Moses climbed Mount Sinai, and the cloud of God’s glory settled on it. The rest of the Israelites had to stay below, but the Lord invited Moses to climb the mountain. Then he called to Moses from within the cloud, and Moses entered it. He stayed there 40 days (Exodus 24:15-18). Moses spent 40 days in the center of God’s glory! I’ve often wondered what that must have been like.
Today God’s glory is revealed in Christ (John 1:14, 2 Corinthians 4:6), and God is now calling all of us to climb the mountain. If you listen to your heart, you will hear the call. In your heart, you ache for intimacy – a heart-to-heart, soul-mate connection. That ache is nothing less than the voice of God calling you to climb the mountain. To climb this mountain, we’ll need a guide, someone who knows the way. The Apostle Paul will be our guide. His own story, in Philippians 3:7-11, will show us the way.
In verse 7, Paul writes one sentence that summarizes verses 7 through 11. Then in verse 8 he begins a sentence that continues through verse 11. The passage twice climbs the mountain of “knowing Christ.” In these few verses, the person of Christ is mentioned, either by name or pronoun, no less than 11 times. The passage is about Christ. It tells us that knowing Christ is paramount. As we climb this mountain, we may find that we must discard some excess baggage, and we’ll arrive at a surprising base camp from which to begin our final assault.
 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.
Paul patterns verses 7 through 11 after his Christ poem in Philippians 2:6-11, even using several identical or nearly identical words: “consider,” “found,” “form”/“conformed” (“very nature”/“becoming like” in the NIV) and “death.” Paul is showing that he did not consider the advantage of his Jewish heritage as something to be used to his own advantage, just as Christ did not consider the advantage of being equal with God as something to be exploited. Christ’s life defined what it means to be equal with God. Paul’s life defines what it means to be one of God’s people. Paul patterns his life after Christ and makes the same journey that he made and expects it to end the same way – with a resurrection. The message for the Philippians, many of whom were Roman citizens, would be that they should not consider their citizenship something to be exploited. The message for us is that we must be willing to surrender any advantages we have if they compete with allegiance to Christ.
Paul uses the marketplace terms of “profit” and “loss” in verse 7 to compare his former values to his current values. He formerly valued his Jewish heritage and achievements, which from his perspective marked him out as a “righteous” man, or a member of God’s covenant people (verses 1 through 6).
The verb translated “now consider” appears in the perfect tense and would be better translated “have considered.” At some point he decided that what he thought was profitable was better understood as loss. This decision was “for the sake of Christ.” He must be talking about a decision after his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascas (Acts 9:1-9). He then understood that his Jewish heritage and achievements neither qualified him for covenant membership nor marked him out as a member. Something about Christ caused him to reconsider his outlook on life to the extent that what he formerly deemed profitable was deemed expendable. One might say that Paul “lost it” on the road to Damascas! He was traveling to Damascas to persecute followers of Jesus. His encounter with Christ changed the course of his life. From that point on, he traveled on a different road.
Your first encounter with Christ may not be as dramatic as Paul’s, but after you meet Jesus, it will dawn on you that that your values will have to change. Whatever our culture puts forth as its identity markers will have to be re-evaluated in light of Christ. In order to follow Jesus, you’ll have to set out on a different road – one that leads up a mountain.
In verse 8, Paul both further explains what he means in verse 7 and shifts from the past to the present. In the present, he considers “everything a loss.” The present tense implies ongoing consideration. For Paul, this “considering” is something he does repeatedly. The “loss” in view in verse 7 primarily concerned his Jewish heritage and achievements. Now, he considers those advantages and every other potential advantage to be a loss. Again, such consideration is, literally, “for the sake of” Christ. What is it about Christ that causes this radical shift in values for Paul and continues to govern his choices? He says it is the “surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” It’s not that there is no value in anything else; it’s just that the value of knowing Christ is greater – so much greater that Paul can chalk up everything that would compete with “knowing Christ” as something that can be released.
