The Fellowship of His Sufferings

“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom
I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)

What a rich text and grand perspective we receive from the Apostle Paul toward the end of his earthly life and ministry. As he reflects upon his life and ministry within the environment of his first imprisonment, he concludes that “all things” are regarded as “loss”; not just the lesser things, the low points we might say, but the high points as well.

Here is a highly educated man, having acquired significant standing within the Pharisaical community prior to his conversion, then rising to significant prominence within the Christian community, post-conversion. Today he is considered by most scholars to be the greatest theologian ever. We know from scripture that he “Knew how to get along with humble means, and how to live in prosperity.” (Philippians 4:12)

But now he considers it all “loss”…in what sense, we might ask, and for what reason?

 “Compared to (or in view of) the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…” That’s the answer to “in what sense.”

So then, for what reason? “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings…in order that I may attain to the resurrection of the dead.”

It’s not that the experiences and blessed privileges of his life and ministry were meaningless or inconsequential to him, but compared to just truly knowing Christ, these things were “as loss” in comparison.

Paul realized very early on in his ministry that if true Christianity is anything at all, it is, first of all, a death.

“Christ and Him crucified”… “Crucified with Christ”…”For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

These few familiar quotes from scripture are representative of the entire theme of Paul’s ministry and Christian philosophy if you will. So now towards the end of the aged Paul’s life, he reflects, rehearses, and re-establishes that which he has believed from the beginning.

As he perceives that death may be in his near future, I believe he takes comfort in the fact and encourages his own faith in the truth that his resurrection from the dead is as sure as Christ’s resurrection because “He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.” (Romans 8:11)

Yes, this verse encourages the believer to embrace the fact that His Spirit quickens us or makes us have life while we are alive, but it also reminds and assures us that as Christians, that same Spirit will literally make us alive from death, in our resurrection.

Paul also realizes that through his persecutions, beatings, shipwrecks, and now imprisonment, he is experiencing a greater intimacy than he has ever known through “The fellowship of His sufferings.”

It is this point I want us to especially consider at this moment in time.

I pray for the persecuted church in the world today on a daily basis. We have brothers and sisters in Christ who are being persecuted, tortured, and even killed, all around the world, because of their unwavering faith in Christ.

Do we consider ourselves to be involved with Christ and these persecuted saints, in the “Fellowship of His sufferings?”

Here in America (and elsewhere) we have so-called ministers and ministries that unashamedly proclaim that Christians should never suffer…anytime, anywhere!

Their theology (or lack thereof) is illustrative of their complete ignorance of sound biblical teaching, and their insensitivity to suffering saints. I believe it also evidences a kind of elitist spiritual arrogance that is truly breathtaking! Scripture simply calls them “false teachers.”

I would like to write more of what I am thinking and feeling right now, because suffering either has been, is, or will be part of our life’s experience. Suffering comes in all sizes and shapes, as the saying goes, but it does most certainly come.

I recently read a quote from Charles Spurgeon that I believe articulates, sums up, and authenticates what we know to be true from both scripture and experience.

God’s people have their trials. It was never designed by God, when he chose his people, that they should be an untried people. They were chosen in the furnace of affliction; they were never chosen to worldly peace and earthly joy. Freedom from sickness and the pains of mortality was never promised them; but when their Lord drew up the charter of privileges, he included chastisements amongst the things to which they should inevitably be heirs. Trials are a part of our lot; they were predestinated for us in Christ’s last legacy. So surely as the stars are fashioned by his hands, and their orbits fixed by him, so surely are our trials allotted to us: He has ordained their season and their place, their intensity and the effect they shall have upon us. Good men must never expect to escape troubles; if they do, they will be disappointed, for none of their predecessors have been without them. Mark the patience of Job; remember Abraham, for he had his trials, and by his faith under them, he became the “Father of the faithful.” Note well the biographies of all the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and you shall discover none of those whom God made vessels of mercy, who were not made to pass through the fire of affliction. It is ordained of old that the cross of trouble should be engraved on every vessel of mercy, as the royal mark whereby the King’s vessels of honour are distinguished. But although tribulation is thus the path of God’s children, they have the comfort of knowing that their Master has traversed it before them; they have his presence and sympathy to cheer them, his grace to support them, and his example to teach them how to endure; and when they reach “the kingdom,” it will more than make amends for the “much tribulation” through which they passed to enter it. – (Morning and Evening-March 8, Charles Spurgeon)

These are powerful, true, and comforting words that assure us of His plans and purposes for our lives, His faithfulness to see us through (even in the midst of difficult circumstances), and His guarantee of resurrection power that transports us from death to life eternal!

“We are saved by grace through faith.”

Heaven is already our home and soon we will go there to dwell eternally!

But in the in-between called “life”’ we struggle and often suffer.

It is however in the midst of adversity, trial, and tribulation, that we who are “In Christ” actually draw upon a greater richness, fullness and dare I say beauty, from the ever increasing intimacy with our Lord and Savior resulting from “The Fellowship of His Sufferings.”