If we are to enjoy real deep fellowship with Christ and the fellowship of the saints, that means we must also endure suffering for the sake of Christ.
Please turn in your Bibles to Philippians 3:10.
This is the Apostle Paul writing to the church at Phillipi:“That I may know him [Jesus Christ], and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;”
As Christians, we’ve been called to many things by Christ. We’ve been called to enjoy sweet, unbroken, unbridled and unhindered communion with our Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, Lord, Saviour and King of all: Jesus Christ. We’ve also been called into the fellowship of the saints walking in love and unity. It’s so easy to enjoy all of these however I’m going to be talking about something from Scripture that may seem very controversial or uncomfortable … something which is not talked about enough in many churches today and that’s having fellowship with Jesus Christ by tasting a little of the suffering that He went through. A little suffering… eh? Not the most exciting proposal is it? However the Bible has a lot to say about suffering and we’ll no doubt be looking at many Scriptural references today.
(We are) summoned to share in God’s suffering at the hands of a godless world. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Verse 10 starts off with the words “that I may know Him”. This begs the question, do we want to know Christ… do we truly? The Apostle Paul wanted to know Christ at a deep and profound level. That should be our desire.
But know what exactly? We read on: “The power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings”. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is perhaps one of the most powerful acts of God (apart from Christ dying on the cross) ever performed in the history of the world. Christ faced death head on… he went into that stronghold and defeated it! He was crucified on a cross, he was killed and then he was buried but then three days later he rose from that grave triumphantly defeating death.
We also need to know about his sufferings. Not too long ago I wrote an article on the blessing of brokenness which you can read here. In the same way there is blessing through suffering.
3 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope:
5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
But you say to me “wait aren’t we supposed to enjoy an abundant, comfortable easy life in Christ?” No! We are not promised an easy road! It’s not “your best life now” because that means your next life is in hell!
Paul Washer said “Jesus promises you two things: a cross to die on and eternal life”. You can’t have one without the other. You can’t have eternal life without taking up your cross. It just doesn’t work that way.
Luke 9:23 says “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Friend, it’s going to cost you something in order to truly follow Christ… to be one of His disciples. You will have to deny yourself, the things you hold dear and you have to take up that cross daily and follow Him. You will have to be willing to share in the sufferings of Christ. He is either everything or He is nothing! There’s no middle lane! This is the radical challenge of the Gospel!
In Galatians 2:20, the Apostle Paul proclaims: I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
Matthew 10:37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.
“To endure the cross is not a tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. When it comes, it is not an accident, but a necessity. It is not the sort of suffering which is inseparable from this mortal life, but the suffering which is an essential part of the specifically Christian life.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
1 Peter 2:21 “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:”
We as children of God have been called to this…we’ve been called to suffer.
So, I want us to think about 4 questions related to suffering to help us understand this better:
- What have we been called to suffer for?
- How are we called to endure suffering?
- Why are we called to endure suffering?
- What does it mean to fellowship in the suffering of Christ?
First I want to take a look at our Lord’s example. Jesus Christ, the holy, righteous, sinless and spotless lamb of God who came down to earth as God in the flesh underwent suffering on many occasions during his 33 years on this earth. Our Lord’s message was certainly not a popular one and the people of His day sought to kill Him on many an occasion. The Jews tried to kill Him through stoning many times. He was rejected and ridiculed by His own people! The Romans eventually captured Him, beat him so that He was marred beyond measure, spat upon Him, mocked Him, stripped Him naked and then hung Him on a rugged cross after pounding nails probably the size of railway pegs though His hands and feet. This was our Lord whom all of these terrible acts of depravity were poured out upon! But as we know it was the will of God and served a divine purpose: to pay the penalty for all of our sins and through that, bridge the gap of enmity (caused by sin) between God and man and bring hope to a lost and dying world.
2 Corinthians 5:2121 “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
2 Corinthians 8:9 “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.”
What Are We Called to Suffer For?
Philippians 1:29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,
1 Peter 3:14 tells us that if we suffer for righteousness’s sake we are blessed.
But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” As Christians we are called to live holy lives – that includes every one of us who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ.
We read of this back in chapter one and starting from verse 13 Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”
Christian, you are called to be holy… to live a righteous life. Although not completely free from sin, through walking in the light of God’s word and by His grace and mercy we can live upright lives that bring glory to Him.
The world will hate us because what we stand for is so diametrically opposed to what they stand for. When truth and falsehood come together, they will inevitably clash. The truth is perceived as a major threat by those who are living contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ. For example God condemns homosexuality and all forms of sexual perversion because they are abominable in His sight and go totally against His divine nature. So when we engage the LGBTIQ community with the truth from the Bible that God hates their sin but that forgiveness, hope and change of lifestyle can be found in the person of Jesus Christ if they will repent and put their faith in Him, we need to bear in mind that this can be met with great resistance and I think that’s a bit of an understatement at times. The same applies when we are dealing with atheists or perhaps the Islamic community and the list could go on and on. In fact if you wish to challenge the status quo, you will always be met with conflict and that conflict can result in suffering to some degree.
