Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Share in His Sufferings (Part II)

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Romans 8:16-17

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:7-11

These two passages make me think of college and of my friends who joined fraternities. All moral issues about hazing aside, the suffering that they endured together as pledges moved them from strangers to brothers. They shared an experience with one another that no one else could understand. They suffered together and relied on one another to get through it. And because of that they became close friends.

I’m not condoning hazing, by the way. I only bring it up to say what fraternities and sororities have known for a long time: suffering affects our relationships in powerful ways. This is especially true of our relationship with God. Suffering either draws us nearer to Him in sweet fellowship or it drives a wedge of bitterness between us. Very rarely, does suffering leave our relationship with God unaffected.

There are many questions surrounding suffering that I don’t know the answer to, but the one thing I am confident of is that at the end of the day we decide how we respond to it. No matter how tragic our suffering may be, we choose whether it will strengthen or harm our relationship with God.

One choice that helps us draw nearer to God in times of suffering is to avoid thinking that we are suffering for Jesus and instead consider ourselves as suffering with Jesus. This may seem like semantics but there is a big difference between suffering for Christ and suffering with Him. Certainly, the Bible says that we will suffer for Christ, but even in those times we can choose to fellowship with Christ in our suffering.

That’s what Paul is talking about in Philippians 3:10 where he is bold enough to say that he “wants to know… the fellowship of sharing in [Christ’s] sufferings.” Why does he say this? What does Paul mean by the fellowship of Christ’s suffering? Simply put, there is a level of relationship that can only be attained through shared suffering. Like hazing in fraternities, Paul wants the closeness that comes from sharing suffering with his Savior. By sharing Christ’s sufferings we learn more about Him and we learn to rely on His strength for our deliverance.

In Romans 8:17 the Greek word for “suffering” clearly indicates that we must suffer with Jesus if we are to be glorified with Him. Of course, this isn’t exactly a popular idea. We don’t like suffering. In fact, many people in our society have been made rich by inventing gadgets that remove any hint of inconvenience from our lives. But Paul makes clear that it is only those who have suffered with Christ who share in His glory. And, it is only those who have suffered with Him that can say along with Paul, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” There is a greater knowledge of Christ to be found in his shared suffering, but only those who are willing to endure the suffering will receive that blessing.

How do we suffer with Christ then? Are we supposed to ask God to make us suffer? Certainly not! In this world, we all suffer enough. It’s more a matter of choosing to walk with Christ through suffering when it comes. And remember Christ’s suffering extended past the cross. We don’t have to be martyred for our faith to suffer with Christ (although that would be the highest form of suffering with Him). Christ also suffered in the following ways:
  • He was rejected and despised by men and religious leaders.
  • He suffered temptation at the hand of the devil.
  • He suffered the loss of His possessions and comforts for the sake of His ministry.
  • He suffered the terrible loneliness of knowing that even His closest family and friends didn’t understand what He had come to do.
  • He was openly ridiculed and embarrassed.
  • He was assigned a place with the wicked.
  • He agonizingly surrendered His fate to God the Father in the garden of Gethsemane.
Anytime we suffer in the above ways that He suffered then we are actually participating in the sufferings of Christ. And when we are rejected because we proclaim the name of Christ, then we are quite literally suffering with Him. But what is more any suffering or pain that we are confronted with in life offers us an opportunity to know God more, to draw closer to Him. Anytime we suffer we can surrender it to Christ and ask Him to use it for His will, for His glory and for our good.

Certainly we can’t avoid suffering. It is inevitable in this world. But our God is good enough to offer us a blessing even in the face of the worst suffering and that blessing is knowing Him more. The question is, will you turn to Him when suffering comes? And will you proclaim His name knowing that it increases your risk of suffering with Him?

For further reading this week check out…
- II Corinthians 1:5- Our suffering matched by His comfort.
- I Peter 4:13- Pretty much all of I Peter 4.

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