Fellowship in Suffering
“…that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings…”– Philippians 3:10
A few months ago a statement made by my pastor struck me and helped to spur on the musings below. He said something along the lines of, “there is an almost mystical communion that the believer can share with Christ in the midst of their suffering.” There wasn’t time to unpack this in the message, but it’s something I’ve considered–and experienced–before and the truth and sweetness of this concept was rekindled in my mind….
Paul’s words really are interesting here in Phil.3:10 and the surrounding context. From what I can tell by the bit of studying I did to prepare for today’s picture, Paul “suffers the loss of all things” (i.e., holds all things loosely and counts them as loss should pursuit of Christ call for them), so that He might gain (v.8) and know (v.10) Christ. “Gaining” Christ is unpacked in verse 9 as being united to Him in a saving way. “Knowing” Christ is expounded in light of the two “poles” of Christ’s experience: His resurrection and His suffering (and death)….It is under the category of “knowing” Christ, then, that Paul speaks of having fellowship with Him in His sufferings.
The word for “know” here–especially regarding interpersonal knowing–can imply an intimate and personal relationship. This is the knowing of close friends or–in a marriage context–of lovers. So, Paul seems to be saying that close, interpersonal relationship with Christ is had by knowing the power of His resurrection and fellowship of His sufferings…I think the idea here is similar to the one Paul mentions in 2 Cor.4:7-12 and again in 12:9 in relation to his “thorn in the flesh.”
Our Lord has suffered the equivalence of all affliction in Himself….the loss of loved ones, chronic pain, various gnawing cancers, the withering of old age, the dark mists of doubt, etc. etc….every corner of every valley of the shadow was traversed by the Word made Flesh in His sufferings and death on Golgotha….that is how we can have fellowship with Him–and He with us–in the midst of any suffering. BUT–He also rose again! This is where knowing the “power of His resurrection” comes into play.
Our fellowship with Christ in the midst of our suffering is not the fellowship of two hopeless mourners….rather, it is the fellowship of a profound empathy shared between the risen and coming King and His beloved people who are still–for a time–torn by the thorns of this world. He has overcome….He has overcome–sorrow, sickness, loss, fear, doubt, hopelessness–He has overcome them all, and by overcoming (ie, by the “power of His resurrection”) He has infused our present experience of these shadows with invincible hope and intimate communion…..when the suffering Christian looks to the throne, they see one who knows and can empathize with their anguish AND one who has broken through all suffering and entered into undaunted gladness…….and we, Christian, we are bound to Him, our destiny is tied to Him, our individual songs will “end”–as with His own–in joy.
So, may He grant the Church tearful, hopeful, marrow-deep communion with Himself in the midst of all her suffering (individual and corporate) as she clings with grace-given confidence to the sure power of His resurrection.