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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:St. Albert Canadian Reformed Church
 St. Albert, Alberta
Title:I Want to Know Christ
Text:Philippians 3:10-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 57:1,4,5

Ps 90:5,7

Reading – Philippians 3:1 - 4:1

Ps 16:1,4,5

Sermon – Philippians 3:10-11

Ps 63:1,2,3

Hy 51:1,2,3


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and sisters, today we begin with something to think about, a few questions to consider. The matter is this: Where are you in your Christian life? In your dedication to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, how are things going?

You’re a bit older, you’ve been a Christian for a good number of years. Or you’re younger, you’ve professed your faith in the last few years. Maybe you’re somewhere in between, or maybe you’re still going to Catechism class. Whatever the case, where are you in your Christian life? Have you grown lately, grown in faith, and grown in service? Looking ahead, where do you see yourself – as a Christian – in five years? Do you expect that you’ll have changed? Do you expect that you’ll have become stronger, wiser, more active and more committed? Or will you be pretty much the same?

We think about these things, realizing, of course, that we depend entirely on God to bless us in our Christian lives. We need his grace, and his Holy Spirit, and His Holy Word, if we want to grow at all. Yet it’s good to take stock of our Christian lives, to think of where we’ve come from, and of where we’d like to go. That’s what the apostle Paul does in Phil 3. There we find Paul reflecting, looking back on his Christian life, and also looking ahead. He considers what he already has in Christ, but also what he still wants to achieve, where he still wants to go.

Let’s keep in mind that when Paul wrote Philippians, he expected he’d be killed quite soon. For he was in a prison in Rome, suffering and chained. His coming death was very much in his thoughts. He even wrote in ch 1, "I desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is better by far" (v 23). Yet Paul’s not paralyzed by the thought of what lies ahead. He still has the Spirit to write this letter. He still wants to instruct and encourage the churches. And so with the church at Philippi, Paul shares some thoughts on his own walk with God, some reflections on the life he’s led.

Now, if anyone could be said to have achieved great things as a Christian, it’d be Paul. If anyone could be said to have a double measure of faith, it’d be Paul. But what conclusion does he reach here? He concludes that what he has is only a beginning! Paul strives for more; to keep on growing, to know Christ all the better! As he says in 3:13-14, "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal." Even though he’s done so much, even though he’s nearing death, Paul doesn’t retire from Christian service. He doesn’t sit back in his cell, and wait for the end. No, he still wants to increase in every way.

And this is what we should desire, too. Whether we’ve been Christians for a long time or short; whether we’re younger or older or somewhere in between, Paul’s prayer must be our prayer. That we don’t stand still, that we don’t get lazy, but that we grow, and learn, and progress, even until the very end. I preach to you God’s Word from Phil 3:10-11,

                                       "I want to know Christ"

    1. and the power of his resurrection
    2. and the fellowship of his sufferings and death
    3. so that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead

1. "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection:" As Paul does in so many of his letters, in this letter too, he emphasizes that salvation is by faith alone, and not by works. He always returns to this theme, because in so many of the churches there were people who taught that good works were the way to be right with God. "You’ve got to keep the law," they said. They insisted, "You’ve got to make yourself save-able by being good, and by doing good." In his letters to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Colossians, to Titus, and to Timothy, Paul battles the stubborn human teaching of legalism.

And when he writes to the Philippians, Paul gives another answer to this dangerous teaching – a personal answer. He uses himself as an example, and he says, "If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless" (3:4-6). When it came to "being good" and "doing good," Paul was the man.

But by the grace of God, Paul discovered the truth. "Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ" (v 7). All those things Paul had going for him were worthless – they were rubbish, says Paul, "that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ" (vv 8-9). He could be as "righteous" as he wanted, as "holy" as he could possibly be, but it wouldn’t nearly be enough. Instead, Paul himself had learned that gospel truth, "The righteous shall live by faith."

