“27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28 and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29 For He has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— 30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.” ~Philippians 1:27-30
Since teaching Philippians this winter for Daytimers Bible Study, I can’t shake the end of chapter 1. Here, Paul speaks of two privileges graciously granted to us by God, 1) to believe in Christ and, 2) to suffer for Christ as well. Both of these privileges fly in the face of our cultural experience today, even with all kinds of public conversation about “privilege.”
Let’s take up the first one. It is a privilege, not an achievement, to believe in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-8; 2:3-9; 1 Peter 2:9-10, etc.). “I believe that I cannot believe by my own reason and senses in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel…” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Article III of the Apostle’s Creed) Divine election flies in the face of modern sensibilities for fairness and equal opportunity for all. Surely, God can’t play favorites?
Many people attempt to mitigate the scandal of this privilege through universalism (all roads lead to God) or relativism (I have my truth, you have yours) or secularism (Religion is a private affair; politics seeks common ground). For Paul and the New Testament church, the privilege to know Christ propelled them to extend the privilege to any and all, at any cost.
This is the mission of the Church sent by Christ to all the world. This mission leads to the second, and perhaps more scandalous, form of Christian privilege: the privilege to suffer for Christ. Even those who have no problem with the first form of privilege likely struggle to accept suffering for Christ as a privilege. Paul testifies, “we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). At one of the lowest points of Paul’s ministry he learned utter reliance on God, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). He took comfort despite his ‘thorn in the flesh,’ declaring, “Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). This isn’t just a Paul thing! (See 1 Peter 4:12-13; James 1:2-4; Revelation 2:9-10; etc.)
Our society is currently engaged in many important conversations, though not always in a spirit of understanding. As a congregation of sinners privileged by the grace of God in Christ, how can a consideration of the privilege to suffer for Christ shape how we live together, both as members of one body and as “salt of the earth” public citizens?
Shalom, Pr. Tom