As a younger man, I was very “achievement oriented.” Regardless of the activity in which I was involved — school, Scouting, music, and even church — I wanted to excel. And maybe that’s why I’ve come to identify with Paul’s words in today’s New Testament lesson (Philippians 3:1-11). Paul, too, had spent a chunk of his life developing an impressive list of accomplishments. But after his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road, he was able to say: “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (verses 7-8).
Knowing Christ. Isn’t that what those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus desire? But as Paul will go on to say, knowing Christ comes with some fine print that might give us pause: “I want to know Christ — yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death (emphasis added), and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (verses 10-11).
Yes, I want to know Jesus — especially when that means knowing the power of his resurrection. But do I want to participate in his sufferings and become like him in his death? Well, perhaps the answer to that question depends upon my understanding of what it was for which Jesus suffered and died. And while more books have been written on that subject than I could possibly summarize here, my heart tells me this…
Jesus suffered and died because he dared to proclaim that God’s grace was available to all and not just the folks who thought they were righteous enough to deserve it. He suffered and died because he dared to suggest that God’s kingdom was breaking into life and that in God’s kingdom loving people (especially the poor and the outcast) was more powerful than hating them, serving people was more desirable than controlling them, and giving ourselves away for the sake of others was a wiser investment than amassing stuff for ourselves. And of course, he suffered and died because he had the audacity to say that it was only in Himself — through a living and growing relationship with Him —that any of this was possible.
Of course, embracing that relationship and the life that comes with it isn’t any more likely to score points in today’s world than it was in the world of Paul’s day. But maybe that’s the point. Knowing Christ is its own reward; and letting go of the “accomplishments” by which we tend to keep score is part of the process of becoming more like Him.
I’m still not a big fan of suffering and death…especially when it might be my own. But I pray that “being found in Him” (see verse 9) will be worth even that…and that knowing Him will be my heart’s desire.