Last week we began looking at one of the great benefits that comes from having a personal relationship with Christ through faith, and that is that we get “know Him.” That knowledge, patterned after the Old Testament “Adam knew his wife Eve” indicates that this knowledge is much more than mere information about a person, much deeper than mere acquaintance, but rather a deep, interactive, interpersonal relationship that comes from time spent together.
We noted that in order to know Christ we have to first admit how little we do know of him, then ask God to help us want to know him, then spend time in His presence. But a fourth way of knowing Christ intimately comes through experiencing difficulties and struggles. That is picked up in the remainder of Philippians 3:10-11:
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.
In pursuing a deep, personal relationship with Jesus, Paul was willing to experience both the power and the pain—the power of his resurrection and the pain of his sufferings.
Kent Hughes writes:
Two thousand years ago on the first day of the week, Christ’s cold body lay on chilled stone in the arms of death. His heart was stilled in the icy grip of the grave, whatever blood remained was congealed in his veins, his eyes were fixed and dilated, and his body was bound tightly with spices and graveclothes. Then, before dawn, his vacant eyes blinked open and coursed with light, focused and glittering life. And with the ease of omnipotence, his body left the wrappings like an empty cocoon.
That is the power of the resurrection. It is able to overcome death. Death could not hold Jesus Christ. In Acts 2:24 Peter preached:
24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
That power that raised Christ from the dead is ours by virtue of our union with Christ.
Paul was not content to know Christ merely as a historical footnote, but wanted to know Him personally as the resurrected ever-living Lord! That power ushers us into a new life.
Thus, t takes his resurrecting power to make us alive when we were dead in our sins. In Ephesians 2 Paul says…
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (vv. 4-6).
It takes nothing less than God’s creational power to effect such a change in us.
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ [when he created the world], has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
But God’s resurrection power is also available to us for our sanctification.
Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers that they would come to realize this power that was available to them through Christ:
16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:16-21)
This is more powerful than multiple atomic bombs, more powerful than a hurricane or lightning strikes. It is the power that raised Jesus from the dead and know Paul wants them to know the “immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might…”
Indeed, this is the way Paul lived — with resurrection power.
Squeezed but not squashed;
bewildered but not befuddled;
pursued but not abandoned;
knocked down but not knocked out.
2 CORINTHIANS 4:8, 9, PARAPHRASED BY MERRILL TENNEY
Again, this was resurrection power, as Paul immediately explains: “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:10, 11).
Gordon Fee writes:
Paul knows nothing of the rather gloomy stoicism that is so often exhibited in historic Christianity, where the lot of the believer is basically that of “slugging it out in the trenches,” with little or no sense of Christ’s presence and power. On the contrary, the power of Christ’s resurrection was the greater reality for him. So certain was Paul that it had happened — after all, he had been accosted and claimed by the Risen Lord on the Damascus Road — and that Christ’s resurrection guaranteed his own, that he could throw himself into the present with a kind of holy abandon, full of rejoicing and thanksgiving.
I believe that one way we enter into the power of the resurrection is that we count ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God” in Romans 6. Paul had said in Romans 5:21, “where sin increases grace super abounds.” Naturally, someone mistook that to mean, “Let’s go out and keep on sinning so we can get more grace.”
Here is Paul’s response in Romans 6:1-7
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.
Paul doesn’t say we should stop sinning because we might lose our salvation, or because we might be punished. He says that we stop sinning because we are new creatures. We died to sin and are alive to God. You cannot tempt a dead person.
As long as we reckon ourselves dead to sin we have the power to say “No!” to temptation. And as long as we reckon ourselves alive in God we have the power to say “Yes” to greater joy in Jesus Christ.
Where do we get the power to be kind, to love the unlovely, to forgive the unforgivable? You get that power through the resurrection power that is activated in our lives through union with Jesus Christ.
Now, it’s no question that most of us want to experience that power, to know the power of Christ’s resurrection and to conquer sin in our lives.
But do we truly want to “share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”?
Sure, we want to have fellowship with Jesus, but why does it have to be in his sufferings?
And why does Paul reverse the order of these? Shouldn’t death come before resurrection?
We love power and avoid pain. Nobody is going to say, “That church suffers with Christ, let’s join!” No, we’ve swallowed the shallow gospel that knowing Christ really means life on easy street, with no pain or suffering or sickness or poverty. We believe that God owes us “health and wealth.” It’s our birthright.
The spiritual reality is this: suffering is the lot of every true believer, a fact that Paul referenced frequently. Luke tells us that he and Paul returned to the churches of Asia Minor, “encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
Paul told the Thessalonians, “For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know” (1 Thessalonians 3:3, 4).
Paul also informed the Romans that suffering is a prerequisite to being glorified with Christ: . . . and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17).
