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)
Paul expresses what should be the desire of every sincere believer in Jesus Christ: “That I may know Him.” If any man could have claimed to know Christ, it would have been the apostle Paul. He met the Lord face to face on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). He was a chosen vessel of the Lord, called for a special purpose. He received the revelation of the mystery directly from the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12). He was led by the Holy Spirit to write over half of the New Testament Scriptures. Paul was faithful throughout His ministry for the Lord, enduring imprisonments, shipwrecks, beatings, stonings, and rejections from men, yet Paul continually rejoiced in the Lord (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Paul certainly “knew” Jesus Christ in an intimate way. Yet, his heartfelt desire was expressed here in Philippians 3:10, “That I may know Him.” What did Paul mean?
The Greek word for “know” is “ginosko” which means “to come to know through experience.” It refers to more than just mere head knowledge. It has to do with knowing something by experiencing it on a continuing basis. In this case, Paul desired to grow in his knowledge of Jesus Christ by continually experiencing Christ in his life.
Paul mentions three areas in which he desires to know Christ: the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, and conformance to His death. Each of these areas deals with an aspect of the earthly life of Christ: His resurrection, His sufferings, and His death. But, notice that these are not in chronological order. You would expect to find them listed as: His sufferings, His death, and His resurrection. Why the different order?
One reason is that Paul is not just referring to knowledge of the facts concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. You typically learn the facts of Christ’s life in chronological order. This is the basic order given in the gospel accounts. It is important for us to know the facts about the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, but Paul’s desire to know Christ goes far beyond the facts.
Notice that there is a characteristic mentioned with each aspect of Christ’s earthly life. Paul desires to know more than the facts about Christ’s resurrection. He wants to experience the power of Christ’s resurrection. Paul desires to know more than the facts about Christ’s sufferings. He wants to experience the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. Paul desires to know more than the facts about Christ’s death. He wants to experience being conformed to Christ’s death. This gives us the real reason for the order of these three aspects. Only those who know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior can grow in their knowledge of Him. Paul states the order that the believer must follow if he is to come to know Christ in his daily experience.
The Power of His Resurrection
The first thing the believer must experience is the power of Christ’s resurrection. “Christ is our life” (Colossians 3:4). Because He lives, we can live. His resurrection is the basis for our life.
“And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-22)
Just think for a minute about what was accomplished by the resurrection of Jesus Christ; death was conquered (Romans 6:9, 1 Corinthians 15:20-26), sin was conquered (Romans 6:5-14; 8:1-2), and Satan was conquered (Hebrews 2:14) for all eternity. Think of the tremendous power that was required to accomplish this. How can we experience this power?
In Romans chapter 8, we are taught that the Holy Spirit of God dwells in all those who have trusted Christ as Saviour (verse 9). This passage goes on to say that this is “the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead” (verse 11). What a tremendous statement this is! What a wonderful truth to know and experience; that the Holy Spirit of God, which raised Jesus Christ from the dead, dwells within the heart of every believer.
In Ephesians chapter 1, Paul prayed for knowledge for the saints in Christ Jesus. One of the particular areas he wanted them to know was,
“… the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.” (Ephesians 1:19-23)
The power which raised Jesus Christ from the dead dwells within every believer. The word “power” speaks of the inherent power that is present within us in the person of the Holy Spirit. Just think what potential we have to work for the Lord; not in our own strength, but in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Once again, look at the tremendous power put forth at the resurrection of Christ. He was raised from the dead. He was seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenlies. He was given a position far above all principalities, powers, mights, dominions, and names, both in this age and in the ages to come. He was exalted to be the Head over all things to the church, which is His body. In Christ dwells all the fulness of God and He is able to fill completely all those who trust in Him (Colossians 2:9-10).
Ephesians chapter 3, verse 20 exalts the One “who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” God’s power is able to do far beyond anything we could ask or even think of. But, the amazing thing is that this very same power works in us!
To truly come to know Jesus Christ, we must first experience the power of His resurrection working in and through us. This means that the Holy Spirit of God must have control of our lives. Christ was not raised from the dead by the efforts of the flesh. He was raised by the power of the Holy Spirit of God. To truly experience the power of His resurrection, we must allow the One who is able, to work through us.
