Voluntary & Involuntary Suffering

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings…

Philippians 3:10

If we want to know the power of the resurrection of Christ then we must chose to participate in His sufferings. This means that to the extent that we are willing to voluntarily suffer, is the extent to which we’ll operate in power and authority in that area of our life. This is a Kingdom principle.

When we empathize with and serve people, we will often find ourselves suffering with them in different ways. This is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we fast and contend in prayer for a breakthrough, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we sacrifice for others, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we stand for truth in the face of people mocking and slandering us, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we participate in the sufferings of Christ in this way, we will find that our ministry and our prayers will carry more resurrection power with them.

It’s not that we are “paying the price” for greater power. It’s that Jesus already paid the price on the cross so that sons and daughters of the Kingdom would be able to operate in greater resurrection power. Romans 8:11 says, “…the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you…” Jesus already paid the price, so our job is to identify with Him in His sufferings. The result is resurrection power.

Voluntary suffering is different than involuntary suffering. In this world full of sin and brokenness, we will automatically face involuntary suffering (accidents, illnesses, financial issues, relational issues, hardship, etc). Involuntary suffering is useful too but just in a different way. While voluntary suffering produces power, involuntary suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope. Romans 5:3-4 says, “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

James put the same idea this way:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 

James 1:2-4

So one way to look at it is that while voluntary suffering empowers the gifts of the Spirit, involuntary suffering (handled well) empowers the fruit of the Spirit. Voluntary suffering God uses to make us more effective. Involuntary suffering God uses to make us more solid.

Fruits and Gifts of the Kingdom

Every fruit of the Kingdom of God can either be cultivated as a fruit or it can be imparted, given as a gift. When it is cultivated, it lasts. When it is imparted, it is experienced right in the moment but doesn’t always last. Let me explain.

Paul writes to the Ephesians:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 

Ephesians 5:8-11

So the “fruit of light” is “goodness, righteousness and truth.” We know from Galatians 5:22-23 that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” And we know from Romans 14:17 that, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” In other words, things of the Kingdom of God (like peace, joy, truth, goodness and righteousness) are things that grow in us by the Spirit as they are cultivated. They increase gradually over time as we walk in the Spirit and in obedience.

Yet, there is another side to each of these fruits. Take “righteousness” for example. We know that not only is it a fruit that grows in us but that it was also a gift given to us. Theologians say that the righteousness of Christ was “imputed” to us. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” There was an exchange on the cross. We received the righteousness of Christ as a gift and He became our sin. Romans 5:17 calls what Jesus did for us by forgiving us and making us holy “the gift of righteousness.”

So righteousness first came to us, imparted to us, as a gift when we received salvation. Now, because of the Holy Spirit, righteousness grows in us as a fruit. And I believe all the fruits of the Kingdom can do this. They can both grow in us as a fruit and be imparted to us as a gift.

Take “peace,” for example. Peace is listed as a fruit of the Spirit, a fruit of the Kingdom. Yet we also see Jesus release it, impart it, as a gift. In John 14:27, Jesus said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” Then again when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room after the resurrection, He imparts His peace to them (John 20:19-21).

I have firsthand experience being in situations where I was praying with someone, and either I or the person I was praying with released, through the Holy Spirit, something to the person we were praying for. I’ve seen peace released to a person and watched them physically feel peace fill their body. I’ve seen joy released to a person who was depressed and watched them erupt in laughter for the next 10 minutes, only to tell us later that they haven’t laughed like that in years. I’ve seen love released to a person and watched them break down in tears as they got overwhelmed with the love of the Father.

I can’t say that I know how it all works; but I’ve seen it enough to believe that, somehow, each fruit can grow in us as we cultivate it or can be imparted to us as a gift. As is the case of any gift, it doesn’t seem to last as long as a cultivated fruit tree that continues to produce good fruit year after year. Or maybe a better way of saying it is that when these fruits come as imparted gifts, they come as seeds that must be cultivated if we want them to stay long-term.

Another way of saying it is that when these fruits come as imparted gifts, they give us just a taste of the Kingdom, revealing who we really are and what we really have in Christ–what’s available to us if we’d be willing to cultivate it.