Devotional # 133. 4/20/15. Philippians 3:10-11.
Intro. Last week we went through verses 7-9 and cut it short so we could dwell on how much we gained by following Jesus. Paul told us that in looking back, all of the stuff that had mattered to him, like where his family was from and what school he had gone to, didn’t matter in the weight of what Jesus had done for him on the cross. I was thinking about that this morning. Sometimes when we get caught up in the stupid stuff of life God forces us to prioritize and see what’s truly important.
Today we’re going to be talking about something that not many people talk about (at least in America) and that is suffering for Jesus. Over the last 40 years or so the Christian community has done a poor job of being honest with people when it comes to salvation. When they talk to a non-Christian about Jesus the whole goal is to get them to say the sinners prayer but not to understand it and certainly not to change their heart.
There are times when Jesus shows us how people react to the gospel, like in the “Parable of the Sower” (Matthew 13:18-23). Have you ever noticed that only one of the types of people ends up going to heaven? Or what about when Jesus had mega-church following and told them if they didn’t love Him more than their family then they needed to leave (Luke 14:26)? That’s not how you build a mega-church!
This week we’re talking about how a Christian has to suffer for Jesus.
v. 10. Remember in verse 9 Paul just said that he isn’t righteous by anything he’s done, in fact, when he relied on himself keeping the law, he was heading in the opposite direction from being righteous. Since “righteousness” is a fancy way of saying being “right” with God, then it only makes sense that God can make you right with Himself. So Paul ended verse 9 stating he had “the righteousness which is from God by faith…” and if we agree with that in our own lives what does that look like for us?
Here in verse 10 we’re told three things: First, “that I may know Him”, second “and the power of His resurrection”, and lastly, “the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” Let’s look at each of these.
First, Paul says, “that I may know Him”. In the Greek “know” is ginosko (G#1097) meaning, “to learn to know” (Source 1). I like this definition because I’ve learned plenty of stuff because I had to pass a test or needed to make my parents happy but that’s not what this is about. This kind of “knowing” comes from experience and even because you want to learn it! There’s a big difference between learning something you’re planning on forgetting in 5 minutes and understanding something because you’ve gone through it for 30 years. To “know” Jesus is to be intimate with Him. You tell Him all of your secrets and He shares things that have been secrets since the beginning of time with you.
Next, Paul says, “and the power of His resurrection”. I love this phrase. There is such power in Jesus’s resurrection. Two weeks ago we studied over Jesus’s resurrection because of Resurrection Day (Easter). If Jesus was able to raise others but not Himself there would be no power in what He said. As I’ve said before the thread that Christianity hangs by is Jesus’s resurrection. If someone could just prove that it never happened there would be no reason for anyone to be Christians. The complete power of God is realized in Jesus’s resurrection. It’s how we know that our sin has been removed from us and that we will get to fellowship with Jesus in heaven someday.
Speaking of “fellowship“, Paul’s last phrase here is “the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” I have a feeling there aren’t many pastors nowadays who want to teach on this verse because it’s not a popular idea. In fact I don’t think most people who call themselves Christians nowadays have ever even heard of this. What does it mean? When we “fellowship” with someone, we are united in complete agreement with them*. So we’re supposed to join with Jesus in suffering. Does that mean that we put ourselves in situations where we will feel pain? Does it mean that we inflict pain on ourselves? Some Christians think that way. They figure that if they belly-flop on to a bed of nails then they have suffered. But that doesn’t make any sense. This “suffering” is for the kingdom of God. It must be spiritual. Sometimes spiritual suffering is inflicted by physical pain, but it must always come because of your love of the Lord. Why did Jesus ask the Father if He could get out of the crucifixion? Was He scared of the pain? Sure, the human part of Him was anxious about that. But the real concern was that He would be separated from the Father, for the first time in eternity. Read Matthew 27:45-46. Why was there “darkness” for three hours? Because when all of mankind’s sin descended upon Jesus’ shoulders the Father could not look at Him and wouldn’t allow men to look at Him either. All of the Gospels record that Jesus cried out in a “loud voice” asking God why He had forsaken Him. Do you notice that Jesus doesn’t call Him “Father” but just “God”? The “fellowship” between the Father and the Son had been broken. We don’t have to go through that. Our sin will not sit on our shoulders when we die. All that Jesus asks is that we “fellowship” with Him in a small portion of the suffering that He went through. He will give us opportunities, never more than we can handle, to join with Him in spiritual suffering. Our flesh screams in opposition, backing into a corner, squirming to get away from the pain. But when we finally acknowledge that it’s not only what’s best for us but it’s also how we prove we are Christians we can submit to that pain. The last two weeks I’ve mentioned that Jesus should sit on the throne of your heart. If He tells us to go through pain, and we truly have made Him Master over our life, then we will go through those trials and “sufferings.”
*“fellowship” here in the Greek is koinonia (G#2842) meaning “association, community, joint participation” and also means “a gift jointly distributed” (Source 2). Sometimes, like in 1 Corinthians 10:16, it used for “communion” and other times “fellowship” like in Acts 2:42 when it talks that the early church “continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
v. 11. There’s no question that Paul did much for the kingdom of God but in humility he says, “by any means“, which is basically, ‘I don’t care how I get to heaven, I really want to go!’ And when he says “the resurrection from the dead” this can literally be translated, “the resurrection out from the corpses” (Source 3). So it’s not that Paul doubts whether he will go to heaven, instead he wants to see death happen quickly because he knows that once he dies he’ll be with Jesus!
Conclusion. It’s not popular to tell you that if you’re living as a Christian then you will suffer. That’s not to say that you’re life won’t be blessed or that you won’t be truly happy – these will happen also but in direct proportion to how much you don’t cling to life on this earth you will accept suffering. So when your car is totaled or you have a cold – that’s not automatically “suffering” alongside Jesus. Before you crown yourself as the holiest martyr for putting up with your kids, ask yourself what spiritual suffering looks like. Were you preaching “repentance” and therefore imprisoned and had your head chopped off, like John the Baptist? Were you fasting in the desert after being ordained for your ministry, like when Jesus was tempted by Satan? If the answer is that you haven’t done anything to make Satan angry and Jesus happy then seriously question whether your little problem should be considered spiritual suffering. Remember Jesus tells us to take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). This means that we die to ourselves and give glory to Him EVERY DAY!
Source 3: John MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1826.