Philippians 1:29 – Part 2

1:29 (cont.)– Importantly, Paul notes that this is suffering for Christ’s sake, ὑπερ Χριστου (hyper Christou). This seems to be consistent with the lexical construction in Acts 5:41 (hyper tou onomatos, for the name) and thus intimates that our suffering is out of our devotion to Christ – i.e., we suffer because we are followers of Christ. More profound, however, is Paul’s wording in Phil. 3:10, where he states that we are ‘sharing’ in the sufferings of Christ.[1] This idea is pointing to our union with Christ, but that unity is not what the apostle seems to be emphasizing here in 1:29. Here, in the context of opposition, Paul is teaching of the persecution prompted by our following after Christ. Although we have discussed suffering in general, it would be wrong not to identify that Paul is narrowing in here, emphasizing this particular kind of suffering – opposition. This by no means, however, negates the overall teaching from Paul that all suffering is an occasion for joy. Joy in the suffering is an evident theme throughout the whole of the apostle’s epistolary literature.

So then, a question of self-inspection naturally arises. If we experience no opposition for our faith, are we deprived? First, we must define some terms. Opposition comes in different forms, especially contrasting Paul’s culture and our modern American culture. Opposition is a ‘four-letter word’ in America, synonymous with intolerance. One cannot oppose someone or their position without being labeled hateful or identified as a bigot. So let us all resolve that we understand opposition a little differently than Paul may have. Paul was literally beaten, whipped, stoned, and imprisoned for his belief in Christ; that is the opposition he was most acquainted with. We, on the other hand, like to define Christian opposition in America with passivity. The biggest opposition to Christianity in America is that people in America are now passive to Christianity. I do not want to belittle this departure from Christian morals, but let us concede that we are not experiencing the same opposition as Paul was experiencing. Now, let us praise God for this blessing of prosperity. This is not a deprivation in regards to ultimate deprivation – i.e., deprived from salvation or God’s providence. So, the word ‘deprived’ does not mean deprived of salvation. According to the significations of those terms, opposition is not needed to bring about our salvation. In the world we live in, I am sure that we will face opposition – that is a promise in Scripture – but the point to be made here: our salvation is not contingent on being persecuted.

Now if we broaden our scope a little and change the question slightly, we will have a different answer. If we do not experience suffering, are we saved? That question is better reserved for Phil. 3:10; but there is a theologian by the name of R. B. Gaffin Jr., and he provides an extremely valuable insight to this question.

One reason we have difficulty in seeing [suffering as a gift] is that our understanding of “the fellowship of his sufferings” is too narrow and restricted…We tend to think only of persecution that follows an explicit witness to Christ, or perhaps also of intense physical suffering or economic hardships that may result from a stand taken for the gospel. Certainly the aspect of persecution should not be depreciated and is central in the New Testament – and we may well ask ourselves why it is so largely absent from the experience of most of us. But the “sufferings of Christ” are much broader. They are the Christian’s involvement in the “sufferings of the present time,” as the time of comprehensive subjection of the entire creation to futility and frustration, to decay and pervasive, enervating weakness. They are the believer’s participation in what was also, according to the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms (LC, A.48; SC, A.27) a fundamental dimension of Christ’s humiliation: “Undergoing the miseries of this life,” exposure to “the indignities of the world,” “the infirmities of the flesh,” “the temptations of Satan.” Where existence in creation under the curse of sin and in the mortal body is not simply borne, be it stoically or in whatever other sinfully self-centered, rebellious way, but borne for Christ and lived in his service, there, comprehensively, is the “fellowship of his sufferings.”[2]

Gaffin is essentially conveying that we partake in the sufferings of Christ by experiencing the ‘sufferings of the time’ (Rom. 8:18), and he continues to unravel this principle through Phil. 3:10 (which we will delay to address until we come to that point in exegesis). Essentially, our sufferings are rooted in our existence in this world. As long as we live between the times – i.e., post-resurrection of Christ until the ultimate glory of Christ – we will experience suffering. So in one sense, we are suffering as Christian, because we have not yet been glorified. It seems a little unfounded here, but it will come together more when we exegete Phil. 3:10, because it is not the primary teaching here in 1:29. Here, Paul is noting suffering in correspondence to opposition. It is certainly possible that the apostle moves to a generalized teaching on suffering in 1:29, but I would not want to exceed the context, especially since Paul makes it a point further on in the epistle.

[1] There is a subjective force to the genitive usage in 3:10 that must signify unity with Christ.

[2] Gaffin, 238-239.


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