How do we share in Jesus’ sufferings?

Paul shared in Jesus’ sufferings by “becoming like him in his death,” Philippians 3:10. It can’t mean we die on a cross like Jesus did, so what did Paul mean instead?

He gives us a clue in Philippians 2:8. In describing Jesus’ death, the point Paul emphasizes is: Jesus “humbled himself.” Jesus not only gave up everything he had to become human (7), he also gave himself entirely to being “obedient to death” (8). His entire focus as a human was on total obedience to God’s purpose and a life of selfless service until he died, and he humbled himself to that.

So should we, said Paul in verse 5, because “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” It meant, verse 3, “Doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” A life of selfless service to God and neighbour with no gain to ourselves – and we are willing to humble ourselves to that until we die, just as Jesus was.

So was Paul. He’d been a top-ranking Pharisee with admirable credentials and an impressive record of faultless obedience to the Law (3:5-6), but “whatever was to my profit (before) I now consider loss….I consider them rubbish” (3:7, 8).

It must’ve been humbling, though, giving all that up and “in humility considering others better than” himself (2:3). Never again could Paul resort to any tactic that would elevate himself above others. Despite what people said about him or did to him, he could not retaliate in kind, or make snide remarks behind people’s backs to make himself feel better. Nor could he use religion or his faultless obedience to the Law, or even his intelligence anymore, to make himself feel superior. He couldn’t even be offended if people hurt him or wrongly accused him. And never again could he focus on polishing his image or making a name for himself to become more noticeable and admired among his peers. All that dreadful rubbish had to die.

But in dying to it Paul would share in the suffering of Christ, in the humbling experience of living with selfish people but never reacting to them selfishly, and never being competitive. It was tough, yes, but Paul willingly humbled himself to such a life because more than anything he wanted to become like Christ, and in this way he could. It was by humbly squashing his pride, hurt and ambitions, and dying to them daily, just as Jesus died to them daily too.

And it’s in that daily death we become like Christ in his death. We die with him in the same things he died to. Tough, yes, but for Paul there was also “the power of Jesus’ resurrection” to help him (3:10).