The past two Lord’s Days, our congregation has been considering what the apostle had in mind when he declared his heart’s longing, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil. 3:10).
What does the apostle mean by “know”? The word means to know personally by experience; it denotes personal relationship. To have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ requires both a one-time experience—that is when the relationship begins—and an ongoing experience—whereby the relationship never stops growing.
Last week, we considered the first part of his longing; that is, to know the power of His resurrection. This week, we thought about the second aspect, “that I may…share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Becoming like Christ was the apostle’s longing because he knew that this was also God’s will for him. Romans 8:28 teaches that God is God is working all things together for "good" for believers (v. 28). This is a wonderful truth; however, we often stop there. The next verse expands our understanding by defining "the good" as being conformed to Christ. This is God's purpose and goal for every believer.
Knowing this is God’s will for every believer, it is crucial for us to recognize suffering as an instrument in the hands of God to cause us to grow in our relationship with Christ so that we may know Him more deeply and be more useful in His work. Therefore, let’s think about three ways suffering helps to make us like Christ.
Here are the main points from Sunday’s sermon, which you can use for personal Bible study this week.
- Suffering helps to make us like Christ by assaulting our pride in order to produce humility.
In Philippians, we are called to put on humility, to have the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:3-5, also Col. 3:10). Jesus is humble and, therefore, part of making us like Christ is the Spirit’s work of using suffering to humble us. Read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 to see how God did that for the apostle.
- Suffering helps to make us like Christ by exposing the hidden, controlling sins of our heart in order to produce holiness.
In Philippians, we are called to live holy lives as lights in the world, to live in a manner that is worthy of Christ and his gospel (Phil 1:8-11, 27; 2:14-15). Jesus is holy and, therefore, part of making us like Christ is the Spirit’s work of using the Refiner’s fire to purify us. Suffering helps to make us like Christ by ripping open our hearts in order to see the depth of our rebellion against the authority of God.
The OT patriarch Job introduced us to this pillar in a proper theology of suffering: “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. (23:8-10)
Meditate on 1 Peter 1:6-9 to learn of the purifying benefits of suffering.
- Suffering helps to make us like Christ by preparing us to receive God’s comfort in order to produce compassion.
In Philippians, we are introduced to Epaphroditus who is lifted up as a compassionate example for us to follow. In addition to the apostle and Timothy, who penned this letter, here is the love of Christ modeled for us to learn from (Phil. 2:25-26). Jesus is compassionate and the friend of sinners. Therefore, part of making us like Christ is the Spirit’s work of using suffering to fill us with the grace and compassion toward others.
Mark 2:15-17 describes how the Pharisees loved themselves and others who were just like them and had no grace toward sinners. Jesus; however, was totally the opposite. He loved sinners because He knew that He was sent for them, not for those filled with self-righteousness. Jesus is our empathetic High Priest (Heb. 4:15).
How does suffering make us compassionate? Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 and meditate on how God uses our experiences of receiving His comfort in suffering to minister to others.
We cannot know Christ deeply without sharing in His sufferings. And we cannot know the power of His resurrection without the suffering that leads to death. Our problem—many times—is that we want to experience resurrection power, but we are unwilling to experience the death that must precede new life. As those who are saved by the Risen Savior, we must be people who live in the hope of our own resurrection. This will empower us to rejoice in suffering, as we are transformed into the image of Christ.
You may listen to the sermon here.