by Fred Pruitt
A brother asked me to comment on the two passages, Phil 3:12 and 3:15, where in the former Paul speaks of not being “perfect” yet, and then in 3:15 he says to his readers, “as many as be perfect,” those will have the same mind as did Paul. Perfect or not yet perfect, which is it? Or is it both? So it can be confusing. When I began considering the passages in Philippians in which those verses are found, it occurred to me that I could not understand Paul’s meaning, without also understanding Paul’s inner life motivations, which brought out those passages.
In the earliest part of my “saved” life, a copy of Oswald Chambers’ book, My Utmost for His Highest, showed up, I forget from where.I ate it up! I saw it like most people see it, an inspirational call to greater heights in God. I wanted to be “holy.” I wanted to be “godly.” I wanted to “bear fruit.” And Chambers’ book lends itself very much to that frame of mind. Devotion. Seeking the Lord full time. Wanting the Lord’s “character” to shine through. Never fully attaining, but nevertheless driven onward and onward, with our eyes on the prize, not yet grasped, always just out of reach. Now I have to say, there is absolutely nothing wrong in any way with that for a beginner. Before I knew Him, like people the world over, I had been taken with the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-9. And at the same time from the “Sermon on the Mount,” I began to believe the promises wrapped in those exhortations:
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matt 7:7-11)
Was that not grace? To be drawn toward God? To have the truths of God begin to be revealed in my mind? To start to believe in a “God” who could be sought – and found? Is that not grace? “I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not.” (Isa 65:1)
It must have been the same for me, because all this stuff interrupted the life I was living at the time. I did not “draw myself” to God. I did not suddenly want to be good or righteous or holy. I thought people were crazy who were caught up in that. I was direction-less, and at the time thought that was okay. I had become a very young inexperienced cynic. I had quit believing in anything. I took John Lennon’s, “God is a concept, by which we measure – our pain – I’ll say it again … God is a concept, by which we measure – our pain, ” as my daily mantra.
But the Spirit overreached all that and somehow, through the increasingly disagreeable circumstances in which we found ourselves living, he “awoke” in me a desire toward truth and a spiritual life. Which, as I have outlined many times before, took me first through eastern thought, and then finally “reaching the goal,” which was/is Jesus Christ. Who was the Author of that? Certainly not I, for I would never in myself have allowed that outcome. Of course it was He, the Father of Spirits, and more intimately as I learned, He was “MY” Father, the Father of “my” spirit! Through all the succeeding years from then until now, I have increasingly seen, day by day, how He is both Author of the faith that is in me, AND the Finisher! For a while I basked in the truth that He was the “author” of my faith; it blew my mind! But then how much more glorious it was to discover, that He was also the FINISHER! Which means He’s got the whole lot to Himself! We are right back at that perpetual place, “not I, but the grace of Christ… ” (1 Cor 15:10).
So I started in Christ with the only “model” any of us know of piety or holiness, which is that to which we have been exposed. For me in 20th Century America, it came somewhat from church, but for me more in the movies and on television and a few books, and was sort of an amalgamation of Protestant, Catholic and Jewish traditions. All these traditions have roots in individual and corporate prayer and of being alone with God. Catholic monasticism affected the entire culture of Europe (including Protestantism) and subsequently the USA, from the Dark Ages until now – the reverential “attitude,” going aside to seek God, giving oneself to prayer and fasting, celibacy, scarcity of possessions, etc. The Jesuits and the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola have echoes in William Law’s legalistic A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life,sort of an Anglican call to discipline and earnest seeking the Lord. It was well-received at the time, especially by John Wesley, though Wesley ended up parting with Law after Law discovered Jacob Boehme’s writings and found his own “union” with God.
Jesus said, “Seek, and you will find; Knock, and the door will be opened to you; Ask, and it shall be given you.” This is where most honest seekers of God start out. We are without. We know neither God nor ourselves. The “God” we think or hope might be there, we can only conceive as “apart” from us. And in the beginning for me, this was the “Word” I heard from the Lord. “Seek Me, and you will find Me!” If someone wants to see that as legalistic, let them take it up with the Lord, because it was His Word to me at the time. I was not in a church and had no spiritual “cover.” Just the Father, Son, Holy Spirit – and me. And this is what came up to do. Not because someone had told me I “should” do that. But because I could not help but to do it. I did not yet know the Who that was filling me with Himself – at least I did not know Him in any sense as “in me.”
