ct: assurance in suffering – Philippians

… the tapestry of Philippians is strung with references to suffering: the suffering of Paul, the suffering of Christ, and the suffering of the Philippians. The red thread of suffering trails across the pages of this letter. Philippians provides us with a firsthand account of a believer in Christ who is suffering. …

Whereas in 1 Thessalonians Paul evidences an acceptance that the good news is accompanied by affliction, by the time he writes Philippians he is motivated to reflect on the value of suffering as a believer. It is no accident that it is in Philippians that Paul uses the powerful and provocative hymn extolling the good outcome of Christ’s humiliation, suffering, and death (2:5-11). …

In the midst of these daunting afflictions Paul [himself is suffering, he] … asserts that Christ strengthens him for all circumstances. In other words, Christ does not make Paul’s difficulties disappear, but rather fortifies him to endure them. …

Philippians … is [Paul’s] apology for suffering, and in this two ways. First and primarily, it is an apology or defense of Paul’s own suffering. Second, it is an encouragement to other believers to accept afflictions while being “in” Christ. … Paul in Philippians is both contemplating suffering while believing and suffering caused by belief.

Paul is at pains not so much to assure the Philippians that all is well as to acknowledge his afflictions and address their significance. His words appear, then, to be directed to people who, though worried about his welfare, are chiefly concerned about the seeming paradox of a suffering preacher of resurrection. At the heart of Paul’s response, and presumably of the Philippians’ concern, is the fact that, for believers in the risen Christ, suffering continues. … The letter strongly hints … that the fact of his imprisonment is being used to discredit his gospel. …

… the way of life Paul scorns is one that seeks to avoid suffering. His problem is with a lifestyle that avoids pain, just as presumably their problem was with a way of life willing to encounter it. Paul’s emotional language betrays the threat he feels from such a disposition. …

… Paul does not accept victimization. He speaks rather as someone who has radically reversed the power dynamics of his circumstances. … Paul interprets the injustices he experiences in the context of being “in” Christ; other people and circumstances may cause afflictions, but Paul does not lay blame. He rather uses his energy to draw these difficulties into the sphere he now inhabits – the sphere of being “in” Christ. This is critical for Paul’s defense of his present humiliation. For, his chief point is that being “in” Christ does not separate the believer from suffering. Paul stakes his defense on the continuing presence of the cross.

(L. Ann Jervis, At the Heart of the Gospel: Suffering in the Earliest Christian Message, pp.38,39,41,42,44-45,47,49)

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