by Rev. Margaret Rountree, Associate Pastor
Read: Philippians 3:7-11:
“7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
A long time ago, I remember swiping a book from a bookshelf at home titled, “If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?” Today, especially today, Erma Bombeck’s fabulous title keeps ricocheting through my mind. If life is a bowl of cherries, why did three innocent children and 3 innocent adults at a Christian school in Nashville get gunned down by a 28-year-old? If life is a bowl of cherries, why are there 32 people dead after tornadoes ripped through the South and Midwest? If life is a bowl of cherries, why did Christ suffer and die on a cross? The harsh reality is because life isn’t a bowl of cherries all the time! Sometimes we find ourselves delightfully enjoying the cherries and sometimes we find ourselves biting on the pits. So, today, we indeed find ourselves asking the questions why does suffering exist and why is it inevitable that all of us will experience some sort of suffering during our lifetimes? The apostle Paul reminds us that God uses trials in our walk with Him to teach us numerous lessons. From our Scripture passage today, Paul teaches us three important lessons that we can learn from suffering.
First, let’s start with verse 7. Paul exclaims, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”
What exactly does Paul mean by this? How can one gain something if one loses something? Before the apostle Paul was “Paul,” he was known as Saul of Tarsus. Saul could boast of things for which few if any others could boast. He had a rich religious heritage, an illustrious ancestry, was part of a religious party, had devoted zeal and was pure in keeping the Law of Moses. These were Saul’s “gains” before he knew Christ. These were what he considered his “profits” in life before his life in Christ. But in verse 8, the apostle Paul considers his past gains and accomplishments as “rubbish” (which is also translated “dung” in some versions). As far as Paul was concerned, all the things in which he once prided himself, he now considers to be completely worthless. In verse 8, Paul says “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.”
Here, we arrive at the first lesson Paul teaches about suffering: as followers of Christ, we must lose our former selves so that we can form our true selves in Christ. In other words, suffering can help us put our true identities in the everlasting and eternal Christ. The things that once were important to you, whether that be power, prestige, success, the pleasures of this world, your own self, according to Paul, are no longer important once you truly come to know of the “surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus” who is Lord and Savior of this life.
Moving on to verse 9 in our scripture passage Paul says, “…not having righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” Here, Paul talks about faith. In the most critical moment of the entire Bible, the moment Jesus dies on the cross, he shouts from the cross a phrase that clearly shows Christ’s confusion and anger that results from his suffering: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34). “Forsake” means to turn away from or withdraw from. Why would God do that to his own Son? Ultimately it comes down to an exchange or substitution. When Jesus hangs on the cross, despised, suffering, and dying, He has upon Himself the entirety of all sin. God cannot look upon sin, so He turns his back and withdraws His favor. The burden is now fully upon his Son and the reality of God’s wrath for sin reveals itself in full. Here is where Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In this moment there is the despair of death but there is also hope for deliverance. Jesus still has trust in the God of the Universe. He has submitted to God’s will to that very last moment. There is a terrible beauty in this death in that it shows us that God loves us by taking our place on the cross and dying for us.
A big part of the story of God is experiencing suffering. An even bigger part of the story of God is the faith that is required from His people. If nothing ever challenging or painful or devasting happened in the Bible, it would have been really easy for God’s people to have faith. It’s easy to trust God when life is going great, isn’t it? It’s a whole different ball game when life isn’t going too well. The Bible is so incredible because it not only tells the story of God’s faithfulness to His people, but it also depicts countless examples of His people putting their faith in the Sovereign God of the Universe, even in the midst of extreme suffering. Suffering is a part of the human experience. It is a big part of the Christian faith. The second lesson we can learn from the suffering human experience is that it requires us to put our faith in God, despite our current circumstances.
The third and final lesson Paul teaches us about suffering is that suffering leads to resurrection. In verse 10 Paul exclaims, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead.” While we are undergoing suffering, it feels as if it will never end. I don’t know about you, but it seems almost impossible to find any glimpse of hope when we suffer or experience pain.
Today is Good Friday and it should be a day where we as a church share in the sufferings of Christ and His death on the cross. Today should be a sad day. But the sadness is only very short-lived because we know the end of the story, right? Jesus suffers, dies on the cross and arises from the dead on the third day! It’s the Easter message, isn’t it? He is risen! He is risen indeed!
Church, if anyone today is experiencing suffering, I want to offer you a message of hope: Christ has conquered the grave! Resurrection is coming. Although it might feel as though you will endure your suffering forever, know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel because suffering is only temporary. Our suffering was made temporary when Christ conquered death.
Know that you serve a God who knows what you are experiencing and feeling today. He knows what suffering feels like. The nails that pierced through his hands and feet are evidence of this suffering. God came as Christ so that He could suffer with us and free our souls forever. Easter Sunday is quickly approaching. Resurrection is coming.
St. Pete First, as we get ready to celebrate the greatest of Jesus’s miracles, that is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave this Easter Sunday, let us remember that suffering does indeed serve purposes for us in the Christian life. Christ certainly understood this. He suffered for us, so that we could have a new life in Him, so that we could put our complete faith in Him and so that we could be resurrected with Him.
Although we are sitting in the grief of Good Friday, we look with great anticipation towards resurrection Sunday. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). Let us rejoice and be glad!