"That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection,
and the fellowship of his sufferings,
being made conformable unto his death"
(Philippians 3:10 )

What Does it Mean to Fellowship the Sufferings of Christ?

It seems that it is increasingly popular to attribute physical suffering and death that stems from illness or disease to "having fellowship with the sufferings of Christ". Is this the meaning of Philippians 3:10?

For example, some years ago a brother died of cancer. During the progress of his disease and treatments, one could not help but feel great sympathy for the physical and mental sufferings he was undergoing. As his disease progressed he and others were making comments claiming that the brother was 'fellowshipping the sufferings of Christ '. But let's consider this claim for a moment:

The sufferings of Christ were centered upon, and wholly due to, the work which he was doing. That work was the condemnation of sin. In other words, the doctrine that Christ held, the doctrine that Christ lived every moment of his waking hours, was the source of his sufferings.

The brother suffering from cancer was suffering from a disease -- a disease which is "no respecter of persons" coming both to him that serveth God, and him that serveth him not. His sufferings were also due to the choices he made -- from the treatments for the disease. They were not due to his doctrinal stand, or the upholding of that doctrinal stand. In fact, the disease itself could have been caused by some activity he had engaged in at some time in the past.  

Recently the Pope went into the hospital, his lungs flooded with fluid. Doctor's performed a tracheotomy on him to allow the fluids to be removed. A papal spokesman was asked if the pope might resign in the face of so many physical problems, including alzheimers. The papal spokesman said something to the effect, "No, the Holy Father sees his sufferings as fellowshipping the sufferings of Christ."

Physical sufferings are not equivalent to fellowshipping the sufferings of Christ. We can feel sorry for someone who is ill and suffering. We can do all in our power to help them. But let's not equate physical sufferings, that are not the result of our service to God, with the sufferings of Christ.

Conformance to the Lord's death is only possible by being a living sacrifice -- such a life will provide plenty of scope to fellowship the sufferings of Christ. Taking part in what pleasures the gentile world offers, while at the same time claiming to fellowship the sufferings of Christ, simply won't do.