One verse in the Bible that has always rocked me a bit was in the letter to the church in Philippi when the Apostle Paul says that he wants to know the “fellowship of sharing in [Jesus’] sufferings.” This has always bothered me because why would anyone want to suffer, indeed, almost to the point of seeking out suffering?
I think its because just before that Paul says that compared to knowing Jesus, everything else he considers as a loss. From there he goes on to enumerate what “knowing Jesus” actually means:
“I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings…” Phil. 3:10
He highlights two things: power and fellowship, suffering and resurrection.
Sometimes I’ve heard well-meaning people say that they “know God,” and talk about other people as if they “don’t know God.” My question is always “how do you know that you know God?”
As a Christian, I believe that God is knowable. But I think that we miss the mark when it comes to knowing what that means. We think that God is knowable through religious activities: church attendance, small groups, community, Bible reading, and prayer. I would never say that these things don’t help a person discover more about God, and its not my intention to undermine the value of these things.
I think there is a deeper way of knowing Jesus that Paul understood all too well. The only way to truly know Jesus is to suffer with him. Jesus carried his own cross. People who want to know him and follow him must carry theirs. Multitudes of people are willing to say the right words and even believe the right things, but few are willing to suffer for it. For Paul, suffering was a “fellowship” … a community of people around the world embracing suffering for the sake of the cause of Jesus. Until a Christian knows that fellowship, they do not truly know Jesus.
Second is “resurrection.” By this of course Paul is talking about heaven: the hope of an eternal future of living in the presence of God in a world that is free of suffering, cancer, sickness, hatred, war, and evil, and filled with justice, truth, love, peace, fullness, wholeness, health, and beauty. For the early disciples of Jesus, however, resurrection wasn’t simply something that only benefited people in heaven. It is something that radically transforms people here and now.
The invitation Jesus gives people who would follow him is that they will experience a kind of “resurrection” in this life. In other words, following Jesus isn’t simply about life after death… its about life after birth…
Paul wanted to know the power of Jesus’ resurrection that gives us both hope for heaven and hope for now. If a person doesn’t know the resurrection power that blasts sinful addictions and fixations in this life and leads to transformation of the inner person, they don’t fully know Jesus.
It was these two things, suffering and resurrection, that Paul sought to embody in the core passion in his life: knowing Jesus.
Do you know Jesus? Or do you just know about Jesus?