The Suffering—Theologically Explained (1:29-30)

People who reflect an attitude that suggests "Oh boy, I get to suffer for Jesus" cause most of us to squirm. Somehow they haven't got it quite right; and they surely cannot appeal to Paul for such an attitude. Paul's attitude toward Christian suffering is altogether theological and christocentric at its core. It is based on Christ's teaching on discipleship, that servants are to be like their master, and on Paul's own understanding of present Christian existence as both "already" and "not yet."The parenthetical nature of verse 28b makes the for with which this sentence begins a bit problematic. What ultimately triggers all of this is the mention of the opposition, filtered through Paul's knowledge of his readers' present, very real, situation. But the immediate reason for the for is the mention of their final salvation as from (NIV by) God. The God who saves you, who has thus granted to you (literally "graced you"!) on behalf of Christ . . . to believe on him, is the same God who has also graced you to suffer for him. So who needs such "gracing"? one might ask.

The clue again lies in the christocentric nature of Paul's understanding of everything. Literally he says, "To you has been graciously given on behalf of Christ . . . to suffer on his behalf." This emphasis must be understood in light of the Christ narrative to which Paul will appeal in 2:5-11. A crucified Lord produces disciples who themselves take up a cross as they follow him. We are thus to live on behalf of Christ in the same way Christ himself lived—and died—on behalf of this fallen, broken world. That is why salvation includes suffering on behalf of Christ, since those who oppose the Philippian believers as they proclaim the gospel of Christ are of a kind with those who crucified their Lord in the first place. And for believers, as for our Lord, the path to glorification leads through the suffering of the cross ( living "cruciform" [see note on 1:11]).

But Paul is not finished. He concludes by reminding his partners in the gospel that he and they are in this together as well; they are going through the same struggle they have seen him go through. His present accent falls on the same, meaning "of a kind with his," which causes a lot of things to fall into place, including both the length and the content of the preceding narrative about "my affairs" (vv. 12-26). Their present suffering on Christ's behalf has been equally brought on by those who oppose the gospel, very likely reflecting a common source as well, the Roman Empire.

In making this point, he reminds them that their struggle is identical to that which you saw I had. Among the recipients of this letter would be the jailer and his household and (perhaps) the young slave girl whose having been set free from Satan's tyranny had resulted in the first of Paul's sufferings on behalf of Christ that they had seen. In fact, not long after that initial stay in Philippi he wrote to another Macedonian congregation and referred to his Philippian experience in terms of suffering and being shamefully treated (1 Thess 2:2). The struggle was always there, and every time he came through Philippi they saw more of the same, which over time took on a variety of forms.

And so he reminds them that their present suffering is precisely of a kind with his current Roman imprisonment. They are partners in suffering for the gospel as well as in proclaiming it; and that reality—and resource—is what he will draw on as he now returns to the appeal that they stand firm in the one Spirit, contending side by side for the gospel (2:1-4).

Although our particulars differ considerably, the theological concerns that emerge in this paragraph are greatly needed in the church today, both in the Western church where the struggle in a post-Christian, postmodern world is immense, though the suffering is less so, and in churches in the emerging world, where suffering is often more prevalent but where sectarian strife all too often hampers the cause of the gospel.

One of the reasons most of us in the West do not know more about the content of verses 29-30 is that we have so poorly heeded the threefold exhortation that precedes: (1) to stand firm in the one Spirit (overall our pneumatology is especially weak); (2) to contend for the faith of the gospel as one person (the faith of the gospel has been watered down on all sides, by the blatant materialism that erodes the evangelical church as well as by a banal "liberalism," neither of which is worth contending for; and our sectarianism has more often resulted in in-house furor than in contending for the gospel in the face of pagan opposition); and (3) to do so without being intimidated in any way by the opposition (who tend to focus on our many weaknesses, so as to continually deflect our contending for the gospel of our crucified Savior per se).

The net result is that the content of Paul's explanation is something contemporary Christians hear reluctantly, either out of guilt that so many of us look so little like this or out of fear that it might someday really be true for us. The key is to return to Paul's emphasis, "for the sake of Christ." Our tendency is to focus on the suffering. What is needed is a radical paradigm shift toward Christ—and his apostle—as God's ultimate paradigm for us. Through "death on a cross" he not only "saved us" but modeled for us God's way of dealing with the opposition—loving them to death.

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