February 3, 2010

To Live is Christ — sharing His suffering

Before Paul became a Christian, he was a zealous Pharisee who persecuted Christians. He considered himself a righteous man, but God showed him that “no one is righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). 

Paul wrote Philippians in the later years of his life. He described what he once considered important (regarding his standing before God) and how those things fell short compared to knowing Jesus Christ.

This man had been a Christian for a long time, yet take note of how he ended this section of Scripture. 

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. (Philippians 3:8–12)
If I read only verse eight, I might be intimidated by Paul’s rich relationship with Jesus Christ. How could I ever reach that? But by reading on, I see that Paul didn’t think he had arrived yet. This great man realized that he still had room to grow. He was not perfected, even at his mature age. That tells me that growth will continue, no matter how old I am.

My devotional reading asks how I would want my relationship with Jesus to be different. Reading this carefully, the part that stands out is “that I might know . . . the fellowship of His sufferings.” I want to know Him and the power of His resurrection, but suffering is not on my to-do list. That tells me one specific area where I till have room to grow in my knowledge of Him.

How did Jesus suffer? He was misunderstood, mistreated, yelled at, threatened, rejected, and eventually crucified. But that is not all. I think He still suffers, but in different ways. He suffers at the injustice and sin in the world. He suffers when His people suffer. Because He lives in me, I sometimes feel His pain.

Last night a long-term friend called. She is a Christian yet her life has been far from easy. The details are so painful that I cannot even write them down. As she talked and wondered why God had allowed all of these things to happen, I felt incredible pain.

That pain was from Jesus, I’m sure of it because as I tried to listen with compassion, I found myself braced, as if that would protect me from feeling it and from hurting with her. I (my flesh) didn’t want to suffer, but the Spirit in me was grieving and I felt His overwhelming grief.

In the previous readings, God spoke to me about bearing the burdens of others, particularly when they cannot bear them alone. Surely this is part of it. As I go to prayer today (as I told her that I would), I will let the pain of her burdens be both felt and expressed. From what Paul says, this is part of knowing Christ . . .  even though it isn’t what I would choose as part of the process.

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