Most significantly, the apostle told the Philippians explicitly in 1:29, “For it has been granted [literally, graced] to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”
Suffering for Christ then is a divine gift. It is a sign of sacred intimacy with Christ.
Karl Barth explained of this text, “The grace of being permitted to believe in Christ is surpassed by the grace of being permitted to suffer for him, of being permitted to walk the way of Christ with Christ himself to the perfection of fellowship with him” (Epistle to the Philippians , trans. James W. Leitch (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), p. 49).
The fellowship of Christ’s sufferings moves the believer beyond the role of beneficiary of Christ’s death to a sharer in his sufferings (cf. Colossians 1:24). The suffering that comes to a Christian (as a Christian) is not a sign of God’s neglect but rather proof that grace is at work in his or her life — sacred intimacy.
Suffering had been a part of Paul’s lot from the very beginning. When Ananias balked at helping Paul, God said to him…
15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16)
There is breathtaking beauty here — namely, that the more a believer becomes like Christ, the more he or she will suffer. Simply put, the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings is the fellowship of elevated souls who are growing in their knowledge of Christ. It is a fellowship of continual resurrection and the display of God’s power. It is a fellowship of ascent.
Because we love the power over the pain we are unlikely to go this far with Christ and our relationship with Him will remain shallow. Again, we must pray that God will give us a hunger and a thirst for fellowship with Christ that will encourage us to move into suffering instead of away from it.
Many have testified how their dependence upon, and trust in, and indeed their knowledge of Christ grew during times of testing and trouble. Pain causes us to turn to Christ, and that is probably why we feel like we know Him better after sufferings than after successes.
The last phrase in this verse modifies the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. Complete dedication to the will of God, which resulted in Jesus’ sufferings and which will result in the believer’s suffering, means “death” ultimately. First, it means death of own’s one agenda, and it can mean physical martyrdom as well. That was certainly true of the apostles.
Death is a grim prospect, but Paul did not have a morbid, unhealthy fascination with suffering and death for its own sake. He so loved Jesus Christ that he wished to share all aspects of His life, to know Him as intimately as he could. He even was willing to follow Him into the valley of the shadow of death.
The bottom line is, Paul wanted to take up his cross and follow Christ; he wanted God to conform him to Christ’s death. Jesus was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), and Paul understood that taking up his cross like this is part of knowing the Master.
Paul concluded his desire to know Christ by expressing enigmatically, “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (v. 11).
Was Paul uncertain about his participation in the resurrection? Not at all. The resurrection was certain, but the intervening events were uncertain as to timing and circumstances.
Would he die and later rise from the dead? Or would he remain alive and undergo transformation to his new resurrection body?
Probably Paul meant that he hoped he would live to experience the Rapture, the “out-resurrection from among the dead,” before he died. He did share the expectation that the rapture could happen in his lifetime (1 Thess. 4:16-17). That would be when he received his new, resurrection body.
What he did know emphatically is that he would experience resurrection “out from among the dead” (literal translation). And what would be his great prize? Certainly a new body and certainly everlasting life. But that is not the prize that he so coveted. The prize he wanted was Christ himself.
That is what Paul gave up everything for, gladly, to know Jesus Christ.
Kent Henry concludes:
“That I may know him” (v. 10) describes Paul’s day-in, day-out, unremitting, relentless, defining pursuit. Paul set his brilliant mind to learning everything about Jesus that he could, seeking him in all the Old Testament Scriptures. Before he came to Christ, Paul was already an expert in the Torah and the sacred writings. Likely he had them in his head! Thus during his early years in Arabia he sought Christ in all the Scriptures, as we see so deftly illustrated in his epistles.
Paul also learned all he could from the apostolic band about Christ. Certainly he and Luke talked incessantly about Christ on the long days and nights of their travels. But it was never knowledge about Christ that he sought as an end in itself.
All the apostle’s powers were concentrated on knowing Christ personally. The power of the resurrection had dazzled him on the road to Damascus, and he never got over it. Every day was his personal resurrection day, an affirmation that he had been raised with Christ. So, Paul kept seeking the power of the resurrection as an avenue for knowing Christ more deeply.
This in turn enabled Paul to share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings and further increase his intimacy and knowledge of him. Indeed, Paul passionately sought the fellowship of his sufferings as a grace for his soul. Therefore, the apostle was continually being conformed to Christ’s death by God himself. His life was stamped with the divine imprint of the cross and a growing knowledge of Christ. This meant that Paul looked with confidence to the indeterminate day of the great resurrection when the full knowledge of Christ would fill his horizon for all eternity.
There is no doubt that if any of us knew today to be the final day of our lives, we would wish that we had made Christ the passion of our existence. But as it is, there is time right now to pray, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Will you pray that prayer with me?