Joy & Suffering

Philippians 1:12-30
Teaching Segment Notes
by Randell Neudorf
Sunday, May 13th, 2012

As we read through any passage in the bible we at The Commons are always asking ourselves what does this mean for us here in Hamilton in this time and place. As I was reading through the first chapter of Philippians, the verses Jeanette looked at last week and the verses we heard today, I thought how our geography and everyday reality is very different from that of Paul’s and the Church in Philippi. Paul was in prison, and many people who were followers of Jesus in Philippi were also being arrested and oppressed.

When reading what some commentaries had to say about this passage, the overall message was of Joy, and specifically Joy in suffering for following Jesus. Now it would be easy for us to slap our own situations over these verses in our own context. Perhaps a time when it was a bit awkward explaining to someone that you are a Christian. Maybe someone even unjustly accused you of being a fundamentalist, lumping you in with a Christian stereo type. Maybe you have a job where it is considered inappropriate to talk about your spiritual beliefs. Maybe you have encountered someone who is very angry with “church people” and you have actually been yelled at. The danger is that we might take these normal every day frictions of life and try to wear them like a badge of honour, like we are suffering for Christ. In reality that is very lame and not at all what Paul was writing about. Paul is talking about real persecution; prison, beatings and killings, specifically for following Jesus

To be honest in my own life I have experienced very little of even the mild awkwardness that some North American Christian’s claim to experience. I feel I’m respected in society, that I have the freedom to practice my spirituality; I don’t really feel like I suffer much.  I’ve never gotten in trouble for being a Christian, really in any way, ever.

It is because of this, I feel inadequate to try and apply what Paul is writing to the Philippians to our little community here in Hamilton. Because of this I’m going to be borrowing heavily from other people today.

The one thing that I did notice (all on my own) when reading through today’s passage was that even though Paul was writing from prison he felt the need to pass on a couple reminders to the church in Philippi, reminders that I think we can use as our own entry point into what these verses mean for us today.

At the end of Chapter 1 (verses 27-30) we get a short list from Paul of things he wants his church friends to remember:

  • Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.
    Discussion Question: What do you think this could mean?
    Be good? Have integrity? Don’t be jerks?
  • Stand firm in one spirit – act as a single person.
    Discussion Question: What does this remind you of?
    Act as a single body, be the church not as a bunch of disconnected parts but as one body.
  • Don’t be frightened by those who oppose you.
    Discussion Question: This is getting into where it might hard to apply to us, or do you feel like we are opposed some times as a church community?
  • It has been granted to you not only to believe on Christ but to suffer for him.
    Paul knew that the church was going through the same things that Paul and Silas went through when they were imprisoned in Philippi.

As I read through this list, “Stand firm in one spirit” stands out to me. The Church is not a building it is a group of people, and ultimately there is only one Church, a giant group of people all over the world trying to follow Jesus in the place where they live and the context they find themselves in. We may not be suffering much for trying to follow Jesus in Hamilton but we are part of one body, one church, and one spirit. And all through the history of the church even to this present day there have been followers of Jesus who have suffered, been persecuted, and martyred for following Jesus. Even though we don’t see this of feel this in Hamilton this is part of the Global Church.

There is a guy named Glenn Penner who wrote a book called “In The Shadow of the Cross – A Biblical Theology of Persecution and Discipleship.” Glen passed away 2 years ago, but right up until the time of his death he was part of an organization called Voice of The Martyrs. The Voice of the Martyrs helps tell the story of the Persecuted Church as well as providing persecuted Christians with practical support and advocacy to the rest of the world for their situation. Glenn felt that much of the verses in the bible that talk about suffering look very different looking through the lens of persecution rather than the lens of minor inconveniences and  aches & pains, that the affluent churches tend to apply to the bible to today.

We Read PG 207 – 208 of In the Shadow of The Cross. I can’t find an online version of the book to quote from or link to on this post so I thought I would post this video of Glenn talking about his journey:

So we are talking about Joy in the context of severe affliction. What are we suppose to do with that? How do we wrap our minds around that?

I started reading stories about the persecuted church about 13 years ago, and I think that it might help us to read some of those stories of where Joy and Suffering intersect in the middle of persecution. I don’t know how it works, it is mysterious but it is the real life experience of people though out church history, and right up to this present day in many places around the world. I would like us to read some of those stories that are a part of our global and historical church body.

I need to make a disclaimer here. The stories that I’m going to share aren’t meant to paint everyone with the same brush. Sometimes persecution of Jesus Followers is Political, sometimes Religious, and you can always find people from those same Political and Religious groups that would be horrified at the act of persecuting anyone, so  please don’t give in to racism by taking the acts of some and applying them to other people who share the same cultural or political label.

We Read stories from the book Jesus Freaks:

So after all that what do we learn today? How is this part of our community in Hamilton at The Commons?

  • It reminds us we are part of a global church. That our small foot print isn’t the be all and end all to being part of God’s Kingdom.
  • It reminds us to be humble? How easy is it to be in our place and time?
  • We should keep alive the theology of persecution. We may not be persecuted in our life time but what about the next generation, or 200 years from now? (We are joining the Mennonite church; there are stories of persecution all throughout Mennonite History).