I did experience “the baptism” of the Spirit, again alone. (“What” we experience is less the point than “Who” we experience – the “what” may change and be different from one to the other. The “Who” is eternal and never changes, regardless of the “what.”) I had “an experience,” felt myself “immersed” inwardly and without with Spirit, a language I did not know came out of my mouth, and all my thoughts and emotions were only praise and thanksgiving for all the things of God, and finally I was overcome by an other-worldly joy – a “joy,” not of this world, a joy greater than anything on earth could ever bring, a joy so powerful and overabundant I did not think I could contain it.
But even with that, (which came in that full manner only that one time, though there have been quite a few reminders over the years), the Spirit let the “gap” in my consciousness remain, the “gap” that kept us, the Father and me, as “two.” This “gap” is insurmountable by any human means. Except for the revelation through the Spirit, I cannot see past the point of my individual selfhood, and see that God already is my inner all in all. For the Spirit’s reasons, which I have learned are always perfect, He ordained for me to walk during that time in that separated consciousness, because everything in those days which I could not see at the time, were the Spirit’s perfect building being built and revealed in Me, though at the time it looked more like the cankerworm was running amok.
For several years at our Union Life meetings in Louisville in the 1980s, our good friend Helen Overly led our song times. Every year she led us in a song she had composed from some verses in Habakkuk. It had come to her at a particularly tough time of trial, when she and her friend Freda were starting a doll-making business, and things were at their worst. Helen and Freda had both been reading at the same time the same passage in Habakkuk, unknown to the other, but when they found out, Helen put these words to music:
“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” (Hab 3:17,18)
She would lead us in that song every year in Louisville in those days, and it hit me where I was truly living when I first heard it, and was the same for years afterward. I KNEW all these things were true. I KNEW Christ and I are one. I KNEW we were living in God’s bounty, and I KNEW that He had called us to give what we had been given. That was all “inner knowing.”
In a sense, it was almost like Joseph and his dreams. I knew the things I saw were true and real. But at the time, my life looked more like a fig tree yet to blossom, with no fruit on the vines; the olives were failing; the fields produced no harvest; no lowing of animals in the stalls. There was nothing on the horizon that in any way indicated what I believed inwardly could ever come to pass. But I also took the last line to heart: “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation!”
It is during those times, the “no evidence” times, that the Spirit uses to completely disabuse us of our former attachments and false separated mindset. We leave “Egypt” (our old “natural” life, as vessels of wrath) still much in the same ways of thinking, relating to the world, as we always had been. We have always been “outer” people. Our concerns were over the outer. How it looks, how it feels, whether we are hungry or full, whether we have possessions or not, whether we have food and security, protection from anything that might harm us. God “delivers” us from Egypt by a mighty hand, one way or another, but our minds are too dull to understand what is really going on.
And that’s what the “wilderness years” that some of us experience take care of. As Paul compares the Israelites in the wilderness and their crossing the Red Sea to be their baptism into Christ, the wilderness years make them into a nation, and points to what the Spirit does in us, as Paul points out in 1 Cor 10. We cross the Red Sea and are immediately in the wilderness, but are led every day for (figuratively) 40 years by the Spirit as a Cloud in the day and a Fiery Pillar at night. We go in complaining babies, who freak with fear every time an obstacle impedes their trek, even though every time God “delivers them by a mighty hand.” But when they are finally ready to go into the Land of Promise 40 years later, they have left behind in the wilderness the carcases of their old selves who were still slaves of Egypt, and they march over the Jordan on dry ground, going into the Land to possess their possessions.
The following verses of Philippians comprise one of the most encapsulated versions of this truth in all of Paul’s writings. He tells it personally, as it happened to him, and that to me is what makes it truly alive. Because if we see this, that Paul is relating, not as something he learned from another professor in a course he took, but that he is sharing his very life in Christ, not to impress us with how spiritual and close to God he is, but that this same Spirit is operating in exactly the same way in us, also, and leads us all to the same outcome, since He is the Author and Finisher of the faith of all of us! And so that is why I weave it somehow into my personal experience as well, because all any of us can ever testify to, is to those things “we have seen and heard.” In ourselves, and the world around us.