What does it mean to know Christ? The word “know” was often used in the Hebrew Scriptures in connection with the Israelites’ relationship with the Lord (Exodus 10:2). In his covenant relationship with Israel, the Lord wanted the Israelites to know him. Part of his intention in making a new covenant was to open things up so that more people could know him (Jeremiah 31:4). The word “know” is used in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament of sexual relations (Genesis 4:1, Matthew 1:25). Both testaments compare the Lord’s covenant relationship with his people to marriage (Hosea 1-3, Ephesians 5:25-27, Revelation 19:7-8). God is romancing us. The closest human parallel is the physical, emotional and spiritual intimacy experienced in sexual intercourse between a husband and a wife, but even that pales in comparison to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ. Here Paul calls Christ “my Lord” for the only time in his writings. Elsewhere, when using a personal possessive pronoun, he calls Christ “our Lord.” For Paul, an intimate personal relationship with Christ is in view here.
For the sake of Christ, particularly knowing Christ, Paul not only considers everything to be loss; he actually has lost all things. He has either acted on his “considering” by abandoning advantages or has had those advantages stripped from him because of his allegiance to Christ.
What is more, he considers any such advantages “rubbish” – a vulgar term that could mean either excrement or garbage – in order that he may gain Christ. (The word translated “gain” – kerdaino – is the verb connected to the noun translated “profit” in verse 7 – kerdos.) What he formerly considered or would otherwise consider “gain” he now considers loss and even rubbish in order that he may “gain” intimacy with Christ. Does that mean that Paul is looking forward to gaining Christ in the future? In a sense, yes. It’s clear from verse 7 that he has already gained Christ, that he already knows him personally and intimately, but it is also clear, as the passage unfolds, that there is more to gain, particularly and finally at “the resurrection from the dead.”
Paul here pursues that which benefits him. If he suffers loss, it’s only that he might gain something. Let us be clear and unapologetic that as followers of Jesus Christ we are pursuing that which benefits us. We want to gain something. That which benefits us – that which we gain – is intimacy with our Lord. We are going to hear the passionate cries emanating from our hearts and interpret them as Jesus calling to us from that place. And we will meet with him there – in the center of our hearts, in the Holy of Holies where Jesus dwells. When we see the love in his face – the absolutely pure and holy love – we will know in our hearts that we were made for this meeting. The top of the mountain, then, ends up being the center of your heart. That’s where the cloud of God’s glory is resting. That’s where Christ dwells. That’s where he’s waiting.
Think of how you feel when you’re having a heart-to-heart conversation with someone you’re close to, when you can’t wait to hear what he says and you can’t wait to share your thoughts, when the connections inspire memories, hope and laughter. When the conversation is over, you feel as if something has been released. That’s what Christ wants with us, and that’s what we want with Christ.
We will consider everything else loss and, yes, even garbage in comparison to knowing Christ. Nothing satisfies the heart like intimacy with Christ. For I am convinced that neither money nor possessions nor marriage nor sex nor health nor success nor recognition nor affirmation nor anything else one might consider valuable is able to be compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
Are you convinced of this? If you are, then, according to Paul, you must go on considering everything else that would compete for Christ’s place in your heart as loss and garbage. Like Paul, you must add it up in your mind. Consider the gains and losses. What is of true and lasting worth, and what is not? What is worth the most?
You may have to give up some of what you value. Or it may be stripped from you. Either way, if in the loss you see the opportunity to gain intimacy with Christ, you win. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that whenever you lose something you’re actually gaining something, and that what you’re gaining is of surpassing value? Wouldn’t it be nice to look at the loss of every so-called “advantage” as an opportunity to draw closer to Christ?
Mary of Bethany possessed a pint of expensive perfume, but she thought nothing of pouring it on Jesus’ feet as an expression of her love for him (John 12:2-3). She not only released a valuable possession, she did so eagerly, in order to embrace something much more valuable, the love of Christ, and express her love in return. So it goes with those of us who meet up with the love of Jesus. Possessions that were formerly highly valued slip easily through our fingers in order that we might possess something more valuable.
