TO KNOW CHRIST Philippians 3
“I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8).Power for living as well as salvation is to be found in Christ alone.
Paul had abandoned confidence in his own works (3:1–6) to trust Christ completely (vv. 7–9) and spiritual enablement (vv. 10–11). All mature believers will follow Paul’s example and press toward this goal (vv. 12–17), eagerly awaiting Christ’s return and our transformation (vv. 18–21).
Understanding the Text
“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!” Phil. 3:1 This is not the last thought Paul intended to share. It is instead the ultimate thought. Paul had already noted many sources of joy for the Christian life. We find joy in fellowship with others whom we love (1:4). We find joy in sharing the Gospel (v. 18). We find joy in our unity with other believers (2:2). Yet the final, the ultimate joy, which Paul expressed in Philippians 3, is found in Christ Himself. It is this joy, which is available to you and me always, that Paul explored in this very personal chapter of Philippians. “Put no confidence in the flesh” Phil. 3:2–4. Paul began by warning against the Judaizers. These men of Jewish extraction and pharisaical tendency visited all the churches Paul founded, and tried to convince the believers that they must become Jews to be Christians. They must accept circumcision, and keep the many regulations of the Old Testament, as interpreted by tradition. Paul angrily called these men evil, mere “mutilators of the flesh.” In focusing the attention of believers on works, they drew attention away from Christ. This is the first clue to finding the Christian’s ultimate source of joy. Don’t count on what you have done, are doing, or will do. Count only on what Christ did. Watchman Nee, the great Chinese evangelist and writer on the spiritual life, has rightly said, “Christianity is a queer business. If at the outset we try to do anything, we get nothing; if we seek to attain something, we miss everything. For Christianity begins not with a big DO, but with a big DONE.” Only by continuing to rely on Christ and what He has done, only by abandoning all reliance on our own works, can we go on in the Christian life or experience joy. (See DEVOTIONAL.) “Somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead” Phil. 3:10–11. Verse 11 has confused some, who assume Paul was speaking about the future resurrection of his own body. But verse 10 makes it clear Paul was speaking about knowing Christ now, and experiencing now the power of His resurrection. Paul spoke in the same vein in Romans 8:11: “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you.” Thus Romans identifies the source of power for Christian living. Philippians 3:10–11 now goes on to tell us how to tap this source of power. Paul’s explanation? Become “like Christ in His death.” The prescription is explained in the verses above. We abandon any confidence we had in the flesh. We confess our lifeless state, and the utter impossibility of any spiritual achievement. As the dead body of Christ was buried, so we bury the rubbish we once considered our righteousness. Then, standing by the grave of self, we hear Christ’s invitation to share His sufferings and experience the power of His resurrection. “I press on toward the goal” Phil. 3:12–14. Don’t get the idea that the Christian life is passive. We do stop trying. But we do not stop pressing on. This may be a paradox, but it is not a contradiction. What we put behind us is self-effort, and the notion that anything we can do in ourselves can possibly please or be of service to the Lord. What we hold out before us is the fact that, here on earth, we are Christ’s hands and feet. We are His body now, the presence He still maintains in the world of men. It is that “for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” It is that that you and I prize most as we journey heavenward. It’s not that we will ever perfectly express Christ to others. But as we rely completely on Him to work through us, and as we commit ourselves to do God’s will, we will experience something of resurrection power and joy today. “Our citizenship is in heaven” Phil. 3:17–20a. A citizen owes allegiance to the laws and rulers of his nation. Paul closed this section of Philippians by calling on us to remember what it means to be united to Jesus in His death and resurrection. We owe no allegiance to our old way of life. Those who even try to be good and so merit God’s favor are enemies of the Cross, which stands stark and bare as a symbol of man’s utter sinfulness. We who have heard the message of the Cross, are to keep on hearing it in each of our todays. It tells us that what man cannot do, God has done. And God will continue to do, in you and in me. “We eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” Phil. 3:20b-21. Earlier Paul wrote, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect” (v. 12). Those who expect the spiritual life to be one of sudden transformation, or instantaneous perfection, are sure to be disappointed. God still has only our mortal bodies to work with, and all too often lacks even our cooperation! But despite our imperfection, God’s power does flow in us and through us. In our weakness we know something of His strengthening power. No wonder Paul said we wait eagerly for Jesus to return. Then, what we experience imperfectly now will be fully ours. When Jesus returns, “He will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (v. 21). Then at last we will realize to the full “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus” our Lord (v. 8).
A Vote of No Confidence(Phil. 3:4–11)
She was an older lady, well-dressed, clearly upper class. She’d stopped to watch as I stood on a street evangelist’s stepladder outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York to give my “word of testimony.” Perhaps it was the novelty of seeing one of Uncle Sam’s sailors, in uniform, preaching on the street. Perhaps it was just curiosity. After I got down I talked with her. She thought that Jesus was all right for some people. Certainly the bums on the bowery needed something. But she was not only religious, she was a truly good person. She had never done anything mean or petty, and while others might need Jesus, she most assuredly did not. Often the hardest people to reach with the Gospel are those who truly have tried to live good lives, and by all appearances have succeeded! Paul was one of those people, and his credentials were far superior to any you or I might muster. Or even that lady I met so briefly on the street over 35 years ago. But Paul did something with his credentials that you and I must do with ours. We have to recognize them not as advantages, but liabilities! If we for a moment rely on them, or think that they commend us to God, they replace to that extent our confidence in Christ, and thus weaken us spiritually. It may seem strange, but the truly wicked have a great advantage over the good when they become Christians. John Newton, for instance, had a great advantage over you and me. He went to sea early in life, and quickly became a vile, drunken, blasphemous, and violent man. And a slave trader. Later, when Newton was converted, he never lost his sense of the dark pit from which he had been rescued, or an awareness of his own corrupt nature. So don’t take comfort in the “good” life you may have lived before your conversion. Or even in your honest efforts to do well since. Like the Apostle Paul, consider such advantages to be liabilities. Let your heart be filled with the “surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus.” Cloak yourself in the righteousness that comes from Him by faith, and rely on His resurrection power to express itself through you and your life.
The Christian life is resurrection life. But before you can rise again, you must die to self.
“This Christ life is simply turning the little shop of life, so woefully perplexing, over to another. Christ becomes owner, manager, overseer; His is the responsibility, the upkeep. Your part is to be a faithful clerk, steward of the grace of God. You are to trust the management to Him and obey orders; take off the shelves anything displeasing, add anything He commands. But He is also your elder brother and His love takes out all the worry, fever, and tension. And one day, if you have been faithful over a few things, He will give you a heavenly shop in the city of the King!”—Charles H. Robinson