Knowing Christ

by K.D. Hutton

Paul felt constrained to write a letter to the Philippian "ecclesia" or Church. It was a good Church. It is clear he had a great affection for it. The reason for writing the letter was not to record a new piece of doctrine, nor to emphasise doctrinal truths he had already recorded in letters to the Romans, Corinthians and Galatians. It is apparent from Chap. 1:28 and 3:2 that Paul was concerned at hearing that the Philippians were suffering some persecution, and also that their faith was being attacked by people he calls "evil workers", who Were probably Jewish, for he says "beware of the maimcision". Unable to visit this much loved Church, because he was in custody in Rome, he resorts to writing to them to strengthen their faith.

What mostly concerns him is to reinforce their morale, in clarifying what their conduct, as Christian believers, should be in the face of nagging and harmful opposition: In 1:27 he says, "Behave as citizens (note, in chap. 3:20, "Our citizenship inheres in the heavens") walking worthily of the evangel of Christ... stand firm in one spirit, one soul, competing together (like athletes running the race) in the faith of the evangel." (C.V.)

The simile of an athletic race for our conduct in the Christian life was a favourite with Paul. He uses it again in this letter (3:14), and also in 2 Tim. 2:5 and 4:7. There was nothing happening to the Philippians that Paul had not personally suffered in greater degree. So be goes on in his letter to exhort this Church to follow his own example.

Those reading this article should at this point read through the whole Philippian letter, for it consists in our Bible of only four chapters. It is a most important letter, with which every present-day believer should be familiar. Like the Philippians, we have to live today with our faith in Christ, and with a desire to be worthy of Him, in the face of social conditions that increasingly are tending to devalue this faith and debase standards of conduct.

The whole core of Paul's recommendations in the letter can be found in Chap. 3:8-14, using himself as an example. In most wonderful words he describes what he has gained from the knowledge of Christ. "That I should be:—

  1. Gaining Christ,

  2. Found in Him,

  3. Credited with the righteousness which is from God.
    (i.e., a righteousness arising from Christ's faith.),

  4. Knowing Christ,

  5. Knowing the power of His resurrection,

  6. Knowing the fellowship of His sufferings,

  7. Conforming to His death.

  8. Eventually attaining to the resurrection 'out from among the dead'."

We know of no other portion of the New Testament that more fully or more concisely sums up the comprehensiveness of the individual believers spiritual riches in Christ. It is because these riches are the gracious, unmerited, gift of God that we should conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Giver.

You will note that right in the heart of the list given by Paul of his "gains" (4 above) is "KNOWING CHRIST", So we have to ask ourselves the question, "Do we really know Christ ?" Not know about Him, but know Him, The Greek word used is GINOSKO, which means knowing by experience, as we know our relatives and friends, as distinct from another Greek word meaning intuitive knowledge, or effortless knowledge. It is a reasonable assumption that all believers are united in wanting to get to know Christ more fully and intimately. But it is just at this point that a wide divergence becomes apparent in Christendom as to the method employed. There are those who are satisfied to know Christ as the Jesus of the four Gospels. There are others for whom this is not enough, and Paul is among them, and so should we be. Let us see how Paul deals with this divergence among believers.

In reading the book of Acts, we see how Paul, after his conversion, spent many years as a new Jewish believer addressing himself to those of the Hebrew faith and their foreign proselytes. In short, he confined himself to endeavouring to convert to the new Christian faith people who were synagogue-going keepers of the old Israelite traditions; in fact, the sort of people who flocked to hear Jesus when He was alive, but rejected Him and acquiesced in His crucifixion (Acts 9:20-22). After the events of Acts 13, Paul's ministry widens, both in geographical and human terms. Increasingly Gentiles attached themselves to the then new faith, and increasingly the Jews resented this, as it detracted from the feeling of fleshly superiority they had hitherto enjoyed as heirs to the promises.

Paul indeed faced a formidable task. Essentially "his gospel" was a "spiritual" one. It did not pander to the flesh. It preached a new attitude to life and heralded a future glory "in Christ"; it emphasised the grace of God, and the inefficacy of righteousness through Law and works. The people to whom he preached and wrote were quite unaccustomed to think in terms of spiritual values; rather did they value worldly benefits and privileges. Hence the immediate results (with some notable exceptions) tended to disappoint the fleshly pride of the Jews and to inflate that of the Gentile converts, who could now consider themselves on equality with Israel! Therefore Paul, that "spiritual" man, found himself facing very fleshly converts. This is highlighted in the first Corinthian letter.

