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 The Fellowship of Christ’s Sufferings by Zac Poonen

Paul says in Col. 1:24, “I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s affliction.”

What is it that is lacking in Christ’s sufferings? Didn’t He say on the cross that it was finished? There is a great truth here. We read of some of Jesus’ physical sufferings in the gospels. But He suffered in His soul also in ways that are not recorded in Scripture. When He said, “It is finished” on the cross, He had not only finished paying the price for man’s sins, He had also finished overcoming the entire range of temptations that any man can ever face. He had been tempted in all points as we are and overcome (Hebrews 4:15).

In every temptation, we have the option of yielding to the temptation and choosing the way of pleasure, or resisting the temptation and choosing the way of suffering (the opposite of pleasure). Jesus consistently chose the way of suffering and “suffered in the flesh” (1 Peter 4:1). Thus He became the Forerunner for us. Now we have to follow in His footsteps and become mini-forerunners for others. When we are tempted to sin, the Holy Spirit leads us to choose the same way of suffering in our flesh that Jesus went through. What Paul was saying in Col. 1:24 was that he had not yet completed all the sufferings in his life (in temptation) that Jesus had completed.

Jesus also suffered externally in many ways because He stood for the truth. If you take a glass to represent suffering, then in Jesus’ case, all the suffering He chose to go through in His life time filled up that glass completely. Finally, on the cross He said, “It is finished.” Now we follow in Jesus’ footsteps, and we too have a body like He had. The Holy Spirit has to do the same work in us – of filling up that glass. When we are born again, our glass is empty because we have suffered nothing for Christ. Gradually as time goes on, this glass begins to fill up with what we suffer for Christ’s sake. The same Christ who suffered on earth dwells in us now and He wants to take us through the same sufferings He went through, but now in our body. The servant is not greater than his master.

All His sufferings have to be completed now, in our body. That is actually a great privilege. Paul said that his glass had not yet been filled up. Many Christians don’t understand that when they go through any suffering, they are fellowshipping with Christ in His sufferings. I am not talking about the sufferings we get because we do something foolish or sinful. Jesus never did anything sinful or foolish. He suffered because His way of life was totally contrary to this world. His entire ministry was in constant conflict with the Bible scholars and theologians of His day. They hated Him and finally killed Him.

It is the same today. If we are true disciples of Christ, we will find ourselves in conflict with the entire religious system of this world and also with a lot of so-called Christian theology and religion. We will find ourselves in conflict just like Jesus did – with people who don’t know God, but who are very religious. Who were the ones who called Jesus ‘Beelzebul’? They were not the Greeks or the Romans. They were people who had a Bible (the Old Testament at that time). Who were the ones who persecuted Jesus the most and killed Him? They were religious people with a Bible. So if we are going to fill up the afflictions of Christ, we will find religious people with a Bible afflicting us too, because they don’t know God. Jesus said they hated and persecuted Him because they didn’t know His Father. They will do the same thing to us.
Paul says, “I rejoice in these sufferings, because I am doing my share.” Each of us have a share for the sake of this Body of Christ, the church. First, Jesus suffered in His physical body. Now He has to suffer in His spiritual body, the church. You have your share and I have mine in these sufferings. I cannot fulfil your share and you cannot fulfil mine. When you go through some suffering, I can’t be faithful for you. You have to be faithful yourself, when you suffer because of your relatives or neighbours, or when you are persecuted or thrown out of your house because you want to follow Jesus. These are a part of the sufferings of Christ. Rejoice at that time and say, “Lord, thank You for giving me the privilege of filling up a little bit of Your afflictions for the sake of the church which is Your body.” That is how we will have a ministry to others and that is how we can build the church. That is why this is called a part of “the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings”. Christ gained nothing for Himself through His sufferings. But we gained a lot. When we are in fellowship with Christ’s sufferings, we ourselves gain nothing from it. It is for the sake of the church. Others will gain through our sufferings. Are you willing for that? I hope we will say, “Yes, Lord. I am willing. I want to be in fellowship with Your mind and Your spirit and Your attitude. I want to suffer so that others will gain something through my suffering.”

Have you seen how sugarcane is crushed in a grinder? They put those sugarcane sticks into the grinder and grind it and the juice comes out. After this is done a few times, one would think that all the juice has come out of those sticks. But, no! They put it back in again – and some more juice comes out. For whose benefit is it being crushed? For somebody else to drink it. That’s how God makes us also a blessing to others. We are crushed and squeezed in the circumstances and trials of life, and we humble ourselves and accept them joyfully, and from that crushing, the radiance and beauty and aroma of Christ come forth. That is the only way we can be a blessing to others.


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