Philippians: The Joy and Suffering of the Furtherance of the Gospel - Part Eleven
Keith R. Keyser, Gilbertsville, Pa., USA [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The gospel goes beyond mere assent to a set of doctrines, and links us to the Creator God through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, eternal life is relational and experiential – not merely cerebral or ritualistic, as in lifeless human religion. As the Lord prayerfully told His Father, ‘And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent’, John 17. 3. For Paul, knowing Christ was the principal activity of his life; nothing else compares with intimately growing in one’s relationship with the Saviour. Having received a right-eous standing before God through His Son, the apostle longs to know the Messiah with progressive intimacy, Phil. 3. 9-10.
Knowing Christ excels everything else
Paul was converted more than two decades prior to writing Philippians; therefore, what is one to make of verse 10? F. B. Hole points out the significance, ‘“That I may know HIM,” seems to have been the very crown of Paul’s desires. But then, did not Paul know Him? Certainly he did, as indeed every believer knows Him. He knew Him in fact in very much larger measure than most believers know Him. Yet there is such an infinitude in Christ, such depths to be known, that here we have the apostle still panting to know more and more. Have we not caught at least a little of the apostle’s spirit? Do we not long to know our Saviour better – not merely to know about Him, but to know Himself in the intimacy of His love?’1
Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest further explains, ‘The tense causes us to translate, “to come to know by experience.” Paul wants to come to know the Lord Jesus in that fullness of experimental knowledge which is only wrought by being like Him. He wants to know also in an experiential way the power of Christ’s resurrection. That is he wants to experience the same power which raised Christ from the dead surging through his own being, overcoming sin in his life and producing the Christian graces’.2 Likewise, The Pulpit Commentary remarks, ‘For the knowledge here spoken of is a personal knowledge, gained, not by hearing or reading, but by direct personal communion with the Lord; it is not theoretical, but experimental’.3
The prime motivation in Paul’s life – so great that it made him forsake his past successes in Judaism – was having the righteousness from God that permitted him to know Christ in everyday life. His quest for knowledge was not ivory tower speculative philosophy. Instead, it was a practical, real-life relationship with the Son of God. As one writer puts it, ‘He wishes to become entirely “wrapped up” in Christ, so that Jesus will be “all the world” to him’.4 In this age of information overload, believers must focus on the most important thing, emulating the apostle by seeking to know the Lord personally and experientially at all costs.
Wonder Working Power
Experiencing a living relationship with Christ includes ‘the power of his resurrection’, which is the same power that positionally raises a believer from his fallen condition to sit in the heavenlies with Christ, Eph. 1. 19; 2. 6. In actuality, this power will one day physically transform and convey the saints to glory when the Lord Jesus returns, 1 Cor. 15. 42-57. Even now, however, it gives a Christian the essential hope to endure sufferings and opposition in view of his eventual deliverance from this world and his foes. In short, the power of Christ’s resurrection fortifies saints for the fellowship of His sufferings.
The quest for knowing Christ also includes ‘the fellowship of his sufferings’ – a sharing of the type of treatment that his Lord received in this world, in the manner of John chapter 15 verses 18-27. Paul did not avoid persecution, but recognized it instead as a necessary part of the believer’s pilgrim pathway, 2 Tim. 3. 12; Acts 14. 22. He shunned not the derision and pain of the cross, but took it up as he followed his Master’s footsteps.
Living the resurrected life now
Additionally, the resurrection is integrally tied to Christian character development. As Vine comments on verse 11, ‘Here Paul uses it of attaining, not to the physical resurrection (that is “of” the dead; this is ek, “from among” the dead), for that is assured to all believers hereafter (1 Cor. 15:52, 53; 1 Thess. 4:16), but to the present life of identification with Christ in His resurrection and its effects. This is confirmed by verse 12. That is to say, he desires so to live that his whole life may manifest the power of Christ as the Living One, raised from among the dead. This would be the perfect fulfillment of what he has already said, “to me to live is Christ,” and the expression of his hope “that Christ shall be magnified in his body,” even now. A life like that is an earnest of the physical resurrection to come, but that is not a matter of attainment but of grace’.5
The Pursuit of God
One teacher points out the passage’s theme of spiritual advancement, ‘Pulsing through these verses are the ideas of growth and progress in Christ, as well as the idea of spending maximum energy in the cause of Christ. The theme of growth permeates the letter (1:6, 9-11, 2:1-4, 12f, etc.) The idea of energy demonstrates that though righteousness comes by faith and is God’s work, it does not imply a lax and indolent “let God do it” attitude (cf. 2:12f). The course to be run and the goal to be achieved are exciting and challenging, so that one who loves Christ because Christ loved him must run it’.6
Contrary to the verse’s opening phrase, he does not doubt his ability to progress towards spiritual completion, as Wuest points out, ‘The expression, “if by any means” is not an expression of doubt but one of humility. It is a modest but assured hope’.7 On the other hand, he affirms that he has not yet achieved the end point, v. 12. His spiritual transformation will only find completion when he is raised with Christ at His coming.