“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” (Romans 8:12-13)
“If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25)
The Fellowship of His Sufferings
While He was here on earth, the Lord Jesus Christ endured untold sufferings. He was beaten, spit upon, crowned with thorns, pierced with a sword in the side, and nailed to a cross. He was mocked, scorned, and rejected by the very ones He had created (John 1:10-11). Ultimately, on the cross of Calvary, He bore in His own body the sins of the entire world (I Peter 2:24) and was forsaken by His own Father (Matthew 27:46).
Paul desires to know Christ in the “fellowship of His sufferings.” The Greek word translated “fellowship” is “koinonia” which means “to have in common or to share.” Paul desired to share in the sufferings of Christ. But, how is this possible? We are told in Philippians 1:29,
“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
The word “given” is from the Greek word “charizomai” which is a verb form of the Greek word for “grace.” The opportunity to believe on Christ for salvation is a gift from God. It is God’s kindness or favour bestowed upon us because of His love for us. But, in addition, the opportunity to suffer for Christ’s sake is also a gift of God’s grace. An example of this is found in the 4th and 5th chapters of the book of Acts. Here we read how the Jewish rulers strongly opposed the message being proclaimed by the apostles, particularly Peter and John. In Acts 5:40-42 we read that when the Jewish council had,
“… called the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.”
Notice the reaction of these apostles to being beaten for teaching and preaching in the name of Jesus Christ: “they rejoiced!” They considered it a blessing that they were given the opportunity by God to suffer shame for the name of Jesus Christ. Did they then stop preaching? No! They continued to preach daily, they continued to preach publickly in the temple, and they continued to preach privately in every house the name of Jesus Christ! The key expression in this passage is “for His name.” This is why they suffered. Not because of themselves, but because they were bold to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ.
The apostles of Jesus, including the apostle Paul, experienced tremendous sufferings. These faithful men experienced hunger, pain, beatings, stonings, imprisonments, ridicule, rejection from their own people, and eventually, for most of them, execution.
Back in Philippians 1:29, we read that it is given to us to suffer “in behalf of Christ.” This expression carries the idea of our suffering “for the sake of” or “instead of” or as a “substitute for.” The unbelieving world, fueled by the devil himself, has always hated Jesus Christ and continues to do so today. But Christ is not here upon earth today. He is seated at the right of the Father in the glory. Yet, He is still hated and rejected of men. He still suffers, but how is this suffering experienced? Through His saints! The Lord Jesus Christ dwells within each believer in the person of the Holy Spirit. If we take a stand for Christ, as the apostles did during the early Acts period, we will certainly experience suffering. Not suffering aimed at us, but suffering that is aimed at the Lord Jesus Christ. We read in 2 Timothy 3:12 that
“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”
This verse does not say that all believers will suffer persecution, but that all believers who live godly lives in the power of Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. We may not suffer as the apostles did. For instance, we may not be put in prison, and we may not be beaten, and we may not be put to death, but we will be persecuted.
One of the most difficult forms of persecution is being rejected by other people. All of us want to be liked and accepted, yet we must not let this natural desire detract from our testimony for the Lord. Timothy must have been, by nature, a timid person. This is probably why Paul was led to remind him of the Spirit that God had given him.
“For God hath not given us the Spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God.” (2 Timothy 1:7-8)
God has not given us a timid, fearful Spirit, but a Spirit of great power, and of love, and of a sound mind. We are to take a stand for the testimony of our Lord and for the truth of the mystery committed to the apostle Paul. We are to be partakers of the affliction that is sure to come to those who take a stand for the gospel of the grace of God. We can’t do this according to our own power. We must do it according to the power of God that dwells within us. Do you begin to see why Paul’s desire to know Christ started with the power of His resurrection? We cannot share in His sufferings unless we are relying upon His power.
We are given the privilege by God of suffering in place of Christ. Paul says in Philippians 3:10, “I want to experience this sharing in the sufferings of Christ.” And Paul certainly did, as we read in 1 Corinthians 4:9-13. As we yield to the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, the Lord Jesus Christ will be manifested in our lives. The result is that the unbelieving world will persecute us because we proclaim the precious name of Jesus.
