Which letter of Paul’s is most joyful? Philippians. How did the church at Philippi begin? Injustice, a brutal beating, and a night locked with stocks in a prison cell. It led to the conversion of the jailor and his family, then many others. Paul suffered well, and his test became a testimony. That happens when people choose to live above the circumstances. Our biggest obstacles are not our circumstances but ourselves. What do we learn about suffering from a letter full of joy?
SUFFERING IS A GIFT.
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in his name but also to suffer for his sake” (1:29). We normally think of suffering as a burden. How could Paul call it a gift? Because suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3,4), good fruit and great joy.
SUFFERING CAN THROW US FOR A GAIN.
Paul spoke about chains four times in the first chapter. His imprisonment allowed him access to the palace guard. Imagine being chained to the apostle Paul for four hours. Sooner or later you are going to hear the good news. Paul wrote that “it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (1:10). God is a purposeful God. We don’t go through hardship meaninglessly. If you are facing difficulty, look for a miracle masquerading behind the misery. Hey, he’s writing his letter from a Roman prison. And we’re reading it two thousand years later. That’s a long time on the market!
SUFFERING CHANGES THE GAME PLAN.
It is not live or die but obey or not obey. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21). We learn not to fear death but disobedience.
CHRIST EMBRACED SUFFERING SO WE COULD AS WELL.
“…he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross” (2:9). Suffering was written into His journey to earth. He told the men on the way to Emmaus, “Did not the Christ have to suffer and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:46). If suffering was a part of His job description, won’t that also be true for ours? Then it means that fellowship with Him would include suffering with Him. Paul wanted “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering” (3:10).
SUFFERING MEANS JOY IN DIFFICULTY.
“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (4:12). Happiness is situational for most people. If things go well, then I am, too. If things go wrong, I’m down. Paul embraced a mindset that allowed him to live on top of situations. Rather than riding the roller coaster of circumstantial happiness, he found meaning in suffering and gave thanks in all seasons. A really wise way to do life.