The Lord’s Day
March 23, 2008
Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility, Knowing Christ
and the Peace that Passes Understanding:A Study of Philippians
“Knowing the Power of Christ’s Resurrection”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your bibles, let me invite you to turn with me to Philippians chapter 3. We’ve been looking at this great letter of the apostle to the Philippians for many weeks now, and we have been especially concentrating on the center part of the letter, which runs all the way from chapter 1:27 to chapter 2:30. In that central section, the Apostle Paul has been repeatedly exhorting us to live like Christians. He uses different language. Sometimes he tells us to remember that we are citizens of a different kingdom. Sometimes he tells us to live life worthy or fitting the gospel. Sometimes he exhorts us to have this attitude in ourselves which was in Christ Jesus. But over and over he is calling us to live out the grace of the gospel in the Christian life; to be different from the world around us; to be like Christ; to emulate Christ. In this great section of the book he has actually pointed us to Jesus Christ in Philippians 2:5-11 and shown the example of Christ as the pattern for all Christians and how it is that we can live not seeking our own interests, but putting the interests and the concerns of others ahead of our own.
And then, in Philippians 2:18-30, he gave us human fleshly personal examples of two godly men, Timothy and Epaphroditus, who had lived out what it means to be willing to risk your life for the sake of the gospel and to put the interests of other people ahead of your own.
And now as we come to Philippians 3:1-11, we are coming to the final doctrinal portion, the final teaching portion of the book. Really beginning in verse 12 to the end of the book, Paul is going to be zeroing in and making exhortations and applications with an explicit pastoral, practical concern.
But here, especially in verses 7-11, Paul is virtually summarizing the heart of his gospel teaching. Teachers for many, many hundreds of years have identified this as a culminating point in the Apostle Paul’s doctrinal teaching in this book. So it’s a very important passage. But understand that even this doctrinal section is set in the context of practical concern. What’s the very first thing that he is going to ask these Philippians to do in verse one? He’s going to ask them to rejoice in the Lord.
What’s so extraordinary about this is—these are people who were persecuted, they’re marginalized, and they’re poor. And their hero, the church planter, missionary, apostle that they love, who was their pastor, who planted their church, and whom they are supporting even out of their poverty to go to the ends of the earth with the gospel, he’s prison. So he’s in prison, they’re persecuted, they’re marginalized, and they’re poor. And the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to them is, “rejoice in the Lord.”
Now, the Apostle Paul has to explain to them how it is that in their circumstance they’re going to be able to rejoice in the Lord. And that’s exactly what he does in verses 1-11.
By the way, I want you to notice that the Apostle Paul’s message is the exact opposite from the health and wealth gospel. The Apostle Paul says the gospel has come to the Philippians, the grace of God has renovated their lives, the Holy Spirit has come down, and they are manifesting all sorts of extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit. They are living life in the spirit. They are new creations. They are part of this kingdom that will never end that God is building up, and therefore, not they’re healthy, wealthy, constantly happy, never facing problems.
As a result of all that happening to them, what has happened? They’re poorer, they’re more persecuted, they’re more marginalized, they’re more isolated; they’re surrounded by suffering and hardships on all sides. What’s his word to them?—Rejoice anyway.
It’s the exact opposite from the health and wealth gospel, which basically says, embrace Christ and everything gets easy. Embrace Christ and you get a fat wallet. Embrace Christ and you never have a health crisis again. Embrace Christ and the cancer goes away.
In reality, it’s embrace Christ, the joy of the Holy Spirit will flood your life, and your sufferings and your persecutions and your hardships and your trials and even your poverty won’t go away. In fact, sometimes it will increase. But you’ll be able to rejoice in the Lord anyway, and not only in spite of it, but through it, and even because of it. Because the power of the gospel, the power of the resurrected life of the Lord Jesus Christ which is in you will shine through and be magnified in all of that. So the Apostle Paul is going to have to explain to the Philippians why it is they are supposed to be rejoicing when he is in prison and they’re persecuted and marginalized and poor. And that’s what he’s going to do in this passage.
Let’s ask God’s help before we read his word.
