I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
In these brief two verses we learn of Paul’s dearest hope, deepest motivation, and greatest joy.
It’s a loaded sentence and deserves some unpacking. First, Paul wants to “know Christ.” The Greek verb Paul employs typically means a kind of full or complete cognitive understanding. And yet it was also used by Greek-speaking Jews as a correlate for their own word “to know” that implied a more experiential, and even intimate, kind of relational knowing. Paul, that is, wants not simply to understand facts about Jesus but to identify fully with Christ, to be joined to Christ experientially, and in this way to have the peace of Christ actualized in his own life.
Paul also wants to know, or experience, the “power of his resurrection.” Resurrection was not an uncommon religious belief in the ancient world. All kinds of gods and goddesses were described as having been resurrected. But Paul stretches that conception from referring only to a divine being to also including himself – and by extension the Philippians and all of us. This is in accord with his branch of Judaism that also counted on resurrection for at least the just and perhaps for all, but Paul again stretches that framework so that it includes not only a future hope but also a very present reality.
Paul, that is, wants his every present moment – from ministry in various locales in the ancient world, to the fellowship he enjoyed with the Philippians, to the prison cell in which he currently lives – to be infused by the hope and confidence of the resurrection. In this sense, Paul anticipates the good end to which his story will come and allows the knowledge of that ending to color all the rest of its details.
Finally, Paul wants to share Christ’s sufferings. This is the one that may seem odd to us. But just as Christ shed his glory to become human, so also Paul wants to shed the normal life of comfort he once enjoyed to experience the fullness of life. That “shedding” has already begun, as Paul just earlier described losing much of what he once thought was valuable. But he anticipates that it will continue. This is not a desire for suffering for suffering’s sake, rather Paul perceives that to receive authentic life, that which we had formerly accepted as life but now seems like rubbish must pass away. There is a purging away of the old life that is always painful. For new life makes no sense apart from death, and so the path to resurrection always leads through the cross.
Curiously, however, Paul doesn’t start with suffering and then anticipate resurrection. Rather, it is the hope and promise of resurrection that invites his willingness not just to endure suffering but to transcend it. Such is the power of the promises of God.
Prayer: Dear God, grant us a foretaste of resurrection that is strong enough to keep us hopeful here and now as we strive, suffer, and work for all that we have learned is good. In Jesus’ name, Amen.