‘It is a wonderful thing to know Jesus!’ We would all agree with that. It is something we sing about and rightly rejoice in.
Indeed, it is what God promised his people: ‘No longer will they teach their neighbour, or say to one another, Know the Lord, because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more’ (Jeremiah 31:34).
Every believer who has their sins forgiven has a knowledge of the Lord. Jesus confirmed that in John 17:3: ‘This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’. It is part of a true Christian’s DNA. But how much is it a real feature of our Christian lives? That is a question I increasingly ask myself.
It is probably dangerous to suggest what the greatest need among believers might be. All believers differ, and their walk with God is as distinctive as their individual personalities. That’s the marvel of our great God who relates to us so personally and pertinently.
But in his excellent book A call to spiritual reformation, and after analysing a number of possible candidates for the greatest need in the church, Don Carson says, ‘The one thing we most urgently need in Western Christendom is a deeper knowledge of God. We need to know God better’.
He wrote that 25 years ago, and many things are so different now. But what Dr Carson said at the close of the last century is still tragically true, as we come towards the close of the second decade of this century. I feel it in myself. There is a dearth of the knowledge of Christ Jesus among us that urgently needs addressing.
It is surely relevant that, in Philippians 3, having rehearsed his own religious history and experience of coming to Christ, Paul expresses his great desire for his own life as being ‘that I may know Him’ (v.10).
He had already spoken of ‘the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord’ (v.8). Paul had seen sufficient of that excellence to discount everything else. This was to him the supreme thing and all else was ‘rubbish’. He had a changed set of values and a supreme goal to ‘gain Christ’. It is surely, then, this longing that should fill our hearts. But I wonder whether it is so among us?
Paul’s desire is even more remarkable when we think about how long he had walked with the Lord and what things he had seen and learned about Jesus. He had been a believer for over 30 years. He had a unique experience of direct contact with the Lord on the Damascus road. The Lord had also appeared to him in the Temple and subsequently, when he was rather discouraged, while preaching in Corinth (Acts 18:9-10).
Then there was that extraordinary experience he describes in 1 Corinthians 12. Yet here in Philippians 3 he is still a man in pursuit of Christ. Not that the Lord was unknown, or in some way elusive, but there was, to Paul’s mind, such depths and resources in the Saviour that, no matter what he knew of the Lord, he felt he had only just begun to paddle in the sea of Christ’s wonder and beauty.
In Morning and Evening, for June 25, Charles Spurgeon paints a picture of what it means to know Christ. In graphic language, he describes it as being like ‘climbing one of our Welsh mountains’.
He points out that, at the bottom, you can see very little, but, as you climb, the view grows and becomes more impressive. And when you reach the top, you look east, west, north and south, you see almost all England lying before you, and to one side the sea.
All these things please and delight you, and you say, ‘I could not have imagined that so much could be seen at this elevation’. And then he likens that to the Christian walk, as we gain increasing views of the glory of Jesus.
Part of the implications of that illustration is that not everyone climbs to the top; many settle for lower heights and limited views. Paul, in Philippians 3, clearly eschews that attitude. He is aiming for the very top: ‘I press on’.
He will not settle for merely knowing about Christ; he wants a full experience and rounded knowledge of him. That comes through knowing ‘the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death’ (v.10).
Truths to focus on
He is talking about proving to the maximum degree possible the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit within us, identifying with Christ in the sufferings that accompany godliness, and daily taking up our cross and following the Saviour. This is what knowing Christ looks like.
What the apostle sets before us in Philippians 3 is a precious description of Christian living. But, in my experience, it is not a set of concepts we focus on very much. The glorious truth is that the Lord is always with us and constantly ministering to us. A failure to know him better, then, is a sad commentary on us — that is something we will look at next month.
Since his retirement from full-time pastoral ministry, Roger Hitchings has pursued an itinerant ministry. He also regularly speaks and writes on old age and dementia. He is chair of the Reformation and Revival Fellowship.