READ : Philippians 3:7-11
Jesus’ resurrection does not only mean we will live forever in eternity; it makes all the difference in our lives here and now.
His name was Saul of Tarsus. A gifted young man with outstanding ability, possessing every advantage of background and upbringing, a graduate of the finest schools in the land, well connected with the powerful and influential of his society, already well along the road to success – he seemed destined to reach the very top. Then suddenly and dramatically he turned his back on everything. Everyone who knew him must have been astonished! Saul, or Paul as he is better known to history, seemed to be giving up everything of value and importance in life, throwing it all away for nothing. Overnight he went from being one of his society’s elite, one of those who were envied and admired, to being hated and despised.
It all happened in one stunning moment when his life was turned upside down and transformed forever by a glorious vision that temporarily blinded him physically but opened his eyes spiritually. In a flash Paul saw how wrong his life up to that point had been. His zeal for God was misguided. His convictions about truth were misjudged. Above all, his estimate of Jesus Christ was mistaken. In the moment that he was converted, Paul was given a new life, a new understanding about the Lord Jesus, a new set of values, a new hold on the truth, and a new ambition for living.
But he tells it best in his own words. This is how he described the way his life changed, writing years later to a group of friends in the city of Philippi:
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Losing Everything, Losing Nothing
“For [Christ’s] sake, I have lost all things,” says the apostle (v. 7). Like believers in many places in the world today, when Paul became a Christian, he lost everything belonging to his former life: his work, his income, his family and friends. By human estimation, he had given up everything and gotten nothing in return.
But as far as Paul was concerned, it was just the opposite. In becoming a Christian he had given up nothing of eternal worth and gained everything in return. He puts it in even stronger terms. Speaking of all the things he lost, he says, “I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (vv. 8,9).
What does Paul mean by this new estimate of what is and what is not valuable in life? I don’t think he means to say that everything he once had he now considers to be completely worthless. It is not that home and relatives and career are not important and precious things, and that they should be viewed with contempt. No, these earthly things are all good, and it is wonderful to have them. But Christ is much better; so infinitely more valuable, that if we have to choose between them and him, we must never think we are losing by embracing Christ.
Sir Thomas More, the “man for all seasons,” was imprisoned by King Henry VIII in the tower of London for his refusal to compromise his integrity by giving his approval to the king for an act More considered wrong. As he was facing execution for refusing to sin against his own conscience, he wrote this prayer:
Give me thy grace, good Lord,
To set the world at naught;
Of worldly substance, friends, liberty, life and all,
to set the loss as nothing
For the winning of Christ.
Like the saint and the apostle, all Christians must adopt the new value system that sets the loss of anything as nothing, compared with the winning of Christ.
Not only did Paul change his estimate of what was worth most in life, he also gained a new ambition when he became a Christian, “I want to know . . . the power of [Christ’s] resurrection” (v. 10). Paul’s new ambition was to experience in his own life the kind of power that had raised Jesus from the dead. We are awed by the power that exists in the natural world. Think, for example, of the power displayed by an earthquake or a hurricane, the sort of power that can destroy a whole city in an instant.
But even more awesome than nature’s power is the power of nature’s Creator. If the immense power we see displayed in the natural world staggers us, what should we think of the power of the One who made all things, who spoke the creation into being? Imagine the power it took to raise Jesus from death. This was no trick, no fantasy. This is not a science fiction story. This is real. One minute a corpse was lying in a garden tomb, already in the first stages of decomposition. And in the next instant it was gone, changed, re-created. Jesus was alive with a glorious new body!
The power of God that caused this to happen is at least as great as the power God demonstrated when he first created the world. In fact, it might be greater, for in the creation God made life out of nothing, but in the resurrection he made life out of death.
The Power of His Resurrection
Never mind nuclear power, or solar power, or electric power – this is real power, the sort of strength that can accomplish anything. And this Easter power, the power of the resurrection, is available to ordinary people who believe in Jesus. Fantastic! No wonder Paul wanted to have it.
