"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."

Not alone in lull of tempest,
 Not when viewing grief afar;
Waiting not until heavenly glory
 Wipes the tear and gilds the scar—

Now we joy in tribulation;
 Christ is with us in the flame;
All our sorrow He is sharing;
 Now we triumph in His Name.

Every ailment of the Body
 Centers in the living Head;
Shared are all His servants' trials
 By the Lord who for them bled.

Every grief of ours is helping
 Christ's afflictions to complete;
Hastening on the consummation
 When all saints in glory meet.

Joy we then in tribulation,
 Furnace moulds for use the ore;
Better far than fruitless comfort
 Pain that fits for service more.
—Newman Hall

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