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Monday, October 26, 2015

Taken for Granted

Communication is tenuous at best. First there is the problem of language as it changes underneath your very nose. (Get it? Comes out of your mouth ... under your nose ... never mind.) "Marriage" means one thing last year and something else this year. That kind of thing. But in principle language is difficult because words don't actually exist. Words are things intended to convey ideas. I have "this idea" and I need to transfer it to you, so I use words. Have you ever found that you know what a word means but can't actually define it? That's because you get the idea even if the words that transmit the idea aren't readily available.

So, here I am, merrily reading along in Philippians and I come across this verse.
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. (Phil 1:29)
Okay, let's see ... so Paul is trying to tell them to "Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Phil 1:27) even in hard times, standing firm and without fear (Phil 1:27-28), because the good news is that God has granted to you to suffer for His sake! Yippee!! Oh, wait ... is that a good thing?

So now I'm stuck. What does it mean "to grant"? You see, this is one of those words you likely understand but can't fully define. There is a sense in this word of something good. You see, at its core, "to grant" is a verb meaning "to give". But it's something more. It is to give something good. An employer can "give you a pink slip" or "give you a bonus" and, while you receive something in either case, they are not equally pleasant. But "grant" suggests something pleasant. The dictionary says things like "to bestow" or "to agree" or "to transfer" or "to accede". There, you see? "To accede" means "to assent to a request or demand". Something you want. Something that is good. Inherent in "grant" are two aspects. One is "I have it and you don't" and the other is "If I give it to you, you'll certainly want it." Merriam-Webster says it is "to agree to do, give, or allow (something asked for or hoped for)." And that's good, you see? Not just something given (like a pink slip or a poke in the eye with a sharp stick) but something good. In fact, the Greek word in this verse is χαρίζομαι -- charizomai. Rooted in "charis" -- grace or favor -- it means "to grant as a favor". It refers to gratuitous kindness. To give a good thing. Okay, so it's something good that you could not or would not get on your own and someone is giving it to you.

So, Paul is saying, "It is not something you could or would get on your own, but God has kindly given you the opportunity to suffer for the sake of Christ." Yippee!!

As if that's not strange enough, we had to just leap right over text in front of it. Because right in the very same sentence is a phrase that says we were granted something else. We are granted to "believe in Him". Not only that, but also to suffer for Him.

Wait ... we are granted to believe in Him? I mean, I was always told that God provided His Son and the offer of salvation and the promise of new life and that faith was something I brought to the table. God doesn't believe for us, does He? I mean, that doesn't even make sense. And, indeed, it doesn't. Still, whence comes faith? Where do we get the willingness or ability to believe? According to this text, that is granted from God. It's not something we drum up to start with. It is a grant, a favorable gift, a gratuitous kindness. Like when we read of how the Lord's servant should be kind to everyone, "correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth." (2 Tim 2:25) See? There it is again! Something that Scripture says is granted that we always thought we supplied on our own -- to believe and to repent.

So, I'm kind of stuck here. I know we've always been told that we provide our faith and repentance. It looks like Scripture says something else. Clearly we exercise faith and repentance, but it does not originate with us; it is granted by God. So I'm going to have to go with Scripture here rather than other suggested sources on the topic.

Ironic, isn't it? The phrase, "to take for granted", means "to fail to appreciate something". We can either take faith and repentance (that we exercise but God gives) as a good gift from God ("granted"), or we can take it for granted ("fail to appreciate"). Now, in English, I wonder how we would differentiate those two options? We can take it for granted or take it for granted, by which we don't mean the same thing. Sigh. Communication is tenuous at best.


Bob said...

so suffering for Christ is a Gift? Granted to us by God.
i can see why faith and repentance are gifts that bring about fruit.
but how does every day suffering Count towards this Gift?
i know that there are some people who inflict suffering upon themselves (and others)
for some morbid means of demonstration of their faith. but the real suffering, how does
that become a precious Gift ? we seem as Christians to suffer every day aches and pains.
we labor thru all manner of difficulties, sickness, pain, depression, homelessness, loneliness. are these means of suffering for Christ or is (suffering for Christ) exclusive to persecution only? i have not suffered much in the way of persecution, but i have and presently am suffering life's aches and pains,. we work by the sweat of the brow, labor under the same sun as the heathen. does that count? Since God granted me the precious gift of suffering for Christ, i need to understand what that means in every day life.

Stan said...

Well, on one hand, the text here (and elsewhere) refers to suffering "for the sake of Christ". It isn't (this in particular isn't) a reference to all pains and problems, but the ones you incur by following Jesus.

On the other hand, if God is Sovereign and "all things work together for the good of those who love God", then it would stand to reason that "all things" include the pains and problems we encounter in life that God allows (or causes, as the case may be). Those, too, would be "good" in the Romans 8:28 sense.

Bob said...

since it is granted to us to suffer for Christ sake, then the measure must be doled out in accordance to God's good Grace. i realize that to suffer for Christ sake is a privilege,but we are encouraged to focus upon Christ and to rejoice in our suffering. being that our portion of suffering is granted, it must be that there is a time and a purpose tailored to each child of God. so instead of being overly concerned about quality and quantity of this privilege, we should be shining examples for Christ sake, by persevering in the faith despite the circumstances.