God declares that only those who believe will be saved. God says that only those who trust in him for their salvation – solely and completely – only these will be freed from sin and the penalty it deserves. Yes, only when we have faith in Christ – only when we know Christ – are we made right with God. That’s why Paul puts it like he does, "I consider [all those things I once had] a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (v 8). To be saved, we have to know Christ. That’s the bottom line, and so that’s the thing Paul’s compelled to return to, even in his final days: "I want to know Christ."

When Paul speaks here of "knowing," we have to understand what he means. He’s not talking about mere factual knowledge, like the Pharisees had, or like someone here might "know" who was the seventh prime minister of our country. "Knowledge" in the Scriptures is something very personal and real. If you "know" someone, you actually have a relationship with that person; the person you "know" influences what you do, and even who you are.

For example, think of how the Bible talks about a husband "knowing" his wife, and vice versa. This refers to their sexual union, but also to the personal intimacy they always share. For husband and wife are deeply familiar with one another; they each shape how the other thinks and acts; they know each other.

Paul wants to "know Christ." He wants to gain a real experience of who his Saviour is. He wants to understand (even more) what this Jesus is all about. For Jesus can’t just be a fellow that we know some facts about – born in this place, did these things, said these words, died on a cross, and rose three days later. Especially we who’ve gone to church our whole lives, who’ve attended Christian schools, who’ve read the Bible from cover to cover – especially we need to hear this. We must know Christ: Personally – even intimately.

We must see him at our side every new day; every day we must be near the one who calls us his friends, Jesus who calls us his sisters and brothers! Yes, every day his Name must be on our lips! Jesus must shape how we think and act; Jesus must change who we are! "If the righteous live by faith, then," says Paul, "may my faith increase until it is my life! May I be filled to overflowing with a knowledge of my Saviour!"

To prove Paul isn’t talking about bare, factual knowledge, consider what he says next. He says he wants to know Christ, and he wants to know "the power of his resurrection." He doesn’t just say, "I want to know about the resurrection of Jesus" – the old W5: where it happened, when it happened, with what historical result, and so on. No, Paul says he wants to know its power. What is the life, the impact, the heart, of the resurrection? What does the resurrection of Jesus mean for me today? I want to know it!

We must know the power of Christ’s resurrection, for the power that raised Jesus from the grave is the same today. It’s the same resurrecting power that gives us the ability to walk the Christian path. For if God could raise Christ from the dead, surely He can raise us from being spiritually dead! God can call us from our grave. God can energize us again. God can give us new purpose, because our life is his to command.

Yes, even though Paul seemed near the end of his life, even though he had already done so much, he desires that he come to know – that is, to know even more – the power of Christ’s resurrection. He wants God to keep working, to keep making his old heart like brand new.

And beloved, this must be the desire every Christian. For if we have a small taste of what God can do in us, we must want more! If we’ve been changed a little, we must want to be changed completely! If we have a small portion of faith, we must want to increase and strengthen our faith! If we’re just learning to do what is right, we must want to learn this even better. We desire to know completely the power of Christ’s resurrection – not just to admire it from a distance, but to put out our hand, to connect to its energy, to let it fill us and move us!

This desire to be changed, to grow, to be empowered, is very important. We said that any progress we make in our Christian lives is the marvelous work of God – that is still true. Yet God nurtures us in response to our desire! That is, if we don’t desire to be spiritually fed, we won’t receive spiritual food from God, and we will not grow. If we don’t seek to know Christ, we won’t truly understand what He did. It’ll be just another historical fact: Wilfrid Laurier was the seventh prime minister of Canada – so what? The crucified Christ has arisen from the grave – so what?

Rather, we must all say: "I want to know Christ. So how can I know him more? How can I connect to the living power of his resurrection, so that it courses through me, and makes me alive?" If we desire this, God will certainly answer. The Bible always says that God instructs the foolish; He strengthens the weak; He guides the confused – He does it, when we ask!

2. "I want to know Christ and the fellowship of his sufferings and death:" When we come to know Christ, we experience his blessed power in our lives. But there’s another, more difficult side to knowing Christ: When we truly know Christ, we’ll also share in his sufferings.

