“. . . 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.” (Philippians 1:28-30 ESV)
When was the last time you truly experienced fear?
Few of us will ever encounter such ghastly horror as what took place on March 27, 2023.
That Monday morning, a 28-year-old, female, transgender-identifying former student at the elementary school on the grounds of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn., entered school property and opened fire, murdering three adults and three children in a planned attack before she was neutralized by police.
The attack has come on the heels of what some media outlets are increasingly recognizing as an uptick in calls for violence against Christians among social media’s sexual revolutionaries.
Pastor Chad Scruggs, whose nine-year-old daughter Hallie was slain, responded the next morning to reporters with a single sentence: “Through tears we trust that she is in the arms of Jesus who will raise her to life once again.”
Scruggs’ simple statement of faith underscores the Apostle Paul’s words in our text: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ . . . not [being] frightened in anything by your opponents” (1:27-28).
Only this “gospel of Christ”—the announcement of both forgiveness of sin through the cross and victory through Christ’s resurrection and reign—can arm the believer with such fearlessness. And this fearlessness speaks volumes to the watching world.
“This is a clear sign to [your opponents] of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God,” Paul continues (v. 28). The Christian’s patient endurance amid opposition signals both (1) God’s judgment on his enemies and (2) God’s vindication of his people.
Elsewhere, Paul tells the Thessalonians that their suffering for the kingdom of God is “evidence of the righteous judgment of God,” that they may be considered “worthy of the kingdom of God”—since God will “repay with affliction” and “vengeance” those who persecute believers, while he grants “relief” to his people who are afflicted (1 Thessalonians 1:5-7). The Christian sufferer’s fearless confidence in the gospel draws today, between God’s true children and his enemies, that line in the sand which will open into a great gulf on the last day.
But we may ask, how? That is, how is it that patient endurance in persecution serves as a sign of the Christian’s right standing with God? The answer comes from the notion of suffering as a gift.
“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” (Philippians 1:29). Contrary to what we are often told as modern, self-made individuals, saving faith is more than my own personal initiative to take hold of Christ for salvation. It is more than a mere expression of my “free will.” It is also, and more accurately, a gift from God: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
We need faith as a gift of God, given to us by the Holy Spirit, because we are “dead” in sin, intently following others, the devil, and the desires of the flesh (vv. 1-3). We are blinded by sin and need new eyes to see the light of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4). Our hearts of stone must be replaced with living, beating hearts (Ezekiel 36:26). In short, we must be born again (John 3:3).
The beauty of the gospel is not only that Christ freely redeemed sinners by dying for them, but that the Holy Spirit freely saves sinners now by giving them faith in Christ when they hear the gospel, conquering all their resistance (cf. Acts 13:48, 16:14). What a precious gift this is indeed to those of us who know our own propensity to rebellion and unbelief!
Thus, Paul instructs the Philippians: just as your faith itself is a gift of God in salvation, so is your suffering for Christ. It is as sure a sign of God’s grace in your life as the very act of trust that unites you to Christ. This is why, when Jesus’ disciples endured persecution for the first time, they left “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [of Christ]” (Acts 5:41).
And the Philippians aren’t alone in this Christian suffering; they partake in it along with Paul, “engaged in the same conflict” as the apostle (v. 30). This is a comfort to those wary of entering into missionary sufferings as a Christian engaged in our gospel task. When suffer for Christ, we suffer with Christ, and with his whole body—and yet, in this suffering, we win.
Not long after learning of the tragic news from Nashville, my wife and I put our own children to bed. I couldn’t help but be overcome by the weight of Jesus’ words as I read Mark 5 for our family worship: “Taking her [a young girl who died] by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha cumi,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise’” (Mark 5:41).
The enemy may steal, wound, and destroy, but our Lord Jesus Christ is the one who takes his people by the cold, lifeless hand, breathes into them the breath of life, and causes them to rise. One day we will all be raised, and in our flesh, we will see God face to face (Job 19:26). Until then, our hope in the face of suffering is an omen of doom to Christ’s enemies and a sign of our own sure victory. Suffering has indeed been granted to us, yet so have our faith and our very salvation.
All around us, we see reasons to fear. As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” (Romans 8:36). Yet we look to you and confess boldly that nothing can separate us from your love. We know that whatever the extent, great or small, to which we may suffer for the gospel, you have ordained these sufferings for us as a gift—just as our faith itself is a gift. We praise you for this gift and ask or the grace to bear it gladly, looking to Christ. Grant us the type of fearlessness that would be a sign to all watching us of the final judgment and of your saving power. Give us a sound mind set on eternal things, and use this to move and change their hearts.
In your Son’s name,
- Pray for the families of the Covenant School and Covenant Presbyterian Church in Nashville as they mourn. Intercede before the throne of grace, asking that they would not “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) but rather as those with their hope firmly settled in Christ. Lift up others in prayer who have endured similar hardships.
- Pray for persecuted believers worldwide facing violence for their faith. Plead with the Lord to reveal his justice and vindicate his saints so that the gospel would be advanced. Ask God to grant that the blood of his martyrs would be the seed of his church.
- Pray for sent missionaries suffering for the gospel in ways great and small across the world—enduring criticism, marginalization, legal opposition, physical resistance, or even the simple inconveniences of cross-cultural living. Ask for grace, strength, and heavenly perspective for these workers.
This article was originally posted at ABWE and is reposted here with the author’s permission.