Question: "What is the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3:10)?"
Answer: The apostle Paul’s singular ambition in life was to know Jesus Christ experientially. More than merely acquiring superficial head-knowledge, Paul wanted to connect with Jesus on the closest possible relational level: “My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10, HCSB).
Nothing else in life mattered to Paul. He was willing to lose every earthly possession and pursuit for the sake of intimately knowing Christ (Philippians 3:7). He considered “everything else worthless,” labeling it “garbage” compared to “the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” His supreme objective was to “gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). For Paul, to experience a relationship with Jesus in this way meant sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings, even if that meant death.
In Galatians 2:20, Paul reiterated his desire to share in a dynamic, all-in union with Jesus: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Paul taught believers that “the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:5, NLT).
The early apostles believed that participating in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering was part of our preparation for sharing in His future glory. To his student Timothy, Paul explained, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12, NLT). Peter urged believers not to “be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world” (1 Peter 4:12–13, NLT).
In Philippians 2:5–11, Paul told believers to have the same attitude or mindset as Christ. Our preparation for heaven involves becoming like Christ, being conformed into His image (Romans 8:29; Philippians 3:21). Jesus embodied humility and obedience to God as He walked a path to death. The very purpose God sent His Son was to suffer and die for us that we might be saved (1 John 3:16; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18). To be like Christ, we must enter the fellowship of His suffering and death “so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:10, NLT). Paul informed Christians in Colossae, “I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church” (Colossians 1:24, NLT).
We should not be shocked to encounter trials in this life because following Jesus inevitably leads to the cross. One commentator urged, “We must be ready for—and we cannot hope to avoid—the downward path of the Crucified” (Motyer, J., The Message of Philippians, InterVarsity Press, 1984, p. 169). Jesus told His disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24, NLT).
Taking up our cross means being willing to surrender our lives and even die for the sake of following Christ. Jesus didn’t paint a rosy picture of discipleship. Instead, He said, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?” (Luke 9:24–25, NLT).
Just before Paul spoke of the “fellowship of His sufferings,” he said his goal was to know Christ “and the power of His resurrection.” As we share in hardship and persecution on our downward path to the cross, Jesus is our co-companion on the journey. He promises never to leave us alone (Matthew 28:20). Christ is a living Savior who pledges to impart His resurrection power and give us the strength to endure and even overcome (Romans 8:11; Philippians 3:10; John 16:33).