What does that mean? When we first read what Paul desires, we might hesitate. For why should Paul – or why should we, for that matter – have to share in the sufferings of Christ? We all know how Jesus suffered throughout his life, and especially at the end; we know this suffering was enough to completely atone for our sins.

It was enough, yet suffering remains part of the Christian life. Today we will suffer because we are followers of Christ. Jesus himself said this during his ministry: "All men will hate you because of me" (Mt 10:22). This same teaching the apostle Paul underlined in his letters, too, "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim 3:12). Beloved, Jesus grants us great joy and happiness as Christians; but at the same time, Jesus never promises that it’s easy to be a Christian – rather, He tells us that being one of his disciples will be hard, that we’re even guaranteed a life of struggle and pain.

And of course, Paul knew this quite well. Jesus had said this about Paul’s life; after the Lord Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, Jesus said, "This man is my chosen instrument … I will show him how much he must suffer for my name" (Ac 9:15-16). Suffering was part of Christ’s purpose for Paul, and Paul hadn’t drawn back from it. He had experienced his "fair share" of suffering: stonings, floggings, shipwrecks, hunger and thirst, rejection and hatred. Even in this same letter, Paul talks about how he’s "in chains for Christ" – and indeed, he talks about his imminent death.

Just as we said before, if anyone could be said to have reached the pinnacle of Christian living, it was Paul. Also with regards to suffering, Paul had gone through far more than any of us ever have, or perhaps ever will. And yet what does Paul say? "I want to know to Christ, and the fellowship of his sufferings." That is, this fellow in chains wanted more.

For Paul personally understood just how important it is to suffer for the sake of Christ. It’s never an option; hardship isn’t something only "other" Christians have to endure, like those in communist or Muslim countries today. Every Christian is called to suffer for the sake of Christ! Yes, if we have fellowship in all the benefits of Christ, we’ll also have fellowship in his pain. Hear the words of Paul once more, "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." We should expect it! Like Peter says too, "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ" (1 Pet 4:12-13).

We must participate in the sufferings of Christ. As Jesus again says, "A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master… If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!" (Mt 10:24-25). That is, if Jesus was vilified, rejected, and attacked, surely we, his members, can expect the same.

Paul wanted to suffer for Christ – and to keep on suffering – for he knew how essential it is. It proves the authenticity of our faith. It demonstrates that we truly are the followers of Christ. Beloved, we might skim over his words in the gospels, and just dwell on the nice parts, but let us see how so often Jesus calls his disciples to sacrifice; to the selfless service of others; to unceasing hardship for the sake of the kingdom.

Saving faith cannot be inactive. A knowledge of Christ cannot be reserved for Sundays, or a quiet corner of your life, but it must spread, and transform, pushing us beyond what we thought being a Christian was all about. "Let me then suffer," we must pray; "May in my life – even to the point of suffering – may I show how serious I am about following Christ!"

But what if we’re not suffering for the gospel today? Must we seek it out? Beloved, if we’re committed to serving Christ, we don’t have to look for opportunities to suffer for him. If we’re committed to keeping his commands, if we’re committed to putting others first, if we’re committed serving God before all else, if we’re committed to standing up for what we believe, we will suffer.

When we deny ourselves sinful pleasures for the sake of remaining holy; when we have to make personal sacrifices to be a better parent, or a better spouse, or a better office bearer; when we’re called to go the extra mile to be a more active member of the church – we suffer. It hurts to give things up. It hurts to swallow your pride. It hurts to witness for Christ.

And how far should our suffering go? Paul says it, "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." Literally, Paul says we must "conform to the death of Christ." As Jesus died, so we must die. Again, not that we hang on a cross and be forsaken by God – Paul would never suggest such a thing. It’d be pointless; it wouldn’t gain a thing. But just as we must suffer for Christ, so we must be ready to die for Christ!

