Reflection: Philippians 3: 3 – 11
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a unique historic reality of the Christian faith. When the Apostle Paul wrote his First Epistle to the Corinthians around 55 AD, he unambiguously acknowledged that he knows of at least 500 living eyewitnesses who saw the resurrected Jesus in Palestine (1Cor 15:3-7). Later, at his trial before King Agrippa, Paul again declared that the resurrection is well known to the King… ‘as this has not been done in a corner’ (Acts 26:21-26).
His Damascus Road encounter with the resurrected Christ profoundly impacted his embryonic faith; it literally turned Paul’s world upside-down instantaneously, and messed up his Jewish theological foundations – transforming his identity from a passionate persecutor of Christians to an apostle of the faith. It is no minor makeover to conclude publicly that all his family and religious pedigree and learning amounted to ‘foul-smelling street garbage’ (vv. 3-8), compared to the value of knowing Christ; where ‘to know’ is to have intimate knowledge involving experience and appropriation.
What are the implications for Paul when he realigned his ultimate life goals in Christ? Firstly, He realized that his self-reliance, self-satisfaction, and contentment in offering to God his own goodness as a model Jew was unacceptable. This crisis of knowledge that led to an irrevocable inversion of values (v.8) meant that his destiny was to follow wherever the resurrected Christ led him (Acts 9:15). Then, it was uncharted territory for Paul. His radical discovery of a new righteousness, not based on the strict Pharisaic outward fulfillment of Torah obligations, with its origin and source in God and its personal appropriation through faith in Christ was liberating for Paul (v.9).
Secondly, following his determination to know Christ intimately comes the astonishing purpose for it – to experience Him in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings (v.10). Like any person who had encountered the reality of a resurrected Christ (sometimes we regard this aspect rather flippantly), it changed his perspective of what constitutes the Divine Spirit’s life-giving power! Not only did the power of Christ renewed his inner life processes, it also reformed the way he conducted his life henceforth. To know Christ is to be like Christ, and to experience the nature and power of his faith. After having been ostracized from his own influential Pharisaic societal associations, it took Paul enormous courage, by the grace of God, to come to terms with his horrific past persecutory endeavours (the result of his own upright behaviours based on the Law), and its haunting shame and deep regrets, to rise up and follow Christ. Victimized as a turncoat, his only link was Christ and the nascent church, and he knew that the power of the Lord released through His resurrection was the only antidote that could transform him from his appalling past to one who is able to serve his risen Lord unhindered.
In this mystical union of believers with Christ, it is impossible to know the power of His resurrection without participating in the fellowship of His sufferings (v. 10-11). To be like Christ is to identify with the inward sufferings of the Lord, as by and large, suffering is a highly personal experience (suffering in this context is not expiatory in nature), just as resurrection power is an inward encounter. And this association may even lead him to the point of dying. But death does not have the last word, as he hopes that God Himself will cause him to be raised from death to life.
The Christian life for Paul is beyond mere salvation and ethics, as it is ultimately about our intimate relationship with Christ, who IS the resurrection (power) and life (John 11:25). If our life in Christ is to count for the present and toward eternity, it has to be incarnational, marked daily by the cross, and powered by the Spirit of God, who guarantees our final glory.