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Download audio Read Philippians 3:1 - 3:11

Tom continues our series 'Letters from Lockdown', focusing on verses 10 and 11 of Philippians 3. Tom unpacks the meaning of Paul's desire to 'know' Jesus, the power of his resurrection and to stand with him in his suffering and death.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the kind of conversation where another person’s name is mentioned, and you say, ‘I know of him, but I don’t know him personally’. There is a huge difference between knowing about a person and knowing that person directly. To know a person implies a relationship, and a level of intimacy. To know of a person implies a sense of distance and remoteness.

To put it another way, it is the difference between just reading a book about honey, and actually tasting the honey. The former is a theoretical knowledge, whereas the latter describes the personal experience of tasting honey.

When Paul says he wants to know Christ, he means that he wants a living relationship with Christ. He wants to experience Christ for himself – the ‘lived-knowing’ of Christ.

Look at verses 7-8 in this chapter:

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”

Here we see a repeated pattern in Paul’s words of ‘loss’ and ‘gain’. Everything apart from Christ he regards as ‘loss’. Everything to do with Christ, he calls ‘gain’.

What is the pearl of great price on offer in these verses? It is Christ.

Being made righteous is not the aim in these verses. No, the aim is Jesus Christ, the one who makes us righteous. Look at verse 9:

‘not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”

We must ask ourselves where our heart is in this? Do we love, first and foremost, Christ, the author and giver of our salvation?

If we are struggling in this, we need to pray Paul’s prayer in verse 10:

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,”

What does it actually mean to have this ‘lived-knowledge’ of Christ?

To know Christ is to know resurrection power

If we look at Ephesians 1: 18-19

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know …… his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

The same power which raised Jesus Christ from the grave, is at work in believers.

Why did Paul focus on resurrection power? The answer is that, as believers, we have all experienced that power. Of course, if resurrection to new life had physically happened to us, we would truly acknowledge this miracle. But the fact that we have experienced new birth spiritually, makes it no less true.

Paul cries out for Christ. He yearns to experience that miracle of new life every day. As believers we are not powerless dead people, ruled by our religion. Religion does not have power. We are reminded of this in Colossians 2:22-23

“These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. “

Rules and laws lack any power in restraining sensual desire. Religion cannot kill sin or raise a person to newness of life. Religion has power to make you strict and godly, but it lacks resurrection power.

The coming week will undoubtedly present us with difficulties and challenges of various kinds, but we have the resources available to us to know the Lord Jesus Christ.

To know Christ is to participate in his sufferings becoming like him in death

John Calvin commented that it is not enough to know Christ as crucified and raised up from the dead unless you experience, also, the fruit of this.

It is not enough to have head knowledge that Jesus exists. We must sample the fruit of this knowledge, in our own lives and also in ‘death’. See Romans 6:2-4

“We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

Paul’s focus in these verses is on death. They are all about dying with Christ. To know Jesus is to die with him. It is to know that through faith we are united to the crucified one. Our old self is dead. Every day we must take up the cross. We share in his sufferings by putting our old sinful self to death. It is something more than just inward spirituality. Paul welcomes suffering, in order to really know Christ.

John Piper commented:

‘When we talk about resurrection power, we mustn’t take Paul to mean that we must avoid suffering’

No, salvation does not automatically mean freedom from suffering, with no pain or hardship in our lives

As Paul says in verse 10

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,”

Paul is crying out for the power not to avoid suffering, but on the contrary, to suffer with Jesus Christ.

Every day we are confronted with a vast amount of media information about world events, none of which ever recognises the hand of God in it. His contribution is obviously worth very little in the world’s eyes. Jesus Christ is seemingly not relevant to any of these issues.

As believers, we must recognise that to know Christ means to stand with him in such rejection. Paul wants to experience some of the Lord’s sorrows, to know the pain he felt.

The disciples rejoiced in suffering because they were standing with their Lord and becoming more like him in the process.

Most of us here today won’t experience deadly persecution, but we can all expect to face suffering and we must see this as an opportunity to know Jesus and to become like him.

In the early weeks of Lockdown, many of us were feeling cut off and isolated in our homes. As the months have passed those feelings may have been replaced by fears of going back to ‘normality’. We may actually have started to enjoy our life of safety in our homes, like a snail going into our shell. This is actually a kind of hardship, because we are living in a false reality.

To know Christ is to face every kind of hardship with him, so that we can become like him.

We need to talk to Jesus about our fears and remember that God’s word tells us that we should consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds because we know that the testing of our faith will produce perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. In all of our difficulties we can become in some way like Christ. But we need resurrection power to help us.

To know Christ is to attain the resurrection of the dead

Verse 11 in the ESV states: “that if possible, I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Does this mean that Paul’s fate is hanging in the balance? No. Resurrection is a promise through faith in Christ. Paul knows his final destination, but not the road he will take. It is the same for us. We will all experience resurrection from the dead [or literally, from among corpses], but none of us knows what the Lord has in store for us in the meantime.

In the light of this we must get on with our lives, day by day seeking to truly know Christ, as Paul yearned to do.

Let us make that our desire!

Philippians 3:1 - 3:11

3:1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 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 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. (ESV)