So far in Philippians 3 Paul has expressed what happened to him when he was converted on the road to Damascus, the thought process that led him to conversion. He took all his accolades and accomplishments from his stellar life in Judaism, and chunked it all into the garbage can because he came to realize the surpassing value of what he would receive in Christ.
In verse 8 he expresses the surpassing value of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as his Lord. In verse 9 he talks about his union with Christ, being “found in him,” which forms the backbone of Paul’s teaching about salvation and the Christian life, and then also in verse 9 he speaks of the benefit of being justified by faith.
Now, in verses 10-11 Paul circles back to that initial benefit—fellowship with Jesus Christ, the risen, living Savior, the God-man. So let’s read verse 8-11 again:
We are going to focus this morning on v. 10.
8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
These verses reinforce that coming to faith in Christ and enjoying a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is not the end of Paul’s experience with Christ. It was just the beginning! This relationship would continue throughout the rest of Paul’s life.
That personal relationship is initiated at the moment of faith in Christ, and the continuation of it in vv. 10-11 is what we call sanctification. It is the lifelong process of relating to Christ through faith and becoming like him in practice. This is where the righteousness of Christ that was deposited into our account by God when we put our trust in Christ starts being expressed through our behavior and life.
When it comes to the process of sanctification, the focus is not upon us or our disciplines, but on Jesus Christ. That is why Paul starts with the statement, “I want to know Christ.”
In Genesis 4:1, we read that Adam “knew” his wife Eve. The Hebrew expression used is “yada.” Even in the Old Testament it was a word for knowing intimately. Here the New Testament term is ginoskein and it almost always speaks of a personal knowledge. This is not an intellectual knowledge but a personal experience of another person. It actually speaks of a most intimate knowledge of another.
That should be the ambition of our hearts, our first cry every morning: “I want to know Christ.”
Too often our focus gets on ourselves in sanctification. We are more or less successful in practicing spiritual disciplines. We are more or less happy about our Christian experience. We long for the times when we experienced more ecstasy. All in all, our focus is upon ourselves.
But that is a dead end road.
We only make progress in our Christian lives when our focus is upon Christ.
Think about your daily devotions. What is your goal or purpose in doing them? Is it to gain mastery over Scripture? Is it to get more from God? Is it to improve our relationships, get a better handle on our finances or overcome some temptation?
Our daily devotions should be about Jesus Christ. Our time in the Word and in prayer should be focused on growing in our knowledge of Jesus and enjoying Him.
Scottish pastor Robert Murray McCheyne (1813–1843) left us with one quote that has become quite famous, and for good reason. It goes like this: “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” The quote is short, sticky, and it helps to both keep our focus on Christ and protect us from the trap of over-introspection with our own sins.
The line is taken from a letter published in Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne [(Edinburgh, 1894), 293]. Here’s a little more of the context:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jer. 17:9. Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in his almighty arms. . . . Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him. Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.”
Here is the punchline to the entire thought. The excellency of Christ is both the brilliant contrast to the sin in our hearts, and the remedy to the sin we find there. McCheyne was well aware that we battle indwelling sin by filling our hearts with “the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him.” Communion with Christ is the key to sanctification. This is the expulsive power of a new affection. This is to be changed from one degree of glory to another by beholding the brilliance of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
If we focus our attention and affection on Jesus Christ, all the other matters having to do with our Christian experience will be shaped by it. Not only will our temptations and sins be expelled, but our relationships will take on a new sweetness and our experiences will be laced with expressions of His love.
Interestingly, in this statement, “I want to know Christ,” Paul uses the aorist tense instead of what we might expect, the present tense. While the present tense would express a continuous desire, the aorist tense likely just summarizes a lifetime desire.
Paul’s encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus began a special intimacy with Christ that was on-going throughout Paul’s life.
This should be the great, the primary, longing of every Christian—“I want to know Christ.” Is it yours?
Is it not amazing that Paul, some thirty years after his conversion experience, and having accomplished some pretty phenomenal ministry results, would still find the primary beat of his heart to be knowing Christ? If Paul thought he needed to, and wanted to know Christ better, how much more should we?
This was Paul’s all-consuming passion, his magnificent obsession.
The more we know Him, the more we will love and trust Him. The more we know Him, the less this world will distract us and the less temptations will seduce us.
So I need to ask myself, “Why don’t I want to know Christ more…like Paul did?”
Well, first it might be because we have confused facts about Christ with an intimate relationship with Christ and that gets dull and boring after a while.
John Piper says:
In life, true education precedes true exultation. Learning truth precedes loving truth. Right reflection on God precedes right affection for God. Seeing the glory of Christ precedes savoring the glory of Christ. Good theology is the foundation of great doxology. That’s the order of life.
