Enjoy this article from the April edition of our monthly Newsletter, "Sowing And Reaping."
KNOW HIM – YES, AND KNOW GOD’S POWER
By Larry Guido
Few passages of Scripture are more quoted, cherished and valued than Paul’s famous words recorded in his letter to the Philippians. Verse after verse captures the reader's attention as he addressed the importance of his and our relationship to and with Christ. Many memorize his words of insight and wisdom and use them as guides for their lives as they were guides for his. His words capture the essence of his purpose in life. Often when asked to quote or share a favorite “life verse,” Christians respond with one Paul wrote. Others are quick to write one of his verses beneath their name when signing an autograph as a statement that summarizes their priorities.
One of the verses that has universal appeal and respect is a clear statement about his mission in life: “I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.” (3:10). Even a casual reading of his other letters or the statements others wrote about him validate clearly and convincingly that he lived these words completely and convincingly, and ultimately died sharing the importance of their meaning with others. We would all agree that words are important because they shape our thinking, guide our behavior, and reflect the desires of our hearts. This is particularly true of the words in Scripture because they are words that are “God-breathed” – words that came from God and delivered to the authors of Scripture through the Holy Spirit. These words are God’s Word and present and represent Him, His work in His world, and His message of love, mercy, grace, redemption, reconciliation, salvation, hope, and eternal life.
We often speak of the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture. But, rarely do we speak of the significance of the language that was chosen by God to convey His message and convey His truth. The writers of the New Testament, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, used koine Greek because it was a “common” language that was understood, shared, and used by all in the Mediterranean world. Additionally, however, the specificity and exact meanings of the words were indisputable: each word chosen by the writer of each verse meant what it meant and was not open to debate like many of the words we use today are. So, when Paul said, “I want to know Christ ...” they knew exactly what it was that He wanted to know.
So, when he said “I want to know Christ... ” they knew that he did not want to know about Christ, or what others may have thought of or about Christ, but wanted to “know” Christ personally, thoroughly, intimately, and subjectively – not historically, factually, clinically, or objectively. He wanted to know Christ by knowing him “relationally” - by having a “relationship” with Him which could only come from being with, sharing with, participating with, and experiencing life with Him.
Most of us “know” a person who we do not actually “know.” For example, we might know another person’s academic record or professional accomplishments. We might know where a person lives and what their hobbies are. We may know their family history or their political interests. However, even if we know these facts well and in minute detail, we would no doubt agree that we do not know that person unless we had a lengthy and personal and intimate relationship with that one. We cannot “know” another person - as Paul wanted to “know” Christ - from a distance. This “knowing” is a “knowing” that can only come from “one person experiencing and sharing life’s extremities with another person.”
And, consider this fact about Paul’s “knowing” Christ: To the best of our knowledge, he never met Jesus the man, never had a conversation with Him, never attended a meeting with Him, never prayed with Him, never saw Him perform a miracle, never studied the Law and Prophets under His teaching, and was not at the Last Supper. So, how could Paul come to know Him if when he made this profound statement, there is no record of his having been with Jesus and Christ had already ascended into heaven?
It is not by accident that Paul presented a brief occupational summary or biography preceding this statement that he was driven by an intentional quest to know Jesus. In that resume, Paul presented his credentials - academic, legal, religious, and military – which certainly revealed his extensive knowledge of the Messiah and all that it implied. And, following this “occupational profile” he said, “I consider them – the sources and resources of my knowledge - garbage” because “what I knew about the Messiah came from reading and studying and listening to religious authorities on the Law and prophets and teachers” but not from knowing Jesus as a friend or colleague. What Paul knew about the Messiah, however, was validated by what he came to know and learn about Him from the apostles and others who had been with and learned from Jesus.