Let’s first look at those verses in their context. This is Philippians 3:4-6.
“Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”
In the letter, Paul has just given his “credentials.” They are very impressive! And all of them are in a sense, outer things. Starting with circumcision. To me it is a little more than ironic, perhaps even a great Divine Joke that causes a hearty chuckle every time it is mentioned in heaven, that of all the deeply serious and eternal questions which “religion” or spirituality tackles, that so much fuss and attention is made over the foreskin of a human penis.* It became such a controversial issue during the early apostolic period, whether the new Gentile believers (males) could be received unless they were also circumcised, that the question merited the first great and ONLY apostolic conference recorded in scripture, in Acts 15, purely to resolve the issue of circumcision. To many of the Jewish believers, the physical cutting away of the foreskin was a necessary and faithful act, continuing the covenant of Abraham, and if the Gentiles are being brought into that same covenant, then they should be circumcised, as a sign of being part of the covenant. But Paul has seen what apparently many others had yet to see, that we are received into the covenant of Abraham in exactly the same way as was Abraham, in that Abram “believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6).
*(In actuality, most of the Canaanite religions worshipped the phallus, as the symbol and source of all fertility. The Hebrews come on the scene with a completely different and opposite viewpoint. One of the meanings of circumcision is the figurative snipping off the whole penis, signified by the cutting away of the foreskin. The meaning then becomes spiritual, because it points to the new birth, “which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:13). The immediate example is Abraham, who fathers a child with Sarah, more by the spirit than by the flesh, because Isaac came by Promise, and not by the will or actions of man. That was why it had to be by that contrast, instead of their child coming in their youthful prime when they are energetic and full of virility, Isaac-Laughter comes miraculously by Promise in their old age, when they are almost too old and feeble.)
Paul does not stop there in his qualifications, though. Next he gives his physical heritage. He is “of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews.” It is interesting to me that we cannot really call Paul a Jew. He is a Benjaminite, of the smallest tribe in Israel, Jacob’s last son and younger brother of Joseph. Though they are not given a place of prominence in scripture, Benjamin almost always sided with Judah, and when the ten northern tribes left the kingdom in rebellion against Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, to form the kingdom of Israel, Benjamin remained part of the kingdom of Judah. As a result, they were not part of “ten lost tribes” carried away by the Assyrians. Still, to the non-Jewish world, they were all – Judah-ites, Benjaminites and Levites – were collectively called, “Jews.”
Then Paul says, “touching the law, a Pharisee.” Let us understand, the term Pharisee is not something bad in itself. We hear the term and to us it means someone self-righteous, sanctimonious, judgmental, etc. But in its time it did not necessarily mean that. It was actually a sect, or maybe a “school of thought,” that was prominent in New Testament times. Both Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea were probably Pharisees. It centered in strict adherence to the law in its minutest details, and yet had a Spirit side to it also. The Pharisees were differentiated from the Sadducees, the other major “school of thought” at the time, in that they believed in the resurrection of the dead, and they believed in the Spirit, both truths which the Sadducees denied. The Pharisees were more like the evangelical/fundamentalists etc of our time, whereas the Sadducees were the modernists who in our time deny the same things they denied in the time of Jesus. But NOBODY was zealous for the Law like the Pharisees. And without any further understanding from the Spirit, how could any Jew in their day not agree with their stand?
My point is that when Paul says he was a Pharisee, he was not saying he was self-righteous and judgmental, as much as he was saying he was part of those who were most zealous toward the things of God in Israel. To further underline that point, he reminds them, “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church.” He is basically saying he could not have been a more faithful, more serious, more zealous Jew, after the traditions of the fathers! He was ready to stomp out any threat for the good of Israel! He had the zeal of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron the High Priest, who pierced through with a javelin those who had brought a plague of the spirit into Israel. (Num 25). In Paul’s mind (when he still was known as Saul), the scourge of a false faith in a false Messiah, had to be stomped out with as much zeal and boldness as had the plague stopped by Phinehas! And for a time, he was that man!
Paul is always throwing us curve balls, and his next phrase is one of those. “Touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” Whoa, Paul, this does not go along with my theology! How can he say that? He kept the commandments according to the strict adherence of his sect, but they had also sort of “toned down” some portions of the law, making it something more manageable, so that those who persevere and by sheer force of will, effort and self-denial, are able to keep all the outer commandments down to their minutest details, to the “tithing of mint and rue,” and thus may consider themselves “righteous” by the effort and self-sacrifice they put forth.
