In this passage of Scripture we see the apostle Paul explaining to the Philippian church the essential nature of really coming to know Jesus Christ in an intimate way, what is involved in that, and the why behind it all. Paul addresses the humility involved in knowing Christ, and the absolute dependence on God that is necessary to know him. And Paul does this without laying down one requirement for the believer. We will see that it is something that God does in us.
We went camping about a month ago, taking our travel trailer out for the first time. I was sufficiently nervous dragging something that big behind me on the highway, but eventually settled into it. However, when it was time to hitch up and come home, I found that the anti-sway bar had broken on the trip up the mountain. No, I had not noticed it when we originally arrived. I did fine getting down to the highway, but once I got up to 55 mph, the trailer began to sway, and I don’t mean just a little. I’m gripping the steering wheel for all I’m worth, thinking to myself, “I can do this”, “just don’t drive 55”, “I can get by without the anti-sway bar”, and “this thing isn’t going to get the best of me!” Right. I white knuckled it for about 30 miles before I finally pulled over, got on the Internet and found an RV dealer who had an anti-sway bar to sell me.
White knuckling—holding on so tightly to the steering wheel that our knuckles turn white—is how I initially learned what it was to live “the Christian life”. It is how I learned what it was to get to know the Savior. I used to think, “I can do this”, and, as I was taught, I rigorously engaged in having a quiet time, reading and memorizing Scripture, maintaining a prayer journal, evangelizing, worshipping, serving at church, fasting, giving, and being at church every time the doors were open.
I was way too young in my walk with Christ when I was ordained as a deacon, and in the church culture of the denomination we were in, the deacons functioned as the sounding board for the pastor. We were given any number of assignments, and mine included attending the deacon meetings, being assigned to at least two different committees, teaching adult Sunday School, and anything else that came up. Oh, and it was clearly implied that saying “no” was not an option—the culture didn’t allow for that. So that was how I thought—I have to be involved to be a “good Christian”, in addition to all of the spiritual disciplines I mentioned. And to make it worse, time with my very young family was sorely missing, as well as true intimacy with Jesus Christ. All of my “activity” took the place of real time with the Lord.
Now don’t get me wrong—there is absolutely nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these activities. Engaging in the spiritual disciplines is very beneficial for us as believers. The Holy Spirit has gifted all believers and those gifts are to be used for God’s glory. But apart from the gospel—the completed work of Jesus Christ—they are all ritualistic exercises in futility. Why? Because of the motivation behind them, thinking we will gain favor with God by engaging in them! Nothing we do can gain favor with God! Too often, those of us who engage in the meticulous, ritualistic observance of the disciplines will even feel the need to double up the next day should a quiet time or prayer time be missed. If we do this, what we are doing is we are legalistically white knuckling the spiritual steering wheel all the way. Our deeds are as filthy rags.
The fact of the matter is that the gospel—what Jesus did on our behalf, that is, the “work” to please God that has been already completed—must be taken into account by each of us daily. I’ll address that in a minute.
In the first part of Chapter 3, Paul warns the church about the Judaizers that were among them, those who believed new believers needed to be circumcised in order to be saved. He then said,
“3For we (believers, those of us in Christ) are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—4though 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”
and he went on to list seven qualities that demonstrated the confidence he had in what he did. He said he:
· Was 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 (without any fault)
Paul’s pedigree made him the big shot in his circles, spiritually speaking. But after coming to an understanding of the gospel and God’s grace, and his own inability to keep the law, Paul cast all those things aside. He counted them all as loss, not gain—in fact, he considered all things, everything, as being to his disadvantage because of the the indescribable, ongoing value of knowing Jesus Christ!
It was for Christ’s sake, for the sake of his relationship with Christ and his position in Christ, that Paul forfeited his qualifications, and considered them as being no better than scum, the most worthless and detestable thing imaginable. Again, he did so—and this is critically important to understand—because he recognized the immeasurable value of knowing Jesus Christ! And this was not something that Paul went back and forth with—no. When he said he counted the gain he had accumulated as loss, it was something that was a done deal, accomplished in the past, with the results continuing into the present. It was a fact. It was permanent. And it was all because of Christ and what he had accomplished on the cross.