Heavenly father, this is Your Word. And we know it is more necessary to us than the daily bread, the daily food that we eat for man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. So, our Heavenly Father, we pray that you would feed us this day with what we need most—Your Word, Your Truth, Your promises, Your gospel. This we ask in Jesus’ name, amen.
Hear God’s word in Philippians 3 beginning in verse 1:
“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the spirit of god and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for 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; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order 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 comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
We live in important and serious times. If you are a business man or, heaven forbid, if you are some sort of a broker or financial planner, you have been on a roller coaster ride in the last couple of weeks especially. One economist that I heard speaking on Friday said we are teetering on the brink of the abyss. And Bear Stearns has been sacrificed and the Federal Reserve is springing into action, and we don’t know what the U.S. economy and the world economy is going to look like in the days ahead. We are all holding our breath. They’re serious and important times going on around us.
There are interesting things going on in East Asia, aren’t there? China, Tibet, and Taiwan all tantalize us with what the coming weeks and months may hold. There’s the war that we’ve been watching in the Middle East and participating in for five long years now. And then there was a major speech given just a few days ago by one of the political candidates that some are calling the most important address on race in the United States given since Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. All of these things are very serious and very important, and we don’t know exactly what the future will hold.
But the Apostle Paul tells us in this passage that what he is about address us about is the most important thing in all of life—more important than U.S. and world economy, more important than wars, more important than international relations, more important than domestic tranquility. The things that he is about to address are the most important things in the world.
And there are three things in particular that I want to draw your attention to from this glorious passage. In fact, if you’d look especially at verse 8 and 10 and 11. I want to show you three things that Paul wants us to consider.
First of all, he wants us to think about what is more valuable than anything else in the world? Paul will tell you that he wants you to think about that question. What is most valuable than anything else in the world? In fact, let me put that question pointedly. What is most valuable to you than to anything else in the world? What is more valuable to you than anything else in the world?
Second, the Apostle Paul says that he wants to know more than anything else Christ and the power of His resurrection. What does that mean? What does it mean to know Christ and the power of his resurrection? We want to consider that today.
And then, third, the Apostle Paul wants us to understand that we will not experience the fullness of the power of Christ’s resurrection in us until something happens that hasn’t happened yet. And he points our attention to that in verse 11.
I. What is most valuable?
So let me draw your attention to these three things in this very important passage in which the Apostle Paul explains to us what is most valuable and important in life. And you’ll see what he says in answer to that question in verse 8. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” The Apostle Paul is telling us here that to know Christ savingly is more valuable than anything in this world. Paul is telling us that to know Christ savingly is more valuable than anything else in this world.
Now, I want to say very quickly what I mean by knowing Christ savingly. I do not mean knowing about Christ. You can know things about Christ and not know Him savingly just as you can know things about other human beings and yet not know them personally. You may know things about the president. You may know things about the various political candidates that are running for various offices across this state and nation this year, but you may not at the same time know them personally. You can know things about Jesus Christ and yet not know Him. You can know that He was born in Bethlehem. You can know that He was raised in Nazareth. You can know that He did miracles. You can know that He taught the most sublime teaching on living life before the face of God ever heard on this planet. You can know that He died on a tree outside of Jerusalem on a hill called Golgotha. You can know all sorts of things about Christ without knowing Him.
And the Apostle Paul is saying that it is more valuable anything else in this world not simply to know about Christ, but to know Him, to know Him personally, to know Him savingly, and by knowing Him savingly, the Apostle Paul means this: to know Christ savingly means that you not simply know things about Him, but you know Him in your trusting Him, in your loving Him, in your delighting in Him, in your treasuring Him, and in your worshipping Him. To know Christ is to know Him in all His benefits and in all His work. And therefore, if you know Christ, you know how valuable He is. And because you know how valuable He is, you worship Him, and you treasure Him, and you delight in Him, and you count everything else in your life as rubbish.
