“I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings.” (Philippians 3:10)
It was once Martin Luther who famously said that the essence of Christianity was to be discovered through its use of personal pronouns. Luther’s point, simply put, was that Christianity was essentially a relationship with a person, not a religious ritual. Luther realised, in a way that few of his fellow theologians did, that there were different levels of knowledge that we can have about God, and that the level and kind of knowledge that is promised to us in the New Covenant is essentially knowing God as a person (Jeremiah 31:34).
Now of course this capacity to know God as a person was not something that had been uncovered for the first time by Luther at the Reformation. It had been revealed originally through the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles. For instance, Jesus had said in the Upper Room, “Now this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). And then the apostle John says in his First Letter, “We proclaim to you the Eternal Life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you may have fellowship with us and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete” (1 John 1:2-4).
Here we see that John describes eternal life as being in fellowship with the Father and the Son; in other words, true life begins and continues with knowing God in a personal sense. I mention this because it is so easy to think that the Gospel offers a different kind of knowledge of God. You could be forgiven for thinking this is so if you listen carefully to some of the ways in which the Gospel is referred to in some of its more modern presentations.
For instance, instead of people saying, as Paul did, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection,” they say something like, “I want to possess Christ and the power of His resurrection.” You see the subtle difference? “Possessing” Christ does not necessarily imply that we know Him. At most, it implies that we have access to His blessings. True, this implies that we have some sort of knowledge of Him, but it’s no more knowledge of Christ than that He has given us a prize. And it should be obvious that there is a world of difference between knowing we have won a prize and actually knowing the prize giver Himself.
The first level of knowledge describes a certain kind of information that we have about Christ; the second level of knowledge implies that we have a relationship with Christ as a person. Now, of course, it is essential to have both levels of knowledge. It is essential to know the accomplishments of Christ’s death and resurrection as well as to understand his teaching. But, in a sense, this still falls short of Paul’s desire to know Christ in a personal sense. It’s the difference between knowing the subject of a biography, such as Julius Caesar, and actually knowing Caesar himself. And Paul’s point to the Philippians is that the Christian’s great ambition must not only be to possess Christ; it must also be to know Christ in a personal way – to have fellowship with Him.