“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Philippians 1:29
There are many verses that can shed light on what this verse means, but two that immediately come to mind are the following:
“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will find it.” Mark 8:35
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12
Paul is one who has “lost his life” for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. Paul was willing, even joyful, to endure much persecution, hardship, and physical and emotional suffering for the sake of Christ and the advancement of the Gospel. Paul had experienced the blessed exchange of “his life” for fulness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11) found in life with and for Christ. In God’s “upside down” Kingdom, we were designed to be most alive, most joyful, and most full when we are living in deep fellowship with God, for His glory rather than our own.
But how could Paul be joyful in suffering, calling it a privilege to suffer for Christ? Isn’t this usually the furthest thing from our Western minds who want comfort with no suffering at any cost? The context of this verse is the powerful sign that fearlessness in the face of persecution would have on the Philippian’s adversaries (1:28). The Philippians’ humble love for one another, faith, and fearlessness in the face of persecution and suffering is a real sign (to both the Philippians and their adversaries) that they are saved and that God is real and glorious. For Paul, even suffering is a gracious gift from God because it provides an opportunity for the believer. Opportunities to draw near to Christ, become more like Christ, and display the glory of Christ. Opportunities to grow in faith, hope, and love. Opportunities to let God work powerfully in and through you for the advancement of His Gospel.
Matt Chandler says in his book To Live is Christ and Die is Gain:
“See, in the spiritual economy of Paul, God and His gospel are most important, not Paul and his well-being. Christ has so captivated Paul that Christ has become all to him. So when people preach Christ, whether in pretense or in truth, Paul rejoices that Christ is proclaimed. Though some mean to harm Paul, he considers his harm a fair trade for the opportunity to proclaim Jesus. It is this spiritual stability, born of a gospel-focused heart, that gives Paul peace and contentment—and yes, joy—no matter where he finds himself.”