An elderly lady had an old umbrella stand near her front door that had been knocked around over the years. One day an expert took a closer look and found that under the outer layers of paint, this was an extremely valuable antique worth a great deal of money. Suddenly that old battered stand was treated with great respect and care.
The Apostle Paul had an experience that caused him to re-value the things in his life, but in his case, the situation was reversed. The things he thought were of great value—his cultural background and religious achievements—were nothing of the sort. When he encountered the Lord Jesus who had been dead but was now alive in the glory of Heaven, the apostle’s world was turned upside down. He saw differently. He counted his old life as loss and “dung” (Philippians 3:7-8). Far from making Paul right with the Living God, his old life had driven him further and further away from God.
Jesus Christ took on our messed-up human life, which belongs to this old dying age, and He crucified it. He condemned our old corrupt life to death on the cross and then brought back from the dead a new kind of life that delights the Living God.
Jesus did the impossible. He made all things new.
Jesus offers anybody and everybody the free disposal of their old life and the free delivery of His new life: the exchange of our guilt and shame for His righteousness and life.
Paul had to re-value everything in his life. Everything that had seemed to be valuable turned out to be worthless, and the very things he had hated and attacked turned out to be worth more than the world!
Knowing the resurrected Jesus was worth everything to Paul.
This careful revaluation of our lives is at the heart of living in the power of the resurrection of Jesus. If our old life is put to death, then nothing of this old life has eternal value.
To be friends with this world is to be an enemy of God (James 4:4). The power of the resurrection lifts us from death to life, but this is precisely what causes us to be hated by the world. When we treat the pleasures and treasures of this world as worthless, we become enemies of the world.
Yet, in being hated by the world, in treating as dung all that the flesh values, we are in deep fellowship with Jesus. We want to be drawn nearer and nearer to the risen Jesus, and when we do that we get further and further away from the world.
EMBRACING THE CROSS
Paul does not want to know Jesus in some undefined or abstract way. To know Jesus is to be joined to Him in His death and resurrection (Philippians 3:10-11). If we want to know the power of Jesus’ resurrection, then we must first meet Him at the cross. The power of His resurrection came only after Jesus had experienced the suffering, rejection and death of the cross.
That is the path that He walked, and we find ourselves close to Him when we walk that same path: from the cross to the empty tomb; from repentance and rejection to resurrection.
Knowing His fellowship as we share a measure of His sufferings can be great joy, even in the deepest pain. There are many kinds of suffering in this brief life:
- The bodily sufferings of illness and death
- The sufferings of poverty and hardship
- The sufferings of rejection and persecution for Jesus
- The sufferings of self-denial when we put to death the deceitful desires of our flesh
All these sufferings are changed by the light and power of His resurrection. It is not that our sufferings all magically disappear, but rather they all become opportunities to draw near to Jesus and experience greater fellowship with Him.
It is all too easy to find our identity in “earthly things” (Philippians 3:19), but if we do this, our very identity is rocked when troubles and suffering come, when earthly things fail us. In knowing Jesus, we receive a secure identity in Heaven and eagerly wait for Him to return (Philippians 3:20).
If Jesus is just an idea to us, we will never let go of the pleasures and treasures that appeal so directly to our flesh. We must know Christ Jesus in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. Only when Jesus is a reality to us do we have the power to reject the temptations of the moment. For example, it is very hard to reject a lover that we can see and touch—unless we know Jesus as a living reality.
Paul is not simply talking about believing the right things about Jesus. Paul wants to experience the power of Jesus’ resurrection and “the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.”
All this is experiential language. It is about more than ideas; it is about how we live and what our daily experience of life is all about. Paul wants to know Jesus as he walks the way of Jesus.
We don’t walk through suffering and self-sacrifice merely with gritted teeth and clenched fists. No! We have a glorious hope before us.
Not only can we already experience the resurrection power of Jesus, but always, the hope of glory shines a new light on all that we think, feel, do and say. The light of His resurrection constantly shows us the new value of everything. We fix our attention on the unseen things that last for eternity rather than the obvious things around us that last only for a moment.
Jesus takes hold of us … and then, in His strength and by His permission, we take hold of Him (Philippians 3:12).
We may think we can defeat death and get resurrection life by working harder, trying to get better habits, eating better food or simply aiming to be the best version of ourselves. But whatever good these habits bring, they cannot kill our old life and give us resurrection life.
The Apostle Paul was caught up in mere self-improvement before he knew the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus. When we trust Jesus, we press on, work hard and run with all our strength—not because we can obtain the prize for ourselves, but because the Lord, Jesus Christ, calls us (and draws us) to the finish line to give us the prize freely (Philippians 3:14).
Our perfection and our bodily redemption lie in the hands of Jesus, not in our hands. When we feel dead, when we have no hope, we remember that Jesus is Lord—and that God raised Him from the dead.
In Jesus, the impossible is always possible. With Jesus, the deepest depths of despair and darkness can be overcome.
Paul cried out that He wanted to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection. He knew that in his own flesh, in his own wretched heart and mind, there was no hope of peace, joy or fruitfulness. In himself, Paul knew there was only more angst, more craving without satisfaction, more unclean thoughts and desires, more unfruitful labor.
All he wanted was to know Christ and the power of His resurrection; to experience the power of the Spirit in bringing fresh life to his dry, hard and dead heart.
This very day, no matter how dead our heart might feel—no matter how much it seems as though our passion has died—Christ and the power of His resurrection can bring us back to life. Back to fruitfulness and joy. ©2019 Paul Blackham
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Paul Blackham is vicar of St. Crispin’s Church, London, and CEO of Biblical Frameworks, a Bible teaching ministry.