It’s interesting how whenever we read the apostle Paul’s impassioned statement of purpose in a group, no one ever mentions this one phrase. The paragraph starts out so well, and we can talk all around it and applaud the willingness to give his life for the gospel: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” (Philippians 3:8) We discuss his passion for Christ and how we might gain his perspective on the things of this world…“I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him…” but we never quite seem to manage talking openly about the sentence that follows. Maybe if we can read it in context it goes down easier; just treat the passage as a whole, never really have to deal with the shocking details of what it actually says. One modern version puts it this way:
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” (Philippians 3:10 NLT)
So this is Paul’s life goal, to grow so close to Christ that he can experience the cross with Him, both the suffering and the victory. It’s hard to look that in the eyes squarely and honestly…it measures up just how far short my commitment comes…something in me starts hedging about Paul’s life being exceptional as an apostle and of course I want to know Christ but couldn’t I do that from the relative safety of a peaceful small town life and the comforts of home and family? Why does suffering have to be part of the picture? And death…seriously?
Or maybe it’s one of those things that doesn’t make sense until you’ve been there, because in the wilderness you are stripped down to the bare essentials of living and you hunger and thirst for God because survival depends upon it. And when there is pain all around, that is when you most need to know the power of the resurrection, cling to the hope that the dark of the tomb is temporary and already overcome.
In the end, though you would never choose it for yourself, you know deep down that you are better for it: faith stronger, distractions cleared away, heart more fully His, joy and peace flowing over in spite of pain. And Paul understands that this is part of the walk of faith, that if we are committed Christ-followers we will walk where He did, in the footsteps of suffering. Even death, because Self must die if Christ is to live and rule in us.
Someday I hope to be able to echo Paul whole-heartedly, that more than anything else in life, I want to know Christ in His sufferings and in His glory, and I am willing to give up everything here for the sake of achieving that goal. For now, I will keep taking baby steps and trusting God to lead me on.
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)
“But God is the God of the waves and the billows, and they are still His when they come over us; and again and again we have proved that the overwhelming thing does not overwhelm. Once more by His interposition deliverance came. We were cast down, but not destroyed.” (Amy Carmichael)