Philippians 1:29 – Part 1

1:29 – The verse begins with ὅτι (hoti, ‘for’ or ‘because’), which provides a valuable grammatical clue. ὅτι is important to note, because it signifies an extension or a reasoning for the previous statement.[1] 1:29, therefore, is the reason or explanation for the previous verse, more specifically the last clause – i.e., ‘this is from God, because…’

So what is the explanation? We discussed that God does indeed bring about suffering and opposition for good, primarily seeing this in the gospel, but how is this explained? 1:29 seems to be saying, ‘Do not be frightened by opposition, but realize that God is gifting you with a glory of your salvation, that being, to suffer for Christ’s sake.’ In our suffering, we can feel a greater affection for the suffering of Christ. It is simple; I can have a greater appreciation for things when I experience them myself. So that is certainly an element of what Paul is speaking of here, but it does not appear as lucid as exegesis would like. More so, it appears that the apostle is not seeking to exhaustively explain himself. ‘Do not be frightened. Everything is from God. You have been given the gift of suffering.’ It is as if you get more and more confused the more that Paul keeps explaining.

He states that ὑμιν ἐχαρίσθη (hymin echaristhe, ‘it has been granted’), which signifies the giving of a gift. Lexically, this is unique to the New Testament and Pauline epistles. The teaching is startling to say the least. As Americans, we have a difficult enough time understanding and embracing the inevitability of suffering. Paul goes further, and calls us to see it as a gift. I never put opposition on my Christmas list. My parents never gave me a gift card for suffering for my birthday. This is a radical and offensive teaching, almost impossible to balance. Practically, however, I have found one important clarification. Every time, as far as I have observed, the apostle is always calling us to react to suffering in this way, not seek out suffering in this way. This perspective – suffering as a gift – is not a masochistic ship to sail towards the storm, it is a foundation to stand on when the tremendous winds do indeed come. Paul never calls us to pursue suffering; he calls us to embrace it when it does come. It is a peaceful patience and contentment, which will be adequately addressed in chapter 4 – e.g. when Paul is content with ‘being full,’ he does not seek to be hungry. So as we are seeking to implement this perspective of suffering, in no way should we seek the suffering as a means to gain the perspective.

Back to the text, this verse possibly constitutes one of the most explicit references to this perspective on suffering. Anyone who reads Paul’s epistles will find this thread throughout many of his writings; this was a major theme for the apostle. In Acts, Luke notes that Paul told the Macedonian believers that ‘through many tribulations we must (dei) enter the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22). That word ‘must’ is the Greek word dei, which intimates a divine necessity. Paul continues to similarly urge the Thessalonians to understand this perspective in his letters to them, by stating that believers are ‘destined for’ these afflictions (1 Thess. 3:3-4; cf. 2:14 and 2 Thess. 1:4-7).[2] Paul makes this a prevalent theme to the Romans as well, noting suffering as a stipulation of sanctification and glorification (Rom. 5:3-5; 8:17, 28-30.) It is also found in his letter to the Corinthians (cf. 2 Cor. 4:8-10, 17), and Timothy (2 Tim. 2:12). One can really benefit from acquiring all of the apostle’s teaching on suffering, but the essential truth is that sufferings are indeed a gift from God to His children, which is the explicit teaching here in Phil. 1:29.

The first condition is that suffering is only a blessing to those who are saved. An unbeliever simply will not understand this perspective, and indeed cannot, because it is not working towards salvation, being that they are not saved; unbelievers have no eschatological hope, and thus no substantial faith in that hope. Silva notes that faith is the essence of correctly suffering, and thus it is impossible for an unbeliever to grasp, and absolutely necessary for a believer to grasp, being that faith is the means of salvation. Notice that suffering is spoken of as a gift, which is very similar to the nature of faith spoken of in Ephesians 2:5-8. Faith is a gift from God. Suffering is a gift from God. I can think of no better way to explain why suffering is a gift, but by expressing that it is correlative to faith in that regard. There is obviously an apparent link between faith and suffering. Suffering unsettles us, causes us to crumble, humble ourselves, and simply trust in God. Suffering removes our reliance from our own understanding and presses us into trusting in God. Suffering brings us to faith, and thus confronts us with our very salvation.

[1] ὅτι provides this signification in contrast to γάρ, which is a transitional particle, but does not always signify a direct causal relationship.

[2]Silva notes the importance of keimetha; 84. The lemma (keimai) is used by the other New Testament writers strictly in its literal sense, ‘to lie’ (cf. Matt. 28:6; Luke 2:12; John 20:5). Paul’s usage, however, is mostly in the sense of a thing’s ‘appointment’ or ‘destiny’ as in Phil. 1:16, or as a metaphorical thing being ‘laid’ (cf. 1 Cor. 3:11; 2 Cor. 3:15).


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