And Paul uses the word here of the food that was leftover that was thrown to the dogs. Everything that he had done in his life could not match the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ. He stacks up all his accomplishments of the past. And so he says to you, “If you know Christ savingly, you know that He is more valuable than anything in this world. He’s more valuable than your money and your possessions. He’s more valuable than your reputation or your vocation. He’s more valuable than your family, your wife, your children, your parents. He is more valuable than anything in this life. And all of our blessings and all of our accomplishments stacked up cannot equal Him.” And the Apostle Paul wants us to know in verses 7 and 8 very clearly that to know Christ savingly is to know that He is more valuable than anything else in this world.
“Whatever gain I have,” he says, “I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” If you do not know the value of Christ, if you do not know the preciousness of Christ, if you do not know the treasure that Christ is, if your heart has not believed in Christ, trusted on Christ, if you do not worship Christ, you do not know that He is supremely valuable and therefore you do not know that He is your Savior. Those who know Christ as Savior know his value. Those who know Christ as the one who has saved us from our sins and who is our Lord know that He is the most valuable thing in this world.
The Apostle Paul is pressing that home on us today. It is unlikely that if you are here today in this church, that you would have come across this threshold in dogmatic, skeptical rejection of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, but it is possible that you could have come here today embracing in theory the resurrection of Christ without knowing the power of the resurrection.
And the Apostle Paul, if that’s where you are today, the Apostle Paul is addressing you by saying that to know Christ is not merely to assent that He was perhaps was resurrected 2,000 years ago, but it is to know Him as the most valuable thing in this world without which everything else means nothing. And so that’s the first thing that the apostle wants to press home to us today—that to know Christ savingly is more valuable than anything else in this world.
II. To know Christ in the power of His resurrection
But the second thing the Apostle Paul draws our attention to, and you’ll see this in verse ten, is that to know Christ savingly is to know Him in the power of His resurrection. The Apostle Paul says, “This is what I want to do. I want to know him and the power of His resurrection and share in His sufferings becoming like Him in His death.” The Apostle Paul there tells us that to know Christ and to know Christ savingly is to know him in the power of His resurrection. The question all of us need to be asking is, “What in the world does that mean? What does it mean to know Christ in the power of his resurrection?”
Well, let me suggest that from the context the Apostle Paul clearly means three things. You look at verses 8and 9 and 10, I think you’ll see exactly what he’s talking about.
First of all, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that to know the power of Christ’s resurrection means to know the forgiveness of sins. By the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. By the resurrection of Christ we are justified. God has raised Him from the dead that we might be forgiven the sins and the punishment due our sins. By Christ’s perfect life and full obedience and by His death on the cross, God has judged and sentenced and condemned and punished all the sins of all those in this world who believe in and trust on Jesus Christ, from every tribe, tongue, people and nation, men and women and boys and girls. All who trust in Him have their sins condemned and punished in Him and have His righteousness accredited to Him. And it is the resurrection that displays this verdict of God.
Think of how the Apostle Paul puts it in verses 8 and 9. “For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order 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 comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
In other words, the Apostle Paul is saying that by the power of the resurrection he has been forgiven. When God raised His Son from the dead, He not only pronounced that His Son was perfect, He announced that Paul was forgiven because Paul was trusting in His Son.
And so the Apostle Paul is saying, “If you know the power of the resurrection, one thing you will know is that your sins are forgiven in Jesus Christ.”
Have you ever been around a young Christian upon whom that realization has just dawned, and they cannot get over it because they know intensely the reality of their guilt, and they know that their guilt deserves punishment. They know that their sin needs to be condemned, ought to be condemned, and it has suddenly dawned on them that God has forgiven them. He hasn’t sent them on some sort of pilgrimage in which they self-flagellate and atone for themselves. He has freely forgiven them in Jesus Christ, and they are ecstatic with the experience of freedom. That is the power of resurrection.