Knowledge is utterly crucial. But it is not an end in itself. It serves faith and love. And if it doesn’t, it only puffs up, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 8:1
Where education does not produce heartfelt exultation in God, it degenerates into proud intellectualism. And where exultation is not sustained and shared by solid Biblical education, it degenerates into proud emotionalism. God means to be known and loved. Seen and savored. Pondered and praised.
So we need to learn more about Christ, but we don’t stop there. We want to use that knowledge to help us worship Him more fully.
The American writer Joan Didion took her six-year-old daughter around an exhibition of paintings by Georgia O’Keefe. The little girl stared at those vast colorful paintings of flowers, and after a while she said to her mother, “Mommy, I want to meet her.”
That should be our desire—the more we learn about Christ the more we should want to get to know Him personally through fellowship.
In the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris you can see the tattered remains of a document that was discovered at the time of the death of one of the world’s great intellects, sewn into the lining of his coat.
Blaise Pascal, founder of projective geometry, devisor of the first calculating machine, discoverer of atmospheric physics, inventor of the barometer and the hydraulic press, became a man desperate for God and for His truth. He turned to the Bible, and during the night of November 23, 1654, God came very near to him, and he wrote down on a piece of paper his impression of those hours:
In the year of Grace 1654
On Monday, 23rd of November
From about half past ten in the evening until about half past twelve: FIRE
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars
Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.
Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except God.
He is to be found only by the ways taught in the Gospel…
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy…
I have fallen away. I have fled from Him…
We keep hold of Him only by the ways taught in the Gospel…
Total submission to Jesus Christ…
Eternally in joy…
I will not forget Your word. Amen.
Those are the famous words Pascal wrote down. How limited words are to express our experience. They reflect Pascal’s stream of consciousness looking back over those hours and trying to recapture a profound Christian experience.
I’m not trying to say that our experience will be, or needs to be, similar to Pascal’s, only that knowing Christ is more than just knowing about Him. It is a personal experience with Him.
More than likely, another reason we don’t pursue knowing Christ is that we get distracted from that by the busyness of life and ministry.
This is a particular hazard for those in ministry—mistaking ministry effectiveness for a real, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. It is quite possible to have spent years in ministry and not really know Christ, or not growing in the knowledge and love for Christ.
Jesus dealt with this with Mary and Martha. Martha was so busy getting a meal ready, and quite peeved at her sister for not helping, but Jesus told her that Mary was doing the most important thing—sitting at his feet listening to Him teach.
Thirdly, we often confuse religious experiences with knowing Christ. We think we’re going deeper in our relationship with Jesus because we can speak in tongues, or because we are able to do great things in ministry.
Jesus pointed out the danger of this misdirection in the Sermon on the Mount when he said:
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? ‘23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
These people were doing, and experiencing, amazing miracles! They were the celebrity pastors of the day. They would certainly have had their own television program, touting their ministries. And they had good hearts, everything was being done, “in your name,” to glorify Christ.
Here’s the problem: Jesus says, “I never knew you.” They had never established a personal relationship with Jesus by trusting in Him.
So these are some of the common obstacles to really knowing Christ—being satisfied with mere facts about him, being distracted by life, and being confused by ministry results or fantastic experiences.
So how do we come to know Him?
Well, first we have to admit to ourselves how little we do know of him. We have to repent of being satisfied with mere facts about him, being distracted by life, or substituting ministry results for genuine relationship.
Second, we must want to know Him. That is what Paul says, “I want to know Christ.” It was for him a consuming passion. If it does not become our passion, our highest desire, it will merely be a passing fancy.
David was a man who pursued God.
In Psalm 42 David cries out:
1 As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?
David was longing to go to God’s house and experience God’s presence and beauty. He expresses it again in Psalm 63:1-2…
1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.
And again, in Psalm 27:4
4 One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.
We need to pray, like these men of old, “Lord, put within my heart a deep hunger and thirst for you.”
Hunger is a pain. It is God’s merciful provision, a divinely sent stimulus to propel us in the direction of food. If food-hunger is a pain, thirst, which is water-hunger, is a hundredfold worse, and the more critical the need becomes within the living organism the more acute the pain. It is nature’s last drastic effort to rouse the imperiled life to seek to renew itself. A dead body feels no hunger and the dead soul knows not the pangs of holy desire.
So ask God to make you hungry and thirsty for Him.
Third, in order to know Him relationally and experientially, we must spend time in His presence. Just like we get to know a person by spending time with them, listening to them and talking with them, so we get to know God by spending time, listening to His Word and communicating with Him through prayer.
It takes time, so you have to intentionally allot time to make this happen.
Fourth, coming to know Christ deeply will involve going through struggles and difficulties, and that is the subject of the rest of verse 10, which we will tackle next week.