As you set out on the road that leads up the Mountain of Knowing Christ, you’ll have to leave some baggage behind. Like Paul, you’ll have to give up seeking your identity in cultural heritage and achievement. Then as you climb the mountain, you may find that there are some other bags you may have to drop. If you know this in advance, then it will be easier to drop the unnecessary baggage when the time comes. Those things are probably weighing you down anyway. You don’t need as much as you thought you did. Get rid of it and you’ll travel lighter.
I have a very simple philosophy for long trips: Travel light. I pack less for a month-long trip than I do for a weekend trip. This enables me to move easily from place to place and see and do the things I want to without being encumbered by a large suitcase or two. It’s a long journey up the Mountain of Knowing Christ, and we don't want to be weighed down with the excess baggage of competing values.
In climbing a mountain, you not only need to shed excess baggage, you need a base camp from which to make an assault on the summit. The righteousness from God is such a base camp.
Verses 9 and 10 offer a further explanation of what it means to gain Christ. To gain Christ means to be found in Christ – that is, to have a righteousness from God through faith in Christ – for the sake of knowing Christ. The one who finds Paul is God. God is looking for us. When he finds Paul, both now and in the future, he finds him in Christ. He finds that Paul is united with Christ, part of the messianic family. Paul therefore has “a righteousness.” This is a different place than the one in which he was formerly found.
“Righteousness” here does not mean “goodness,” either innate or imputed; it means covenant membership.1 In this sense, when one is “righteous,” one belongs to God. Paul says he does not have a righteousness “of my own that comes from the law,” the kind of righteousness he supposed that he formerly possessed. That would be covenant membership based on Jewish heritage and expressed in Jewish observances and achievements. He considers that kind of covenant membership as “loss.” The covenant membership he now possesses does not come from the law (Jewish heritage) but through faith in Christ. When one has faith in Christ, one believes that Jesus is Lord. Instead of possessing a righteousness of his own (his own race), Paul, in view of such faith, possesses “the righteousness that comes from God.” God bestows upon the person with faith in Christ the gift of righteousness, or covenant membership.
Righteousness, however, is not the goal of Paul’s life. Neither is it the goal of this sentence. Verses 8 through 11 constitute one long sentence. The NIV begins a new sentence in verse 10, but the words translated “I want to know” constitute and article and an infinitive that would be literally translated “to know.” Similar constructions elsewhere convey purpose (Romans 6:6, Colossians 1:9-10, 1 Corinthians 10:13). Such is the case here. Paul wants the righteousness of God so that he may know Christ. For Paul, covenant membership is not an end; it is a means to an end. The end is “to know” Christ.
The sentence in verses 8 through 10 builds to two crescendos in explaining the reason for Paul’s “gain” and “loss” mentality. The first is in verse 8, where everything is considered a loss for the sake of knowing Christ. The second is in verse 10, where righteousness is desired for the sake of knowing Christ. The goal of Paul’s sentence, and the goal of his life, is to know Christ.
It’s important that we understand the “righteousness from God.” First we must realize that it is the status of covenant membership conferred upon the people of God. Second, we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that it has anything to do with heritage and achievements. Third, we must realize that such status is conferred on the basis of faith in Christ. Fourth, we must realize that the righteousness from God is not an end but a means to an end. It is not our goal to “get” righteousness or even to be righteous, however we might define those terms. Our goal, having been found by God in Christ, is to use the righteousness we already have as a platform to know Christ.
In the mountain-climbing analogy, the righteousness from God is the base camp from which we make our final assault on the summit. Some of us who believe in Christ are looking around for a base camp without knowing we’ve already arrived at it. We’re trying to find righteousness when God has already found us in Christ with the righteousness from God. We set out from the base camp in search of another base camp! We try to be righteous or conform to some standard or achieve something that might earn us the right status. We have the wrong goal. We already possess the righteousness we need. The goal is intimacy with Christ. It’s why you’ve come this far. Make your assault. The great privilege in being one of God’s righteous ones is that we get to know Christ. Enjoy the privilege.