Pursuing the Hound of Heaven
Paul next says ‘I follow after’ – or ‘I press on’ (NKJV, ESV) – referring to the aim of his life. The Greek graphically evokes the action, as one commentator explains, ‘In the passive voice, katelemphthen is rendered by an active in NIV: Christ Jesus took hold of me; it looks back to the time of his conversion. The aim of the apostle is set out in his desire to take hold of (katalabo), i.e., to make his own possession, the purpose for which the risen Christ appeared to him, and he frankly confesses that the goal of his endeavour has not yet been taken hold of. Hence his whole life is a pressing on to a future goal’.8 He further notes, ‘It is a strong expression for active and earnest endeavour . . . in the sense of “pursue and overtake”, “chase and capture”. This gives an excellent sense. The apostle presses forward in his Christian course in the full recognition that he is not yet perfect, but lives in confidence of ultimate salvation. If the attainment of perfection is denied, there is equally no quietism or indifferent acquiescence in his present experience. He is concerned to strain every nerve to pursue the ideal before him, and at last to capture the coveted prize (v. 14)’.9
Paul was seized by the Lord on the Damascus road for the specific purpose of glorifying God through his apostleship, Acts 9. 15-16. Beyond his service, he was also apprehended for the purpose of knowing Christ and being with Him for eternity. Thielman agrees, saying, ‘Paul vigorously pursues the knowledge of Christ, his sufferings, his resurrection power, and union with him at the final day because on the road to Damascus, Christ took hold of him (Acts 9:1-19; 22:3-16; 26:9-18). Had that event not taken place, Paul might still be busy ‘persecuting (dioko) the church’ (Phil. 3:6) instead of pressing on (dioko) toward these goals (vv. 12, 14)’.10 MacArthur cogently explains, ‘Paul was running spiritually to catch the very thing for which Christ Jesus had come after him. In other words, Paul’s goal in life was consistent with Christ’s goal in saving him’.11
Better than Chariots of Fire
Racing imagery is prominent throughout verses 12 through 14. Ironside observes this metaphor, ‘Like the racer stripped for the contest, he struggles ardently on with his eye upon the goal, which is for him this out-resurrection. In view of it, suffering cannot daunt him, nor death terrorize him. He sees in both but an opportunity for fuller, sweeter fellowship with his Lord’.12 Like a great sprinter, he does not look back – ‘forgetting those things which are behind’, v. 13; moreover, he stretches forward for the finish line. Vine elaborates on the call, ‘The high calling . . . is the same as the “heavenly calling” in Hebrews 3:1. The prize is not the high calling, but will be bestowed in virtue of it and in relation to it. The calling belongs to all believers, it is a calling which directs their minds and aspirations heavenward. For it is “a holy calling” (2 Tim. 1:9). The calling is not merely to salvation, it is their spiritual life and experience, as that which leads to, and issues in, the kingdom of God in its future manifestation (see 1 Thess. 2:12). He calls them by the gospel to the obtaining of Christ’s glory (2 Thess. 2:14). They are to make this calling sure (2 Pet. 1:10), not by making it secure, for it is theirs by grace, but by walking worthily of it (Eph. 4:1)’.13
The prize of this great call fixes the apostle’s attention on successful completion of the course.