Paul’s Continuing Argument: v. 8-9
In verses 8 to 11 then, Paul goes into a more detailed explanation of what he was talking about earlier. In verse 8, he said he considered, that is, he viewed all of the things he listed earlier as being to his disadvantage because of the fact that knowing Christ was what governed his life. Paul saw the list as obstacles to knowing Christ. Knowing Christ was what controlled his life is what characterized his life. Knowing Christ was what mattered and was what was supremely valuable. This “knowing” is different than the word “know” in v.10—here, Paul is talking about his acquired knowledge of Jesus Christ, that is, pursuing him, passionately, learning more and more about him. That mattered to Paul—it mattered way more than the spiritual history he had put together before his experience on the road to Damascus.
In addition to knowing Christ, we see here that Paul’s focus was to cast those things aside so that he would be found in him. He wanted to “gain Christ”—not the things of the world—not the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—but Christ. The believer who loses all things like Paul is talking about, because of Christ, is the one that gains Christ. With the things of the world cast aside (an attitude), the obstacles to knowing Christ are gone! Paul knew that it does not profit a man to gain the whole world, only to lose his own soul. (Matthew 16:26)
Gain à Confidence
Understand, that which we “gain” is that in which we have ultimate confidence. If what we consider gain in this life consists of our job, our salary, our family, our position in the community or in our church, it is those things in which we place our ultimate confidence. No so for Paul. No, instead of his elevated position as a Pharisee, with everyone looking up to him, he was interested in gaining Christ and being found in him! It was in Christ that he placed his trust, it was in Christ that he experienced the ultimate confidence. None of that other stuff mattered! It was “in Christ” he wanted to be found on the last day, living in him, with Christ as the important aspect of his existence. Not “the most important” thing, but THE important thing!
Found in Christ
To be “found in Christ” is to be living spiritually in him when he returns because one is living spiritually in him in the present. The idea is something that may or should happen (gaining Christ and being found in him), suggesting that the action is dependent upon some condition being met. What might that condition be?
Well, it’s in two parts, described for us in v. 9 in the negative and in the affirmative:
u …not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, this would be called a “works righteousness”, but (instead)
v (having a righteousness) which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—
Righteousness has to do with being fully justified, exactly measuring up to what God requires. The word conveys the idea of perfectly conforming to the law of God, and expresses the idea of being in right relationship with God or of being rightly related to God by virtue of our performance.
Remember in the beginning I mentioned Paul’s warning to the church about the Judaizers? Paul warned them about the Judaizers that were among them, those who believed new believers needed to be circumcised. Recognize that the Judaizers wanted those in the Philippian church to “do” things. They were advocating a “works righteousness”, not unlike the church in Galatia or those today who will teach that one must engage in the spiritual disciplines or observe man made rules in order to be “right” with God.
Think about it…if righteousness comes by our keeping Law—or engaging in the spiritual disciplines, or doing anything else—then Christ died needlessly. (Galatians 2:21) Paul is not denouncing the Law nor the righteousness demanded by it but he is denouncing his own former self-righteous confidence in his own merits. No amount of law-keeping, self-improvement, discipline, or religious effort—including the spiritual disciplines mentioned earlier—can make anyone right with God. While those things may give a false sense of righteousness, they do not measure up to the standard of a perfectly righteous God.
As he makes his argument, Paul knows he will not gain Christ and he will not be found in him when he returns if he depends on his own self-achieved righteousness that results from his feeble attempts at keeping the law. Paul knows that his obedience to the law, his ritualistic, honorable, morality is not sufficient to make him righteous in God’s sight. Paul had come to realize and understand that there is no way to perfectly keep the law of God, which is the standard required by God. No, Paul knows that the only righteousness that counts is righteousness that comes through faith in Christ and Christ’s finished work on the cross. He knows that righteousness that is acceptable to God is actually from God. How is that possible? Paul explained it here and in Romans 3, where he argued that it is possible because it was the Father who sent the Son to bear the penalty for our sin, to bear the wrath of the Father, to take it all upon himself for the benefit of those who would be called to salvation by God. God provided the required righteousness for us. It is because of Christ’s finished work on the cross, it is because of Christ’s righteousness that believers, through faith, are deemed righteous. And this righteousness is a gift to the believer from God.
