1. The gift of suffering
When we suffer, the last thing on our mind is to consider the suffering (whatever form it takes) as a gift. Why would I want to view that which brings so much pain and discomfort in my life as a gift? It’s sort of like receiving an unwanted gift at Christmas or on your birthday that you instantly re-gift or return. No thank you.
Yet God’s Word says this:
“For it has been granted to you for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil 1:29). The language of “granted” is actually “to bestow,” to “gift” (as when Jesus bestows people with new sight in the Gospel, Luke 7:21). Paul shocks us by creating an equivalency between the bestowing of the gift of faith with the bestowing of the gift of suffering.
This gift of suffering is exemplified in Jesus Himself. His life was one acquainted with suffering (Isa 53:3). His was a life cut short. Innocent, He died the death of a criminal in excruciating pain, tortured on a Roman cross. Yet, God used these sufferings to carry out His redemptive purposes and save us from our sin. His suffering has bestowed upon those who believe in Him the greatest gift one can receive: eternal life!
2. The gift of exaltation
On the other side of this death ordeal stands glorification, which Paul describes as yet another gift. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Phil.2:9). As followers of Jesus, we follow in Jesus’ footsteps. “Take up your cross and follow me” He says to the disciples (Mark 8: 31ff). We too are on this journey from death to glory. We are “dead in our trespasses/sins,” “raised up” and then “seated in heavenly places” (Eph 2:5-7). Our faith is a gift, our sufferings are a gift, and the exaltation of the resurrection (now and not yet) is a gift as well.
3. The gift of comfort
You still may say: This is all good and ‘lofty’ language but what about the pain now?
Here comes the next gift: God, our father of mercies, bestows the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is the Comforter, aka the Encourager (Phil 2:1), aka the Helper (John 14:26) in our moment of suffering. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of mercies and God of all comfort who comforts us in all our afflictions” (2 Cor 1:3-4). God’s got us and He’s right there with us. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” is no empty promise. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the gift of His comfort and presence. That overwhelming sense of hopelessness and abandonment in the midst of pain, Jesus took that on the Cross too: “my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”). He took it upon Himself, so that we would never feel abandoned, from beginning to end.
Reflection for the week:
No doubt to embrace suffering as a gift is another one of those ‘vertical learning curves’ in our lives. This is not going to be accepted easily at face value. We may not understand why we suffer (it’s ok not to understand everything: read the Psalms!). But one thing we do know. In the midst of it, God is right there with us and He is not going anywhere. “I am with you always.”