Paul's desire was "That I may know Him" (Philippians 3:10). Note that he did not say, "That I may know about Him." Many people will sympathize with you and possibly follow along in pursuit of knowledge about Jesus Christ. But say, like Paul did, that your goal is to know Him experientially in "the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death," and see how many others follow you. Yet this was the high ambition of the great apostle.
We cannot stress too emphatically that the word translated "know" means "to come to know by experience." Paul's goal was to come to know the Lord Jesus in a fullness of experiential knowledge that can only come through being identified with Christ and being like Him. A knowledge about Christ received from reading a book or listening to a sermon is too shallow and superficial to satisfy one like Paul. Conformity to Christ is his goal and he refuses to stop short of it.
The Power of His Resurrection
At first we might think that Paul has things out of order: "Resurrection … suffering … death." But remember that he is speaking about our experience, and the Christian experience begins with the believing sinner tasting of Christ's resurrection power in being born again. Throughout the New Testament, conversion is described as passing out of death into life (John 5:24; 11:25; Ephesians 2:1).
But the Christian life not only begins with receiving the life of the risen Christ; it also continues in exactly the same way. To live in the power of Christ's resurrection is to become more and more dead to the ways of the world and the lusts of the flesh, and to be more like Christ. "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:11). The same power that raised up the Lord Jesus from the dead, works in the believer to provide victory in his daily life. It was the experiential knowledge of that power, and its influence on his own inner life, that Paul desired and pursued.
Participation in Christ's Sufferings
The sufferings of Christ which Paul had in mind are not the atoning sufferings of the cross in which Christ bore the penalty for sins. That burden He bore alone; no person could possibly share in those sufferings. Rather, Paul was thinking of that great spiritual process carried on in the soul of a man or woman who shares the Saviour's burden for a lost world. Our Lord suffered in His soul as He wept over Jerusalem. His heart was broken as He saw the multitudes as sheep having no shepherd. Such anguish made up a substantial portion of His suffering. It was such suffering that Paul longed to know in experience.
Believers are united with Christ not only that they may share His life themselves, but also that they may share His life of labor on behalf of others. One who does not know Christ in the fellowship of His sufferings is not properly prepared to serve Him. He took upon Himself the form of a servant (Philippians 2), and paid whatever price was necessary to be the Servant of all.
The Pursuit Ended
Paul concludes with the expressed desire to be made "conformable unto His death." Elsewhere Paul said, "I am crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2:20) and "I die daily" (1 Corinthians 15:31). This is something we naturally shrink from. But it was an attitude of self-crucifixion that conditioned our Lord's entire earthly life and made it so fragrant and beautiful in the blessing of others.
If we have read the full account of Paul's life in the Bible, then we have some idea of the reward awaiting him at the Judgment Seat of Christ. And since each of us has a full account of his own life, we know what awaits us in that day, too. Dear Christian, there is still time to daily pursue and experience this blessed and intimate knowledge of Christ in His resurrection, sufferings, and death!
—Adapted from Studies in Philippians by Lehman Strauss.
The sentence of death must be written on the flesh. The power of the cross must be entered into before we can steadily and happily walk with God. —C.H.M.