Some of us are bewildered when we face adversity, some expect it more often than it occurs, some chalk it up to mysterious forces, and some see it as highly probable at all times. What is certain in this life is that we will suffer at some time in our lives. For all of us, I wish it were as certain that we would all believe so as to be saved from the penalty that our sins deserve. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi about believing and suffering:
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that:
You are standing firm in one spirit
With one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and
Not frightened in anything by your opponents.
This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
Philippians 1:27-30 English Standard Version (ESV)
Paul says God has granted them to believe in Him. But also, in an act of His Sovereign will, to suffer. Not any kind of suffering, but that according to His will, “for His sake.”
The reformer and preacher, John Calvin, makes at least three points about these verses. First, our common struggle against our sin, the world, and the devil unites us. Even if we’re divided by our sins against one another, the struggle is so great against us that we will reconcile and contend for the faith together.
Striving together for the faith…is the strongest bond of concord, …for this has often been the occasion of reconciling even the greatest enemies.
…The Apostle’s meaning is this: “Let the faith of the gospel unite you together, more especially as that is a common armory against one and the same enemy.”
The wicked, too, conspire together for evil, but their agreement is accursed: let us, therefore, contend with one mind under the banner of faith.
These struggles, and our patient suffering, are ordained and given by God as a sign of our salvation to us and to the enemies of the faith. These are both a benefit for our increased devotion and an honor to participate in His sufferings.
To you, says he, it is given, not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for him. Hence even the sufferings themselves are evidences of the grace of God; and, since it is so, you have from this source a token of salvation. Oh, if this persuasion were effectually [woven into] our minds — that persecutions are to be reckoned among God’s benefits, what progress would be made in the doctrine of piety!
…It is the highest honor…conferred upon us by Divine grace, that we suffer for his name either reproach, or imprisonment, or miseries, or tortures, or even death, for in that case he adorns us with his marks of distinction. But [many would] rather [that] God [refrain from giving] gifts of that nature, than embrace with [readiness] the cross when it is presented to them. Alas, then, for our stupidity!
Finally, Calvin stresses that our struggle and godly resistance is analogous, though far lesser, to Christ’s struggle and godly resistance on the cross. Yet, both faith and endurance remain His unmerited gifts to us, evident in our inability to resist in our own strength.
[Paul] wisely conjoins faith with the cross by an inseparable connection, [so] that the Philippians may know that they have been called to the faith of Christ on this condition — that they endure persecutions on His account, as though he had said that their adoption can no more be separated from the cross, than Christ can be torn asunder from himself.
Here Paul clearly testifies, that faith, as well as [faithfulness] in enduring persecutions, is an unmerited gift of God. And certainly the knowledge of God is a wisdom that is too high for our attaining it by our own acuteness, and our weakness shows itself in daily instances in our own experience, when God withdraws his hand for a little while…
May God grant you to believe and suffer for His sake.
Suffering and the Sovereignty of God: An Interview with R.C. Sproul Jr., Ligonier Ministries