Our experience, then, is more than simply suffering for Christ. We also suffer with Christ. Our suffering is not salvific or mediatorial. We do not add to His saving work. That is all His, and His alone. But our Savior suffered, and we follow in His footsteps and so suffer together with Him. Paul would say that “as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ” (2 Cor. 1:5, NKJV), and that His affliction was for the benefit of the saints. Paul wanted to know Christ “and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil. 3:10).
We do not need to seek suffering. If we are faithful in following Christ, it will come to us. Christian suffering brings us close to Christ, and it brings Christ close to us. This is part of what it means when our Lord assured His obedient people that He would be with them to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20), when He promised that by His Spirit He would be present with them (John 14–16), when He repeatedly made clear the union and communion that bind Him and His beloved saints together.
If we suffered apart from Christ, we could not bear it. When we suffer for Him and with Him, our communion with Him means that even then we rejoice. Our suffering cannot separate us from Him but draws us closer together. A young Scottish woman named Margaret Maitland was drowned for her faith in Christ. Her persecutors bound her to a stake in the sea nearer to the land than her companion in suffering, hoping that Margaret would be terrified into renouncing Christ. As the tide came in, they asked her, “Margaret, what do you see yonder?” She replied, “I see Christ suffering in the person of one of His saints.” Margaret knew that Christ would be with her when her turn came and would never leave her or forsake her. As He did for Stephen, the glorified Christ would sustain His suffering saint through the trial and then receive her into glory.
That glory is the inevitable sequel of suffering with Christ. Our life is hidden with Christ in God. We are His children, “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified together” (Rom. 8:17). The Christ who once suffered for sins, and who now enters into our suffering as His servants, is sympathizing with us. Taking up our cross and following Him, we shall soon come to be with Him. Our sufferings shall then cease.
True Christianity is no easy sell. We do not call people first to a crown but first to a cross. The path to glory is a path of suffering. Our joyful suffering with Christ will be swallowed up by glory with Christ still to come. That first moment of resurrection life will make the worst that the world has done fade into insignificance. Then all present suffering with and for Christ will be seen as worthwhile, for He is worthy indeed.