To Know Christ
The most coveted baseball card of all-time is a 1909 Honus Wagner. In 2013, a T206 Wagner card sold at auction for 2.1 million dollars1. Unbelievable! How can a single baseball card once included in a pack of cigarettes be more valuable than 16 average-size houses? This seems to defy all human logic, yet I believe it illustrates the way of the world. Trivial things often appraise for surpassing value, while things worthy of value are cheapened and devalued.
Everything in this world is loss (discarded cargo) compared to gaining Christ Jesus.
The Apostle Paul explains this truth in Philippians 3:7-11:
But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (NASB).
“Counted” is an accounting term. Having examined the general ledger of his life, and calculated the profits and losses columns, Paul learned that what he once thought gain, as a Pharisee2, was now loss compared to knowing Christ. The term “loss” is akin to cargo being tossed overboard. In Acts 27 Paul was sent to Rome. While sailing toward the island of Crete, a violent storm arose. To lighten the weight of the ship they began tossing cargo overboard.
All things are “rubbish,” (worthless dung) compared to Christ. Paul contrasts the value of Christ with the value of the world and concludes, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
To have everything and not have Christ is to have nothing, but to have Christ and nothing else is to have everything.
Nothing compares to knowing Christ. This truth surpasses human comprehension. Why would the Creator of the universe willingly take on human flesh and die the death of a cross? Paul’s heart is full as he considers what God in Christ has done for him [and us] in providing forgiveness of sin, salvation, and eternal life. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ.” 3
By grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), we have been co-crucified, co-buried, co-resurrected, co-ascended, and co-seated with Christ in glory.
The verb “to know” includes intellectual knowledge and personal experience. Paul’s knowledge of Christ and experience with Christ was so radical and real that he had difficulty putting it into words.
Paul does something beautiful in Philippians 3. Words seem inadequate to convey his heart, but in my opinion, he composed some of the most beautiful sentences ever written. To paraphrase, he says, “Don’t take my word for it; experience for yourself that the Lord is good and that nothing compares to knowing Him!”
Paul had come to know Christ and the power of His resurrection.
“Power” refers to ability. Paul had come to experience God’s ability in his life.
God is the Creator of the universe. He spoke into nothing and created everything.4 He formed man in His image from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.5 He established a nation for His own possession.6 He delivered Israel from captivity. He parted the waters of the Red Sea and Jordan River.7 He delivered three Hebrew children from the fiery furnace.8 He saved a young man from the mouths of hungry lions.9 He took a shepherd boy and established a throne on which His Son will rule and reign forever.10
In the fullness of time, God came in the flesh.11 He raised the dead.12 He healed the sick.13 He was crucified,14 buried,15 and resurrected.16 He ascended back into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.17 He sent the Holy Spirit to comfort, guide, and convict people of sin.18 He established the Church so people of all nations might come to know Him and worship Him. And one day, He is coming again.19 He will judge the living and the dead.20 He will receive worship from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.21 He will establish a new heaven and a new earth.22
Paul prayed for believers at Ephesus to experience God’s power in their life:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.23
Paul knew the power of God because he knew the risen Christ.
He had access to the unlimited, all-conquering power of God because of the Spirit of Christ who dwelled in him. The resurrection illustrates God’s power over death, Hell, and the grave. It affirms with God all things are possible, and with boldness, believers can sing: “He breaks the power of canceled sin / He sets the prisoner free / His blood can make the foulest clean / His blood availed for me.” 24
Paul had come to know Christ and the fellowship of His sufferings.
Suffering is not uncommon. Christ suffered. We will suffer.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.25
Isaiah spoke of the Suffering Servant.26 Jesus endured suffering with great joy because He knew the Father’s redemptive work was being accomplished.27 Never does God obligate Himself to explain what He’s doing or why He’s doing it, so there’s a mystery to suffering. There will be times when we won’t understand or be able to connect the dots, but we can still trust that God is using all things to accomplish His purpose and plan in our life. Charles Spurgeon said, “God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.”
