Life-Study of Philippiansby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In this message we shall consider Paul’s suffering for the gospel and his enjoyment of grace. It is easy to understand the matter of suffering for the gospel and of enjoying grace in a natural way. However, in approaching spiritual things, we need to go beyond the natural or traditional understanding. According to the book of Philippians, to suffer for the gospel and to enjoy grace are both deep matters.
To suffer for the gospel means that you are on earth solely for the interest of God’s economy. To suffer for the gospel is to care for the accomplishment of God’s economy. The gospel includes God’s economy, and suffering for the gospel requires that we participate in God’s economy. Thus, to suffer for the gospel actually means to share in the carrying out of God’s economy.
Paul’s writings indicate that he suffered for the gospel. However, the gospel for which he suffered was not low or superficial. He suffered for the gospel in the sense that he was on earth for the carrying out of God’s economy. He did not simply preach that people should believe in Jesus as their Savior so that they might go to heaven. The preaching of such a limited gospel does not entail suffering. In preaching the gospel according to God’s economy, Paul renounced religion, law, culture, ordinances, customs, habits, and every kind of ism. The gospel Paul preached slaughtered everything that was apart from God’s economy. It slaughtered religion, politics, and culture. In a sense, Paul’s gospel slaughters even us. Because Paul preached such a gospel, he was regarded as a troublemaker, a pestilent fellow (Acts 24:5).
Even though his preaching of the gospel slaughtered everything contrary to God’s economy, Paul referred to the gospel as the gospel of peace (Eph. 2:17; 6:15). In Ephesians 2:17 Paul points out that Christ, after His crucifixion and resurrection, came to the Gentiles preaching the gospel of peace. Peace is possible only when everything contrary to the gospel has been slaughtered. In order for there to be peace between us and God and with one another, religion, politics, culture, ordinances, and the law had to be terminated. Because Paul preached a gospel that involves the slaughter of so many things, his preaching was not pleasing to men. He could please neither the Jews nor the Gentiles. Paul could please only God Himself. His preaching was an offense to religion, politics, culture, and every kind of “ism.”
If we preach the gospel in the way Paul did, we also shall suffer. But if we preach the gospel in a sugar-coated way, we shall be universally welcomed. In such a case, we shall not be those who suffer for God’s economy.
Do not understand suffering for the gospel according to the natural concept. To suffer for the gospel, as we have pointed out, is to stand for the interest of God’s economy. As long as we remain in the Lord’s recovery, caring for the accomplishment of God’s economy, our destiny is to suffer for the gospel.
The gospel we preach in the Lord’s recovery is opposed to today’s religion. In our Life-study of Revelation we pointed out that, according to Revelation 2 and 3, Judaism is satanic, Catholicism is demonic, and Protestantism is Christless. How could such a word be pleasing to those in religion? To utter this kind of word, however, is simply to agree with the terms used by the Lord Jesus in Revelation. He was the One to use the expression “the synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9). Does not such an expression indicate that, in the eyes of the Lord, Judaism has become a satanic system? Furthermore, concerning Thyatira, which signifies Catholicism, the Lord speaks of “the deep things of Satan” (Rev. 2:24). This expression refers to deep, satanic mysteries. Such things certainly are demonic. Concerning Laodicea, we see that Christ is standing outside the door of the church (Rev. 3:20). This is the reason we say that, in a very real sense, Protestantism is Christless, for Christ is outside the door. A similar sentiment was expressed by A. W. Tozer in an article entitled “The Waning Authority of Christ in the Churches.” Even Tozer’s writing indicated that Protestantism is Christless. If we preach the gospel in this way, we should expect to be opposed. In preaching the gospel, our aim is neither to please people nor to offend them. It is simply to sound forth the truth of God. However, God’s truth will slaughter many things. Therefore, those who preach the gospel for the carrying out of God’s economy on earth will suffer for the sake of the gospel.
