I am a selfish gift-giver. I love to give gifts, so in that regard, my scouring stores (mostly Thrift stores; sorry, friends!) for gifts for those that I love is a semi-selfish endeavor. It hard for me to control myself and stay within our budget, especially at Christmas time, because gift-giving is totally how I express my love. That being said, I have been hunting and gathering little gifts like a squirrel gathers nuts for the winter. They are wrapped and ready to roll, and I can barely contain myself as I have to wait to bestow these treasures on my loved-ones.
As I was finishing up a study on the first chapter of Paul’s letter to his beloved Philippian friends, I was shocked and struck by the gift he was presenting to them. It didn’t sit well at first. It still doesn’t to my flesh, to my natural tendencies and leanings. Paul told his dearly loved friends, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Paul was extending them an invitation into His view of suffering as a precious and fragile gift entrusted unto them by a loving Father.
The language Paul uses is gift language. The verb translated granted comes from the Greek word charizomai, meaning to exercise grace, to freely show favor.
The last thing I naturally think of when I think of suffering is gift. And the last thing I naturally want to give to my children is suffering. And yet we cannot side-step what Paul is saying here.
My love is so limited, I would rather present my children with a “Get Out of Suffering For Free” pass then with a delicate invitation to participate in the suffering of God through Christ on our behalf. But Paul seems to be implying that next to the gift of believing on, leaning strongly into Jesus, there is another great gift: to suffer on his behalf. The Greek word there is huper, meaning “for the benefit of, for the betterment of, for the advantage of.” That for the betterment of Christ, on His behalf, in light of His suffering for us on this globe, we are invited into small or large slivers of suffering on this earth.
In his Advent booklet, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, John Piper talks about how Christ’s coming to earth to suffer sends us going toward the suffering on earth today. He writes,”It’s the story of how the vertical advent of God in the mission of Jesus bends out and becomes the horizontal advent of Jesus on the mission of the church. In us.”
His Coming to earth, which is part of what we celebrate in Advent, in an invitation for us to get going towards the suffering around us. So today, for a moment, at least, I stopped thinking about how to stuff my boy’s stocking full of candies and goodies. Instead I spend a few moments asking God to change my view, their view of suffering to make it more like His. I want to be like Jesus who stepped into and toward the suffering of this world, rather than stepping away from it and avoiding it. And if that is to happen, it will have to be a gift from Him to us, because goodness knows, we don’t come by that kind of love naturally.