My tulips, only a few weeks ago glorious, now look dead. The experts say not to remove those brown leaves. In their ‘dying’ the bulb buried deep in the soil draws nourishment. If I ‘nice up’ my flower bed by removing them, the bulbs will not be robust. Eventually they will shrivel and not produce large and beautiful blooms in the next season.
Jesus said something like this in John 12:24, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.”
In both garden and spiritual realm, without death, there is no life. Seeds have to ‘die’ so new life can come. Jesus had to die so we could live. By His death, we have eternal life.
I’m reading The Cup and the Glory by Greg Harris. It is not an easy read and I must go slowly, seriously. Chapter Five, called “The Fellowship” is not about Christians gathering together to share their lives (or tea and cookies), but about Philippians 3:10. In that passage Paul writes how he willingly gave up all that most people would have considered important, even spiritually important, and even counted all of it as rubbish that he might “gain Christ.” He says that he wants to be found in Him with the righteousness that comes by faith, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings . . . .”
Every Christian wants the “power of His resurrection.” We want to experience that incredible life that gives us the ability to live for Him, and we do; God graciously gives this life to us. However, knowing Christ also asks of us to identify with Him in His suffering and death. Harris points out the importance of this to our spiritual vitality using Philippians 1:29: “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
God ‘grants’ us suffering. It is the same word for ‘freely give’ used in Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things.” Harris devotes Chapter Four: “The Gift” to this principle. He shows how grace and all good things are gifts from God, but also suffering. Why? That we might know Him, know what He went through for us, have a deeper knowledge of Him, die to our selfishness, be drawn into incredible spiritual fellowship with the One who died for us.
Today’s reading brings out this death / life principle in another way. It’s from a verse that has always puzzled me—until now. 2 Corinthians 4:12 says, “So then death is working in us, but life in you.”
Harris gave me the first hint to what this verse means. He says that many Christians are willing to go for the power of the resurrection, but back off, at least experientially, from the fellowship of Christ’s suffering. As a result, we miss out on that gift from God. Not only do we miss a deeper relationship and understanding of our Savior, we also miss out on that richer life that comes from death. However, adding this verse from 2 Corinthians, I now see that we also miss out on being able to deeply minister to others.
2 Corinthians starts out with the principle that when we suffer, “we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” That is, when my parents died, God comforted me, and I am now more able to comfort those who have lost their parents. When I was broke and God helped me survive, I can comfort others in financial distress with the same assurances and hope.
The suffering of Christ goes even deeper than losing parents or being bankrupt. It is a suffering profoundly illustrated in Gethsemane. There Jesus is battling with the prospect of “the cup” which is His “gift” from the Father. He can drink it, but the horror of it has Him sweating blood. Eventually He gives in, saying “Not my will but Yours be done.” He yields to suffering and death—but out of that came eternal life to a lost world.
Obeying God could mean glory for me, but it can also mean suffering. If I say no and avoid the pain of identification with Christ in His suffering by doing my own thing, I will miss out on more deeply knowing Christ, but—and this is huge—someone else will miss out on the life that comes out of my willingness to die—die to self, or just to die, period.
Also sobering is the reality that some will look at me dying-to-self and all they will see is the decaying leaves of a tulip, to them ugly and useless. They will have no awareness of what that death is producing in the inner life hidden from their view, nor will they see the blooms to follow in a coming season.