That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death;
It seems an awful wish that any mortal should dare to aspire to share the sufferings of the Man of sorrows; stranger still when we remember the actual sufferings of that mortal; stranger still that He should tell us to wish it for ourselves.
I. THE NATURE OF THIS FELLOWSHIP.
1. It is not any imitation of Christ's sufferings. Paul might have had them as had the impenitent thief, without any fellowship with Christ. We, too, may suffer beside Christ without suffering with Him.
2. The sufferings of Christ were peculiarly His own. Every heart knows its own bitterness.
(1) We shall not find them in the outward circumstances of His life. There have been more painful lives and agonizing deaths than His.
(2) We see their intensity in the fact that Christ's life was perfectly holy. He loved God perfectly in a world where God was not loved, where His law was broken, and His name defamed. And remember He saw iniquity as none else could see it; and yet He loved the men whose sin He loathed, and because He loved them He bore the awful burden of their sin.
(3) In this our Lord's life followed a universal law. It is a law of organic life, that the lowest form of it has least power of suffering; the highest form of it most. The eye that is the quickest to see beauty is most pained by deformity; the ear that most loves harmony is most pained by discord. But give a spiritual eye that loves the beauty of holiness; a spiritual ear that loves the harmony of righteousness, and place them in the midst of disorder and evil, and you have a nature that, just because it is perfect, must be sorrowful.
3. Now we see what is meant by this fellowship. Paul wished to be raised in the scale of being, and he knew that he could not have Christ's holiness without Christ's sadness, His grace without His grief. Such must be the law of our life. If we would come nearer Christ we must have His sufferings. You may escape them, but only by descending in the scale of being, just as a deaf man escapes the pain of discord, the palsied the pain of touch.
4. Is this a gloomy view of religion? Yes, to those who have mistaken what religion is, to the selfish, the cowardly, and the slothful, whose religion is only a device for getting to heaven as comfortably as they can.
II. ITS REWARD.
1. Those who share the pains of Christ are entitled to His joys. The same capacity for pain that marks the highest nature also shows its capacity for pleasure. The joy of Christ was in the love He bore His Father, although that also made His grief. If He grieved that the world had not known His Father, it was joy to Him to gather those to whom He taught the Father's love. If it was grief to the Good Shepherd to see the sheep wandering, it was joy to bring it back to the fold. And for this joy He endured the cross. And it may be our joy to do likewise, and to have the brighter fellowship even in the meanness of your toil.
2. In every pain you endure for Christ there is a prophecy of the glory that you shall yet share with Christ. God has made nothing for pain. For every creature God has provided its proper element, and for every desire its lawful gratification. If, then, God has made a new creature in Christ Jesus, He has provided for it an element and gratification for its spiritual desires. The plant that struggles toward the light testifies that light is its proper element; the captive eagle that spreads its wings in vain testifies that its proper home is in the broad fields of air. And when the soul of the Christian pines for the light, and its wings of faith and hope spread themselves, unable to bear him to the home he loves, it is a certain proof that there is a light, a freedom, and a blessedness in the place our Lord has gone to prepare, and he welcomes the pain as preparing him for the place.
Parallel VersesKJV: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;