I get giddy over gifts. It doesn’t matter if my husband brings home a hand sanitizer sample from his office or a bouquet of fall mums, his token is sure to make me smile. It doesn’t matter if I get a text from a girlfriend or a handwritten note in the mail, her words make me feel valued.
If I got my way each year, I’d start Christmas shopping the day after Thanksgiving. I’d scourer the ads for deals I couldn’t otherwise afford. I’d walk the mall for hours, searching for the perfect stocking stuffers. But life doesn’t always leave me this luxury. And lately I’m learning, I’ve got a pretty narrow view of gifts.
The apostle Paul wrote his own definition of gift-giving in Philippians 1:29, “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.” The Greek word granted literally means, “graciously given.” According to Paul, God gives believers not just salvation through faith but suffering for His sake.
If you’re anything like me, you don’t put salvation and suffering in the same category—one is a present, the other a pain. How could they both be gracious gifts from our good God’s hands?
Paul gives us the answer throughout the rest of his letter. He describes suffering as a gracious gift that God uses to grow our faith and get us ready for eternity. That’s why Paul points us to Christ’s example of suffering and joy (Philippians 2) and his own journey of earthly loss and eternal gain (Philippians 3).
Nothing mattered more to Paul than knowing Christ and making Him known to others. His relationship was a gift worth giving up everything to enjoy. And Paul knew that sometimes our deepest moments with the Savior happen when we’re suffering (Philippians 3:10–11). So he challenges us to see our struggles not as burdens but as building intimacy.
As I sort through the words of Philippians 1:29, I’m struck not only by Paul’s perspective on pain but also by his joy amidst struggles. His letter has often been titled the epistle of joy. Though imprisoned for his faith and likely facing death, he found all sorts of reasons to rejoice. He couldn’t help himself.
One of those reasons is tucked within that little word “granted” (Philippians 1:29). It means a gracious gift. But it also comes from the same root words as “joy” and “rejoice.” Could it be that God wants to give us joy amidst suffering? Just as we celebrate our salvation, we should also rejoice in our sanctification. God is growing our faith and getting us ready to see our Savior face-to-face.
So as I start making my shopping lists and scouting the sales, I want to remember Paul’s perspective on gifts this year. God gave us salvation. He gives us suffering too. And He even grants joy to those who seek Him in life’s darkest seasons.
That might just be the greatest gift God could give us this holiday season.