Who is the one person in the world you would most like to know? Who is the one person you would most like to become acquainted with? Maybe it’s a great figure from history, like Shakespeare, Churchill or Einstein. Or maybe you would love to become friends with your favourite sports star or artist or an Oscar winning actress?!
In our reading from Philippians this morning, the apostle Paul expresses no doubt about the one person he most wants to be most acquainted with. Above all else, Paul wants to know Jesus Christ (v.10). Paul says there is “surpassing worth” in knowing him (v.8).
Paul saw Jesus once, on the road to Damascus, and it changed his life forever. In that momentous moment, Paul realised he was in the presence of someone very special, someone more powerful than a President and more dazzling to look at than a beautiful Oscar winning actress. A person Paul once thought was dead, but had actually come back to life!
After that first dramatic encounter, Paul put his faith in Christ as his Lord and Saviour – and he resolved to spend the rest of his life getting to know Jesus better and telling other people about him. Whenever Paul thought about Jesus it brought joy to his heart. As we saw in chapter 1 of Philippians, even when Paul was under house arrest in Rome – in chains – the very thought of Jesus caused him to rejoice!
Paul wrote today’s passage because he wants the Christians in Philippi to have the same joy. He wants them to rejoice that they know Jesus – and doesn’t want that joy to be taken from them. As we see in our second verse this morning, Paul is concerned that a group of people he calls the “mutilators of the flesh” might be trying to steal the Philippians’ joy.
These “mutilators” are not named, but they seem to have been telling the Philippians that they had to be circumcised and accept Jewish religious rules to be truly acceptable to God. These “evildoers”, as Paul calls them, were threatening to take away the joy the Philippians had from of their relationship with Jesus. Instead of telling them to enjoy their relationship with Christ, these evildoing “dogs” were telling the Philippian Christians to devote themselves to rules and religiosity instead!
And that is something Paul simply could not stand. So he teaches the Philippians two vital truths in our passage today. Two truths to strengthen our faith and sustain our joy. Let’s look at both in turn.
Firstly, Paul wants the Philippians (and us!) to know that knowing Jesus is worth more than anything else in life. Knowing Jesus is more precious than popularity, success, wealth or good health.
Paul had come to realise that knowing Jesus is so special, so valuable, that everything else is worthless in comparison. Listen again to what he says in verse 8 and 9: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him”.
Paul practiced what he preached, because he had given up a lot to become a disciple and apostle of Christ. He had given up his reputation, his religion and his past relationships all for the sake of Christ. In verse 5 and 6, Paul lists some of the things he sacrificed to become a friend of Christ:
• For example, Paul used to be a proud, rather nationalistic, Jewish man – a circumcised Israelite, a Hebrew born in the tribe of Benjamin.
But now he identified as a follower of Christ – now he was happy to call all his fellow Christians his ‘brothers and sisters’, whatever their home country, race or nation.
• Paul also used to be proud of his religious zeal and spiritual fervour. Before coming face-to-face with Jesus on that Damascus road he identified as a Pharisee. A Pharisee who was scrupulous in his observance of the Jewish religious rules and determined to persecute the embryonic Christian Church.
But since seeing the Risen Jesus face to face, Paul had come to appreciate that a relationship with Jesus is the only religious credential that really matters. He now saw that Christ alone provides a sure and certain path to God.
So by becoming a Christian, Paul had willingly sacrificed his reputation and set aside his former religion. But he knew it was worth it – Paul knew the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.
Imagine you did become friends with a famous person. What would you expect them to do for you?
• If you were friends with Lewis Hamilton perhaps he’d let you ride in his Formula 1 car.
• If you were friends with a footballer like Mo Salah or Marcus Rashford they might give you their autograph.
• And if you were friends with the Queen or Prime Minster, you might hope to be invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace or offered a guided tour of 10 Downing Street.
But what did Paul want from Jesus? Why did Paul value his relationship with Jesus so highly? He tells us the answer in verse 9 to 11 today:
• In verse 9 Paul tells us that only Jesus can give him “righteousness”. Paul knew that only Christ could make him right with God. He knew that only Jesus could give him the freedom from guilt and friendship with God that we all need. Only Christ could make him righteousness and pure in the sight of God.
• Secondly, Paul says he wants to know “the power of Jesus’ resurrection” and to experience “the resurrection from the dead” (v.10-11). Paul wants the same power that Jesus himself experienced when he rose from the dead on Easter day. Paul knows Jesus can give him enough power to live for God and do what is right. He also knows that Christ alone can give him resurrection life – never-ending life in a new and perfect world.
The same spiritual principles apply to us today. Whoever we are, our greatest need is not for friendship, or a big bank balance or even a cure for coronavirus. Humanity’s greatest need remains righteousness and resurrection – forgiveness from sin and antidote to death. And Jesus offers us both for free – if by faith we come to know and trust in him.
So, as I finish, can I encourage us all to have the same ambition as the apostle Paul – to know Jesus better! We can do that by speaking to him more regularly in prayer, by listening to him more intently in Scripture, and by following him more closely during our daily our lives.
There is even a sense in which suffering can bring us closer to Christ – that was certainly Paul’s conviction (v.10). As we suffer we can begin to empathise with what Christ went through on the cross for our salvation, and more appreciative of the love Jesus showed for us all there.
As Paul stresses in our passage today, all the other good things of life are second-rate in comparison to knowning Christ. Things like money, success, popularity and good health cannot produce the lasting joy that Christ alone can give. Religiosity, rule keeping and a good reputation cannot give us the right-standing with God that will get us into Heaven. As Paul says, only by knowing Jesus can we receive righteousness and resurrection.
So whatever else we aspire to, let’s make it our overriding aim – our greatest ambition in life – to know Christ better, and to make him better known!
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