In Philippians 3:8-11 we come to a section of Paul’s letter that contains his most concise statement of justification by faith and the most passionate expression of his deepest longings. Entire books have been written on this paragraph and the truths of the passage are so profoundly moving that what follows is simply my response to what the apostle is saying, not a studied attempt explain it all.
In verse 8 Paul speaks of the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” and in verse 10 explains what he means by “knowing Christ.” Knowing Christ, and knowing about him, are two different things. The first is highly personal and the second is merely informative. I know that we live about 70 miles from Mt. Baker, but were I to drive up today with snow softly falling I would “know” the mountain in a different sense. The surpassing worth of “knowing Christ” in this second way comes from the highly personal nature of the existential encounter. In simpler terms, you really know a person when you go through especially important experiences together. We see it in the bonding that takes place on the battlefield. “Unprotected you carried me to the helicopter in spite of enemy fire; I now know, in quite a different sense, who you are.”
Verses 8-11 form a single sentence in the Greek text so, without pause, Paul lets us know what he means by “knowing Christ.” It is “to experience the mighty power that raised him (i.e, Christ) from the dead” (NLT). Paul longs to “know” this power, not for some sort of thrill, but because it was all part of Christ’s experience in which, having gone through suffering that led to death, he was raised back to life. Paul’s desire is complete identification with his Lord and Savior. If it is true, as Zen teaches, that to put something into words is to diminish it, Paul faces the difficulty of doing justice to his deepest desire. Today we might simply say that we want to be totally involved in a relationship with the risen Christ that is absolutely complete. No more I and You; just the two of us. But it’s true, is it not, words can’t express what the heart wants to say?
What we can hope for is that Paul’s deep desire to know Christ in such a complete way will move followers of the same Lord to join with him in a relationship that not only satisfies the cravings of one’s soul but expresses itself actively in a life that reaches out with Christ to those who need to hear.