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Cling to Your Sure Salvation With One Hand, Grasp The Cup Of Suffering With The Other — An Excerpt from Cohick's "Philippians" Commentary

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9780310327240"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have." Phil 1:27-30

In this memorable passage, Paul asks the Philippians to live a life worthy of the gospel, "to walk in such a way that its message is embodied and actualized in their everyday activites," (77) Lynn H. Cohick writes in her new Philippians commentary (SGBC). This is true in the face of suffering of all varieties; "whatever happens" is pregnant with meaning.

Whether the kind of suffering that's sustained physical persecution for ones faith or the kind of suffering that results from unemployment and financial stress, a bad health diagnosis, or the loss of a loved one—regardless of the quality or quanitity, believers are encouraged and beckoned to conduct themselves "in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ," because he has granted them both salvation and suffering.

In the excerpt below, Cohick explores the relationship of suffering to our salvation. For Cohick, faithfulness to Christ in the face of suffering has ramifications in the spiritual realms; it prevails against the forces of evil, particularly with the declaration of the gospel; and it is transformative. Read her thoughts and then pass them along to those you know who are struggling.

LISTEN to the Story

Paul sums up for the Philippians the realities of their journey with the Lord. They were the first ones in Macedonia to hear the gospel, and they had remained steadfast ever since. Paul commands them to live into the faith that is theirs, clinging to their sure salvation with one hand and grasping the cup of suffering with the other. By publicly standing fast against opponents, the Philippians live out their faith and reveal the coming condemnation of their enemies.

EXPLAIN the Story

Why should the Philippians bravely stand firm? Because God has accomplished their salvation. The term “salvation” in Paul generally means one’s eternal life with God, but it also carries a more mundane meaning in Greek: deliverance from trouble. Paul has both meanings in view, as he is convinced that the Philippians’ steadfast declaration of the gospel will prevail against any forces of evil. 

In this Paul reveals a mystery of the faith, namely, that a believer’s steadfastness in the face of opposition has spiritual ramifications greater than the immediate situation. For example, in the beginning of Job, God and the Adversary discuss Job’s potential reaction to suffering. What Job does not realize is that his subsequent faithfulness in the face of dreadful circumstances has ramifications in the spiritual realm; Job helps defeat the Adversary’s plan and advance the larger cause of righteousness through his own obedience.

In a similar manner, Paul shows the Philippians that their lack of fear in the face of suffering carries with it greater spiritual ramifications than their personal maturity in the faith. It also signals the ultimate overthrow of evil and the victory of God in Christ. The guilt of the oppressors is displayed in their persecution of the righteous, and their ultimate destruction comforts those afflicted now. Paul reminds the Philippians that God’s victory in Christ is sure. He is not arguing that believers chase down suffering and oppression as though to prove their faith, only that they stand fast when waves of suffering and struggle threaten to knock them over.

LIVE the story

Have you ever received a gift you wanted to return to the store for credit? Christians may sometimes feel like that when they hear that God has granted or gifted them with belief in Christ and suffering for his sake. We like the first part of the gift, but not the second part. How does a loving God give such a gift? To answer this question fairly, we need to view our situation from an eschatological perspective — we need to see the full scope of our eternal salvation and God’s kingdom building activities…

…we have suffering that seems unrelated to any actions, suffering that attacks the innocent. Famine, floods, disease, accidents — all fall into this category. 

Jerry Sittser experienced such a loss when a car accident caused by a drunk driver claimed the lives of his wife, mother, and daughter. His book A Grace Disguised  stresses the inevitability of grief and the deep pain of catastrophic loss, but it also offers a way forward. He does not promise recovery from such trauma, if by that one means that one can pick up where one left off before the accident. Instead, he makes several observations that acknowledge both the continuing struggle with catastrophic loss and incurable disease, and the God who is present in and with him. 

Sittser notes that loss is loss, and we do well not to compare who has suffered most. Second, he stresses the importance of making choices. He felt himself living in terrible darkness, and he decided “to walk into the darkness rather than try to outrun it, to let my experience of loss take me on a journey wherever it would lead, and to allow myself to be transformed by my suffering rather than to think I could somehow avoid it.” And in this darkness, Jerry experienced life; he discovered that being alive was a holy thing.  Third, he came to realize that he could not suppress or ignore the pain, and he could not make it go away by venting anger or moving to a new house. 

Pain signals a deeper issue, our mortality. Facing our mortality gives us the opportunity to ask what matters most, and often our answers end up simplifying our life.      “Suffering can lead to a simpler life, less cluttered with nonessentials. . . . That is why many people who suffer sudden and severe loss often become different people.”

Suffering can make us alive to the present moment.

Sittser writes: “Catastrophic loss is like undergoing an amputation.”… He observes that we are cut off from ourselves, which moves us to see the transformative power of suffering. It gets to the heart of Paul’s claim that participating in Christ’s suffering is transformative (3:10 – 11). When we are cut off from who we think we are, when we come to the end of ourselves, “we have come to the beginning of our true and deepest selves. We have found the One whose love gives shape to our being.”

Order this important contribution today and also download and enjoy a free eBook based on its content, called Eager Expectations. What does Paul mean when he writes "To live is Christ and to die is gain?" And how can we share in that same unshakeable confidence? Find out when you get Cohick's FREE new eBook on Philippians.

Job, NIVAC

Philippians, SGBC

by Lynn H. Cohick

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