I never quite understood what Paul meant when he said in Philippians 3:10, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of his suffering, being conformed to His death”. “In the fellowship of His suffering”? What exactly does that mean?
When we fellowship with others, we’re enjoying their company and often partake in some group activity and/or experience. Maybe you’ve fellowshipped around someone’s birthday or watched a game or TV show of some sort. The foundation of the gathering was not in what was being viewed, but being able to partake in the comradery and bond each individual shared with one another. That is fellowship.
So when the scripture talks about Christ in the fellowship of His suffering, it’s referring to us being in a position where we can empathize with Christ. Christ’s suffering had nothing to do with what He did wrong, and neither was it His consequence. Instead, it was a burden he carried that was placed on Him by others. He was sent by God to carry this burden, and although he struggled with it by asking the cup to pass, He quickly accepted the burden by saying, “Not my will, but let Your will be done”. Through His obedience, he was able to “destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).
This leads me to you. What suffering or burden has the Lord put upon you? What weight are you carrying that is not your own, but instead was given to you because the owner of it was not capable of carrying it? Or has someone wronged you and has hurt you to the core? Is the burden/suffering placed on you so heavy that you can barely move and are not sure how you’re going to get through it?
If any of those questions struck a nerve, great! You’re right where God needs you to be. We often talk about wanting to know the mind of God, and few of us are brave enough to ask for His heart. But can you truly handle His heart? Sure, we want the warms and fuzzies. We want the compassion for humanity and the optimistic belief that people are good deep down inside. Well, there is another side of God’s heart. The side that withstands backsliding. The side that is often told He’s not powerful or capable of changing bleak situations. And then there’s the side that’s often wounded by our rejection. Every time we reject Him, He thinks about what He took His son through for our sake. When we experience these same feelings of rejection and doubt, that’s fellowship in His suffering.
Like a social gathering, our suffering draws us closer to God and teaches us other ways we can lean on Him for support. You may know Him as a keeper, but do you know Him as a way maker? Your current suffering may require you to call on the Healer. Or maybe you need strength. Or is it a miracle? Regardless of what your need is, He has it. Fellowshipping through suffering also gives us a greater appreciation for what His son did for us on that cross. And just imagine that the suffering and burden you feel is only a portion of what He had to bear. So the moral of the story is this – your burden/suffering is not intended to take you out. No, instead, this is an opportunity for you to get closer to the Father. Think of it as a special invitation to understanding His heart.