In another way, Saul could have considered himself blameless in the law by virtue of the fact that when he did commit some offense under the law, the law contained sacrificial remedies that the sin might be remitted, except in certain “capital” matters. One remained “blameless” under that system by adhering to all the proper commandments and the sacrificial remedies where necessary, as well as being ritually totally cleansed of the past year’s sins on the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies to intercede for all Israel. “For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.”(Rom 10:5). Saul of Tarsus was just such a man.
Either way, without realizing it, they had made life in God more like an athletic event. Who are the most successful in athletics? The first advantage goes to those who are naturally disposed toward athletics, and then out of those, the ones who become champions will beat their bodies into submission, training and exercising, denying themselves pleasures and an “easy life,” in order to gain mastery on the field of competition. That is what they had made life under the law to be. There were some who were suited for it it seemed, and Paul was one of those. He excelled at all things having to do with the faith of Israel. And by his own testimony, he worked harder than and exceeded many of his peers, in his passion to purify the faith! He was on the fast track for becoming an important person in the Sanhedrin one day. It was his whole life.
But we know what happened to him. This is how he described his life before Christ, and after, in one of his last letters to the churches, written from the Roman prison:
“But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” (Phil 3:7,8)
Everything he “boasted” of, all his accomplishments, his status among the influential Jews in the Temple, his almost certain rise to great importance in the hierarchy of Jerusalem, he said he counted as “loss.” What does that mean, loss? It means that he had counted it precious, or he would have had no sense of loss. It costs him something, and he feels the loss. He had all these “things” somewhat in his possession, but now they were gone. It is no wonder he felt their loss. His whole life, his very identity, his reason for living, had been wrapped up in all those things. They were who he was. When they go there’s a bit of mourning along with it.
But, Paul had cast them aside, like furniture thrown out on the Oregon Trail by the pioneers, because it was weighing them down. “Oregon or Bust,” was their motto, but for Paul it was “Christ or bust.” Why did he allow the loss? Because something far greater came along – “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.”
What is it, what is this “knowledge of Christ Jesus,” that is so overwhelming, that for more than two-thousand years people have left all to find? Language is insufficient in this, because Christ cannot be fully described, like an object on a table, but by grace through faith Christ can only be lived, experienced or known. We “know” Him in the living and the experiencing. And the Spirit is the only Teacher and Revealer. Underneath all that fleshly zeal in Saul of Tarsus, there was a true heart for God! Once Saul met HIS Lord on the road to Damascus, there was never any question of turning back.
His first words to the Vision that overwhelmed him were, “Who are You, Lord?” His first declaration is to speak the Truth he cannot fail to know, “Lord!” But the Vision answers back, “I am Jesus, whom you persecute ….” (Acts 9:5).
This is what happened to Saul of Tarsus: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.” (John 10:27-30).
The sheep of Christ know Him in themselves, in their faith, and everyone of us “know that our redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: yet in our flesh shall … we see God: Whom we shall see for ourselves, and our eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:25-27).
So this is a great thing Paul is experiencing. He has come into intimate personal knowledge of Christ, and truth be told, it is not compatible with his old life. He cannot go back to that. He has seen into the depths of the Godhead, has seen things perhaps no man has ever seen before or since, things which cause all the gold and silver, other precious metals and jewels, as well as status, prestige, an abundance of possessions on the face of the earth, to be nothing but human excrement, in comparison to the riches of the kingdom of Christ within us! This is of the same stuff as the people on the list in Hebrews 11. No greater statement can be made than this describing Moses – “Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.” (Heb 11:26,27).
He endured, as seeing Him Who is invisible.
Paul has transitioned from “suffering loss,” something precious which he nevertheless gave up for the furtherance of the cause, to the things suffered in the loss to be worth nothing, nothing whatsoever, and further, that “nothing” now has the stench of excrement on it! It was loss at first, but now it stinks, and is no longer something precious which has been given over voluntarily to loss. Now it is garbage and we do not want it anymore. In comparison with the mixed-with knowing of Christ (“one spirit with him,” 1 Cor 6:17, and, “I and my Father are one” John 10:30), it has the preciousness of dung. It is all, every bit of it, “self” stuff! That is why it stinks!
