While we all as Christians are probably well aware of the horrendous suffering that Jesus endured while hanging upon that old rugged tree two thousand years ago, we rarely ever contemplate the suffering that Jesus was subjected to throughout his entire life. John remarked of him that he came unto the world, a world that he himself had made, and yet the world didn't even know him. Alas, he came unto the house of Israel, his very own people, and they likewise knew him not. It is surely a devastating experience to endure a denial of acknowledgement or acceptance from your very own family. Even Jesus own hometown of Nazareth was filled with wrath against him for his claiming to be the fulfillment of prophetic scripture. The Nazarenes literally threw him out of town. Jesus was deserted by many of his disciples, (John 6:66) leaving him only with the twelve. On more than one occasion Jesus had to flee across to the eastern side of Jordan to escape conspiratorial plots against his life. (John 10:39-40 and John 11:39-40) Matthew chapter eight reveals that Jesus didn't even have the convenience of having a decent place to sleep at night. It would seem that his birth in the stable manger was much more of a comfortable lodging than Jesus would ever acquire outside of the home that Joseph and Mary provided.
Isaiah (Isaiah 53) depicted Jesus as being a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. He was a man that was despised and lowly esteemed. Jesus was a man of sorrows! What was his great sorrow? Why was Jesus so overwhelmingly acquainted with grief?
The grief and sorrow that Jesus endured throughout his life, as he lived with the object of his earthly mission of propitiation always in view, is further evidence of the burden of his great love. The love that Jesus Christ felt for a lost and dying world literally broke his heart. Love can sometimes cause us sorrow and grief. Any one that has been madly in love, and experienced the heartache of having their love rejected can easily attest to the reality that love can really hurt. John relates that during the ordeal of Jesus crucifixion, that water mixed with blood poured out from the sac surrounding Jesus heart when the legionnaire used a lance to pierce Jesus side. This fact is compelling medical evidence that Jesus died not from the suffocation that is common with crucifixion, but rather that Jesus actually died of a broken heart! The love with which Jesus was consumed was a love that hurt. It hurt because Jesus knew that many people would reject his ultimate sacrifice. (John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for a friend)
And yet, Jesus, with the foreknowledge of the price that his love demanded, consented to offer himself as the manifest demonstration of God's love! Then he related to all those that would thereafter follow him these words:
John 15:17-21 These things I command you, that ye love one another. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me.
Thus when we come to the knowledge of the Grace of God's manifest love-propitiation for our sins, and take up the cross and follow Jesus, we discover that we are joined unto the “fellowship of his suffering”. Have you ever considered the reality of belonging to a fellowship? The word “fellowship” means to be a participating partner. I am sure that you have heard of groups that carry a name with the word fellowship included, such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and so forth. The Greek word for fellowship is “koinonia”. It basically means to participate in the personal and social intercourse of communicating the love of Christ, while being subjected to the hatred of a world that knows not God. The Apostle Paul attests to the unique spiritual phenomena of fellowshipping in suffering for the Lord in his writings to his fellow Christians at Philippi.
Philippians 3:8-10 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and “the fellowship of his sufferings”, being made conformable unto his death;
As recorded in Acts chapter 28, Paul was imprisoned by Rome about the years 60-63AD when he wrote to the Christians at Philippi. Since he was a Roman citizen, he was probably held in Caesar's palace or a Roman governor's royal guardhouse. The city of Philippi was located in Macedonia, or what today is the nation of Greece about 20 miles east of Thessalonica, and about 150 miles north of Athens.
