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The Sweet Surprise of Suffering

For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.

-Philippians 1:29-30

I am not ashamed to confess that I enjoy receiving gifts. As a young child, I eagerly anticipated Christmas Day because I knew there would be plenty of presents with my name on them. All these years later, I still get excited to unwrap presents. It’s not just Christmas, though. I love receiving gifts for my birthday, Father’s Day, anniversary. There is no wrong time to get one! Sometimes I receive a gift I have been waiting for. Other times I am caught off guard, finding myself the recipient of something completely surprising. The expected and the unexpected make the experience a thrill.

At the end of the first chapter of Philippians, we read about two gifts the Lord gives to His people. One of them is recognizable to us, a gift we cherish gratefully and celebrate. The second gift is not only surprising but one that few acknowledge with thankfulness. It is not an obvious gift. It is rarely, if ever, perceived as such.

The Gift of Faith The first gift mentioned in this text is belief. Christians have been granted the gift of believing in Jesus. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we who have faith in Jesus have received the blessing of trusting in Christ. As Ephesians 2:8 reminds us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” We, who are sinners by nature and prove our unworthiness daily, are blessed to receive the gift of faith. Why call it a gift? Humanity can in no way conceive it, generate it, or manufacture it. Neither is it something that can be earned. Therefore, it must be divine mercy. Faith in Jesus is utterly unattainable outside of the generosity of God. His gift of heavenly citizenship when we were dead in our trespasses and sin is a wondrous reason to rejoice.

The Gift of Suffering We will spend eternity giving thanks for the gift of faith, yet there is a second gift that believers may be far less eager to obtain. Scripture says “it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Belief in Christ is a precious gift, one that we joyfully receive. But suffering for His sake? This seems to be a gift that is best left unopened.

We tend to want all of the pleasure of following God and none of the pain. Yet the text is clear—the verb granted extends both to our believing and our suffering. The word granted is a compound verb (echaristhe) coming from the word for grace (charis).

God graced us with suffering. This passage teaches us that suffering is no less a gift than believing.

Do we think of suffering for the gospel in this way? When someone belittles us for our faith, do we consider it a gift? Some of us experience persecution in a more brutal way. In the midst of your affliction, do you realize that you are receiving a gift from God?

In Acts 5, Peter and John were arrested and put in prison. After a miraculous release, they went to the temple and taught the people. They were then brought before the council and threatened because they were teaching in the name of Jesus. Eventually, they were beaten and commanded to stop preaching. In their response, we observe a remarkable example of what it means to receive suffering as a gift from God. Acts 5:41 records: “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

These two men—jailed, threatened, and beaten—responded with joy. How could Peter and John rejoice? The threats were real, as were their injuries. Yet their spirits were invigorated because they considered their suffering an honor. They received the gift of persecution for the sake of their Savior.

Preparation for Endurance We would do well to stop and consider why Scripture affirms the gift of suffering. Why does Paul emphasize this spiritual reality for the Philippians? Without question, he is preparing them to endure in faith when their time comes. It would be all too easy for these believers to rejoice at the gift of salvation only to question the goodness of God when they endure persecution.

Does this sound like a familiar dilemma for believers today? Some bask in God’s goodness until hardships arise. Paul is helping the Philippians and us understand that when we experience mistreatment for the name of Jesus, it is not because God has abandoned us. On the contrary, we are blessed when we suffer. Again, we can say that we have been graced with the gift of suffering.

Persecution is an unavoidable reality for the believer. How should we prepare for it? We must cling to the twin truths in this text. First, we rest in the assurance that our belief in Christ as Savior is a gift from God, and He will be faithful until the end. Then we remember that, as suffering occurs, so will blessing. When your time comes, hold fast to the reality that your struggle has been granted to you.

First Peter 1:6-7 assures us that there is goodness in the midst of our grief. Peter states, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Praise God for His good gifts, whatever they may be.


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