Let’s look at a few more Scripture references.
2 Timothy 3:12 says “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” You want to live a Godly life – it’s coming. There’s no other way. It says here “all who desire”. No exceptions. So if you’re not being persecuted and hated on for the sake of Christ, you are most certainly doing it all wrong. You’re not following the will of God, you’re living the lie of the prosperity Gospel… the comfortable life of carnal bliss and ease. Radical Christianity is not about wearing T-shirts with nice sounding Christian cliches scrawled across them, it’s about being willing to stand unwaveringly for the sake of Christ and suffer for doing so.
Matthew 10:22 says “you will be hated by all for My name’s sake…”
Matthew 5:11-13 says 11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you
Fellowship is the union of friends sharing common interests, values or perhaps problems. To suffer is to feel distress, pain or anguish.
The Apostle Paul wanted to take part in the suffering of Christ. Had he not plenty of suffering in his own life already? Why would he want more?
Soon after the Apostle Paul’s conversion we read in Acts 9:16 “For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
The Apostle Paul had this to say about his own sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29.
23 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, inperils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, inperils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
Dave Wilkerson has some wise words on this matter which I quote:
The church now focuses inwardly, spending most of its spiritual energy on the pain, distress and hurts of its members. In nearly all communities, there are numerous intimate prayer groups reaching out with compassion to share in the hurts of suffering neighbors. We have entered into the fellowship of our brothers’ suffering.
That is all commendable. It is true that when one member of the body suffers, we all suffer. I see nothing wrong with Christians getting together to share their hurts and to lift one another’s burdens. That is absolutely scriptural.
The problem is — we are becoming selfishly consumed by our own hurts, and the hurts of other suffering brothers and sisters. It has left us with little or no time to think of Christ’s sufferings – let alone share in them.
I’m a bit ashamed as I look back over the past 25 years of my preaching. I preached so many sermons about human suffering, and so little about Christ’s sufferings. I wept over the hurts of multitudes, and never shed a tear over Christ’s pain and distress. I knew the pain and sorrow of people from all walks of life, but I knew nothing of His sufferings.
Look about us and see if this is not the problem with nearly all Christendom today. Go to any bookstore and count the number of books dealing with human hurts — such as depression, fear, rejection, divorce, remarriage, loneliness, etc. Attend nearly any seminar or crusade, and you will hear much insight on how to cope with personal pain and distress. Yet how little is written or taught about sharing the sufferings of Jesus Christ, the Lord.
I am not putting it all down. We need all the help we can get. But, we desperately need to pray with Paul that we may understand and share in Christ’s sufferings. God help us get our eyes off ourselves and our own hurts, and focus on fellowshipping in His sufferings.
Amen Brother Wilkerson!
1 Peter 5:1 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:
1 Peter 4:13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.
However having said all this, suffering is temporary. It does not last forever. We can look forward to the glorious hope that is laid up for us in Heaven. This life is temporary and the suffering we go through is temporary. What we go through on this earth does not get even close to the magnitude of the glory and jubilation that we will experience in that heavenly mansion forever!
Romans 8:18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
How Are We Called to Suffer?
Verse 23 of 1st Peter says: who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.
When He was reviled – which means mocked, ridiculed, scorned, verbally abused etc He did not revile in return.
When He suffered, He did not threaten. In fact whilst our Lord was hanging on the cross He cried out “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34) And not too long after that, his murderers divided up His garments and cast lots to see who would get what article of clothing. Right here we see a display of the absolute depravity of man yet at the same time we see the immense love and forgiveness of God.
This was our Lord’s example and we are called as believers to follow in His steps. That’s a huge challenge and we can only do it through the grace and help of God.
Let’s have a look at the apostles’ example in Acts chapter 5. So to quickly give you an idea of what happened here, basically the apostles were accused of stirring up chaos in the city by their preaching and subsequently put on trial for their “wrongdoing”.
We read in verse 40 And they agreed with him [Gamaliel], and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
Why Are We Called to Suffer?
As you may recall earlier on I spoke of the fact that the suffering that Christ went through on the Cross for us served a divine purpose – it was not meaningless and so too, every millisecond of misery that the Christian goes through on the path of obedience is for a reason though we may not quite understand it at the time. Cancer or criticism, slander or sickness – it doesn’t matter what it is, it’s not meaningless! It’s doing something, it’s teaching you something. You just have to be willing to look for those lessons.
All suffering is worth it to follow Jesus. He is that amazing.
― Nabeel Qureshi,
There are many reasons for suffering and we don’t have enough time to go into all of them today. However, I believe there are 7 main reasons why God allows us to go through suffering as Christians.
