“Sharing in Suffering” Philippians 3:10 November 8, 2015
Suffering Church Awareness Week Sermon #2
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
Have you been suffering? And if you have, do you feel that no one really understands your pain, your hurts? Are your sufferings causing your heart to sink and your faith in God to run low?
Is the number one cry of your heart, “Lord, give me relief! Ease my sufferings?”
What about the suffering of our brothers and sisters who are homeless, imprisoned, tortured and abducted because of their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? How strange then that the apostle Paul writes in Phil. 3:10: “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…”
What did Paul understand about suffering that we don’t? The subject of suffering is too large to cover in one sermon, but I want us to understand three major aspects of suffering in the Bible:
1. Christ’s Suffering was Unique, One-Way, and Redemptive.
Look at Isaiah 53:4-6 “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Notice the continuous flow of the action: It is the suffering servant, the Messiah, who took our infirmities, who carried our sorrows, who was pierced for our transgressions, who was crushed for our iniquities, who was punished to bring us peace; who was wounded in order to heal us, and so forth. He did all the heavy lifting, and we received the benefit of his suffering and death.
Christ’s suffering on a cross was unique, for only a perfectly righteous man could be acceptable to the Father as a sacrifice for sinful man.
Christ’s suffering was one-way, for He did all the work; we simply received the blessings of His suffering and death on our behalf. There was nothing we did for Him.
Christ’s suffering was redemptive; that is, it served as an atoning sacrifice for us, not as an example or as a tragic martyr figure. As Mark 10:45 puts it: “For the Son of Man (came) to give his life as a ransom for many.”
You can’t “Offer up” your sufferings and your pain to God, and ask God to somehow use it to relieve the penalty for your sins…or the sins of others, in a form of penance. No way.
You can’t add to Christ’s Unique, One-Way, Redemptive Sufferings, with your good works.
You can’t subtract from Christ’s Unique, One-Way, Redemptive Sufferings
You can only be an unworthy guest at Christ’s lavish banquet of salvation, all paid for by the finished, once-for-all atoning work of Christ upon the cross and in His resurrection. You’ve got to understand and believe this truth about suffering before you go on to anything else about suffering. Does this truth grip your heart?
At the same time, there is another aspect to Christ’s sufferings that we can be part of:
2. Christ and His Disciples Share in Each Others Suffering.
Christians are called upon to endure sufferings for the sake of Christ; we are to expect to be persecuted for His name’s sake. But when we suffer for Christ, we are also sharing in His sufferings, and He is sharing in our sufferings! You see, since we are mystically united with Christ, we share in the afflictions of the Suffering Servant. This is different from the unique, one-way redemptive sufferings of Christ for us, there is also a two-way solidarity of Christ and Christians in our suffering. Let’s see both directions of this two-way communion in suffering:
A. Christ Shares in Our Suffering.
Acts 9:3-5 “As he (Saul) neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.
Saul thinks he’s on the Lord’s side, persecuting these heretical followers of this cult leader, Jesus, when the Lord stops him cold and tells him that in persecuting these followers of Jesus, he’s actually been persecuting Jesus! What does that tell us about our pain, our loss, and our tears, when enemies of the gospel attack us? It tells us that Jesus shares in our pain, our loss, and our sorrows! It tells us that as our Head, He feels every slander, every injustice, and every loss we endure, for the gospel, because we are His body. Augustine put it this way: “It was the Head in heaven crying out on behalf of the members who were still on earth.”
Look at Zech. 2:8 “For whoever touches you (His people) touches the apple of his eye.”
The Lord is using intimate imagery here, one that he borrows from Deut. 32:10 “He guarded him as the apple of his eye,” and from Psalm 17:8 “Keep me as the apple of your eye.”
Two different Hebrew words are used here to describe the pupil of the eye, [One is the “Little man” and the other is the word for gate or door], with the pupil of the eye being perhaps the most sensitive and vulnerable part of our bodies, and with an amazing mechanism to protect itself by a super sensitive eyelid.
So God is telling us that we are so precious to him, that we are like the pupil of His eye, and that he feels all the suffering and pain and persecution that we experience.
As Hebrews 4:15-16 reminds us: “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. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
While Jesus’ redemptive sufferings are finished, His high priestly sufferings continue. He sympathizes with us as we struggle, so that He is able to help us with true compassion in our time of need. What a blessing to know this, when we suffer for Christ!
B. We Share in Christ’s Suffering.
Here we come back to Phil. 3:10: “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…”
Was this desire to share in Christ’s suffering unique to Paul and the apostles? No, for we read in Rom. 8:17 that: “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.”
So this idea of sharing in Christ’s suffering, in a non-redemptive way, is the norm for all believers. Paul tells us that suffering for Christ is the path to glory. It was true for the Head of the church; it is also for the church, His body. The essence of discipleship is union with Christ, and this means identification with him in both his sufferings and his glory.
For just as the Messiah was known by His path of suffering – and is still recognized by the nail prints in his glorified body- so too, we, His people, are to be recognized by the sufferings we endure. Just as some war veterans are recognized by their battle scars, so too, believers will be known by the suffering we have endured.
But we are not merely imitating Christ; we are incorporated into His life.
1 Pet. 4:12-14 also speaks of the blessing of sharing in Christ’s suffering: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
Peter tells us four things about our sharing in Christ’s suffering:
One, suffering for/with Christ should be the expected norm, not the great exception.
Two, suffering for/with Christ is a refining fire, (“painful trial”), meant to strength us.
Three, the more we suffer for/with Christ, the more we will rejoice with Christ.
Four, our suffering for/with Christ is a confirmation that we are Christ’s.
Each of these truths is based on the principle that our suffering for Christ finds its meaning in Christ’s suffering with/for us. His suffering had a glorious and joyful purpose, and therefore, in Christ, our suffering can also have meaning, purpose, and will lead to joy and glory!
So Christ shares in our suffering, and we share in Christ’s suffering.
3. Believers Share in Each Other’s Suffering for Christ
There are various degrees of mutual sharing for believers when Christians suffer:
The first is an intellectual awareness of this suffering:
1 Peter 5:9 “Resist him (Satan), standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
When Christians in the Middle East suffer for their faith in Christ, we can know about it, and that can help us resist Satan in our struggles, because we know we are all in this spiritual battle together. And that’s good and helpful for all of us.
But there’s another kind of mutual sharing in suffering that goes way beyond that:
Heb. 10:32-34 “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.”
Do you see what those believers did?
They stood side by side with those who were persecuted; they sympathized and publicly identified with those in prison,
Therefore they themselves were persecuted, and as a result,
all their property and goods were confiscated…
and they joyfully accepted that loss! Wow!
Do you remember last Sunday’s sermon from Matt. 25, about visiting those in prison? That’s what these Christians did: they openly identified with the believers who had been put in prison for their faith in Jesus, and therefore they themselves were persecuted, and all their property was confiscated by the enemies of the gospel. And they accepted all that “joyfully!”
Brothers and sisters, it takes a lot of courage and faith to let your light shine before a world that may not want to see it.
Where does that courage come from? Well, you need to live loosely to your possessions, to be willing to suffer for and with Christ.
And it comes from cherishing Christ and the reward of heaven more than our life and our possessions on earth.
So here’s the question: are you willing to let them go, for the sake of Christ and his joy? If you are, then you will gladly identify with the suffering church, and joyfully sacrifice to help them.
Back to Phil. 3:10, where we started. Now it makes sense.
Romans 8:17 “We are His children and heirs of God, if we share in His suffering… and His glory!”