In the previous entry, we considered Paul’s willingness to give up “whatever” in order to gain a right standing before God, a standing only attainable by faith in the risen Christ (Philippians 3:7-12). Now we consider the reason why Paul and every other believer in history is brought by God’s grace into that standing. Contrary to the impression unintentionally given by popular approaches to evangelism, gaining a proper standing before God is not the culmination of a person’s spiritual journey; it is the beginning. After all, the purpose of standing is not to stay still. We stand in order to walk. Paul’s having gained Christ prepared him for his pursuit of Christ, and made him willing to walk right into and through…whatever.
God grants us our immovable position in Christ so that we have the necessary grounding by which to walk in fellowship with Him. Our legal status before God as “justified” frees us to be increasingly “sanctified”, to be made more like Christ. When we realize, though, that this conformity comes through the crucible of suffering, it is tempting to shrink back and to be content in our standing. We start to see God’s glorious promise to preserve His people in their standing as an excuse for inactivity, for a below-the-radar faith. In the face of actual or even potential suffering for Christ, the stirring encouragement: “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:6) becomes a simpering excuse: “Once saved, always saved.” We already have Christ, forever – so why make an already difficult life even more difficult by living more explicitly for Him?
For you who are parents: What is the point of getting to know your children? You have them already; they are legally yours. Why bother interacting with them? Your status as parent is permanent. Why set yourself up for the sometimes heart-searing trauma of rearing these little ones, of letting them so close to your heart that they can break it? You know the answer: Love.
You love these people more than you love your own life. And you love to love them; there’s something very natural about it! You know that you cannot possibly love them enough. They deserve more love than you can give them but you gladly give your life in loving service to them. For them, you are willing to give, and to give up…whatever.
Now think about your Savior. The more your heart sets its gaze upon Him, the more you realize that nothing is worth not knowing Him – the more you begin to push aside the things and thoughts which keep you from knowing Him more fully, including the fear of being hurt for His sake. Paul has Christ, but he seeks to gain Christ. The motive to gain the One we already have is love, love for the unseen Savior.
The Apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:8: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy …”
Perhaps you are struggling in your love for your Savior. You think: I want to love Him! But lately it seems He doesn’t love me. He’s allowed so much hurt in my life. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, these very experiences are the means by which we come to know His love for us all the more fully; they are the means by which we come to know Him more fully. That experiential knowledge of Christ is precisely what Paul’s heart craves (Philippians 3:10), and that craving is partially satisfied through suffering. As Christians, we get what we want most by way of what we want least!
Peter again, from 4:12-13: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
One of Christ’s sufferings was His aloneness, His being rejected in general and even abandoned by His disciples (Isaiah 53:3; Matthew 26:38-46). He bore a burden no one else could bear. And so, ironically, even in our sometimes sense of aloneness, we experience His presence in that we come to understand His sufferings all the more; we come closer to His heart.
In Matthew 16:24-25, Jesus says to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”
Our sufferings help us to deny ourselves. Like the leaves in a New England autumn, our lives blaze most brilliantly as we lose them. And yet, like the autumn air, that death to self is invigorating! This season seems to stir something in our souls. Suffering for Christ stirs us up to know Him, and to know Him is to really live.
One day, after their colors have burned their brightest, the leaves are fully separated from the tree – they fall to the earth, their death completed. One day, you who are believers in Christ, already separated from your life lived in allegiance to sin, will be separated from the very presence of sin. One day you will fall fully into the embrace of your Savior. That fact is guaranteed by His resurrection. The power of Christ’s resurrection is revealed now in the strength to die to self, in the strange, holy joy that we find as we suffer for Christ. And when Christ returns, we will experience resurrection life in full! There is the glorious counterpart to suffering – resurrection!
Because Jesus is risen, the best and the most beautiful way of life in this world is the way of self-denial in service to Him. As we lose “whatever”, we gain Him. For you who know Christ: The Father has given you His Son; the Son has given you His righteousness; The Spirit has given you His abiding presence, His guidance and comfort. The triune God has prepared you for this pursuit of Christ and the necessary pain which comes with it. And as powerful as this pain is and can be, Paul tells us that it is not worth comparing in its intensity to the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18). We share in Christ’s sufferings now so as to be glorified with Him on that last great day (Romans 8:17).
Gaining Christ is what God has had in mind for you from all eternity (Philippians 3:12). He holds your hand the whole way through the process(Psalm 73:23), until the day when that spiritual reality will become physical! You will be able to hold your Savior’s nail-pierced, glorified hand. There will be a countless multitude of people surrounding you, wanting to do the same! How that will all work out, the Lord knows. He will not lose sight of you, nor has He lost sight of you now. He is with you always, in and through, whatever.