Like the apostle, the late sportswriter Bud Greenspan was especially drawn to feats of fortitude in running. As the Los Angeles Times recounts, ‘He was especially partial to stories involving athletic perseverance, citing a pair of runners as prime examples, Tanzanian marathoner John Steven Aquari and British distance runner Dave Moorcroft. In the 1968 Mexico City Games, Aquari was the last man to finish the long race, hobbling into the darkening stadium more than an hour after the early finishers, his right leg bleeding and hastily bandaged, completing the marathon to the cheers of what few fans were left. Asked later by Greenspan why he had continued running, Aquari answered, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race. My country sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.” Moorcroft entered the 5,000-meter run in Los Angeles as the world-record holder, but also having recently suffered a stress fracture in his leg, a bout with hepatitis and a pelvic problem that interfered with his stride. He quickly fell off the pace and into last place, sprinting in ungainly fashion to keep from being lapped as the race ended. When Greenspan asked Moorcroft later why he had not quit, the runner replied, “Once you quit, it’s easy to do it again. I did not want to set a precedent for the future”’.14
The New York Times provides this additional comment, ‘Citing Mr. Akhwari’s courage, Mr. Greenspan told The San Francisco Chronicle, “Sometimes the essence of the Olympic Games can be found in people who don’t stand on the victory podium.”’15
Like Akhwari, our Lord calls us to run and finish the race; furthermore, like Moorcroft we are not to quit. Contrary to Greenspan’s remarks, however, the believer will succeed, for in Christ he is an overcomer who will attain the goal and stand on God’s victory podium – ‘Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us’, Rom. 8. 37. The scriptures further adduce, ‘For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?’ 1 John 5. 4-5.
Keep your eyes on the prize
Spurgeon’s eloquent observations form a fitting conclusion to our consideration of the high call and prize that relate to the Christian race, ‘In our Christian pilgrimage it is well, for the most part, to be looking forward. Forward lies the crown, and onward is the goal. Whether it be for hope, for joy, for consolation, or for the inspiring of our love, the future must, after all, be the grand object of the eye of faith. Looking into the future we see sin cast out, the body of sin and death destroyed, the soul made perfect, and fit to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light. Looking further yet, the believer’s enlightened eye can see death’s river passed, the gloomy stream forded, and the hills of light attained on which standeth the celestial city; he seeth himself enter within the pearly gates, hailed as more than conqueror, crowned by the hand of Christ, embraced in the arms of Jesus, glorified with him, and made to sit together with him on his throne, even as he has overcome and has sat down with the Father on his throne. The thought of this future may well relieve the darkness of the past and the gloom of the present. The joys of heaven will surely compensate for the sorrows of earth’.16
- F. B. Hole, Philippians. Electronic ed.: http://biblecentre.org/commentaries/fbh_54_philippians.htm#Philippians%203 Accessed on 13/10/11.
- Kenneth Wuest, Philippians In The Greek New Testament, electronic ed., pdf., pg. 40.
- Pulpit Commentary, Rios, WI: Ages Software, pdf., pg. 7.
- William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary Vol. 5 : Exposition of Philippians. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1962, pg. 167.
- W. E. Vine, Collected Writings of W. E. Vine: Philippians. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, electronic ed. (Logos); italics original.
- Anthony L. Ash, The College Press NIV Commentary: Philippians, College Press Publ., 1994, electronic ed., pdf., pg. 47.
- Kenneth Wuest, Philippians In The Greek New Testament, electronic ed., pdf., pg. 41.
- Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Vol. 11. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987, pg. 158. [Italics original.]
- Ibid., pgs. 159-60.
- Frank Thielman, The NIV Application Commentary: Philippians. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995, pg. 195.
- John MacArthur, Jr. Philippians. Electronic ed. (Quickverse 2008.)
- H.A. Ironside, Notes on the Epistle to the Philippians. Loizeaux Brothers: Neptune, NJ, 1922, pg. 85.
- Vine, see note 5.
- Mike Kupper, ‘Bud Greenspan dies at 84; Olympic documentarian.’ Los Angeles Times, 27/12/10; accessed on 31/10/11: http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-bud-greenspan-20101227,0,1178619.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+latimes%2Fnews%2Fobituaries+%28Los+Angeles+Times+-+Obituaries%29
- Richard Sandomir, ‘Bud Greenspan, 84, Dies; Filmed Olympics in Glory’. New York Times, 26/12/10; accessed here on 31/10/11: www.nytimes.com/2010/12/26/sports/olympics/26greenspan.html
- C.H. Spurgeon, comment on 2 Cor. 4. 18 , Jan. 29 a.m., Morning and Evening. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006; electronic ed. (Logos).
AUTHOR PROFILE: KEITH KEYSER is a commended full-time worker, married with a young family, and is in fellowship in the assembly meeting at Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania. He ministers throughout North America and spent some time in Spain. He also regularly writes material for assembly magazines.