A week or so ago, I asked the Lord what exactly is meant by “fellowship of sufferings” when it says in Philippians 30:10, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death..”
And then a few days ago my husband was telling me about an episode of Dhani Jones Tackles the Globe. Dhani Jones is a football player for the Cincinnati Bengals, who in his off time goes in search of learning sporting pastimes from all over the world and he does it all on camera for the Travel Channel.
On a recent episode, Dhani was in Nepal, where he decided to go for a little hike. His goal was to reach the summit of Kala Patthar, which is 935 feet higher than the base camp of Mt. Everest and gives the hiker a good view of the pinnacle of the world’s highest mountain. The elevation of the summit of Kala Patthar is approximately 18,000 feet. The oxygen at this level is a mere fraction of what we normally breathe, and along the way, Dhani began experiencing shortness of breath and light-headedness.
Also on the trek was a man in his 60's, who was suffering from altitude sickness and was too weak to go on. Someone needed to carry him back down the mountain. Though Dhani was extremely fatigued himself, he volunteered to carry the man. Ironically, though Dhani was having a hard time climbing the mountain on his own, he said that he felt a surge of strength as he carried the man down the mountain. He knew that he was helping to save a life.
I wonder if Jesus felt that way as he hung on the cross. He died the same agonizing death that had been endured by thousands of others. But His suffering was not for any sins He had committed, but for the sins of the entire world. And because He understood that His suffering had a great and noble purpose - to carry each one of us to safety and into eternity - He was strengthened to endure His suffering. He knew it was His Father’s will.
Everyone will suffer, but if we recognize that our suffering in Christ has a great and noble purpose, too, then we share in the fellowship of His sufferings. Knowing that God can use our suffering not only for the benefit of our own spiritual growth, but also for the benefit of others, it gives our suffering meaning.
In Christ, we can carry others on our mountains (and valleys) of suffering and be strengthened in doing so. We carry them through our trials by exampling the peace and joy of Christ, especially to unbelievers; we learn greater compassion for others who are suffering and so are able to give comfort where we have received comfort; we gain wisdom that we can pass on to others who are experiencing similar circumstances; and God uses our circumstances of suffering in the lives of others in ways that we won't even see or understand this side of heaven.
When we recognize that our suffering is not just for suffering’s sake (and hopefully not because we are reaping the consequences of our own sin), but that because we are in Christ it has a grander purpose than just for ourselves and what we can see at the moment, then we share in Christ's sufferings. And as we fellowship, or partner, with Christ in suffering with a purpose, we will be strengthened to carry on with courage in our various trials knowing that they, too, will be used to the glory of the Father in the grand scheme of His perfect will.
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)