Paul continued in v. 9, making the point that true righteousness comes through faith in Christ. Faith involves completely renouncing any confidence in ourselves, completely leaving behind any confidence in our accomplishments or any confidence in our “spiritual maturity”. Faith is receiving the gift of salvation from God, and it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to receive that gift. We cannot do even that ourselves! Instead of being confident in our own spiritual efforts, faith entails emptying ourselves of ourselves (think Philippians 2), and relying completely on the perfect righteousness of Christ, relying on his death, burial and triumphant resurrection. That is humbling, and that is the point~
So a few minutes ago, I talked about revisiting the gospel—what Christ did on our behalf—on a daily basis. In his book, The Discipline of Grace, Jerry Bridges argued that believers must “preach the gospel to themselves every day”. Why? Why would that be important? I mean, the gospel is what we need for salvation, sure, but not after we have been saved, right? No! The gospel is important to each of us every day because, as Bridges put it,
“to live by the gospel means that we firmly grasp the fact that Christ’s life and death are ours by virtue of our union with Him. What He did, we did…because of our frequent failures before God, we do feel under condemnation, we do not feel God is for us but rather must surely be against us, we do think he is bringing charges against us. At such times we must preach the gospel to ourselves. We must review what God has declared to be true about our justification in Christ.” [p. 54]
“to preach the gospel to yourself, then, means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in his shed blood and righteous life. It means that you appropriate, again, by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied the law of God, that he is your propitiation, and that God’s holy wrath is no longer directed toward you.” [p. 59]
Preaching the gospel to myself will remind me that I am in right relationship with God. When my conscience reminds me of the sinner that I am, by preaching the gospel to myself I remind myself that Jesus has already dealt with my guilt! As a result, there is nothing for me to do and nothing I can do to curry any favor with God! The same is true for every believer!!
The Crux of the Matter: What is Involved? v. 10-11
And this is the crux of the matter…what is involved in knowing Christ?
Paul says that his desire is to know Christ—and here he uses a different word for know than in v. 8. Here, the word “know” means to intimately be connected to, to be completely familiar with on the deepest level. More than knowing about Christ, Paul wants to intimately, deeply, and personally be familiar with who Christ is, all that he is about. Paul here is talking about a personal union with Christ that works itself out in all of our experiences. In this union, we experience his power in our lives. This intimate relationship is expressed in a unity with Christ that results in our reliance on Christ in everything! Jesus, praying for all of his disciples, including you and me, prayed about this very thing in the Garden.
3And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
That word know is the same word as here in v. 10; Jesus prayed that you and I would be intimately, deeply connected to him and the Father, he wants us to be intimately familiar with who he and the Father are and all they are about. That, Jesus said, is eternal life.
Only a person who has been regenerated, and who has truly been saved, will sincerely claim to want to KNOW Christ. This is the desire of one who knows his or her sins have been forgiven, and that they are “in Christ”, as Paul put it in Romans. I mean think about it, you and I have been rescued from a terrible death—eternal separation from God. Why wouldn’t we have the desire to more fully KNOW him who delivered us? Why wouldn’t our “soul long and yearn, even to hungering and to thirsting” as Spurgeon put it, to KNOW Christ? You and I cannot be satisfied merely knowing that “Jesus loves me and I’m not going to hell”! He took the penalty for our sin, and he suffered a miserable death FOR US! Because of that, if we have truly been converted, we will LONG to really KNOW him!
Or, we may know theology inside out and upside down, but have no burning in the belly to really KNOW him—is that enough? I would argue NO! That is Paul’s argument too! I mean, WHY would we settle for just that? Paul was no different from you or me. He wanted more too—he wanted to really KNOW Jesus, and that must be our burning desire as well, to KNOW Christ personally!
Resurrection and Suffering
Paul wanted this church to understand the idea that “knowing Christ” here in v.10 involved a couple of things:
u the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ—all that it implied, as well as
v sharing in Christ’s suffering.