Remember, when Paul writes this, he’s thinking about his coming death. It seemed he was about to lose his life for the gospel. And for this possibility Paul was ready. For it’d be the ultimate statement of his love for Christ, the final proof of devotion to his Saviour. "Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death" (1:21).

We’re not in prison, like Paul was. We’re not even in danger of such a thing, let alone of being killed for our beliefs. Yet for this possibility we have to be ready. Indeed, how vile will hatred for Christians become in this country? What laws attacking the Bible will still be introduced? Or how far will Muslim extremism spread across this world? How soon before we feel their anger right here in Canada? How soon before they challenge the church of Jesus Christ, to see if we’ll cave in, too?

May we not skim over the hard teachings of our Lord. For He tells us we might even have to give up our life for his sake. "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Lk 9:23). We’ve heard this text many times, but we often forget a cross wasn’t a little something you carried around your neck on a chain. It was an instrument of torture, an instrument of death. As Paul did, we too, have to take up our cross – "Be ready to go to the death for me," says Christ; yes, "Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it" (Lk 9:24).

We must want to know Christ – even to know him so well we share in his sufferings – even to know him so well we conform to his death. And even if we’re never imprisoned, even if we never have to face a firing squad, or the violence of the mob, at the very end of our life, we must be able to say: "I have lived for Jesus Christ. By his grace, I have given him my life, and now I will die in him."

Only if we die in such a spirit will we have fellowship in his death. Only if our lives have been given entirely to Christ, will we be saved by what He did on the cross. When we believe, and then when we put our faith into action – never mind the consequences that follow – only then is our death not final. When we die in Christ, our lives are never a waste.

3. "I want to know Christ so that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead:" A Christian can give himself up for Christ, for the simple reason that there’s a goal beyond it all. Everything Paul wanted served that one goal; that’s the climax of this text, and the climax of the Christian life: "and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."

"Somehow," Paul says, "somehow, I want to get there." Now, when Paul says this, he’s not being uncertain or wishy-washy. When we say "somehow," that’s often what we mean: "How did this happen?" we ask, and a person answers, "I don’t know – somehow." But the Greek word he uses doesn’t indicate doubt or uncertainty, but rather it expresses intense concern and involvement. "Somehow, by any means, I want to reach my goal." Even in the face of great difficulty, Paul was determined to take hold of the eternal prize.

And Paul had no doubts that he’d be taken home to the Lord. Think of ch 1, where he writes, "I desire to depart and [to] be with Christ." Still, he wanted to be doubly sure; that’s why he even wanted to keep on suffering for Christ, so he could know his faith was real. So, though his eyes began to cloud over with the mist of death, he kept looking ahead. Recall what we read in vv 12ff, "I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me… Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize."

We must press on, for the Christian life is meaningless if this life is all we have. Why serve God, if there is no future? Why suffer, if there will be no vindication? But God says we have a future, and we will receive vindication – so let us strive to "to attain to the resurrection."

And our resurrection is only through that same power of Christ. Because He has arisen, we may arise from our tombs. That’s our one great hope. Beloved, we will live again! We will live forever! Through affliction today; through suffering today; through living by faith today, we shall gain eternal life, life in the glorious kingdom of God. As Paul says in 2 Tim 2, "If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him" (vv 11-12).

Even if we’re healthy and strong, even if we’re happy and contented, we must strive to attain this great goal: the resurrection from the dead, and life eternal with God. As long as we have breath in these lungs, and as long as we have this heart ticking inside – as long as we have the precious gift of life, never knowing when it’ll be taken away – let us keep on chasing the prize, let us keep on striving to know Christ as Saviour and Lord!

So beloved, let us all go home with these questions in our minds. Where are you in your Christian life? Do you know Jesus Christ? How well do you know him? Are you growing in that knowledge, are you increasing in your faith? And where do you see yourself in five years? If you’re still on this earth in five years, will you be walking any closer to him? Or if you’re no longer here, will you be standing in his presence?

Let everyone say with me in his heart, "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, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2006, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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