“That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” –Philippians 3:10-11
I’ve always wondered what it means to “share his sufferings.” I know that nothing we do adds to what Christ has already accomplished. I know that Jesus is perfect and I’m not anywhere close to perfection. I know that Jesus is God and, well, I’m not. So I’ve always been left wondering, how do I share in his sufferings, or as other translations say “know the fellowship of his suffering”?
I have been reading Be Still My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering, and there is a chapter in the book that references this briefly. Here is what I have learned so far. I think that having a right perspective on my own suffering starts with understanding the suffering of Christ. No one suffered more than he did. When we are tempted to look at our own suffering as the worst anyone has ever experience, we know that we have a comforting Savior who suffered more than we could ever imagine. Understanding the suffering of Christ radicalizes my understanding of my own suffering. Yes, it’s painful. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, the feelings and emotions that accompany suffering are often legitimate and real. But I’m not alone in my suffering. Because I’m trusting in Christ, I’m given the benefit of beautiful fellowship with him even in the darkest night of sorrow because he has already experienced it all.
As Christians we know that our fellowship with him is not isolated to our present suffering. We get to share in his glory too. Just as our Savior was brought from sorrow, grief, and pain to heavenly glory, so we also will one day experience the same. And if we are honest with ourselves, no one has ever experienced suffering like our Christ. He was born into scandal, despised his entire adult life, and killed along with criminals. Even more than that, he faced a suffering that we as believers will never face—the judgment of the Father.
Suffering in this life is painful. Grief, loss, physical pain and discomfort, sorrow, death, and loneliness are all real and devastating. But as Christians, our suffering brings us into a fellowship with our Savior and friend, Jesus. He knows more than we even know what our trials feel like. He felt them. He gladly took them on when he didn’t deserve them. He has brought us into his fellowship of suffering as a sympathetic and caring Savior. And he is preparing a better place for us.
It is when we see our suffering as a gateway into greater fellowship with our Christ that we are able to embrace it and thank God for it. If we fight against it, grow bitter because of it, or run from it we will miss a crucial component of our sanctification. Suffering prunes us. It strips us of our sin and makes us more like Christ. But it also prepares us for greater glory yet to be realized. When we share in the sufferings of Christ, the fellowship we experience with him in the deepest pain is only a foretaste of the unending, perfect fellowship we will experience one day in glory.
And that is what we are waiting for.