God is sovereign. He allows and ordains suffering. Nevertheless, nothing happens in our life that’s not first filtered through His hands of love. Suffering is part of God’s purifying and refining process. It’s a necessary component of our sanctification. Like an ice sculptor chipping away at the shapeless form of ice to present an image of stunning beauty, so it is for a sinner saved by grace. Our sovereign Sculptor is always chipping away at our lives, so the stunning image of His Son might emerge within us.
Suffering sanctifies. It reminds us of the cross and how nothing we could ever face in this life compares to what Jesus endured on our behalf.
Paul had come to know Christ and the likeness of His death.
“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” 28
Obedience sums up the Christian life. Christ was obedient to the Father, even unto death. He agonized in prayer at Gethsemane, yet resolved to do the will of the Father.29 How does our obedience compare to the obedience of Christ? Are we willing to obey the Father even unto death?
Throughout the history of the church, Christians have been martyred for their faith. Stephen was stoned to death outside the gates of Jerusalem.30 Ignatius was mauled to pieces by wild beasts in an arena filled with cheering people. Polycarp prayed aloud until the flames consumed him.
Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ,” 31 meaning we die daily to self so we can live obediently to the Savior. No one can serve two masters. Paul lived for Christ because he died to self every day. He understood life was not about him, but Christ in him.
Can we really know Christ?
In Philippians 3:9 we’re told we know Him through faith. We’re made righteous not on the basis of doing good deeds or trying harder, but on the basis of faith. Faith believes and trusts not in the flesh, but in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Faith is also personal. We must acknowledge our own personal need for Christ and call upon His name for salvation.
Paul concludes in Philippians 3:11 by reminding us of the promise of the resurrection – our blessed hope.32 Because Christ was raised from the dead, we too shall be raised. Physical death is not the end. At life’s final breath, faith becomes sight in the full presence of the Lord.33 Life’s troubles are but momentary afflictions. 34 Therefore, we should fix our eyes not on the temporal things of this world, but on the eternal things of God. Paul lived with an eternal perspective, which is why he could say with confidence that knowing Christ Jesus is life’s greatest gain. Nothing compares. Indeed, to live is Christ and to die is gain.35
Is Christ your greatest gain?
Pastor Brett Marlowe is presently serving as Senior Pastor at Green Hill Baptist Church in West Columbia, South Carolina. His passion is making disciples and his hobbies include playing the guitar, reading, golfing, college football (Go Cocks!), hunting and fishing.
1 http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/9140901/t206-honus-wagner-baseballcard-sets-21m-auction-mark; 2 Philippians 3:4-6; 3 Ephesians 2:4-5 (NASB); 4 Genesis 1:1-31; 5 Genesis 1:26-27; 2:7; 6 Genesis 12:1-3; 7 Exodus 12-14; Joshua 3-4; 8 Daniel 3:19-30; 9 Daniel 6:16-28; 10 1 Samuel 16:11; Isaiah 9:7; 11 Galatians 4:4; 12 John 11:1-46; Luke 7:11-17; 13 Luke 4:38-41; 8:40-56; Matthew 8:1-13; 9:1-8; John 9:1-34; 14 Matthew 27:33-54; Mark 15:22-41; Luke 23:33-49; John 19:16-30; 15 Matthew 27:57-66; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:31-42; 16 Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-13; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18; 17 Acts 1:9-11; Hebrews 10:11-13; 18 John 16:5-15; Acts 2:1-4; 19 Luke 21:25-28; Acts 1:11; Revelation 19:11-16; 20 Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Peter 4:5; 21 Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Revelation 5:1-14; 7:9; 22 Revelation 21-22; 23 Ephesians 1:18-23 (NASB); 24 O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing, Charles Wesley (1739); 25 1 Peter 4:12-13 (NASB); 26 Isaiah 52:13-53:12; 27 Hebrews 12:1-2; 28 Philippians 2:8 (NASB); 29 Matthew 26:36-46; 30 Acts 7:58-60; 31 Galatians 2:20; 32 1 Corinthians 15:1-58; 33 2 Corinthians 5:8; 34 Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 35 Philippians 1:21