The Fellowship of His Suffering
|By: Nancy Missler; ©2001|
|Nancy Missler explores the idea of “participating in His suffering” and explains that suffering is actually a normal part of the Christian life.|
Just as Jesus “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4), so we are to participate in His suffering—by barring ourselves from sin and self, and choosing instead to follow what He would have us do. (Rom. 8:17)
“Suffering” simply means barring ourselves (or preventing ourselves) from following sin and self. (1 Pet. 4:19)
This is what Philippians 3:10 refers to when it says, “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death.”
We are to identify with Christ, not only by verbally assenting to, ascribing to and holding on to what He did for us on the cross, but also by daily experiencing the crucifying of our own “self.” In other words, we are to actually bear our own cross and follow Jesus. (Matt. 16:24)
- “Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered, And being made perfect [complete], He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him” (Heb. 5:9)
Are you willing to learn obedience this way? It’s costly! It might just cost you everything. But through it, you will not only gain abundant life, but also the ability to abide in the unutterable joy of His presence (the fulness of Christ). Paul could genuinely rejoice in his suffering, because he found the true meaning of it: Suffering is simply filling up what is lacking in our faith.
Suffering is the way God has chosen to bring redemption to a fallen world. Jesus suffered for us and gave us His example to follow. We cannot “die to ourselves” without suffering. Suffering has as its goal the sanctification, the purification, of our souls and spirits. Thus, suffering is a part of God’s will towards us. It comes about as God unrelentingly identifies the most potentially damaging hindrance to our relationship with Him, and then lovingly begins to strip that thing away from us. He crushes us, He breaks us, He shakes us and removes anything that is in the way of His accomplishing His will in and through our lives.
Most of the time, we not only don’t realize why God has called us to suffer, but we also don’t realize that God has called us to suffer. C. S. Lewis puts it another way: “The question is not why the righteous suffer, but why some do not!” (The Problem of Pain, p. 93)
The Bible tells us that only through death can there be life. Unless we are willing to participate in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, we will not be able to participate in His exaltation. In 2 Timothy 2:11-12, it says, “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him; If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him….”
Life Includes Suffering
For many years I purposely overlooked the sufferings of Job because it scared me, and I didn’t understand suffering’s purpose. I can even remember one dear lady who came up to me years ago and shared that I was to look forward to “suffering with Christ.” Well, back then I thought she was a crazy heretic and I stayed clear of her.
Now, of course, I understand she was speaking the truth; I just wasn’t able to hear it at that time. Eventually, in God’s timing, the story of Job became incredibly real to me as I began to experience deep suffering in my own life.
I believe God put the book of Job, which is one of the largest books of the Bible, right in the center of the Bible for a very good reason. It’s an example of faith in the night seasons. God intends for us all to use it as a “road map” on our journey through the dark night, always keeping in mind that at the end of the road, Job finally “saw” God as he never had seen Him before and his life was changed forever.
Life itself includes suffering. As Ecclesiastes 9 tells us, all things come alike to all and time and chance happen to all (verses 2, 11). Suffering can come as a result of our own sin, the sins of others, the schemes of Satan or from the fallen state of the human race. God is above all of these things, and He will use any or all of them as He sees fit to accomplish His perfect will in our lives.
There are two ways we can respond to suffering: We can either 1) despise it; be defeated by it; give up in it and quit; or we can 2) delight and rejoice in it; be strengthened by it; and continue on in it by faith.
Life includes suffering. Some important points to remember when we are going through suffering are:
- God allows our troubles to drive us to our knees and to bring us back to Himself.
- Sometimes our troubles must get worse before freedom comes. (Satan, obviously, does not want our freedom, therefore, he does everything he can to stop it.)
- It’s important to realize that we can’t get ourselves out of trouble. (If God has allowed this trial, then He is the only One who can get us out. Therefore, it’s not our battle, but His.)
- Our troubles should always push us towards God, not away from Him. If they push us away from Him, we should check to be sure Satan isn’t the instigator.
- Once we understand that God is involved, it should give us hope.
- God wants to use our trials as a way for us to learn His statues and His laws.
God always has a reason for the things He allows in our lives. He is preparing us for a future which He alone knows. He is preparing us as His “bride.” He not only wants to make us perfect (holy), established, strengthened and grounded in Him, He also wants to make us “joint heirs” with Him.
Conformed to His Death
By allowing suffering into our lives, God is conforming us unto His death. Philippians 3:10 not only talks about the fellowship of His suffering, it also goes on to say we are to be made “conformable unto His death.” Listen again, “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, [and by this] being made conformable unto His death.”
The Living Bible translates it this way, “to find out what it means to suffer and die with Him.” Being “conformed unto His death” simply means personally walking out Christ’s death in our lives. It means “dying daily” as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:31. It means constantly setting aside our own thoughts, emotions and desires and all of our own self-centered ways (belief systems, expectations, etc.) that are contrary to Him. It’s called “dying to self.”
What Philippians 3:10 is saying is that in order to truly “know” Him and the power of His resurrection, we must first experience the fellowship of His sufferings by being conformed unto His death. The Bible always teaches us that death must precede “life.” In order to have more of God in our life, there needs to be less of self. If we don’t decrease, then how can God increase? In other words, for God to fill us with Himself, He must first strip us of our old self.
God’s will for believers throughout the Bible is that we might be “conformed into the image of His Son.” (Rom. 8:29) This is the goal of our instruction: that God might reproduce His Life in us. Most of us talk very openly about this and pray for it in our own lives. However, what most of us don’t realize is that in order to be conformed into His image, we must first be conformed to His death. This is what Philippians is telling us.
In other words, in order to experience the fulness of Christ, we must each experience our own personal Garden of Gethsmane and Calvary. Nothing is made alive (quickened) unless it first dies. Listen to Christ’s example in Philippians 2:5-9:
- “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was make in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a Name which is above every name.”
Romans 6:5 validates this, “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.”
How comfortable it is for us to simply preach “Christ crucified.” The question we must always ask ourselves is, how can we preach this if we don’t really live it? There’s no way we can communicate it, if we have not experienced it! Our daily prayer should be what Paul prayed in Corinthians, that we would know nothing but Christ crucified and that death would work in us, so that life could be formed in others. (2 Corinthians 4:12)
Again, life only comes from death. Just as Calvary preceded Pentecost, so death with Christ precedes the fulness of the Spirit. Jesus’ cross must become our cross, so that what others see and hear in us will truly bear “the marks of Jesus.” Otherwise, no “life” will ever be imparted!
As Galatians 6:17 tells us, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”