Paul writes to his fellow servants at Philippi and recounts to them the extreme joy and contentment in the knowledge of having Jesus Christ as his savior. Paul remarks that everything else in this world is completely without value when compared to knowing the saving grace of the Lord. His account is squarely in agreement with Christ penetrating question when he asked; “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26, Mark 8:36, Luke 9:25) To have anything in this world and have not Christ as savior is the ultimate in vanity. Paul says that he counts the loss of all his worldly goods as but the loss of dung, since he discovered that his faith in Christ is a reward many times over more precious than earthly wealth. Paul was exuberant about knowing Jesus! He was absolutely ecstatic about what the powerful miracle of Jesus resurrection meant for him! The power exhibited by Christ's resurrection
was a miracle that demonstrated unequivocally to Paul the reality that through his own faith in Christ, Paul could rest assured that he likewise would be resurrected from the dead.
But Paul didn't conclude his comments to the Philippians without making a mention of the fact that as fellow believers in Christ, and co-workers in carrying the Gospel of Christ to others, they also would experience the same love-pains that Christ felt. And that because the world hated Christ and rejected his love, that the world would also harshly injure us in our efforts to share that good news. After all, as Jesus himself stated; “the world first hated me, therefore it will hate you also.”
With this fact in mind, Paul warns his fellow laborers in the faith to be aware of any concision (mutilation of doctrine) in the faith, and to beware of dogs or false teachers, and to be stalwart in the defense of the true Gospel. Paul's admonition to his fellow servants reminds them that there are many enemies of the cross. He exhorts them to stand fast amidst the sufferings of their labors, and to remember that they can endure all things through Christ, because he will strengthen them.
1 Peter 4:13-14 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.
Peter concurred with Paul that as fellow laborers, we are actually fellow-shippers, or partakers of Christ's suffering. Peter considered such worldly antagonism to be nothing more than a badge of honor. He calculated that the sufferings that he had to endure for the cause of Christ produced within his soul a spiritual sense of happiness. He was happy to be reproached for the sake of Christ, rather than to compromise the truth of Christ and be praised by men. He exulted in knowing that the Spirit of glory strengthened him and abided about him, and endowed him with unspeakable joy when he was resolute in his soul as he stood fast for Christ.
1 Peter 4:16 Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.
1 Peter 3:17 For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.
As a believer in Christ, and as a participating partner in the work of the cross, many Christians will at times face persecution, threatening situations, railing accusations, and trials. But Paul instructed his fellow laborers to rejoice in the Lord, and never be intimidated or disheartened by the perpetrators of evil.
1 Peter 3:14 But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;
Peter, like Paul was a participating partner in the “fellowship of Christ's suffering”.
They were so emboldened in their love for Jesus Christ, and his miraculous work on Calvary that they actually considered it a pleasure to demonstrate through adversity, their unswerving testimony of Christ's love and power. They relished the prospect being subjected to reproach for Christ, or enduring affliction, for to them was more prestigious and rewarding than to accumulate the accolades of mankind and all the fortune that the world could ever bestow upon them. Peter and Paul, and all Christians who are truly “yoke-fellows” of the “Fellowship of Christ's suffering” have truly bought the message of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5:10-12 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.)
Hebrews 11:25-26 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.
II Timothy 3:12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
Let there be no misunderstanding about suffering. Many people think that upon becoming a follower of Christ that all their troubles will end, and that they will embark upon a lifetime of worldly bliss. Many preachers often extol the mistaken notion relative to promises associated with a positive thinking gospel, or success oriented lifestyle just because you are a Christian. But this philosophy is wholly unrelated to the love and mission of Jesus. The moment one becomes a Christian, in essence you have actually become an enemy of the world. Furthermore, the more spiritually attuned that you become to the reality of the truth of God's word, you will find that spiritual enemies abound all around you. Jesus told people to take up his cross and follow him. Upon taking up the mantle of Christ's leadership in your life, and assuming the cause of the cross, you will find opposition as long as you are in the world. While Christians are in this world, they will almost certainly endure affliction, persecution, and rejection! Paul's fellow laborer Timothy conveyed that reality. But Timothy conveyed a thought even more astonishing.