That church typifies the difficulty Paul was up against — the mind of flesh. These converts accepted Christ, but they knew Him "after the flesh" (2 Cor. 5:16). How different were the Corinthians soon after conversion from what they were before ? On the evidence of paul himself, the answer must be, "very little". They were quarrelsome (Chap. 1:10-12); they were sectarian and immature in thinking (Ch. 3:1-4); they were gluttonous (Ch.11); they were still subject to many fleshly vices (Ch.5). It is clear that they valued Christ in terms of the flesh; they enjoyed the status and liberty which they understood the new faith accorded to them in the flesh. But they did not "KNOW" Christ in Paul's terms of the spirit (Ch. 3:1).

Paul's first letter to them, together with the corrective ministry among them of those associates of Paul named in the 16th chapter, wrought a distinct and quick change in the behaviour and understanding of the Corinthians by the time Paul sat down to write his second letter. By then he felt able to speak to them as "spiritual", as to mature and not "minors" in Christ, for in the fifth chapter of the second letter comes that wonderful declaration, "We, from now on, are acquainted with no one ACCORDING TO FLESH. Yet even if we have known Christ according to flesh, nevertheless now we know Him so no longer. So that, if anyone is IN CHRIST there is a NEW CREATION: the primitive passed by. Lo! there has come new!"" (vs. 16,17, C.V.) Then he goes on to explain that in Christ God conciliates the world to Himself, followed by many other highly spiritual matters that he could not possible have written of in the first letter, when they only knew Christ "after the flesh."

Paul's gospel, which he describes in Rom. 1:16 as God's power for salvation to everyone who is believing, is based upon:—

(with Him also the OLD HUMANITY).


(with Him also the NEW HUMANITY).

(Read Rom. 6:2-7; Rom. 8:1-14; 2 Cor. 5:14-17; Gal. 6:15).

This gospel, Paul declares, is "stupidity to those who are perishing, yet to us who are being saved it is the POWER OF GOD" (1 Cor. 1:18, CV). To believe this, and to identify one's old self with Christ in both death and rousing is to be "IN CHRIST". This is a spiritual concept, which can only be comprehended in the heart of a believer in Christ, and it is communicated to the believer by the spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:10-13). It is not a worldly truth, nor is it of man's rational comprehension, however clever and intellectual he may be; on the contrary the natural man sees it as a "stupidity" (1 Cor. 2:14). The believer's comprehension does not stem from his own natural mind; indeed, he can only enter into this spiritual truth because he has the "mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16).

Paul had much more to teach of spiritual truths for those who are in Christ in his later writings, rising to a sublime peak in the letters from his prison in Rome (Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians). This is not the occasion to go into those revelations. We started with the thought of what it means to KNOW CHRIST. We submit that it is only the believer who goes on to study Paul's gospel in all its richness, who can hope to say, with him, "O, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God!" (Rom. 11:33).

It is a sad fact that Christendom as a whole seems content to know Christ "after the flesh", like those early Corinthians. Of course it knows OF Christ; it knows that Christ died, and was roused from the dead. As facts, it preaches both these truths; but there everything seems to rest and stay. It seems to have no spiritual comprehension of the POWER of the gospel to transport the individual believer into a fuller knowledge of God's wisdom and love in Christ; of the POWER which destroys sin utterly, and with it the old humanity, to be replaced by a NEW CREATION (2 Cor. 5:17); of the POWER to seat the believer in heavenly places" (Eph. 2:6), in spirit now, but in fact, when Christ shall call all that are His to Himself - when we shall "KNOW" even as also we are known" (1 Cor. 13:12).

To get back to where we started our considerations, in Philippians 3, it is no wonder that, in verse 7, Paul declares that all the fleshly advantages recited by him in verses 5 and 6 he gladly threw over in exchange for being found "IN CHRIST" and for "KNOWING" Him. That man will be wise indeed who follows Paul"s example. To know Christ "after the flesh" is not enough. Christendom, with its cathedrals, churches, beautiful adornments, sacred music, rites and ceremonies, vestments, and endless meetings and conventions, will witness to Christ "after the flesh". But in these there is no "POWER" for Salvation". Only as we allow the spirit of God to speak to us through the revelations given by Christ Himself to Paul (Gal. 1:12) will we be able to comprehend the things which are "taught by the spirit" (1 Cor. 2:13). In this way only can we come to KNOW CHRIST as Paul had done when he wrote to the Philippians.

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