Suffering Means Knowing Jesus More (Philippians 3:10-11)
that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, ¹¹that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. —Philippians 3:10–11
“God helps us prepare for suffering,” John Piper writes, “by teaching us and showing us that through suffering we are meant to go deeper in our relationship with Christ” (“Called to Suffer and Rejoice”). And that was the aim of Paul’s life—a deeper relationship with Jesus.
As we’ve seen in the previous verses, the apostle counted everything as loss, even his pristine religiousity, because of the surpassing worth of knowing his Savior. To gain Christ, to be found in him, to know Him—these are all getting at the same reality. Simply put, Paul wanted more intimacy with Jesus. He wanted a closer walk, a deeper, more personal, more real relationship.
Therefore, he wanted to know Jesus and share in His sufferings. Suffering is, as the Bible shows us, part of the Christian life. Paul told Timothy that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). He wrote to the Romans—in one of the mountain peaks of the New Testament—explained that being children of God and fellow heirs with Christ means we suffer with Him, in order that we may also be glorified with Him (Romans 8:17).
This is normal Christianity, as Piper explains:
What Paul is doing [in Philippians 3:7–11] is showing how the teaching of Jesus is to be lived out. For example, Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). Becoming a Christian means discovering that Christ (the King) is a Treasure Chest of holy joy and writing “Loss” over everything else in the world in order to gain him. “He sold all that he had to buy that field.”
So loss—suffering—is part of the Christian life because we discover the surpassing worth of Jesus over everything else. Everything else is loss. And when these things are taken away we gain more of Jesus.
The Example of John G. Paton
Today, January 28, marks the anniversary of John G. Paton’s death in 1907. The Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides, a chain of islands in the South Pacific, was well acquainted with loss. In 1858, shortly after leaving the ease of Europe for the hardships of the Hebrides, his wife and newborn child died. Over the next several years his life was characterized by loss and sickness, criticism from respected friends, dangers from the cannibalistic natives, and deep communion with Jesus.
Because Philippians 3:10–11 is true, we should not be surprised about Paton’s fascinating fellowship with God. He experienced loss, yes. But oh the gain! Against the background of so much affliction, Paton walked closer and closer with Jesus. He “shared in his sufferings.” In one particular story, he hid high in a tree as a band of natives hunted him. Shots from their muskets rang out along with their yells, all the while he quietly stayed put.
He tells about it in his autobiography,
Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among those chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy his consoling fellowship. (John G. Paton, p. 200)
To know Jesus! To know Him more! Would that we, like Paton, and like Paul, experience the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.
What does Paul mean when he says he wants to “know” Jesus?
How is loss characteristic of the Christian life?
Do you know other examples of past saints like John G. Paton who have shown us what it means to live Philippians 3:7–11?