Paul has some ideas about how one might go about pursuing intimacy with Christ.
For Paul, knowing Christ means knowing “the power of his resurrection and fellowship of sharing in his sufferings.” Suffering and resurrection were the dominant themes of the life of Jesus. Someone who wants to know Jesus can only do so in knowing about his suffering and resurrection. If you wanted to know someone, you’d want to know the story of that person’s life. If we asked for the story of Christ’s life, we’d hear about his sufferings and his resurrection. At the first level, then, knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings means connecting with the story of Christ at a deep level. Paul not only wants to know about these things, he wants to experience them. He wants not only to know about the story of Christ; he wants to live the story of Christ.
Christ came to live the life marked out for humanity by God. In his story we hear echoes of the stories of Moses, Abraham, David and others. Mostly we hear echoes from the stories of Adam, the first human, and Israel, the human community. Christ fulfills the Adamic and Israelite call and invites us to make his story our story. If we do so, we’ll know him.
What does it mean to experience the power of Christ’s resurrection? It means to experience the risen Lord Jesus, through his Holy Spirit, empowering us by enlightening us, motivating us, leading us and enabling us. In many ways, it means being empowered to experience the sufferings of Christ. This may be why Paul lists knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection before knowing the fellowship of his sufferings, even though Christ’s sufferings preceded his resurrection. Knowing the power of his resurrection enables us to know the fellowship of his sufferings. Paul may also reverse the order because experiencing the power of Christ’s resurrection seems infinitely more desirable than experiencing his sufferings. The order sets us up for the surprise: that Paul actually desires to experience the sufferings of Christ, and that we should desire to do the same.
What does it mean to experience the sufferings of Christ? Christ loved the world so much that he suffered for it. The sufferings of the world are the sufferings of Christ. The risen Lord Jesus, just after meeting Paul on the road to Damascas, spoke to Ananias regarding Paul: “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15). Earlier in this letter, Paul told the Philippians, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29). As Paul obeyed Jesus in bringing the gospel to the world, he suffered for the name of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:21-29). Like Christ, Paul loved the world so much that he suffered for it. To experience the sufferings of Christ is to love Christ and, therefore, the people in the world so much that we suffer for them. It is to share and bear the pain of others, seeking to introduce them by word, deed and prayer to the love of Christ.
If you want to know someone, you’ll want to know what that person cares about most. In the case of Jesus, it’s a world full of people in pain. When he saw suffering, he was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled,” and he wept (John 11:33-35). Because he cared for the world, he was “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). If we want to know Jesus, we must connect with the sorrow and suffering of the world and resolve to bring the love of Christ to it. He gives us his Holy Spirit to help us do so. This is how we experience the sufferings of Jesus. This is also how we know him at the deepest level. Knowing Christ is of such value that the suffering that brings us closer to him is not only to be tolerated but desired.
Experiencing the power and suffering of Christ is how Paul is, literally, “conformed to his death.” In obedience to the Father and out of love for the world, Christ suffered and died for the world. Being conformed to his death, then, means to suffer for others out of love for them and in obedience to the Father. Our lives begin to take the shape, or the “form,” of Christ’s life. We are thus being conformed to his death. In being conformed to his death, we know him.
