“That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death“
The second area in which Paul wanted to know the Lord was “the fellowship of his sufferings.”
“And the fellowship of his sufferings”
Fellowship is partnership. This is not partnership with the sufferings of Christ upon the cross. Only He was qualified to die for our sins. This is partnership in His sufferings while He walked on earth. He was criticized for going to a party with sinners. He suffered religious persecution.
Paul said, “I want to be a partner in his sufferings.” He had already stated the following in 3:8: ” . . . for whom I have suffered the loss of all things.” No one likes to suffer. Paul was no masochist. He had no desire to inflict wounds upon himself for Christ. Standing in the snow barefoot is no virtue. Wearing a burlap bag or horsehair underwear inflicts pain but has no spiritual value. Laying on a bed of spikes may torture the flesh but it does nothing for the spiritual life. These things will not subdue our sin capacity. Our flesh will not improve by this kind of suffering.
Partnership in the sufferings of Christ is not reserved for the super-saints. Not many of us are called upon to suffer seriously for Christ. Few of us will die for Christ. Hypothetically, should there come a day when Christians of our day suffer extensively for Christ, I wonder how many would be loyal to Christ? Should you face the supreme test, how would you respond? The quality of life of the average evangelical today will not stand under pressure. Most people in evangelical churches today are religious spectators. Most do not intend to go to any extraordinary extent to live for Christ. They do not take their Christianity seriously: “You do not expect me to get involved in a Bible study, do you?” “I cannot share my faith at work, it might affect my business. Do you think that I am a fanatic?”
At the end of life’s day when we look back over our lives, will we have lived for me, myself, and I? Did we serve self? “Oh, I wish I was in my 20s again. I would start over. I would put priority on the things that are most important. Now that I am dying there is little left to my life.”
Paul wanted to know the Lord better by entering into His sufferings. Peter said the same thing: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Pet. 4:12,13). We do think it strange that we suffer for Christ. It seems odd that we can “rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings.”
When Jesus went to the cross, He went with an attitude: “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame . . . For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls” (Heb. 12:2,3). What was His attitude? He went to the cross knowing he was to die for the sins of the world. He went knowingly. He understood fully the horrors of the cross. He wanted the will of God, nothing less. That is why we are challenged in 2:5 to “let this mind [attitude] be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”
We know Christ better when we live by his values.
Invariably living by his values causes sufferings. We should face duress with the same attitude Jesus did. Are you a partner with Christ in His sufferings? To what extent does your Christianity go? Does it go to the point of pain? Do you have an attitude about pain?