying a price for proclaiming the Gospel. I don’t remember the last time I heard a Prayers of the Faithful petition beseeching God to give the gathered faithful the opportunity to “Share in the fellowship of His sufferings” yet this is Paul’s prayer. A prayer that he shares openly with the Church, presumably for them to model.
All these values and aspirations Paul associated with joy. True joy (compared to momentary happiness or pleasure) lasts even when the chips are down. In chapter 2 Paul had associated Joy with Like-mindedness. Like-mindedness is not a group of believers who all think alike but a group of people devoted to a singular, over-arching purpose. A purpose for which they will pay a price to uphold.
The entire message of the Bible is trustworthy (not just the convenient portions) and deserving of our obedience even when- especially when– this faithfulness to scripture puts us at odds with our culture, our Judicatory bodies. And sometimes even our own hearts. So, how is your suffering going?
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