"And the fellowship of His sufferings."
The Son of God, as our Brother, willingly shared our
sorrows. So we, sons of God, are brethren of Christ, and should willingly
have fellowship with His sorrows. The apostle, instead of deprecating this,
regarded it as the highest privilege. "I count all things to be loss, for
the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord—for whom I suffered
the loss of all things, and do count them but rubbish, that I may gain
Christ—that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the
fellowship of His sufferings" (Phil. 3:7-12).
Strange that such a One should suffer; strange that any
other can wish to share the suffering; still more that such an inflicter of
suffering on Christ's friends should feel such desire! But consider what he
gained. He won Christ; he obtained "righteousness," not merely deliverance
from penalty, but a renewed nature, regulated not by law but love—conformity
to Christ Himself. He gained such knowledge of Him as includes communion,
friendship, joy—"I know whom I have believed." He experienced "the power of
His resurrection;" not mere conviction of the miraculous fact, but present
resurrection of the soul, quickened by His risen life—"God has raised us up
and made us to sit together in heavenly places with Christ Jesus;" "risen
with Him" already, "through faith of the operation of God, who raised Him
from the dead." As inseparable from all this, Paul desired "the fellowship
of His sufferings;" not as a loss set-off against the gain, but as itself
part of the gain.
Though none can share the atoning sufferings, we do, by
faith, share in the benefits they secured. But this had been already
expressed. More is meant. Paul was ready to endure similar afflictions. If
the Master was scorned, maligned, scourged, killed—the servant was willing
to endure the like, from love and loyalty. It would be a satisfaction to be
thus identified with Him. "I take pleasure in reproaches, in persecutions,
in distresses, for Christ's sake;" "always bearing about in the body the
dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest
in our body."
But these are not Christ's own sufferings. The grief in
Gethsemane has been explained as arising chiefly from holiness and love.
Love to His Father made Him grieve for dishonor done Him. Love for law
caused distress at its violation. Love towards men filled Him with grief at
their ruin and wretchedness, their alienation from God, and exposure to the
penalties of law. Jesus was "grieved for the hardness of men's hearts." He
wept over guilty and doomed Jerusalem.
Paul desired to endure such sufferings. The more he
resembled Christ the more he must necessarily have fellowship with such
sorrow. He did experience such fellowship. He "ceased not to warn everyone,
night and day, with tears." He said, "Many walk of whom I have told you
often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross
of Christ." He gladly exposed himself to persecution, while beseeching the
Gentiles to be reconciled to God. How he mourned over the unbelieving Jews!
"I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me
in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart.
For I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren's
sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites."
Have we such fellowship with Christ? Husbands and wives
are so united, that the sorrow of each is that of the other. Children and
parents, brothers, sisters, and friends, thus bear one another's burdens.
Our sins have cost Christ sorrow; do we sorrow with Him as well as for
ourselves? The Holy Spirit is "grieved;" do we grieve too for the sins of
others, for dishonor done to Christ? "Fools make a mock at sin," or regard
it with indifference, even with some interest, in works of art, books,
shows; people who would not do the same things, do not always regard them
with grief. Do we abhor the sin which cost Christ the agony of Gethsemane?
Do we share with Him in compassion for the sinner?
This "fellowship" is further illustrated by the apostle's
words in Col. 1:24—He rejoiced that "trials in his flesh" were "the
afflictions of Christ." "He is the Head of the Body, the Church" v. 6. No
part of the human body suffers without the head. Luther says—"If the toe is
hurt the countenance shows it;" and Augustine, "the Savior of the Body and
its members, are two in one flesh;" and Paul, by the Holy Spirit, "No man
ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ
also the Church; because we are members of His body," (Eph. 5:28-33); and
the Divine Head of the Church" "He who receives you, receives me." "I
was sick and in prison, and you visited me."
Thus the sorrows of believers are Christ's also. "In all
their afflictions He was afflicted." "Bruise your finger, and the brain
throbs; strike the man that is joined in Christ here, and Christ up yonder
feels it." "He who touches you, touches the apple of My eye." Paul
remembered how Christ had appealed to him, "Why are you persecuting me."
So, now, he who once persecuted Christ in His followers is comforted by
knowing that his own sufferings are those of his Lord—"The afflictions of
Christ in my flesh."