Power of His Resurrection
The word power here is describing for us the idea of effective, productive energy that actually accomplishes something. This resurrection Paul wanted to know would primarily include salvation, because apart from Christ’s resurrection from the dead, there would be no rebirth, there would be no justification, there would be no salvation or resurrection of believers at the end of the age! Paul recognized that the power of Christ’s resurrection was at the heart of the gospel and that it was directly related to attaining the resurrection from the dead he mentioned in v. 11. Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee of the believer’s resurrection!
Not only that, but Paul wanted to share in Christ’s suffering, he wanted to participate in the misery that Christ endured, the evil Christ endured, and by doing so, he wanted to be conformed to Christ in his death.
I finished reading a book a few months ago called Holiness by Grace, by Bryan Chapell. It is definitely in my top five favorites. In the chapter entitled “What’s Discipline Got to do With It?” he wrote the following: at p. 170-172
…the suffering we experienced was necessary for us to understand the God we were preparing to proclaim. Suffering cannot be avoided if we are really to know Christ. Since the Bible says that he became like us in order to sympathize and understand our condition (Hebrews 4:15; 5:2), the converse must also be true. We must know his suffering in order to know him. The apostle Paul writes, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10). If even an apostle would only know Christ through suffering, then I must recognize that the Christian disciplines that reveal him include Scripture reading, prayer, communion with fellow believers—and sharing in the fellowship of his suffering.
But what is the nature of Christ’s suffering that we must share, in order fully to know his fellowship? His suffering included poverty and humiliation, pain and death. All of these he endured for us…he suffered to take on himself the guilt and the consequences of the sins of others. Thus, if we are to know him through his suffering, we will not merely have to experience the difficulty of nameless forces and circumstances; we must also experience what it means to suffer for the sins of others. We must be willing to endure and love the damaged and damaging personalities who make us suffer. This is Luther’s theology of the cross—the understanding that our deepest knowing of the One who bore the cross for us in some measure depends on our own cross-bearing of the miseries of this world and even of the miserableness of others…amid such suffering there is a deep spiritual blessing….
Reading that blew my mind! I had never understood that sharing in Christ’s suffering consists of suffering because of the sins or sinful attitudes of others. Don’t you love it when the Holy Spirit pulls the cord for the light to come on?
Now remember that "sharing in Christ’s suffering”, suffering because of the sins or sinful attitudes of others, is what Paul is talking about. He is not talking about suffering because of the consequences of our own sin, but because of the sin of others. So think about it:
· Have people plotted against you (and I don’t mean in your own mind)? Think of Jesus, against whom the chief priests, the elders, and the high priest conspired.
· Have you been ridiculed for your faith? Think of Jesus being stripped, mocked, spit on, beaten, ridiculed and accused
· Has a friend betrayed your trust? Think of Jesus, betrayed by a man with whom he had spent the last three years, a man who had been a witness to his restorative work. Or think of the other 11 guys, who ran away like scared rabbits.
· Have you experienced injustice? Think of Jesus, who went through sham trials, none of which were just. Think of Jesus, who paid the price for our sin, the ultimate injustice.
· Has a son or daughter or a parent abandoned you, walked away from the rest of the family? Think of Jesus on the cross—crying out in a loud voice “My God, my God, (My Father) why have you forsaken me?” (not that that was sin on God’s part, no! He hung there because of our sin!) But Jesus felt forsaken.
21For to this [suffering] (we) have been called, because Christ also suffered for (us), leaving (us) an example, so that (we) might follow in his steps. 22He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:21-23
29For it has been granted to (us) that for the sake of Christ (we) should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake… Philippians 1:29
Suffering for doing good, suffering for the sake of Christ, suffering because of the sin of others—all come to us as believers because of the grace of God. You may say, “Huh, are you nuts?” Well, that is exactly what Paul was talking about when he said,
· “…it has been granted (bestowed upon) to you that for the sake of Christ you should…suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29) and when Peter said,
· “19For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” 1 Peter 2:19
Friends, do not be discouraged by the suffering brought about by the sin of others—it is what we called in my world of law enforcement e-v-i-d-e-n-c-e, evidence of our intimate relationship with Jesus Christ! No, it’s not fun. No, it is not something we would intentionally choose to go through. But it is still evidence!
