For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ . . . that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. (Philippians 3:8–10)
Many Christians assume that seasons of suffering are temporary detours from intimacy with Christ, that we just have to survive the hard days until we get to heaven, that God is distant in grief, pain, and loss.
The apostle Paul treated suffering very differently. Suffering was not a detour on the path to heaven; it was the path to heaven — and to more of Christ. He writes, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ . . . that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:8–10). Paul embraced suffering, even welcomed suffering, if more suffering meant knowing and enjoying more of Christ.
Suffering with Christ
This wasn’t the only time Paul talked this way. He says in another letter, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24). And to the church at Corinth, “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:5). What does it mean for Paul, or any of us, to share in the suffering of Christ? Can we share in his suffering?
Yes and no. Christ, and Christ alone, had to suffer and die for our sins (Isaiah 53:4–6). Only he could bear our griefs. Only he could cancel our debt. Only his wounds could heal us. We cannot share in or contribute to what he accomplished for us on the cross.
But we also know we can share in his suffering because Paul said so, and more than once. We share in the sufferings of Christ by suffering for his sake and for the glory of his great name. From the very first days of the church until now, suffering has not halted the gospel, but carried it. The book of Acts is one long story of the gospel running throughsuffering (e.g., Acts 5:41; 9:15–16). What Satan meant for evil, over and over again, actually served to spread the good news.
Not Surprised by Suffering
Suffering did not surprise or derail those early disciples. Suffering deepened their sense of calling, steeled their resolve to witness, and even heightened their joy in Christ. After several of them were arrested and beaten, “they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:41–42).
Before he himself suffered on the cross, Jesus had already prepared them to suffer. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). They knew no one could follow Christ without carrying a cross. Even for those who live in a nation of relative freedom and tolerance, Paul warned us, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12; Matthew 10:22).
Paul says that we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17). We will not spend eternity with him in heaven if we will not suffer with him on earth. Suffering is essential to Christianity because we worship, obey, and treasure a suffering King.
That I May Gain Christ
But the cross of suffering is not just necessary for every follower of Christ. Because our God knows the deep agonies of suffering, suffering becomes a way for us to know him more and more deeply. Paul counted everything as loss “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).
As God painfully stripped away everything else he might boast in, Paul realized all the more what it really meant to know Christ. All that he had lost, and he had lost more than most of us will in this life, only served to heighten his awareness of all that he had found in Jesus.
How does your suffering make you feel about Christ? Do you start holding him at arm’s length, wondering if he can really be trusted? Or do you run to him, and bury yourself in the strength and security of his promises? If suffering deepens our faith in him, then those who suffer the most know and trust him most — not despite what they have suffered, but because of it.