“That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death” (Philippians 3:10).
The first step to a knowledge of God is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, shew us the Father.” Jesus answered him, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (John 14:8-9). If we would know God, we must begin with Jesus Christ.
We cannot stress too emphatically that the word “know” means “to come to know by experience.” Paul’s aspiration expressed in Philippians 3:10 is to come to know the Lord Jesus in that fullness of knowledge by identifying himself with Christ and being like Him. It was this personal contact with life, and not mere intellectual knowledge, that our Lord had in mind when He prayed, “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
How did Paul seek to achieve his goal of knowing Christ more deeply? His goal was a threefold experience.
Power of Christ’s Resurrection
Christian experience begins with the believing sinner tasting Christ’s resurrection power in regeneration. Writing to believers, Paul said: “You hath He quickened [made alive], who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Saving faith produces spiritual life; the believer is “born again” (John 3:3,5).
Since Paul was saved when he expressed this desire, to what extent did he want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection? If we are to conquer the daily habits of sin and live in holiness, we must draw from the power of Christ’s risen life. In Romans 5:9-10, Paul teaches that we are now justified by the blood of Christ and reconciled to God by the death of His Son, but he also adds: “we shall be saved by His life.” 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. It was the experiential knowledge of that power—its influence on his own inner life—that Paul pursued.
Participation in Christ’s Sufferings
These sufferings of Christ are not the physical pain and agony of the cross in which He bore the penalty for sins. No one could possibly share these with Him. Rather, they may be what the Lord spoke of when Paul was converted: “I will shew him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). These are sufferings in which we may have fellowship with our blessed Lord, such as being the objects of the world’s ridicule and persecution because of our stand for Christ. To know Christ in the fellowship of His sufferings means to bear reproach for His name’s sake.
Most of us would gladly enjoy the fellowship of Christ’s blessings, but how many among us would just as gladly seek the fellowship of His sufferings? Have you ever prayed to God to ask Him that He would grant you the privilege of knowing Christ in the fellowship of His sufferings? Paul did!
Conformity to His Death
Paul concludes his pursuit for knowledge with the expressed desire to be made “conformable unto His death.” His death was the goal of His incarnation; Christ was born to die. He said, “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). I don’t believe Paul is expressing a desire to physically die as Christ did, on a cross. Rather, we find Paul’s meaning in such phrases as “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20), “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31), and “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:10).
Being made conformable to Christ’s death is something we all shrink from. We do not surrender our lives easily; we die hard. We struggle frantically to keep the old man alive. But what does God’s Word teach us? “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him … reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:6,11). This is the believer’s true position in Christ and it was what Paul was striving for in daily practical experience.
Our Lord’s earthly life was so fragrant and beautiful because of His complete setting aside of self in obedience to the Father’s will and in service for others. He took upon Himself the form of a servant and was willing to be disowned by the world. He paid whatever price was necessary in order to be the Servant of all. Would you be one with Him in such an experience?
—Adapted from Studies in Philippians by Lehman Strauss.