Paul’s knowledge of Jesus as Messiah and God’s one and only Son came from two sources: his in-depth studies and knowledge of the Jewish religion and its traditions and ceremonies, as well as people who knew Jesus personally, whether from their having been with Jesus, sharing life with Jesus, or having been taught by Jesus. Paul was able to assimilate, coordinate, and integrate all that he learned from what he had been taught and experienced from his conversion to his time with the leaders and members of the early Christian church. They had three years of living life with the Messiah, and from their experiences and education, they were able to provide Paul with their knowledge, insights, and detailed information about Jesus that would not be available from any other source. Surely, there was no better way or greater sources for Paul to learn about Jesus than from those Jesus called to be the “first team” to “take the Gospel into all the world.” But, there is more.
We discover in the writings of Paul his God-given abilities and skills to interpret and integrate all of the writings, teachings, and prophecies of the Old Testament with what he learned, came to understand and discovered from his teachers and colleagues following his conversion. A unique result of him “knowing Him” was the combination of his religious knowledge from the Jewish religion which provided the breadth and depth of Paul’s teaching and thinking, understanding and knowledge, writing and preaching, philosophy and theology. Surely, we can see the purpose and plan of God come to its fullness in the life, the teachings, and the ministry of Paul: teacher, missionary, theologian, apologist, evangelist, pastor, author, philosopher, and prisoner. Had Paul not known who Jesus was and what He did, how He did what He did, and why He did what He did, and not viewed it through the power of the resurrection, he would not have been able to give us the understanding of the Gospel as we have come to know it. Paul’s knowing Jesus and the power of God displayed in His resurrection is foundational to the meaning and message and majesty of the Gospel.
Paul was not satisfied with “knowing Jesus personally, intimately, thoroughly, and completely” as an end in itself as though he completed a research project to be awarded a “certificate for ministry.” He wanted to know who Jesus was and what the power of the resurrection meant, where it came from, and what it could do for him, and how it can influence our relationship with Him today. So, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, the word “power” selected for this verse refers to “a power that is capable of anything” and has the “ability to do anything.” This “power” of the resurrection is of God, located in God, from God, and is the power that can manifest itself in everyone, in everything and everywhere. It is that representation or expression of God’s power that may be seen at work anywhere at any time. It is any evidence of His power – in creation and history and people - certainly. But it is especially obvious in the redemption of mankind where we can see God at work, redeeming, reconciling, restoring, and carrying out His plan of salvation. Knowing this power, understanding this power, wanting this power, and having complete access to this power would then “empower and enable” Paul to fulfill God’s plan for His life! For Paul, nothing was an end itself. Everything was a means to share God’s message of love, mercy, grace, salvation, and hope. “For to me to live is Christ ...” are six simple words that are his mission statement. And that same power that was available to Paul then, is available to us today.
What, then, are the benefits of God’s power in the resurrection of Christ that are available for us today?
1. We can overcome and conquer the fear of death. “Free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:15)
2. We can be confident that God will work in us and with us to live a life that is pleasing to Him. “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion, until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
3. We can be sure that God will enable us to do whatever He calls us to do. “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
4. We can realign our thoughts and change our behavior to become intentional in our goal to be who God has called us to be in Christ. “Therefore, I urge you...to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:1,2)
5. We can be certain of Christ’s presence at all times and in all places. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:29)
6. We can access God’s power to do and go beyond any limits we impose on ourselves. “Now unto Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly more than we can ask or even think, according to His power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20)
7. We can be certain that our salvation in Christ is kept secure through His power. “Who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:5)
8. We know that the power of Christ will keep us free from sin. “And His incomparable great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength He exerted when He raised Christ from the dead.” (Ephesians 1:19, 20)
Paul’s life ambition was to know and make known, understand and share his understanding of the power of God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, His Son, so that he could share it with us. That power, the power of the resurrection, is just as available to Paul then, as it is to us today. Unfortunately, most of us do not seek this power in our lives as Paul did. We have the power of God in our salvation, but we also have the power of God available in our lives to live a victorious Christian life – a life of passion and purpose. The question we face is simple: Am I willing to surrender my life completely to Christ to access this power?
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