Philippians 1:27-30 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.
If you’ve ever traveled internationally, you quickly realize that cultures differ wildly. In one country, you kiss someone on the lips to say howdy, but if you do that in another country, you go to jail. People are peculiar, and it’s important when venturing far from home to learn about the culture and behave in such a way that the people you encounter think well of your home country. I found this on one international mission trip when people in our host country said, “Americans are rude loud horrible people”. Some are, but a few others of us are just loud, so the stereotype is not entirely true. They came to this conclusion after meeting just a few Americans – presumably Oakland Raiders fans? So, we tried to behave ourselves to give a better impression of our home country.
For the Christian, the Kingdom of Heaven is your home country. Paul says this very thing in Philippians 3:20: “our citizenship is in heaven”. Therefore, wherever we find ourselves, we need to remember that how we behave, especially when suffering, is being watched by people who do not know our King Jesus or His Kingdom and will rush to good or bad conclusions by our actions. Paul is modeling this very principle as he is imprisoned, chained to a soldier, and being mistreated in most every way yet still gracious, loving, courageous, kind, humble, resilient, and joyful.
To be a Christian, Paul says, is to “believe in” Christ and “suffer for his sake”. Most Christians are far more familiar with how to believe in Jesus that suffer like Jesus. But this is one of the most important lessons God’s people can learn. Your suffering is too costly for you to waste it. So, God wants you to invest it to learn more about Jesus who suffered for you, become perfected through suffering like Jesus was, and grown in empathy, compassion, and insight to help others who are weak from suffering find the joy of the Lord which is the source of their strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Indeed, God gives joy and with that joy you can enjoy your life, even if you are in prison as Paul was.
Are you better at believing in Christ, or suffering for His sake?