The Fellowship of Suffering

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, June 28, 2012 0 comments

Doesn't that title just make you want to jump for joy? I mean, who in their right mind would actually desire suffering? Well, in a sense, no one does. And, in another sense, we all do. I would argue that we certainly don't long for suffering, but we do in fact long for the "fellowship" of suffering. The Apostle Paul certainly did. "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in death" (Philippians 3:10). This verse is the basis for our understanding of how to find peace and comfort in the midst of even the most trying of circumstances.

Katie did an excellent job in Monday's blog of introducing our Word of the Week and emphasizing FELLOWSHIP as truly sharing life together, the good and the bad. For whatever reason, the Lord immediately brought the above verse to my mind when I thought about the word "fellowship". It may be because it's hard to think about any other truth in the gospel that is as crucial to our lives and as relevant to people of all ages and cultures as this one. It's just like the old saying "misery loves company". If you think about it, it's so true! Why do you think groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and other support groups are so popular? Whether you call it a "disease" or you call it sin, there is something comforting about knowing you can walk into a room and interact with complete strangers who are enduring the same struggle as you. Knowing that there are others who understand makes a big difference. There are support groups for victims of just about every addiction, infirmity, and crime there is. Beyond these groups, people generally look for a close friend or family member who can understand what they are going through just to ease their pain. The truth is, no painful circumstance is as bad as feeling like you must face that circumstance all alone. I was reminded of this just today. A female Christian friend of mine called me to ask me to share with her the story of God's grace in my life and how I overcame the breakup of my engagement to my then-fiance about a year ago, and then shared with me that she is now going through a very similar time of trial. A male Christian friend of mine did the same thing about 3 weeks ago. While their circumstances may seem unbearable to them, nothing is worse than feeling like no one understands and nothing is more comforting than knowing you are not all alone in your struggle.

For Paul, his most important fellowship with Christ was in "sharing in his sufferings". Paul talked about it quite a bit throughout his letters. Why was this so important to him you might ask? Well, if there was ever a Christian other than Jesus himself who knew what it was like to suffer for his faith, it was Paul. He wrote most of his letters, including the one to the Christians in Philippi quoted briefly above, while in prison. He was severely flogged often, deprived of food, sought after by authorities who wanted to kill him, and more. For the Apostle Paul, suffering was as common as breathing. I think it's fair to say that he probably would've given up the fight and not finished the race without the hope of knowing that his suffering brought him closer to fellowship with Christ than any of us have ever been.

So how can we know the fellowship of sharing in Christ's sufferings in America in 2012 when we don't suffer in the same way that Paul did? Well, to tell the truth, we must take the same attitude toward Christ that we do toward others whom we feel might "understand" what we are going through. We know the fellowship of sharing in each other's sufferings, but rarely realize that no one has more credibility in that area than Jesus, the Great High Priest himself. Check out this amazing verse from Hebrews 4 and I urge you to go there and read the verses around it as well: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). You and I might be able to share in CERTAIN sufferings, but cannot relate in others. Jesus, however, can share in every single suffering you have ever had or ever will have. We hear that word "tempted" and only think about the temptation to sin. But the Greek word there can also mean "tried" or "tested". In other words, Jesus can understand every trying circumstance you go through. If you don't believe it, read the gospels. He knows what it's like to be deserted by close friends and family members, go through unbearable physical pain, be publicly mocked and humiliated, be falsely accused, and much more. Only in a relationship with Jesus will you find someone who can share in every suffering you are asked to endure. If you have known that relationship, I encourage you to take comfort in whatever trial you are presently enduring. If you have never known Jesus in that way, I invite you to freely enter into the fellowship with the only One who will always know what you are going through and will comfort and guide you through all trying circumstances.