We all live in a world marked by pain, hardship, and trials. That means that we all, to some degree, understand what it means to suffer. Sometimes we suffer unjustly. That is, sometimes we experience heartache and loss at the hands of careless and sinful people. But other times we suffer justly because we are careless and sinful people.
When Paul penned his letter to the Church at Philippi he didn’t do it from the desk of a comfy bed and breakfast, he did it from a dirty prison cell in Rome (Phil.1:12–16). Paul was suffering unjustly because he preached a real and abrasive gospel, not because he sinned and not because he lacked wisdom.
This really freaked the Philippians out because they really believed and lived the Gospel they heard Paul preach. They really wanted it’s truths to impact and transform the lives of those who hadn’t heard it yet. How could God let this happen? How could God stop the progress of his gospel? How could he let an innocent man suffer?
Not only was their pastor rotting away behind bars, but the church faced many other unrelated challenges. For starters, a group of idiot preachers began to teach a fake and weakened gospel that added to, or entirely ignored, the cross of Jesus Christ and all that it accomplished. And people were actually buying into it. There was also disunity and rivalry inside the church walls. And to top it all off, their other pastor, Epaphroditus, nearly died twice. By all external indicators the gospel’s progress had been stopped, or at the very least, stunted. God had seemingly disappeared, leaving his children to themselves.
- When you experience and/or see suffering, does it freak you out?
- Does suffering make you question God’s goodness and/or nearness?
- Does suffering make you question the power of the gospel?
Sure it does. We’ve all been there.
But here’s the thing,
God never promised a pain-free life. And Joel Osteen can’t help anyone attain their “best life now”. In fact, the Bible seems to suggest that if you decide to follow Jesus, like for real, your life will probably get worse. If you don’t believe me, read more about Paul’s life (Acts 25 – 26). Or read about John the Baptizer’s beheading after Jesus called him “the greatest” (Matt. 11:11).
Even though the Philippians felt abandoned, hurt, and confused Paul encouraged them to continue living godly lives “in Christ”. He encouraged them in their understanding of the Gospel and assured them that God was, and is, all about their progress and joy and that the Gospel is still doing work. The proof of this, as we will see, is the cross.
Our Hope and prayer is that God will use this study to accomplish three things in your life:
1. Help you remember and/or understand who God is and what he has done through his son Jesus (the Gospel).
2. Encourage you as you mature in Christ (after all the book of Philippians show us what a maturing group of Christians looks like).
3. Enable you to suffer well (we believe that suffering looks different when you view it through gospel-saturated lenses)
Father God, Thank you for your provision. Thank you for sending your son Jesus to be the savior of my life. Thank you for making a way to cover my sin against you and others. Thank you for sending your spirit to convict me and encourage me. Please help me trust you and your plan for my life even when everything around me looks dark. Help me believe God works through my suffering and that Jesus has accomplished progress and joy both for me and his church through the cross. Help me to mature in Christ and stay in his word.