- To comfort others
- To learn our inadequacies
- To give thanks to God
- To teach us humility
- To glorify God
- To strengthen our faith
- To teach us that the greatest good of the Christian life is not absence of pain, but Christlikeness
When we go through suffering it enables us to understand and empathise with those who have gone through it and are going through it. That’s what it means to know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. Of course we will never be able to taste or experience them fully at any level because those sufferings that He entered into were so deep… so profound that we would never ever be able to even scratch the tip of the iceberg so to speak. However when we suffer for the sake of righteous we do gain a small sense of appreciation for the enormity of the suffering that Christ went through both physically and spiritually and that should provoke a response from our hearts – thankfulness for what He has done and absolute awe for His power.
Suffering also exposes our inadequacies as frail, flawed and fallen human beings. It really does humble us and painfully shows that we are nothing but dust and of our ownselves we have no strength, grace or power. Through suffering and weakness we are able to realise our inadequacy and thus turn to God in humility and thankfulness and recognise Him as the sole source of our strength and sufficiency. 2 Cor 13:9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
The great goal of God is not to give us a comfortable, suffering-free life but rather conform us to the wonderful image of His son Jesus Christ. And one way in which God brings us to that place is through suffering. Suffering is the single most powerful test of faith and through it God is glorified.
1 Peter 1:6-7 6 “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,
The world is all about treasure but it’s the wrong sort: seeking pleasure, attaining wealth and status. It’s this Aussie Lucky Country notion or for the Americans: the American Dream… it’s all about prosperity and “get, get, get” and “buy this and buy that” or “achieve this or achieve that”. This hunt for this treasure is endless and never ever satisfies. It’s pursuants are always left empty-handed and empty hearted. The world is looking for greater treasurer, deeper treasure, meaningful treasure and so the world needs to see demonstrated through us as children of God… through you… the treasure of knowing God on a personal level… treasure that is so valuable that everything else pales in comparison to it. Treasure that is so priceless and valuable that to have Christ and nothing else is to be eternally rich. Treasure that you would give everything for and die for! Take my riches… my possessions and give me that pearl of great price!
The world needs to see that we are authentic, that we are genuine, that we are the real deal, that we have real treasure. And the way in which our faith will be proven as genuine is through suffering. How can the world see that we are genuine and what we have is genuine if we are not one bit different to them… if we are living a super easy prosperous life like them? How can they? How else can you know that you are truly a child of God if you do not suffer? Will you cling to Christ come hell and high water or will you be a seed that grew up quickly and the thorns choked you out when the sun came out? (You can read of this in Matthew 13:3-8) Will you wilt when persecution comes? Or will you be able to say like Job of old “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”?
It is necessary that suffering comes so that the genuineness of your faith will be exposed. If we are not genuine yet profess to know Christ, then we are hypocrites and we are well deserving of hearing the terrifying words of our Lord on judgment day “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:23).
Everyone can thrive in the health, wealth and prosperity Gospel but they will not thrive in eternity. Of course everyone can love Jesus when He gives you stuff and an abundant, pain-free life. But do you still love Him when He asks you to die to self daily? That’s why this false Gospel is so detestable and damnable. Our Lord does not give us everything our carnal little hearts desire, instead He gives us a cross and commands us to take it up.
I love Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s wise insights onto this subject. He wrote this in his book “The Cost of Discipleship”:
The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
We Are Never Alone In Suffering
Periods of suffering are always dark however unlike our Lord who suffered upon that cross alone through there hours of darkness, we as children of God will never ever walk alone through the path of suffering.
Psalm 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Romans 8:38-39 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What a joy it is to know that nothing – not even this earthly suffering can separate us from the unfathomable love of God which is found in and rooted in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I want to close with a true story.
Two young Moravians heard about it. They sold themselves to the British planter and used the money they received from their sale, for he paid no more than he would for any slave, to pay their passage out to his island for he wouldn’t even transport them.
These two young men barely out of their teens counted their life as nothing… worthless for the sake of Christ. They sold themselves into slavery to a slave master in a foreign land in order to witness to the African slaves whom he owned. They were willing to live, suffer and die as slaves! There was no earthly reward for them, only a lot of suffering and misery at the hands of a slave master. What a remarkable story of true missions and true discipleship. They counted their lives as nothing so that the lamb would have the full reward of his suffering. These young men had their lives ahead of them but they sacrificed all their ambitions and their futures and they were willing to suffer for Christ and put the worth of Jesus Christ on such display so that everyone would see that Jesus Christ is totally worth everything. This story is one of countless others involving willing disciples of Christ who forsake all and gave all following in the footsteps of our flawless example Jesus Christ.
May the words that I have spoken to day encourage us all to answer the call to stand for the truth and be willing to suffer for the sake of Christ. And may the lamb receive the full reward of His suffering!