Learn the story of Christ. In learning the story, connect with Christ. But don’t stop there. Don’t just know the story. Live the story! Enter the world, seeking to share the love of Christ. You’ll find that to do so you’ll need the Holy Spirit, who is with you to reveal Christ to you and to the world. He will motivate you and empower you and open closed doors. As you move from your little world into God’s big world, you’ll find that, as the Spirit works in you, your love for people will grow, or you’ll find that you care more than you thought you cared. You’ll come in contact with suffering, and you’ll shy away from it less and enter it more. You’ll find your heart breaking for a broken world. When your heart breaks for those in pain and you feel almost as if you yourself are suffering or even that you wish you could suffer in their place, you are very close to the heart of Christ. You are being conformed to his death. And you are knowing him like you never have before. In living the story, you have the opportunity to know – really know – Christ. As Jean Valjean sings in the musical “Les Miserables,” “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
Is this serving Christ or knowing Christ? It’s both. We tend to separate “doing” and “being.” Christ can be known in both the being and the doing. In fact, intimacy with Christ is incomplete if either contemplation or action is jettisoned. Both are necessary. Contemplation and action are mutually reinforcing. One motivates the other, and vice-versa. Thinking about Christ causes us to take action. Taking action causes us to think about Christ. The contemplative life and the active life join forces in knowing Christ. I tend to be a more contemplative person. I’m more of a thinker than a doer. We all have our God-given proclivities. Yet as I shared earlier in our study of Philippians (Philippians 2:19-30), my relationship with Christ deepened when I started “doing.”
Look for Christ everywhere, in your “being” and in your “doing.” Find him in the scriptures. Find him in your prayers. Find him in your passions. Find him in your dreams. Find him in your fears. Find him when feelings of melancholy overtake your heart. Find him when a memory produces a wistful sigh. Find him in your deep desires for sexual intimacy. Find him on the mountains and in the valleys, in the rivers and in the desserts. Find him in the crash of a wave and in the cry of an eagle. Find him in the stunning colors and subtle hues of a sunrise or a sunset. Find him in the way droplets of dew capture the sunlight. Find him at the first instant you notice a change in seasons. Find him in Michelangelo and find him in Frank Lloyd Wright. Find him in Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Emily Dickinson and John Grisham. Find him in Mozart, and find him in U2. Find him in “Casablanca” and find him in “The Matrix.” Find him in the intricacy of a computer chip and the vastness of the Golden Gate Bridge. Find him in the smile of a child and the tears of an orphan. Find him in the glow of a bride and the despair of the homeless. Find him in the joy of a grandfather and the sadness of a widow. Find him in the living, and find him in the dying. Find him with your eyes, your ears, your nose, your hands and your imagination. Let what you take in stir your heart and take you to Christ.
How do you know Christ? Anyway you can! Find him here. Find him now. Climb the mountain. Make your assault.
Knowing Christ in the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering conforms Paul to the death of Christ and enables him “somehow” to “attain to the resurrection of the dead.” Paul writes later in Philippians that in the resurrection, Christ will “transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” God will vindicate followers of Jesus as his covenant people by raising them from the dead. The word “somehow” does not mean that Paul doubts whether he will be there on that day, although it may mean that Paul is entertaining the thought that Christ may return before his death, in which case he would be transformed but not resurrected. Paul’s wording conveys humility in the face of the power of God – an acknowledged inability to understand how anyone could be raised from the dead.
For Paul, what’s so great about being resurrected from the dead? He writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:17: “And so we will be with the Lord forever.” If in the Philippians sentence he were to climb the Mountain of Knowing Christ one more time, this is what he would say. Being resurrected from the dead means first and foremost that we will know Christ fully and forever, just as we have been known by him (1 Corinthians 13:12).
This is our holy privilege and duty: to pursue intimacy with Christ with all that is within us. If a collection of us in this community made knowing Christ our highest ambition, I shudder to think what that would mean for the advance of the gospel. When Mary poured the perfume on the feet of Jesus, the house was filled with its fragrance. May we let go of whatever it is we need to let go of, and may the fragrance of our desire for Christ fill the world.
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1 I have been helped in my understanding of the term “righteousness” by N.T. Wright (“What Saint Paul Really Said,” © 1997 by N.T. Wright, Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich.) and by Gordon Fee (“Paul’s Letter to the Philippians,” © 1995 Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich.)
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