Joy in Suffering

Samuel Rindlisbacher

In Philippians 2:17-18, the apostle Paul writes, “Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me.”

At the heathen sacrifice ceremonies, which the Greek readers of the apostle Paul knew about, the drink offering was an important part. It consisted of a cup of wine that was offered to the gods. The heathen drink offering was also a part of every meal, which began and ended with a cup of wine in honor of the heathen gods (similar to a prayer). In contrast to this, the drink offering in Judaism, which influenced the apostle Paul, was an integral part of the burnt and peace offerings (Numbers 15:1-5). In New Testament language, it should remind us of what it cost Jesus to give His blood on the cross of Calvary as a “burnt offering.” When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, a drink offering is symbolically poured out. The wine is a reference to what Jesus did on Calvary’s cross. When Jesus was pierced on the cross, blood and water flowed out of His wounds. This is just what Paul is referring to.

Interestingly, Paul speaks in two of his letters, which were both written in prison, of this drink offering. It seems as though he was aware of the fact that this could be the end of his journey—shortly before he would be poured out (Philippians 2:17-18). He mentions this drink offering a second time in his last letter to his spiritual son Timothy, shortly before his martyr death, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

The picture of the drink offering speaks very clearly. It is about the readiness to suffer for the Lord Jesus and to die for Him (to be poured out).

Paul praises the Philippians in Philippians 2:12, but says that it could come to the worst (verse 17). Christians should be prepared to suffer and die for the Lord Jesus. Every year worldwide, about 100,000 Christians are murdered on account of their faith. We should not forget this.

It is noteworthy, however, that wine is always a picture of joy and abundance in the Bible. So, it is no coincidence that Paul mentions the word joy four times in connection with the drink offering, “Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me” (Philippians 2:17-18).

In the whole of the letter to the Philippians, Paul continually mentions joy—in spite of the prison walls around him. We can therefore learn from Philippians 2:17-18, that when we suffer for Jesus’ sake, we should do this with joy.

We cannot do this alone, but only with God. Everything that happens to us is in God’s hands. The Bible teaches us that we should not worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will take care of itself (Matthew 6:34). We can say, God provides for us today, and tomorrow is in His hands.

Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). All of us who are born again have the Holy Spirit in us, and therefore also the source and origin of true joy. I do not have to rejoice for tomorrow, but in the situation that I am now. I may say to the Lord Jesus, I can’t do it myself and I am weak, but I am counting on Him to carry me through and help me.

Our joy has its origin in the redemption of Jesus Christ, in His person and work. The source of our joy is that Jesus dwells in our hearts and that our past is forgiven. Is not joy also the hope of glory that He gives us? When a Christian is so full of joy, then it is infectious. This is what Paul wrote. Ultimately, he was joyful because he knew where he was going.

Many people are afraid and do not know where they are going. They are afraid of the process of dying and of eternity. Yes, I am afraid of death, but not of what comes after. Paul includes others with him in his joy by saying, “For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me” (Philippians 2:18). They should rejoice because they know where Paul is going. They should learn to rejoice, even when they are led on paths that are not easy.

No other language in the world knows so many words for joy as Hebrew. We find in the Old Testament 13 Hebrew roots concerning joy, and this in 72 different words. These words are used particularly when it is about the worship of God. This tells us that only God can be the deepest reason for all joy. True and abiding joy is only able to be experienced in the worship of God. Abiding joy that even surpasses sorrow can be found in Jesus Christ alone. Although Paul had to reckon with his approaching violent death, he rejoiced all the same. He did not let sorrow overcome him, but looked to Jesus. And he urged his brethren in the faith in Philippi to do this also.

May it be the same in our lives, that we can learn as Paul did and thousands of people after him, to look beyond the suffering, through the dark clouds, to Him who is the origin of our joy: Jesus Christ.

Midnight Call - 11/2017

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