What is the greatest desire of a Christian? Throughout Scripture, the great men and women of God say that their passion is to truly know Him. Moses says to God, “Now show me your glory” (Exod 33:18). David prays, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God” (Ps 42:1). And Paul says that his heart longs to “know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings” (Phil 3:10). The greatest desire of a true Christian is to know God. Every other desire pales in comparison to this one.
When the Bible talks about knowing God, it does not refer to a merely intellectual exercise. Knowing God does not mean knowing facts about God. To know God is not just to recite His biblical resume or hear testimony of what He has done in someone else’s life. Knowing God involves encountering Him and finding out that He is who He says He is.
As a Pharisee, Paul knew all about God, but he did not know God until he met Jesus face to face on the road to Damascus. Paul’s life changed because God revealed Himself to him, not because Paul had all the right answers. It was a gift of grace.
In order to truly know God, Paul says, “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (Phil 3:7). Paul had to be willing to turn his back on his human accomplishments in order to gain knowledge of Christ. He continues: “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8). Paul uses the present tense verb “count” here, indicating that this is occurring in his life at the time of his writing. This shows us that even after the moment of his salvation, Paul continues to put the things of the world far below his priority of knowing Jesus Christ. This is an example of sanctification: what started at the cross with salvation continues to influence the way we live. Christ becomes a Christian’s greatest passion; knowing Him is the Christian’s number one priority.
I. THE POWER OF KNOWING CHRIST
Paul says that he longs to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. This power is the same force that brought Christ out of the grave. Every believer in Jesus Christ has been resurrected, for we died with Him, we are buried with Him, and we have risen with Him. But that does not necessarily mean we understand the power of the resurrection. Paul is saying that he wants to know what it is like to live a resurrected life—to no longer be in bondage to the flesh, but to have victory over sin. Knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection means that you live a resurrected life yourself. Paul says he wants to have this resurrected kind of life. His focus is on knowing Christ because Christ’s power will enable him to overcome the power of sin in the flesh.
II. THE PAIN OF SHARING HIS SUFFERING
In order to know the power of Christ’s resurrection, Paul tells us that we have to know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. Everybody is perfectly willing to experience the good stuff—the benefits—of knowing Christ. But only a true follower will understand and experience the fellowship of His suffering. The reality is that living for Jesus is not easy. The closer you get to Christ, the greater an enemy you become to Satan. Along the road of knowing Christ, you will run into challenges that are tough, awkward, and painful. At these times, the decision you face is crucial: Do you really want to know Him? At the place of suffering there is also always the simultaneous call to intimacy. In trials we often ask, “Why is this happening to me?” Very often, the reason behind our trials is that God wants to take us to the next level of intimacy with Him as we trust Him and grow in Him.
College students sometimes decide to audit classes rather than take them as registered students. Auditing means they can sit in on the classes and listen to the lectures without the obligation to do any of the work or use the textbooks. One tendency of half-hearted Christians is to audit the Christian life. They might attend church or Bible study, but they do not put those lessons to use in their daily lives. They might profess to follow Christ and even go through the motions of obedience, but they do not really know God or live in His power.
When we go through the fire of trials, we are stripped of the opportunity to rely solely on ourselves. We cannot be selfsufficient because there is nothing we can do; we must rely on God. Of course there are many sub-purposes of trials and many reasons we go through hard times, but one thing is for sure: God will always be with us and will use our trials to draw us closer to Him and help us know Him better.
III. THE PERSPECTIVE OF KNOWING CHRIST
Paul’s priority is to know Him. With that priority comes power—a resurrected life that overcomes sin and lives victoriously. With that power comes pain shared in Christ’s sufferings. How does Paul deal with the pain? By gaining a new perspective—the perspective of knowing Christ. “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13–14).
Paul acknowledges that he cannot change the past, and he admits that he does not have it all figured out, but he will persevere toward that for which he has been called. He has a perspective that not all believers have. He says: “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven” (vv. 17–20). That is what keeps us going: We belong in heaven. This is a different perspective from that of the world around us, where the here and now is so important. The key to living victoriously on earth is to develop the mind-set of heaven. Paul does not tell us to ignore the fact that we live in the world, to shirk our responsibilities, to walk around with our heads in the clouds, but rather tells us to live our lives in light of eternity, with the assurance of the promise of heaven. This world is not our home.
It will get foggy on this Christian walk. You will wonder how you will make it. But God tells us that if we pursue Him, Jesus Christ will give us a glimpse of heaven that will keep our eyes focused on the goal. We can persevere in His strength, so that we might “know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil 3:10–11).
S. Joseph Kidder, DMin, is professor of Christian Ministry at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, MI, United States.