Along with suffering for the gospel, there is always the enjoyment of grace. If you suffer for God’s economy, you will have this enjoyment. I can testify that in the midst of all the opposition we face, I truly enjoy the Lord’s grace. Suffering for God’s economy brings in the supply of grace. This enjoyment of grace is related to suffering on behalf of the gospel.
To enjoy grace is to have the genuine experience of Christ, for the grace we enjoy is Christ Himself. I do not believe that those who preach the gospel in a way that pleases men know anything of the enjoyment of grace. To be sure, those Judaistic believers who preached the gospel in rivalry with Paul did not have the enjoyment of Christ as grace. Their preaching could not bring in Christ as grace for their enjoyment. Elsewhere we have pointed out that grace is nothing less than the Triune God processed for our enjoyment. Some may question this understanding of grace, wondering whether it is true to say that grace is the Triune God processed for our enjoyment. Consider Paul’s word in 2 Corinthians 13:14: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all” (Gk.). Here we see the Triune God for our enjoyment. Grace, therefore, is the experience of the indwelling Christ, who is the processed God as our enjoyment. The more we suffer for God’s economy on earth, the more we enjoy such a Christ.
If I did not speak the Lord’s word in Revelation 2 and 3 concerning Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestantism, I could no doubt gain many friends through my preaching of the gospel. However, I would lose the enjoyment of Christ, the unique Friend. In my attempt to please people, I would displease Him. I do not care to trade Christ’s favor for man’s. Like Paul in Philippians 3, I am willing to count everything loss on account of Christ. I am also willing to suffer the loss of all things on account of the enjoyment of grace. I have not been commissioned by the Lord to please men. When it comes to the matter of God’s economy, there is no room for compromise. Everything contrary to God’s economy must be slain by the truth of God. Like Paul, we have no choice in this matter.
According to the book of Philippians, Paul suffered not simply because he preached the gospel, but in particular because he defended the gospel and confirmed it. We have seen that the gospel is related to God’s economy, to His move on earth for the fulfillment of His eternal purpose. When Paul wrote to the Philippians, certain preachers were perverting this gospel of God’s economy and distorting it. Paul rose up to declare that in the gospel of God there was no place for Judaism or for Greek philosophy. He was set for the defense of the gospel (1:16). Furthermore, Paul confirmed the gospel by preaching two mysteries: Christ as the mystery of God and the church as the mystery of Christ. Although others were preaching Christ, they were not for the carrying out of these mysteries. The same is true among Christians today. There is a great deal of mission work and gospel preaching, but not many preachers care adequately for Christ as the mystery of God, much less for the church as the mystery of Christ. Many prefer to avoid talk concerning the church. Therefore, there is not much confirmation of the gospel today. The Lord has burdened us not only with the defense of the gospel, but also for the confirmation of the gospel. This means that we care for the carrying out of the two mysteries. For this, we are opposed.
If you simply preach the gospel in a superficial way without defending it or confirming it, you will be warmly welcomed. In the early years of my ministry, I was told by an elderly pastor that if I would preach in their way, all the Christians in town would welcome me and be happy with me. However, if I persisted in the way I was taking, he said, many would be offended. He advised me out of a good heart. But I had to tell him that I had no choice in the matter. From that day until now, I have had my share of suffering for the gospel. But along with the suffering I have had a rich enjoyment of Christ. He has truly been grace to me for my enjoyment.
Many of us can testify that before we came into the church life, we knew very little of the enjoyment of Christ. Did you have the rich enjoyment of Christ when you were in the denominations? Outside the church life, there is no place where we can have the proper enjoyment of Christ. If you do not believe my word, I would encourage you to travel and search for a place where we can enjoy Christ more than we do in the church life. In 1948 I encouraged a certain brother who was full of complaints about the church to find a better place and then, having done so, to inform me so that I might go there with him. However, he never reported that he found a place where there was more enjoyment of Christ than in the church. Yes, in the church life we experience suffering for the gospel, but we also have grace, the processed Triune God for our enjoyment. What we enjoy is much better than any of those things which are slaughtered by the preaching of the truth of God.
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