On September 29, 1978, less than two months into his papacy, Pope John Paul I was found dead in his bed with the book Imitation of Christ, by Thomas A. Kempis, opened and his reading light still on, probably having died of a heart attack.
Paul the Apostle wrote to some first century saints in Philippi that he desired to know his Lord and specifically the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings (Phil.3:10). He not only wanted to imitate his Savior, Paul wanted to commune with Him in such a way that his life would be a shared life, even in the manner of suffering.
Most of us want to know Him and we surely want to live a life of resurrection power, but that suffering issue is another matter. We have read what Paul said to young Timothy when he reminded him that all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2 Tim. 3:12). And, Peter has caused us to give serious consideration to the matter of adversity when he wrote to suffering, scattered saints that they were “called” to suffer because Christ had left us an example that “ye should follow in His steps.” (I Pet. 2:21). It is easier to relegate those instructions to believers living in the early church age; but to the 21st century western world of Christ-followers, well, we’re not so quick to embrace that postulate. Sure, we would love to know Him in a way that we’ve never known Him before; but to say “Amen” to Paul’s confession that “for whom I have suffered the loss of all things,” well, that would surely give us cause for pause.
But the “fellowship of His sufferings” entails such a work of grace in a believer’s heart that he/she will have a different mind-set about things past (reputation, comforts, respect, retirement, privileges, and possessions). Paul affirms that he “suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him….” (Phil. 3:8,9). That statement sums it all up for Paul, and becomes our mantra yet today. To be found in Him, His will, His service, His fellowship, His blessing, so that He is the center and circumference of our being, our existence, means that Christ the Lord is our “All in all!”
What is your one wish today? Riches, friends, success, security, fame, health? Or, to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings? There is no short-cut. We cannot pick and choose. To have the resurrection power will not be realized apart from the fellowship of sufferings.
That just may be the key to the timeless, perplexing puzzle: “Why do good people suffer?” All of us know some “salt of the earth” folk who have been in and through the furnace of suffering to an unimaginable extent. We can only wonder, sometimes, why. Then Paul’s words echo in our heart’s chamber: “…and the fellowship of His sufferings.” We do not need to know more. It is part of the knowing, showing and growing as we “reach forth unto those things which are before.” (Phil. 3:13).
“Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ.” (Phil. 3:12).