The Privilege of Suffering

Posted on April 8, 2022

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By David Ettinger

Satanic Attack
I remember in the mid-1990s arriving at church to find the outside walls awash in graffiti. Spray-paint proclaimed the author’s views on Christianity, and, as you can expect, they were none too flattering.

Yet, the church’s leaders never fussed. Rather, they agreed this was a demonic attack, and considered it flattering that Satan regarded us worthy of it. It meant, they surmised, we were doing something right, spiritually speaking.

I agree. That church in Las Cruces, New Mexico, loved God and His Word, and taught it without compromise. Satan hates that, and expressed his dislike through his artistic messenger.

Church Suffering
That incident was not an act of persecution or cause for suffering, though it was a spiritual attack.

Real church persecution has existed ever since the birth of the Church, and includes destorying church buildings and property. Church persecution – especially today – includes Christ-haters storming a church service and opening fire on the worshipers, or setting the church on fire with the people inside.

Church persecution includes ignoring the building, but attacking the worshipers as they are coming to or departing from services, or following them home and brutalizing them there.

This is real persecution resulting in suffering – great and tragic suffering.

The Church at Philippi
By A.D. 61, the church at Philippi had been around for several years. Back then, church meetings were spread throughout cities and conducted in individual homes. Church buildings did not become the norm until about A.D. 200.

The church of Philippi – and many others throughout the Roman world – was suffering. Nero was in the middle of his evil reign, and had begun his fierce and deadly persecution upon Christianity.

Furthermore, numerous churches were suffering from within in the form of heretical teachers who slinked their way into worship meetings and began spreading their false gospel.

This is why in the Book of Philippians, verse 29, the apostle Paul wrote: “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer on His behalf.”

Granted? the stunned Philippians must have asked. Paul considers what we are going through as good? Yes, he did.

The Greek word for “granted” is charizomai, which means “to freely give.” The connotation is “to do something pleasant or agreeable”; “to do a favor for”; “to give graciously”; “to bestow.” In other words, the suffering the Philippians – and other churches of the day (and today) – were (and are) experiencing was to be regarded as pleasant, favorable, and graciously bestowed.

How can this be?

A Privilege
Shortly before the Church was established, the Lord Jesus taught:

  • “… you will be hated by all because of My name” (Matthew 10:22).
  • “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18).
  • “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 15:11).

Jesus called Christian suffering a blessing, and Paul wanted to make sure believers knew that. He wanted to make clear to the Philippians – and all Bible-believing Christians – that suffering for Christ is not to be regarded as unnatural or divine punishment.

In fact, the opposite is true: The suffering true Christians face is not only NOT divine punishment, but a display of God’s favor – just as the word charizomai indicates. In other words, because the church of Philippi was pleasing to God, He considered them worthy of the suffering they were enduring – God’s sure act of gracious favor.

Today As Well
The same holds true today. As we draw nearer to the end of the age – and to the Antichrist’s entrance into world history – the Church will experience even more persecution.

For the past century or so, this persecution was limited to parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe (before the collapse of the USSR). However, as God extends the leash by which he permits Satan to wreak havoc, the persecution – and resulting suffering – will increase in severity as well as scope, extending to the West.

When it does, true believers are not to faint in hopelessness and wonder what they have done wrong. The truth will be that they have done nothing wrong. In fact, they would have been doing things right, and hence the reason why God granted them the privilege of suffering.

May God’s people understand this, and may God prepare us for this soon-coming privilege!