What does it mean to know Christ? In Philippians 3:10, we hear the apostle Paul’s heart cry: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.”

Paul, it seems, wanted to go beyond head knowledge, and even heart knowledge, and into experiential knowledge—in sum, to be in union with his Lord.

We, too, can identify with the desire to know our Lord, and even “the power of his resurrection”; but what about “the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death”? What are we to make of this somber note?

First, knowing the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings does not mean seeking a masochistic, self-flagellating kind of suffering. Oswald Chambers comments: “To choose to suffer means there is something wrong; to choose God’s will even if it means suffering is a very different thing. No healthy saint ever chooses suffering; he chooses God’s will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not.”

Neither does entering this fellowship primarily mean experiencing physical suffering. I have experienced severe physical pain, but my pain was my own, identified only with me. Yes, the experience has given me insights into suffering, and through pain I have learned endurance; but this “personal” pain has not been sharing in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. Instead, by being with me in my pain, it has been Christ who has shared my sufferings.

Nor, I suggest, does the fellowship of his sufferings refer primarily to enduring personal hardship or persecution on account of our faith (although suffering for the sake of Christ may well be part of what ...

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