If I could give you an analogy, an illustration, of that—Imagine an outstanding young woman. She’s intelligent. She has her whole future before her. She is the Salutatorian of her class. It’s the last month of her high school. And on a particular day a tragic accident happens. It is an accident. She is not neglectful. She is not negligent. But, there is a terrific traffic accident in which she is involved, and in which she is at fault with regard to the driving of her vehicle and someone dies. Well, tragedy is added to tragedy and in their grief, the other family brings charges against her and charges are lodged in court against her for vehicular manslaughter. Her family realizes that her whole life may be changed and compromised because of this particular charge. She could spend time in prison if this sentence is rendered against her guilty. The trial goes on. The sentencing and the deliberation of the jury goes on. The hours of jury deliberation seem like days and weeks and months, and finally the verdict comes in, and the verdict is, “Not Guilty”. They had been imagining their precious, intelligent, bright daughter sitting in a jail somewhere. They had been imagining her not able to pursue her career in medicine or law or to be a mother and a wife; to graduate from college and to do all the things that they had dreamt of her doing, but now all of those horrible possibilities are evaporated in the sentence of “Not Guilty”.
The Apostle Paul is saying, “Do you understand what has happened?—for three days Christians have watched this grave in which the One who they thought was the Messiah of Israel was lying. And suddenly on the third day, He was raised again from the grave, and God pronounced “Not Guilty”. My Son is just. He has done nothing wrong. He is perfect and therefore because he is perfect all of you have trust in Him—you are forgiven and you receive His not guilty verdict, too.” It says if the heavenly Father looks down and He says to us, “My Son is perfect and therefore your sins are forgiven as you trust in Him.”
And the Apostle Paul says, “If you have known the power of your sins and you have repented and have trusted in Jesus Christ, then you know the power of the resurrection in the gracious forgiveness of sins by the loving and almighty God which comes only through faith in Jesus Christ.”
That’s not all Paul is saying. In this whole section, Paul is talking about living the Christian life, isn’t he? He’s not just talking about justification. He’s talking about sanctification. He’s not just talking about our being accepted as righteous. He’s talking about our being changed into becoming more like Jesus Christ.
And so he is also pressing home the truth that to know the power of Christ’s resurrection is to know the power of new life in us. Look at what he says in verse 10—“That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and may share His sufferings becoming like Him in his death.”
What does that passage remind you of—becoming like Him in his death? It might remind you of Romans chapter 6, especially verses 3-13, one part of which reads like this: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death. We were buried, therefore, with Him, by baptism, into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
In other words, the Apostle Paul is telling us there that Christ’s resurrection not only results in our forgiveness, it also results in our lives being changed; in our being different people; in our walking in newness to life.
And this is what the Apostle Paul is saying when he says that he wants to know the power of Christ’s resurrection. He wants to know the saving, changing, maturing, growing effects of the Holy Spirit applying the power of Christ’s resurrection to his life so that he is more and more like Christ.
But that’s not all. Notice what else he says. He says, “That I may know him in the power of his resurrection and may share in his sufferings.” The Apostle Paul is saying that to know the power of Christ’s resurrection is to embrace the suffering and hardships of this world as God’s school of Christ-likeness.
It’s really quite amazing. The Apostle Paul is saying to himself and the Philippians and to you and me, “You are living in a fallen world. It is filled with sin. You going to experience trials and troubles, tribulations and hardships, sorrows and suffering.”
And the Apostle Paul is saying. “Lord, I don’t want one of those experiences of trials and hardships that you have brought into my life to be wasted in terms of making me more like Jesus Christ. I want all of my sufferings to make me more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to know the power of His resurrection at work in me even in the most difficult trial.”
When the diagnosis of cancer comes, when the trouble in the home comes between husband and wife, children and parents, when difficulties in the job come, when strife comes between friends or acquaintances or colleagues; when persecution comes; when trials or hardships of various sorts come, the Apostle Paul is saying that to know the power of Christ’s resurrection is to embrace the sufferings and hardships of this world as God’s school of Christ-likeness.
He’s saying Christian, you cannot look at the sufferings in your life apart from the power of Christ in the gospel. God intends those sufferings to produce something. And the something that he intends them to produce is Christ-likeness.
And so the Apostle Paul says, “I don’t want one iota of my suffering to be wasted on the ultimate goal of my maturing to be more like Christ. So that to know the power of Christ’s resurrection is to know the forgiveness of sins, is to know the Holy Spirit working in us to become more like Christ and it is to know even our trials as instruments of God’s grace to grow us up to be more like Jesus.”