He rejoiced also that he was helping to fill up the
remainder of the suffering allotted to Christ's Body. There was nothing left
to be supplied to the one all-sufficient sacrifice for sin. He "when He had
offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of the
throne of God." But the sufferings of Christ as examples of patience, as
evidences of Divine support, as qualifications for sympathy, as preludes to
victory, are still effectual for strength and comfort; and as such are
shared by believers.
"All the tribulations of Christ's body are Christ's.
Whatever the whole Church has to suffer, even to the end, she suffers for
her perfection in holiness and her completion in Him; and the tribulations
of Christ will not be complete until the last pang shall have past, and the
last tear have been shed. Every suffering saint of God in every age and
position is, in fact, filling up, in his place and degree, the afflictions
of Christ in his flesh and on behalf of His body. Not a pang, not a tear is
in vain." (Alford.) Thus Paul said, "I rejoice to fill up, on my part, that
which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ."
He rejoiced that his sufferings were borne for the good
of others. His imprisonment at Rome spread the knowledge of Christ even in
the palace, and produced the Epistles to the Ephesians, Philippians,
Colossians, and Timothy. How precious have been the teachings of prisons,
whether at Rome or Bedford! How the Body of Christ has been nurtured and
strengthened by the endurance of martyrs!
All suffering saints thus help the Body of Christ. By
their patience, trust, and triumph, whether witnessed or read of in their
biographies, they help others to be patient, reliant, victorious. "No man
gets good out of his sorrows for himself alone. Whatever purifies and makes
gentler and more Christ-like is for the common good. We shall never
understand our sorrows unless we try to answer the question—What good to
others is meant to come through me by this? Alas that grief should so often
be self-absorbed!" (Maclaren.)
Paul said, "I endure all things for the elect's sake,
that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus, with
eternal glory." The salvation is in Christ alone, but help to faith may be
afforded by example. So again he says, "Blessed be the God of all comfort,
who comforts us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort them
that are in any affliction, through the comfort with which we ourselves are
comforted of God; for as the sufferings of Christ abound with us, even so
our comfort also abounds through Christ. But whether we be afflicted, it is
for your comfort and salvation; or whether we be comforted, it is for your
comfort, which works in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we
also suffer" (2 Cor. 1:3-6).
This fellowship with Christ was a present delight.
"Now I rejoice in my sufferings." Not in heaven, after the sufferings
had ceased; not in the palace, after the battle; not in the home, after the
journey—but now, on the rocky path, amid the fierce fight, in the fiery
furnace. He sang songs when in the stocks of the inner prison. As
"sorrowing" he was "always rejoicing." He "gloried in infirmity." He "took
pleasure in reproaches." And now, deprived of liberty to prosecute his
mission, chained day and night to a soldier, liable at any moment to be put
to death, he says, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings."
Abundant consolation is provided for afflicted believers
in such teaching and example. They need not wait, they may rejoice now;
not although, but because they suffer. "If you are reproached
for the name of Christ, happy are you." Sorrow links us to Him in fellowship
of grief. The bitterest cup should be sweetened by remembrance that
He drank it; the roughest road alluring, if He trod it; the
darkest gloom brightened, if He consecrated it.
"Is it fit that He should lead through rugged,
thorny ways—and we try to get away through flowery meadows? This is
the way we must follow, or else resolve to leave Him—the way of the Cross is
the royal way to the Crown. Reproaches for Christ, why do these fret you?
They were a part of His treatment while here. You are a partaker of His
sufferings, and in this way He is bringing you forward to the partaking
of His glory." (Leighton.) Our griefs are His. He feels them all. Let us
endure them as the "sufferings of Christ," and rejoice that thus we diminish
the sufferings of others, and hasten on the time when "there shall be no
more pain, neither sorrow, nor crying."
Let us earnestly desire fellowship with Christ in His
sorrow because of men's sin and woe. Animated by zeal for God and compassion
for sinners, let us labor as He did—to raise the fallen, comfort the sad,
and save the lost. Such sorrow for others will lighten our own load. Such
fellowship will help us even to rejoice in sufferings "in our own flesh for
His body's sake."
In actual suffering, joy is impossible except by actual
union with Christ. "Then, even when we are in the whitest heat of the
furnace, we have the Son of Man with us; and if we have Him, the fiercest
flames will burn up nothing but the chains that bind us, and we shall walk
at liberty in that terrible heat, because we walk with Him." (Maclaren.)
Thus closely in fellowship with Jesus let us remember that "if we suffer
with Him we shall also reign with Him." Therefore "rejoice inasmuch as you
are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that when His glory
shall be revealed, you may be glad also with exceeding joy."