II Timothy 2:12 If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:
Timothy speaks of the fact that as members of the fellowship of his suffering, that we will exult more exuberantly in reigning with Jesus when he comes, because we have experienced the agony of contending for the faith, and labored undauntedly against the powers of darkness in this present world, while demonstrating the love of Christ to the world. Victory is always sweet. Having played on many ball teams as a young man, I can testify to you that it was always more exhilarating to be a participating player celebrating a victory than it was to simply join in the celebration after sitting on the sidelines watching the other players pull out a hard earned win. And oh the thrill of getting a game winning hit! Of course, it will be an unimaginable joy just to enter into Heaven, but for the joy of joys, it will undoubtedly be an unfathomable thrill to enter the glory of God having experienced the fellowship of his suffering. Having suffered with him, it shall be all the more rewarding when we are able to reign with him!
1 Timothy 4:10 For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.
II Thessalonians 1:4-6 So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you;
God will one day recompense suffering upon all those who reject the love of Christ. That is the unfortunate high price of refusing to accept the gift of God's only begotten son. And too, God will avenge all those who have mutilated his word, and will also avenge all the ungodly deeds committed against his suffering fellowship. (Rev. 6:10)
Philippians 1:29 For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;
The Fellowship of His suffering is an exclusive group. Christian martyrs have dotted the entire landscape of the Church age. All but one of the Disciples suffered martyrdom.
Sanding fast for the faith has attracted the arrows of Satanic onslaught down through the centuries, and it remains so even today. In these Last Days when the church of Jesus Christ is experiencing the spiritual reality of Laodiceanism, (lukewarmness and compromise) the fellowship of His sufferers sometimes seems to be a lonely club. Often it seems that the church has capitulated, and resolved to ease back from the high standard
of defending the faith that was established by the resolute “yoke-fellows” at Philippi, and Thessalonica, and many other bulwarks of Christian evangelization. God has also promised that he would not permit our burdens in this world to become more than we could possibly bare. With God, all things are possible, and his Spirit resides continually within us to sustain us in our endeavors on his behalf.
1 Corinthians 10:13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
Regardless of the consequences of laboring in an alien world and enduring things that a Christian so frequently suffers for Christ's sake, it will all be worth it someday. The sorrows of this present age will not tarnish the glorious splendor and eternal joy that a yoke-fellow of Christ will enjoy when Jesus appears to take us home to be with him forevermore. Our consolation abounds in the wondrous love that Jesus has bestowed upon us. Even while we were yet strangers, Jesus loved us and, and compels onward to extend that love by sharing his love with other wayfaring strangers of the cross.
Romans 8:17-18 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
II Corinthians 1:3-10 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is steadfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.
As laborers for Christ, we need to realize that our reward is not to be expected while we are in this world. The Christian hath need to exercise great patience in the work of the master, and maintain full confidence that having done the perfect will of the Lord, that he shall be rewarded many times over for his faithful laboring when the Lord comes. Jesus has requested all of his followers to take up his cross. In light of the fact that he said, “if I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me”, it is an incomparable labor of love that all yoke-fellows of the cross should burden themselves with.
Luke 9:23 And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
Matthew 10:38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
Matthew 11:29-30 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Jesus commanded his followers to take his “Yoke” (zugos) upon them. By taking up the yoke, Christians are bonded together in the Fellowship of His suffering. A yoke makes Christians members of a team through a spiritual bond of coupling. Yoke-fellows are bound in loving servitude under the watchful protection of the Holy Spirit.
Paul, Timothy, Peter, and all the faithful yoke-fellows of the early church learned that even amidst their suffering for the Lord, they enjoyed the yoke of Christ. They were all in one accord that contentment with Godliness was their greatest gain!
1 Timothy 6:6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.
Philippians 4:11 Not that I speak in respect of want:
for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
Paul and Timothy's convictions about godliness and contentment, in whatever state they had to endure, is the strongest evidence that they were participating members of the Fellowship of His (Jesus) Suffering!