Paul’s Passion for Knowing Christ
Given the fact that a new year is swiftly coming upon us, it seemed fitting to do something I really have never done before, and that is to deliver a sermon in preparation for it. My goal is not to do an exhaustive exposition of all that Paul says in this portion, but to really hone in one what Paul believed to be the greatest pursuit in life.
As many of us are aware, with a new year comes a plethora of resolutions. People typically become determined to crack down on their diet and exercise so that they might either lose weight, or at least achieve an overall better lifestyle. Others may purpose within themselves to get their finances in order by either striving to save money and ceasing to spend it. For some, it may be a year seeking better employment opportunities to better provide for you and your family. Surveys reveal that these are the most common things people aspire to do as they embrace the new year along with disconnecting from electronics, investing more in true relationships with others, and even reading more.
None of these things are bad. In fact, all of us should strive to be good stewards of all that God has provided us with whether it be our bodies, or families and friends, or finances, or housing, or employment. We should all make a concerted effort to excel in every area of life. Everything we do is to be done to the glory of God. It was Paul who said to the Corinthians, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” It does not matter how menial something may appear, it is to be done for Him, and this is not to be done out of a desire to appease Him, but to please Him.
With a new year approaching, we should all resolve within ourselves to properly care for whatever God has given to us as a gift from His hand, which is everything. Truly, all of life is to be lived for Him! He is to be loved not only with all of our hearts, and all of our souls, and all of our minds, but with all of our strength. So, yes, seek to steward well all that He has providentially provided you with.
May our greatest resolution, however, be that of the Apostle Paul’s, which was, as we see in our text, to grow in the knowledge of Christ. His chief purpose in life was what he says in verse ten, “That I may know Him.”
Now it should not surprise us that Paul would desire this for himself since this is exactly what he desired for the church. We see this in his letter to the Ephesians when he told them that he did not cease praying for them:
“17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 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, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.”
Later on in the letter he says:
“14 I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”
We see it even in the beginning of his letter to the Philippians when he says:
“9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; 11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
Paul’s greatest passion was for him and others to truly know Jesus Christ. This is not merely a head knowledge of Jesus, but one where a person is intimately aware of His character, nature, redemptive work, and will; and is constantly growing in respect to their salvation in light of what they know of Him. This is a dynamic knowledge and not a stagnant one. This knowledge results in abundant life. Jesus said that He came so that people might have life, and that they might have it abundantly. He is not just talking about people having life for all eternity, but a life in the here and now that can be lived to the praise of His glory. He came so that we might have abundant life both quantitively, and qualitatively.
Resolved to Pursue Christ
Paul presents us with at least two reasons why should we be resolved to know Jesus.
- To know Him is to know true life.
Jesus defines eternal life for us in John 17:3 when He says to His Father:
“3 This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
Anyone who does not know Jesus Christ does not actually have life. It was the Apostle John who said:
“12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”
The Apostle Paul is a prime example of how all human effort is incapable of generating true life and garnering a righteousness that will permit you to live before the living and holy God. He was:
“5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.”
All of this to say that he followed every ritual, held the necessary birth rite, was of a respected tribe, held a high rank in society, religious by every means, and righteous by outward appearances, yet all of this amounted to nothing. Paul says:
“7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”
The Scripture clearly articulates through and through that “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” People cannot make themselves right with God. No amount altruism will advance your aim. Sheer selflessness will not get you one step closer. The righteousness we need to live before the living and holy God is not found in ritual, or rite, or race, or rank, or adherence to religious standards. It is found through faith in Christ.
The eternal Son of God became a sinless Man to live a righteous life in our stead by fulfilling the totality of the Law in His Person. He went to the cross to deal with our sin debt so that He might justly forgive us, and then credit His righteousness to our account so that we may live in the presence of God. He who knew no sin, became sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
What does the prime example of human effort say to those who are seeking righteousness and life in everything but Christ? He says:
“7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.8 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, 9 and may 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. 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
Jesus said that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” John the Baptist declared that “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” He is not only the way and the truth, but the life. True life is exclusively found with Him.
Be resolved to know Him, because to know Him is to be intimately acquainted with life itself.
We should also be resolved to know Jesus because:
- He is Superior to everything.
Some opponents to the Christian faith claim that Paul converted to Christianity because he saw it as a means of gaining prominence among people. This is obviously a foolish assertion for several reasons.
The first is that it was Paul who said, “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” Christianity did not bring Paul prominence among people, rather it brought him persecution from them. He bore on his body what he called the brandmarks of Jesus.
The second reason it is foolish to claim that Paul saw Christianity as a means of achieving prominence is that prior to his conversion to Christianity, Paul was already prominent among people. In fact, he was swiftly making his way to the upper echelons of Jewish society. Pertaining to earthly standards, Paul was practically the pinnacle of perfection. He was as he says of himself “a Hebrew of Hebrews”. From the world’s perspective, he had it all. From God’s perspective, however, he had nothing! Paul certainly came to see what God saw when he says:
“7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.8 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.”
