“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)
We all understand the difference about knowing someone personally and simply knowing about them. Most of us know about famous figures in our own lifetimes but that certainly doesn’t equate to knowing them personally.
Here, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul makes a distinction between knowing about Christ as a historical figure and knowing him personally. He tells us that his great ambition is to know Christ in the latter sense. His personal longing is that, “I might know Christ and the power of his resurrection.” It’s as though Paul is a dog straining on a leash wanting to have a deeper experience of Christ than a mere historical acquaintance. In other words, he wants to know Christ’s presence and fellowship. He realises that beyond the joy of possessing God’s forgiveness and being clothed in Christ’s perfection, there lies the possibility of communion with the Lord Jesus as a constant companion. It seems as though what he is seeking is an ongoing sense of his initial encounter with Christ on the Damascus road.
If we consider some of Paul’s experiences, which he refers to in some of his speeches in the book of Acts and in his letters, we shall see a little more clearly what he has in mind. First, we need to remember that it was on the Damascus road that Paul had a personal encounter with the risen Lord where he heard a voice and the Lord spoke to him (Acts 9:4-6).
Then, later on, he tells us about a time when he was in Corinth and everyone and everything seemed to be against him. It was as though he was swimming against the tide and he felt that he faced an impossible task. But the Lord appeared to him in the night and said, “Do not be afraid, but speak… for I am with you and no one is going to attack or harm you: for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10).
Again, he says that the Lord once appeared to him when he was praying in the temple and told him to leave Jerusalem because his message would not be received by the Jews; instead, he was to go to the Gentiles (22:17-21). Paul makes it quite clear that at that point he was in direct communication with the risen Lord. Then, he says that at his trial before Caesar in Rome, “the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength so that through me, the message was heard by the Gentiles” (2 Timothy 4:17).
Of course, whether we ourselves hear audible voices or have visions of the risen Christ is not really the point. What is important is that Paul was conscious that Christ was with him and that he could speak to him as a real person. This shouldn’t surprise us because Jesus tells us, “I am the Living One: I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! Behold I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Revelation 1:18; Matthew 28:20). This reminds us that while the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of righteousness are the most wonderful of gifts, they are wonderful for this reason: they open up the possibility of experiencing personal union and communion with the risen Christ.