And so the Apostle Paul says that to know Christ savingly is to know Him in the power of his resurrection and to know Him in the power of His resurrection is to know forgiveness; is to know growth in grace; and it is to know being ready even to face our trials with a view to becoming more like Jesus Christ.
III. To know Christ savingly is to long for His power to be perfected in the day of His coming
But there’s one last thing that the Apostle Paul has to say and you see it in verse 11. It’s rather strange, isn’t it? I’ve been pondering this passage for a couple of weeks now. I’ve really, really worked hard at it. Maybe you’ve had the same reaction that I do when Paul says that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Now, what puzzled me about this verse is the Apostle Paul talking about the possibility of the his attaining the resurrection of the dead when we know that Paul himself elsewhere and Jesus and Judiasm for at least 500 years before Jesus’ and Paul’s time had openly taught a resurrection —a doctrine of the general resurrection. There was a belief that all people, believers and unbelievers, were going to be raised again from the dead.
And so I was puzzled a little bit about the Apostle Paul talking about attaining the resurrection. Well, what in the world does Paul mean by saying that by all means if possible he might attain the resurrection? What Paul is saying here is that he recognizes that in this life, despite the fact of the power of Christ’s resurrection is already at work changing him to make him more like Jesus, that that process is never ever going to be completed until the day of the resurrection when Jesus comes and he is raised in a glorious, immortal body and when he lives and fellowships with Christ forever, body and soul, in his resurrected state entirely free from sin. And until that day he is going to have a battle with sin. Until that day he is going to continue to have to fight the fight of faith against sin in him.
In other words, Paul is saying that to know Christ savingly is to long for His power to be perfected in the day of His coming; for His power to be perfected in you in the day of His coming. Paul knows that progress in sanctification never reaches perfection in this life, and therefore, every Christian, no matter how spiritual, no matter how godly, always has to pray the prayer of John—“Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly”. Paul wants to see a final end to sin in him, but he knows that to see that he’s going to have to await the final resurrection. Only when his final resurrection to glory comes will he see a final end to sin.
Now, it’s very important for us to understand that the Apostle Paul, too, just like Jesus and just like the Old Testament makes it clear that there is going to be one general resurrection, but there are going to be to ends to that resurrection. There is going to be a resurrection to glory and to forgiveness and perfection and newness of life and everlasting bliss. And there is going to be a resurrection to judgment and condemnation and everlasting punishment.
And the Apostle Paul wants us to understand that only those who know Christ savingly will be raised to that glory, will be raised to that fellowship, will be raised to that freedom from sin, and the freeness of liberty and grace and a life of fellowship. Those who do not know Christ savingly will be raised to judgment and condemnation.
And, my friend, if you’re here today and you don’t know Christ savingly—you don’t know Christ savingly in the forgiveness of your sins, you don’t know Christ savingly in that you long more than anything else in this world to be like Him and you treasure Him more than anything else in this world, and if you don’t know Christ savingly and the power of His resurrection even in your sufferings, then you are yet awaiting the resurrection to judgment. And the only way, the only way to escape that judgment to come and to know the joy that the Apostle Paul is teaching us about here is to know Christ. Not to know about Him, but to know Him, to trust Him, to believe in Him, to accept His promises, to embrace His gospel, to treasure Him more than life, to put all of your hope in Him, and for all who trust in Him, there yet is a resurrection to glory and to hope and to joy.
May god bless his Word. Let’s pray.
Our Heavenly Father, we thank You for this word and we ask that You work it deep into our hearts and that we would respond in faith to Your gospel. And we ask now that You would help us to sing in faith, even as we sing that every joy and trial comes from above because there is nothing more precious, O God, than knowing Jesus Christ. And if our trials will help us know Him more, then, O God, grant that we would respond to them and have victory over them in faith in the One who loved us and gave Himself for us. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.
Now take your hymnals in hand and turn with me to number 699, “Like a River Glorious”.
[The congregation stands to sing.]
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, be with your spirit.