Paul finishes that thought with his primary motivation for casting it all away – “That I may win Christ!” What does he mean, “that I may win Christ?”
Is Paul linking his eternal salvation with this, and telling us if he had not cast those things out of his life, then he would not be received in Christ, that he would be eternally lost? If that is the case, Paul sets the bar pretty high!
But no, that is not the message Paul is sending. Paul is introducing us to a completely different way to look at Jesus and the spiritual life, a way that does not center on ourselves and what “we” get out of it (salvation), but rather a moving into Christ in oneness with Him and all His activities and concerns, thus bringing us into the fatherhood level in Him, in which our lives have lost their self-focusing “what about me?” syndrome (what Christ does for me), and moved into Who Christ is – the spoken “I AM” of the Father now dwelling in us and as us, and What Christ is – the “Lamb slain from the foundations of the earth,” Who lays down His Life even for His enemies, and now we see that THIS is the life that we are now. It is no longer about Christ Who has delivered me, keeps me safe, answers my prayers, blesses me – but Christ by me Who now delivers others!!!!
“And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”
Stripped down to nothing, Paul find himself “in” Him, and the “dung” which he has discarded has made way for the true righteousness. Only someone who comes to this point can truly understand what it means to “not have my own righteousness.” I cannot have my own righteousness. If I think I do, then I can only still be susceptible to the law, responsible to it and incomplete in myself. That is what it means when it says a little leaven leavens the whole loaf. Even if I could keep all the outer commandments, I could still not fulfill the one “law” of the New Testament, love, because love is intangible and has no solid outer measuring stick. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Gal 5:14).
This is one of the deepest and hardest-to-come revelations any of us may receive. We have no righteousness of our own. We have all given lip service to the idea, “Oh yes, we know, it is not by our righteousness,” but we don’t really KNOW it yet. The temptation is always there, that we might need just a little tiny teeny weeny itty bitty pinch of our own righteousness now and then, and that is the culprit, right there. It’s the pea under our mattress.
“Our own” righteousness is a sneaky thing. I used to pray, “O Lord, You know how much I want You, I want to know You more! I love You and desire nothing but to be with You. Take away my impatience, let me listen better to others, give me wisdom, give me peace and joy, etc etc etc, because I want to be a better instrument for Your use blah blah blah blah.”
One day I heard what I was saying, and I started laughing, because I saw the irony. I saw how absolutely silly it was to think of myself praying “righteous” prayers, or having godly motivations. It was there that I saw how totally caught we each are in our own all-pervasive vanity – in self-focus, independent self, self-will, self-love, etc. And that there was NO WAY OUT (by our own efforts). Even my desire to “get out of it” was tainted by the very selfishness I wanted to escape!
Only a death could deliver me, not another renewed effort to greater devotion or dedication. I saw for the first time, my true state as regards righteousness, holiness, love, etc., and my true state was zero. I had NONE. And in that regard, I had sunk down into “nothing,” except, “to be.” And from then on it has been, “The Son can do nothing of himself, but he sees the Father do, the Son does the same.” What else could the Son of God as Son of Man confess?
This is part of what Paul is describing as “winning” or “attaining” Christ. The Greek word is translated both ways. The sense of it is not that Paul is leaving behind all these things that had been valuable to him in order to impress Christ, or to gain his salvation as a reward for his works through Christ, but rather and more fully, he has an unrelenting inner drive to be a participator in His outpoured Life, “partners” so to speak with Christ, which is found no other way than by grace through faith to enter into the works of Christ, to be doing what Christ is doing, that Christ through the Spirit might live His intercessory Life in and as our human lives. That his (Paul’s) human life would be in the flow of Christ in him, which is nothing other than a laid down life for others. Discovering his own “nothingness” in the equation is the beginning, which then leads here.
“That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death”
This is a power-packed sentence! This is not Paul praying he would become more spiritual. This is not Paul praying for revelation so he could share deeper things with his followers. This is not Paul praying that he and Jesus would become closer, so that he could know Him better as a buddy sitting on the chair opposite him. Nor is Paul going for great sanctification and holiness, so that one day he might manifest the Stigmata.
