“That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10, ESV).
“O to be like Thee…” is the cry of an old hymn that is seldom sung any more. Yet it reflects the idea that the goal of the Christian life is “Christlikeness,” being like Jesus. Paul spoke of the intense longing he had that Christ “should be formed” in the Galatian believers (Gal. 4:19). The formation of Christ in the believer was so important to him that he likened this intense longing to childbirth. In Romans 8 Paul told his readers that God’s plan from the very beginning was that His people would be “conformed to the image of his Son” (29).
The old hymn (and most popular opinion) would have us believe that Christlikeness in the Christian makes us “full of compassion, loving, forgiving, tender and kind.” If we have been conformed to His image we are active in “helping the helpless, cheering the fainting, seeking the wandering sinner to find.”
Now I hope my readers understand that I agree with the sentiments of this great old hymn, but there is another side to Christlikeness that Thomas Chisholm doesn’t overtly address in his hymn — the sharing in His sufferings. Alongside compassion and forgiveness, Paul also rejoiced that he could suffer as Christ suffered (Phil 3:10), that he could “fill up what was lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col 1:24). It’s hard to imagine that Jesus’ sufferings lacked anything, but Paul seems clear that there is a certain amount of suffering that His followers would experience in this life.
Often when we think of Christ’s sufferings, we focus upon the “Passion Week” those six intense days that culminated in the physical pain of His crucifixion. But the Old Testament gives us some indication that there were other times when Messiah suffered mistreatment and misunderstanding, and that He felt these sufferings keenly. Several of the Psalms are recognized as Messianic Psalms and give us hints into the emotions our Lord experienced.
The disciples recognized the Messiah’s zeal for the house of God when He drove out the moneychangers (John 2:17). This reference comes from Psalm 69:9 and the succeeding phrases and verses describe the anguish of our Lord as He bore “the reproaches of those who reproach [God].” He “wept”; He “made sackcloth [His] clothing, [He] became a byword to them” and was “the talk of those who sit in the gate.”
I find it very comforting to see the expressions of how Messiah felt when His prayers seemed to fall on deaf ears (see Ps. 69:19-20, 29). The Father’s ears were not deaf, as we all know, but Messiah felt that they were, at least for a time — just as I do sometimes.
The Scripture speaks of the ebb and flow of life between suffering and comfort. Peter reminds us that “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10). Suffering is not permanent, even if it seems like it for a while. But it is a necessary component of being like Jesus.