COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:10-11, NKJV).
Paul is sharing the motivation of his aggressive and productive life. As he elaborates on these things, you will notice the absence of fear as a primary stimulus. Also, there is a noticeable absence of Law as a principal stimulant. While he was careful to do what he was commanded, being a faithful steward, the command itself was not the primary impetus in his life. Mind you, he did not despise or neglect any commandment. He loved and served the Law, knowing it was good and holy and spiritual. His faith, however, had reached higher than obedience can reach. The promises of God had captured his heart, together with the inheritance prepared for him. What was available to him in Christ became a driving compulsion in his life. In Paul the power of the promises is displayed with refreshing clarity and simplicity.
THAT I MAY KNOW HIM AND THE POWER . . .
“That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection . . . ” (NKJV). How is it that Paul continued to abandon every competing influence to“know” Christ? Was this required for the fulfillment of the Apostolic office? Is this a unique attitude–a sort of superior frame of spirit obtained by a select few in the Kingdom? Indeed, if we allowed our vision to rest upon the professed church, we would be inclined to think so. But this is not at all the case. What we are reading is the Kingdom norm–the standard for believers.
Jesus has come to ensure that we can “know Him.” As it is written, “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). If Jesus came to administer such knowledge, how could anyone failing to pursue it be accepted by Him?
Knowing Him equates to the “fellowship” of God’s Son, into which we have been called (1 Cor 1:9). It is involvement with Jesus on a personal basis. This knowledge has glorious results, as described in the 25th Psalm. “The secret of the LORD is with those who fear Him, And He will show them His covenant” 25:14). The effects of this knowledge include insight, wisdom, strength, peace, gladness, and joy–to mention a few. Confidence, assurance, and strong hope are also experienced in increasingly large measures. There comes a joyful sufficiency and contentment in all things that no philosopher is capable of imagining. “That I may know Him!”
“The power of HIS resurrection” is recuperative power with which the devil and his dark hosts cannot contend. It is “power” to live unto God in a hostile world (Rom 6:11), and set our affection on things above, and not on things on the earth (Col 3:1-3). When Jesus rose from the dead, He ascended on high, leading captivity captive (Eph 4:8). His foes were impotent to stop his ascent. He passed through hostile forces as though they did not exist.
There is a certain impotency in the nominal church that betrays the absence of this power. Sin enters too easily into the average church, and the world is too closely aligned with it. Professed believers stumble through life, unable to contend with mere footmen, to say nothing of horsemen. Where the“power of HIS resurrection” is not appropriated, people give up too quickly and complain too easily. The commandments become too difficult, and the call of the world drowns out the voice of Him who is speaking from heaven.
When we came into Jesus, we were baptized into His death. It was then that God raised us up by his glory, just as He did Jesus. We were placed in the realm of resurrection life, which is the “newness of life” of Romans 6:4). It will consummate in our resurrection from the dead, but it begins now as we are raised to walk in newness, living unto God, and bringing forth fruit to Him (Rom 6:11; 7:4). Paul desired to “KNOW,” or participate in, this power.
Such marvelous power is not for the lukewarm, indifferent, and casual. Everything that contradicts this power is to be “counted” a loss. Things that jeopardize our appropriation of the knowledge of Christ and the power of His resurrection are “dung,” and are to be thrust from us with zeal.
FELLOWSHIP AND CONFORMITY
“ . . . and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (NKJV). The RSV reads, “share in His sufferings.” The depth of spiritual experience to which we have been called is marvelous. We will find that the more grievous our experience in the flesh, the more profound will be our experience in the Spirit.
We participate in Christ’s sufferings in two ways. First, by faith, we share in the effects of our Lord’s vicarious, or substitutionary, suffering. That suffering eventuated in Him “tasting death for every man” (Heb 2:9). These are the “sufferings” foretold by the Prophets, which resulted in “the glory that should follow”–the glorious salvation of his people. However, there is another aspect to His sufferings in which we participate.
These are the sufferings that been left behind for us. As it is written, “and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church” (Col 1:24). Other versions read “what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ . . . what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (NASB, NIV). These are the sufferings through which we are “conformed to the image of His Son”(Rom 8:29). In them, we learn the manner of the Kingdom, and qualify, as it were, to receive comfort.
Jesus “learned obedience by the things that He suffered” (Heb 5:8). These were not the sufferings of the cross, but those He experienced while living to God in a hostile world. Sufferings were the means through which He was made perfect, becoming the author of eternal salvation (Heb 5:9). When our Lord was tempted, He suffered, coming to the point where He had to be sustained from heaven (Heb 2:18). These are the sufferings Jesus “left behind” for us–a sampling, as it were, of Divine life. Peter referred to this when He wrote, “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (1 Pet 2:21-22).
There is a closeness to Christ in these sufferings than cannot be realized any other way. It is like the fellowship of the fourth man in the furnace of fire. Sweet succor is ministered that shines heaven and dulls the earth. It causes temptation and sin to be painful. As it is written, “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1 Pet 4:1NASB). Fellowship in these sufferings is obtained when we have His mind.
The objective of this frame of mind is arresting: “being made conformable unto His death.” The value of this goal is clearly stated: “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim 2:11). Spiritual life, then, depends upon the crucifixion of our members that are upon the earth (Col 3:5). It is only to the degree that natural life is subordinated that spiritual life can dominate. If we are not insensitive to this world, we cannot be sensitive to the world to come. Paul pressed to experience this more fully.
ATTAINING TO THE RESURRECTION
“ . . . if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead”(NKJV). There is an approach to the Christian life that leads people to believe no sustained effort is required. That persuasion is what causes people to neglect the Word, prayer, the assembly, etc. It is the result of not knowing where they are at, or where they have been called. You will notice at once how sharply the expression of this verse clashes with that view.
The expression “by any means” is unusually strong. It reflects a determination to let nothing–absolutely nothing–stand between the person and the blessing that is sought. Other versions weaken the phrase decidedly. “If possible I may” (RVS), “and so, somehow to” (NIV). This is not an expression of doubt, but of resolution “By any means” shows that he is not depending on his own efforts, but neither is he excluding them. He will leave no stone unturned in appropriating the desired objective.
If the resurrection is an appointment for all men, why does Paul say he wants to “attain” to it? He is not simply seeking to be included in the resurrection of the dead. Rather, he fervently wants that occasion to be the fulfillment of his basic longings. He does not want to arrive at the resurrection unprepared, with desires and lusts that will have no means of gratification. That will be the case for all who have lived in the lust of the flesh. When they are raised from the dead, they will have all of their corrupt desires, but a body in which not a single one of them will be able to be gratified.
However, those who live by faith have quite another prospect. For them, the resurrection is the fulfillment of their longings. This is the meaning of Romans 8:23. “We also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.” Later in this very chapter, another reference will be made to this glorious event. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body” (Phil 3:20-21NKJV). Our bodies are the fundamental unregenerate part of us. They are the locus of temptation, sorrow, and pain. With great vigor, we must keep under them, and bring them into subjection (1 Cor 9:27).
Thus, to “attain to the resurrection from the dead” is to arrive at that point in time prepared to move up higher. Already, that body is reserved for us in heaven. “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor 5:1). In Christ, our spirits are being cultured for that body. Meanwhile, while we are in this body “we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven” (2 Cor 5:2). The Lord makes this matter quite clear. His objective for us is to inhabit that body. That is why He has recreated us in Christ Jesus: to occupy a recreated body. Here is how it is said. “Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (5:5). Paul has, then, confirmed that he is involved in the Divine agenda. His heart has been captured by the love of God, which is the Kingdom norm.