But fixing our eyes on Jesus and the prize that awaits us—the upward call of God in Christ Jesus—gives us hope,
· 5and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. [Romans 5:5]
· (We do) not shift from the hope of the gospel that we have heard (because of trials)…but we continue in the faith, stable and steadfast… [Colossians 1:23]
· …we (you and me) have our hope set on the living God…(not the things of this world) [1 Timothy 4:10]
· (Remember, we are)…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ… [Titus 2:13]
Be encouraged in all of the situations where you and I as disciples of Jesus experience suffering as a result of the evil intentions of others, as a result of the sin of others, we fellowship with Christ in His suffering! The suffering Jesus endured for us was a direct result of the grace of God! Because he loved us, he sent his Son to be the sacrificial lamb.
Imagine hearing from Jesus:
3I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. [Revelation 2:3]
Are you enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of his name? Are you growing weary? Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith! Put your hope in him! Trust him! Look for the Day of his return!
Suffering and Gospel
So in A Gospel Primer for Christians, Milton Vincent ties the gospel and our sharing in Christ’s suffering together. He wrote:
“[T]he gospel is the one great permanent circumstance in which I live and move; and every hardship in my life is allowed by God only because it serves his gospel purposes in me. When I view my circumstances in this light, I realize that the gospel is not just one piece of good news that fits into my life somewhere among all the bad. I realize instead that the gospel makes genuinely good news out of every other aspect of my life, including my severest trials. The good news about my trials is that God is forcing them to bow to His gospel purposes and do good unto me by improving my character and making me more conformed to the image of Christ. Preaching the gospel to myself each day provides a lens through which I can view my trials in this way and see the true cause for rejoicing that exists in them. I can then embrace the trials as friends and allow them to do God’s good work in me.”
By sharing in his sufferings we become like him in his death. None of our suffering conforms (is the same as) to his suffering, but just as Christ was killed for the sin of others, we are marked by the cross because we belong to him, because we now live in him.
And personally, understanding that I share in his suffering here and now—as opposed to my suffering—does not make it any less painful, but it sure has changed my attitude toward those whose sin or sinful attitude translates to calamity or affliction for me! It has helped me to actually love (or at least move in that direction) those whose sin brings pain and tragedy to my life.
Paul and the Resurrection: v. 11
Finally, Paul wrote:
11that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
If we are to share in his resurrection, we must be conformed to his death—Paul addressed that. Spurgeon said this was a “slow and painful death” (sharing in his sufferings) that we experience as we are conformed to Christ’s death. And, as believers, we are engaged in a struggle to persevere to the end.
Paul does not view his salvation as something strictly in the past. Here he implies the future aspect of salvation, and, I would argue, he preaches the gospel to himself in that he talks about the future aspect or final outcome of the gospel.
Twice in Matthew’s gospel (chapters 10 and 24), Jesus said,
“But the one who endures to the end will (future) be saved.”
The writer of Hebrews twice (chapter 3 and chapter 6) talks about enduring to the end.
I believe that is what Paul had in mind here—you and I must endure to the end. We must keep a watchful eye on our own lives. Of course, it is Christ who enables us to endure to the end; it is he who sustains us to the end. (1 Corinthians 1)
In writing to the church at Corinth, Paul also said:
1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received (past), in which you stand (present), 2and by which you are being (future) saved, IF you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:1-2
Here, Paul talks about our salvation that has occurred (past), is occurring (present), and will occur (future), all contingent upon our holding fast to the word that has been preached to us.
So what do we walk away with from this passage? I would suggest we consider 5 things:
1. My righteousness is through faith in Christ, not in “doing”.
2. Knowing him intimately must be the focus of my life.
3. If I am in a position to make a choice between the world or Christ, I will choose Christ.
4. Even losing everything because of Christ means I gain Christ.
5. Sharing in his suffering means I come to know him intimately.