We see a similar thing when we consider Moses. Moses was providentially put in a position where he could gain earthly power, prominence, prosperity, and prestige, yet according to the Scripture he:
“Refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to endure ill treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin.”
Why? Because Moses considered:
“The reproach of Christ greater than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward…he endured as seeing Him who is unseen.”
Whatever was to the earthly advantage of these men was counted as loss and considered as rubbish. The Greek word used here literally means refuse or dung. This is to say that everything this world has to offer is merely a pile of excrement in view of the surpassing value of knowing Jesus. To know Him is the worthiest aim in life.Any other cause is worthless in comparison. This is because, as the Scripture says in Colossians 1:15-18:
“15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.”
Jesus is not only the source of all things through creation, but the Sovereign of it as the King of both heaven and earth, as well as the Savior of His church. All things have been created through Him and for Him.
By virtue of His Person and work, He is to have preeminence in all things. Be, therefore, resolute in pursuing Him, for He is far superior to everything.
The Cost of Knowing Christ
May we recall that knowing Him costs everything. Paul says:
“I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
Following Christ requires a complete repudiation of self. Jesus says in Mark 8:34-37:
“34 If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.35 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? 37 For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
26 “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”
37 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”
Our lives are not our own. The Living God has called us into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ. We are His. He purchased as a possession for Himself with His blood when He willingly rendered Himself as our sin offering to propitiate the wrath of God in our stead. How then are we to live? We are to lose sight of ourselves and render ourselves as living sacrifices for Him in light of His mercy toward us. As 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 says:
“14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”
Pressing Onward to Him
May our chief desire in life be to know the source and sustainer of it, Jesus Christ, who is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature, and who upholds all things by the word of His power. May the following year be a year in which we all diligently seek Him and set our minds upon Him and not the things of this world.
May it be a year where all of us who have turned from ourselves and are trusting in His vicarious death upon the cross and victorious resurrection from the grave, purpose within ourselves to employ those means of grace that God has given us by which we may grow in respect to our salvation.
May we diligently absorb ourselves in His word letting it richly dwell within us in understanding and through us in application knowing that is impossible to know Christ without His all-sufficient Word, for He is the Word Incarnate.
May it be a year where we seek to pray as we ought to, and care for each other as we are called to; and one where we determine within ourselves to draw ever nearer to Him through the partaking of His Supper regularly to have not only a site of His great love for us upon the cross, but a taste Him as well. May seek through the sacrament nourishment for our souls, for He is the Bread of Life. We do not just eat to remember the taste of food, but so that our bodies may be nourished as well. We eat of His Supper to remember Him as the source of our lives, as well as to acknowledge He is the sustenance that sustains us. This year way we know Him as He desires to be known.
There is no doubt that this past year was filled with ways we all have failed in our devotion to Him. All of us are prone to frequently falter in our love and fervency for Christ. We are all fickle, frail, and pitiable people. We all have a serious propensity toward sin. If we take an honest evaluation of ourselves, we are left asking what the Psalmist said:
“What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?”
May we see that the New Year presents us within an opportunity to praise God for His being patient and longsuffering with us. As the Psalmist states:
“For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.”
His mercies, therefore, are new every day. He is mercifully renewing us day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. Let us remember that we are not kept by our love for Him, but His for us. We should find comfort in the fact that His love for us never fails. His love for those who are His is purely from within Himself. He is the One who calls people to Himself and He is the One who keeps them for Himself. Without Christ, we are nothing but depraved dust deserving of eternal damnation. With Him, however, we are redeemed son’s and daughters destined for eternal life.
Jesus has begun a good work in us that He will never give up on for the rest of our lives. In this life, He will never cease perfecting us into His image. He is patient with us, not so that we might remain as we are, but so that we might press on in a greater pursuit of Him seeking to be perfect as He is perfect. We are to press on in a greater pursuit of Him. Our aim in life is to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called in Christ. It is to be holy as He is holy.
We are to persevere in this pursuit realizing as Paul said:
“12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
A New Year is upon us. May we in a certain respect do as Paul says and forget what lies behind and reach forward to what lies ahead. May we be resolute in not living for ourselves, but for Christ, and Him alone, for He is worthy. As Isaac Watts’ famous song goes:
“When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
save in the death of Christ, my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them through his blood.
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.”
 1 Corinthians 10:31
 Ephesians 1:17-19
 Ephesians 3:14-19
 Philippians 1:9-11
 John 10:10
 1 John 5:12
 Philippians 3:5-6
 Galatians 2:16
 Philippians 3:7-11
 John 3:16
 John 3:36
 John 14:6
 Galatians 1:10
 Galatians 6:17
 Hebrews 11:24-25
 Hebrews 11:26-27
 1 Corinthians 1:9
 Hebrews 1:3
 Colossians 3:1-4
 Psalm 8:4
 Psalm 103:14
 Philippians 1:6