I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verses 10,11)
When Jesus spoke those burning words to two disciples walking to Emmaus, “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:26), He laid out forever the path all His followers will have to walk if they want to have fellowship with him. Do we want to know the power of His resurrection? Then we must first know the pain of his sufferings and become like him in His death. First comes suffering and then comes glory.
I have yet to experience the fullness of what Peter and John experienced when they were beaten at the command of the Sanhedrin and the “apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, but I am hesitant to get excited and rejoice over suffering disgrace for His Name.
And yet, this is Paul’s desire. He is wanting to know Christ in this way. He is currently in jail as he writes because of his willingness to suffer with and for Christ. He is ready to die, if need be, in order to bring glory to his Savior. Though he doesn’t say it directly here, we know that his motive is gratitude for the rescue Jesus has done in his life, saving him from trying to face God with a righteousness of his own instead of that which comes from God by faith in Christ. Another motive he states plainly here is so that he might attain to the resurrection from the dead.
This raises questions for those of us who believe the Scriptures teach that one can never earn nor lose one’s salvation. Does Paul believe he has to suffer with Christ in order to attain to the resurrection? Does he doubt that if he does not pursue this course he will be refused resurrection? Yes and no.
Paul believed all who were true believers would be willing to suffer persecution with Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12). He didn’t presume that no believer would struggle with the fear of such a decision. That is why in the beginning of this letter he was counting on help from the Philippians’ prayer and the supply of the Holy Spirit (1:19). He didn’t believe that after all this time serving Jesus he would quit now, but he knew and taught that true believers are enabled both to will and to do God’s good pleasure and would persevere in their faith (2:13).
Do you want fellowship with Jesus? Of course you do. Do you want to suffer? Of course you don’t. But if it comes to a choice of sharing in the life of Jesus or avoiding suffering, I believe we both will choose Jesus.