A Word from Pastor David…
The Fellowship of His Sufferings
Where the End Justifies the Means
By David White
“that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection of the dead” (Phil 3:10-11)
First century believers were exhorted to rejoice “that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). They were not to “marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you” (I Jn 3:13). As Cain, “who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother…, because his works were evil and his brothers were righteous” (I Jn 3:12), they expected some to arise who would want to do to them as Cain did to Abel.
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…” (Matt 10:28).
Each of the original apostles eventually became a martyr for their faith. According to secular and church historians, James the Apostle was beheaded around 36 AD. Thomas was slain with a spear while on a missionary journey in India. Simon was crucified. Mark the evangelist was tied up and burned, while Bartholomew was beaten with a whip, eventually dying from the wounds.
Andrew was threatened and warned to not preach or teach about Christ and the resurrection. He testified he would not have preached the glory of the cross if he feared death on the cross. He was then crucified. Matthew was arrested in Ethiopia and staked to the ground with spears then beheaded. Matthias, who was chosen to replace Judas was stoned and beheaded, while Philip was stoned and crucified.
Peter was so broken by his earlier denial of his Lord that when sentenced to death by crucifixion, he requested being crucified upside down to avoid any comparison bringing further shame. According to historians his request was granted.
Jesus told His disciples they would be hated, rejected, betrayed, and persecuted. He stressed how their persecution would even come from within their own household.
“a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.” “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt 10:36-37).
Some would be imprisoned and martyred, just as many had been before them. Jesus never told those who followed Him that life would be easy but that it would be costly.
“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses His life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35).
The calling of genuine Christianity was not to popularity or prosperity but persecution and suffering. “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil 1:29).
The New Testament Model for Suffering
Suffering defined is to undergo or experience what is inevitable or unavoidable. Facing such was true for all who would live out their faith before a world that was hostile to anyone who followed Jesus.
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18).
Paul encouraged Timothy to continue in the things he had learned and been assured of. After testifying of the persecutions and afflictions he endured, Paul reminded him how “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (see II Tim 3:12-14).
Referencing the fellowship of His sufferings, Paul suggests how he did not want to avoid anything that would allow him to experience true koinonia, (communion, fellowship) with the Lord. He was convinced that any unavoidable personal suffering would be well worth it in the end. Paul wrote, “if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:11).
In examining Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we discover some conclusions in his mission to know the Lord in the power of His resurrection.
First, Paul maintained an attitude of thankfulness, intercession, and joy. “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine, making request for you all with joy” (Phil 1:3-4).
Regardless of changing circumstances, the Word was unchangeable! “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8) While confined Paul remembered his Lord’s prayer, “that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (Jn 15:11). This was not merely theory but the truth by which he would stand in unthinkable circumstances.
Second, Paul emphasized how all who followed the Lord were to remain, “confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).
Paul was convinced that it was not what God was doing with or through him but what He was doing in him that mattered most. Christ being “formed in you” (Gal 4:19) was the priority and Paul was confident God would complete that work until the end.
Next, Paul understood that the advancement of the gospel would not stop by what happened to him personally. He declared, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel,” (Phil 1:12)
Paul was more confident in the power of the gospel than in any weakness in his flesh or demonic resistance. If it’s true, “we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth” (II Cor 13:8) who then among Satan’s hordes can accomplish such a feat? Paul believed truth was always greater than lies and light would always dispel darkness.
“Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end” (Is 9:7).
Fourth, Paul believed his captivity was not the result of man but was part of God’s plan. He wrote, “my chains are in Christ” (Phil 1:13).
“Therefore, let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (I Pet 4:19). How could someone with this much confidence in the will of God at work in him ever see himself as a captive to any system on earth?
Fifth, Paul wrote, “and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Phil 1:14).
Fearful men and women produce fear in the hearts of other men and women. Yet courage witnessed in danger produces the same in the hearts of those who could otherwise be in fear. As fear can be a weapon of mass destruction, fearlessness in the face of suffering can be a weapon of massive kingdom construction.
Finally, Paul’s highest goal was not merely to live, (see Phil 1:20-21), but that Christ be magnified whether he lived or not. His greatest desire was to know the Lord in the power of His resurrection and to do that he had to know Him in the fellowship of His sufferings. In this the end justified the means.
“The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him that we may also be glorified together” (Rom 8:16-17).