Step One in Preparing to Suffer
From Gospel Translations
On Monday we looked at the topic of suffering — in particular, the divine design behind suffering. What is God doing inside of us when trials hit? That was Ask Pastor John 1852. God is the great physician, and he knows how to use pain in our lives to kill inside of us the sin that robs us of the greatest pleasures — namely, enjoying Christ as our greatest treasure. That Monday episode was a deep exploration into why suffering is not paradoxical to the joy-aims of the Christian Hedonist.
As a complement to that episode, today I want to play for you a sermon clip that stands out to me. In this clip, Pastor John explains how to prepare for suffering. If we are going to suffer well, what groundwork must happen inside of us first? This is a critical point to be made, with principles drawn from Paul’s own testimony in Philippians 3:1–11. Here’s Pastor John to explain.
You know this list, don’t you? He’s listing off his characteristics that, as an unbeliever, he really enjoyed: “Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5). This is a pedigree that, in the Jewish culture, was simply awesome.
And when you have a good pedigree, you strut your pedigree. You get the praises, and you bask in the pleasures of the admiration of being a man with a pedigree. “This feels so good,” says the man. “This is satisfying. I’ve got a pedigree, and people know it.” That’s the unbeliever’s satisfaction. That’s the old Paul.
Blameless and Blind
And then he adds, at the end of Philippians 3:5, “I have three other things that make my life glorious. First, I am a Pharisee. There are no better law-knowers and law-keepers than Pharisees. And I’m outstanding.” Or as Paul says in Galatians 1:14, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people.” Oh, he had a lot going for him in his reputation.
Paul goes on to say in Philippians 3:6, “And zeal-wise — I took on the church, this renegade sect that’s undermining what I’ve lived for, calling this crucified criminal ‘the Messiah.’ What a blasphemy! And I’m taking it on from city to city and bringing it down. That’s who I am. That’s my identity. Has anybody got zeal? I’ve got zeal. The rest of you cowards are afraid to take on this sect. I’ll take it on.” Oh, how he had meaning, significance, purpose in his life.
And finally, he says, “As to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:6). This verse is why I think Paul was, by and large, free in his conscience. I know a lot of people try to say things like, “His conscience was killing him all the time because of this and that.” I’m not sure of that because Paul used to say, “I was blameless.” He was blind, but he was blameless in his eyes.
When Loss Becomes Gain
Now he meets Christ in Acts 9, on the Damascus road, and suddenly his world collapses. He was getting his meaning from a zeal for the law, an allegiance to the law, as he understood it. A passion for God, as he understood it. And at the core of it was the opposite: Jesus, crucified pretender, criminal, rightly executed — and people saying, “He’s the Messiah.”
And there he was before Paul, alive with a glory so bright, a greatness so great, that he blinded Paul. All Paul could do was listen as Jesus said, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). And Paul’s life was over.
How, at that juncture, did he prepare himself to suffer? Look at Philippians 3:7. He said, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” That’s what he did. He looked at his life and all that list — all that pedigree, all those achievements, all that reputation — and he said, “Now I will regard that as loss. I will regard that as loss.” In other words, “I have now consciously reversed, turned upside down, my value system.” This is how you prepare to suffer: you turn your value system upside down.
Before he was a Christian, he had a ledger. He had a loss column and a profit column, a gain column. Over here, in the column of profit or gain, was “Hebrew of Hebrews” (astonishing pedigree), “Pharisee,” “zeal,” “blameless” (Philippians 3:5–6). Off the charts — what a gain column he had. And over here, in the loss column, was this horrible opposition: Christ Jesus.
And the possibility that Christ Jesus might be the Messiah — well, that’s not going to happen, Paul thinks. But then he meets Jesus. And what does he do? He takes out a big red pencil, and on the gain column he writes, L-O-S-S — and above the Jesus column, G-A-I-N. And everything is reversed in his life.
Preparing to Suffer
Has that happened to you? That’s what it means to become a Christian, right? The shortest parable, Matthew 13:44, says it this way: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” The man counts everything he has as loss, that he might have the treasure.
It was just a field before — just walking through a field on his way to his treasure. Then he stumbles over King Jesus in glory, and he realizes the field is full of diamonds. It’s full of gold and full of silver. God opened his eyes, and now everything else — it’s all loss.
Once your eyes are open, then your mind also makes that transition. Your mind considers everything in your life that way: “It’s all loss.” This is how you prepare to suffer. You get up in the morning, and you consider your life that way. That’s how Paul says it in Philippians 3:7: “I consider it, I regard it, I consciously, mentally am looking at all the goods in my life and regarding them, compared to Jesus, as loss. They’re in the loss column, and Jesus is in the gain column.”
And if you think, “Well, that was just Paul,” he says in Philippians 3:17, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” This is normal Christianity. Jesus said, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). Period.
Now, you’ve got clothes on. You probably have a car out in the snowy parking lot. You might have an apartment or a house and other possessions. You probably have an iPhone or computer. So, you own things. And this text says, “You can’t be a follower of Jesus if you don’t renounce those.” You can check out different translations on that word renounce in Luke 14:33. Wouldn’t that be the same as Paul saying to “count as loss” in Philippians 3:7?
So this coat that I am wearing — this is my coat. It is mine. It’s my preaching coat. And I should count this coat as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Jesus.