From a human standpoint, we are often drawn closest to other people when we share a common experience of pain or sorrow, such as the loss of a loved one, or sharing a common illness or injury. Even so, our relationship with the Lord Jesus becomes closer and more intimate when we share in His sufferings. Let’s respond as the apostles did, and rejoice when we are given opportunities to suffer for our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Becoming Conformed to His Death
The final area that Paul desires to know Christ in is “being made conformable unto His death.” This expression refers not to a one time occurrence, but to a continuing process. The Greek is in the passive participle form of the verb here, so that it really carries the idea of “becoming conformed to His death.” What does it mean for a believer to be conformed to the death of Christ? The answer to this question is found in Romans chapter 6. We read in verses 3 and 4,
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
The word “baptized” comes from a Greek word which means “to dip or dip under.” A good illustration is dipping a piece of cloth into a dye. The primary idea conveyed by this word is identification. For example, in the case of the cloth, it becomes identified with the dye by taking on its color. Here in Romans 6, we see that all believers in Jesus Christ are identified with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection. God sees us “in Christ.” When Christ died, we died. When Christ was buried, we were buried. When Christ was raised from the dead, we were raised unto a newness of life. We read further in verses 6 and 7 that,
“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead, is freed from sin.”
The victory over sin in our daily lives has already been accomplished for us at the cross of Calvary. When Christ died on the cross, He not only died for our sins, but He also died to sin. Our old sinful nature was crucified with Him, and as a result, we are no longer slaves to sin. We have been freed from sin. This does not mean that we are sinlessly perfect after we are saved. It simply means that Christ has made it possible for us to have the victory over sin when we put our complete trust in Him and Him alone. He goes on to explain what our part is in verses 11 to 13,
“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.”
If we are to have the victory over sin, we must “reckon” ourselves to have died unto sin with Christ. This means we must “count as true” what God has said in the first ten verses of this chapter. We have died with Christ. Our old nature was crucified with Him as well. As a result, we are no longer slaves to sin. We have been raised unto a new life in Christ. We have a choice. We can allow ourselves to be controlled by our old sin nature or we can allow ourselves to be controlled by God. We choose by “yielding” or “presenting” ourselves to one or the other.
When we trust in Jesus Christ as Saviour, we receive a new spiritual nature (Ephesians 4:22-24). This nature is Christ dwelling within us in the person of the Holy Spirit. Our old nature, however, does not change, nor does it go away once we are saved. It is just as sinful, just as selfish, and just as much a follower of Satan as it ever was (Ephesians 2:1-3). But, as we have already seen, our identification with Christ in His death on the cross has freed us from the power of sin.
You may ask, “Then why do I still find myself being a slave to sin?” The reason for this is described in Romans chapter 7, verses 15-25. This passage describes the struggle that a believer goes through when he tries to live for Christ in the power of his old nature. The result is always the same. We are always defeated by sin (verse 23). The only possible way to gain the victory over sin is through Jesus Christ our Lord (verse 25). Paul describes this way of victory in Galatians 2:20,
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.”
This is what Paul meant by “becoming conformed to His death;” counting ourselves to have died to sin with Christ, to have been raised with Him unto a new life, to be incapable of living this life ourselves, and to be totally dependent upon Christ to live this new life through us. The only part we have is to exercise complete faith in Christ and not in ourselves. This is not a one time dedication of ourselves to Christ. It is a continual process of spiritual growth in which we learn how helpless we are in ourselves, and how dependent we are upon the cross of Christ.
“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” (Galatians 6:14)
Philippians 3:10 summarizes what the Christian life is all about. It is not about religious organizations, traditions of men, or ordinances of the law. It is about coming to know our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is more than just knowing the facts about Christ. It is even more than knowing Christ as our Saviour. It is about coming to know Christ in a personal and intimate way by experiencing Him living in and through us. As we come to know Him in this way, we grow and mature spiritually and we are used of God to accomplish the purpose He has for us (Philippians 3:12). May Paul’s desire be the prayer of each of us as Christians,
“That I may know Him.”