But what exactly is the resurrection power the apostle is talking about? Is it the ability to get whatever we want? Is it power to become exactly the kind of people we have always longed to be, power to overcome all our shortcomings and handicaps? Does God offer us the resources to get rich or to be successful on our own terms? We need to listen carefully to what the Scripture teaches here.
In the first place, Easter power is the power to change inwardly and spiritually, so that one is “born again” by the Spirit of God and is given a new spiritual nature. The same power that raised Jesus’ body from the grave is available to us here and now to raise us to a new kind of spiritual life. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then according to the Bible, “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you” (Rom. 8:11). God himself comes to us, quickens us, and makes us alive to himself.
Second, God’s power transforms us morally so that our behavior can begin to change. Easter power is power to overcome sin. We are not left to ourselves to struggle along as best we can by sheer will power and dogged determination; if we believe in Christ, then by the resurrection power that comes from his indwelling Spirit, we really can change. The change may not come quickly or easily. The apostle’s intense longing was to know the power of Christ’s resurrection, but that did not mean he always experienced it fully whenever he wanted. Christians also long to be set free from the presence of sin. We want to be able to do what is right and say no to what is wrong, to overcome temptation and to live consistently for God’s glory. But our present experience is often one of weakness alongside of power, failure mixed in with success, defeat as well as victory. I cannot promise you that if you become a Christian you will instantly be given the power to overcome every sin and adversity, but I can say with certainty that if you are a Christian, the power of God will eventually triumph in your life and bring you to perfection.
Third, Easter power is the power to face suffering and loss. Think again of Paul’s own example. The moment he became a Christian, everything was finished for him. Paul not only wrecked his career; he lost his job, his home, his possessions, his family and all his old friends. He had to flee for his life, eventually settling into a new life as an itinerant evangelist – a life full of uncertainty and hardship, of persecution and suffering. Now, as he writes to the Philippians twenty-five years or so later, it has landed him in a Roman prison cell, facing a death sentence.
It is the same for many Christians today. Recent news stories have drawn the world’s attention to the revolution in the Mexican state of Chiapas. But what the news media do not report is the persecution there of hundreds of evangelical Christians. Mobs stirred up by community leaders have attacked many Indian believers in their own villages. They have torn down their houses, destroyed their crops, forced them into refugee camps, beaten them, even killed some – all for the “crime” of confessing faith in Jesus Christ and seeking to live for him and for his glory. And this is just one story. Instances of the persecution and suffering of Christians are common throughout the world today.
How do people find the strength to endure such loss for the sake of Jesus Christ, when all it would take would be a word renouncing him in order for them to enjoy the good things of life? The secret lies once more in God’s Easter power. Having power for its own sake was not Paul’s sole ambition, or even his primary one. Look again at his full statement: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (v. 10). More than anything, Paul wanted Jesus Christ. Over and over in Philippians 3, he says the same thing in different ways: “I want to know Christ, to gain Christ, to be found in Christ, to become like Christ.”
Knowing Christ is not a means to some other end. It is an end in itself. The power of the resurrection is not given to us primarily to make us rich or healthy or happy, but to unite us with Christ. And union with Christ necessarily means sharing in his suffering too, even, as Paul says, the readiness to share in his death. The cross comes before the crown, but make no mistake: the crown does come in the end. Meanwhile, Christ himself gives us the strength to endure all things for his sake.
Finally, Easter power is power for surviving death. For if we suffer with Christ, we shall also be raised with him. “I want to be like him,” Paul wrote, “even in his death, and so somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (v. 11). We are not sure how or when it will happen, but we are sure that some day the same power that broke the bonds of death for Jesus Christ will raise us too and restore us to eternal life.
If this is all true, why don’t we have more power in our lives? If I believe in Jesus Christ, the one who has power to overcome death itself, then why am I still so weak? Why do I so often struggle? The fact is, you can’t have the power apart from the intimacy. You can’t just stock up on it to serve your own purposes. Easter power only comes as part of a relationship. It is a function of knowing Jesus Christ. The closer you are to him, the stronger you will become. But you must want him for himself, not for anything he can do for you. Do you know him in that way? Do you want to be drawn ever deeper into his love? If you do, then be assured. In the end, his power will triumph in your life too.