Paul knows what he is seeking and what he will find. Do we want to “know Him?” Do we want to know the depths of the Godhead, the revelation of the Christ? Then let us put out of our minds visions of heavenly glory, stars in our crowns or heavenly rewards, lights, angels, colors, sights, wonders beyond our minds and understandings. Let us not make those things our goal. They may yet be ours, but in this exceedingly short moment we are given, there is something infinitely more urgent, more immediate, than the attainments of any heavenly visions or manifestations.
All the sheep have not yet come home. Some are still in chains of bondage, either as slaves still held in Egypt, or brethren still in the wilderness of the bondage of self-focus, independent self – the flesh – awaiting their release from the chains. As the old gospel song says,“None of us are free, if one of us is chained.” There is a debt yet to be paid, not “paying back” the Lord for what He has done for us, which would be preposterous, but the debt which Love owes to all God’s creatures. We have entered the Life which is Divine Love, indebted to the whole world to fill it with itself.
And it is still true, what Paul wrote to the Romans 10:11-15 –
“For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!”
With that in mind, we can begin to see why Paul would want to be in the “fellowship of His sufferings,” or, to “be made conformable unto His death?” This is not some sort of morbidity, some sick preoccupation with death. Paul has seen the glories of Christ in ways he says it is not lawful even to describe, yet here he is, not seeking those glories, but instead seeking suffering and death! Why? Is he death oriented? Does he like pain? Is he masochistic?
No, no, no! This is Life unto Life, and that is the power of resurrection over and above the law of sin and death. The only entrance into the life of Christ is to first enter into His Death, because in His death to Sin/Satan we experience our own particular death to Sin/Satan, which is the preamble to everything else! When we realize the truth laid out clearly in Romans 6 and in other places, that we are “dead,” – dead to sin/Satan, dead to the law, dead to who we once thought we were – we may not realize it in that moment but this is the foundation of everything. It changes everything else, to know that we know that when He died, we died, and when He rose, we rose.
But to what? This that we are speaking of in the moment is not The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth at Easter, nor our own personal resurrection after we have come to the knowledge of our death to sin and the law. Those two resurrections are the foundation and background for all we are in Christ. But these two resurrections were “for us.” We would not be able to come to what we are discussing here except for those two resurrections – Jesus out of the grave on the third day, and our own rise to newness of life by the power of the Spirit to live as an instrument of righteousness, as symbolized by water baptism.
But as I said above, we have moved away from “Christ for me,” and now into “Christ as me for others.” What we are speaking here is what Paul means when he says, “I die daily.” People quote that to me all the time, as an objection to the things we say. Many people see that as having to fight and win the “sin fight” every day, battling the so-called “sin nature” that somehow, contrary to scripture, escaped its death on the Cross and continues to fight us every day.
But “I die daily” is not the word of the raw beginner recruit soldier, whose focus is on shining his boots and making sure his uniform is pressed and that he marches perfectly in step anytime they are drilling marching or actually marching in a parade. That’s what beginners do, they practice the most basic things. And what practicing marching does for soldiers, is not concerned with “marching” per se, but rather that the constant practice makes a group of individuals, into a unit working together, each dependent on the other, all taking orders from the same head. But when they get into a combat/war situation, shined boots and ability to march in step has no value and is no one’s concern. But their cohesion as a real team, all of whom instantly obey orders, is of exceeding great value.
What am I pointing out? Only that the soldier is trained in the beginning, getting down the most basic things that soldiers do. One of the most important things a soldier gets out of basic training, is to have a change of mindset. He must begin to think of himself as a soldier, not a regular citizen. He has been separated out of one mindset, private citizen, into an another mindset, a soldier. Therefore, what happens in the mind of the recruit during training which is both physical and psychological, is that he “dies” to being a civilian, and “resurrects” to being a soldier. One day without even realizing it we wake up as a soldier when we had fallen asleep the night before still a civilian scared out of his wits in this military barrage on his mind. But once it happens, it happens, and another civilian turns into a soldier. It was a death out of one mindset, rising up into another.
“I die daily” would be what the soldier in the field, in the line of fire, would say, because he was a soldier. Every day he comes face to face with death. He sees his friends and comrades taken away in a moment. I have never been a soldier nor in any kind of combat. So I do not speak from personal experience. I cannot imagine being in a situation where someone was shooting in my direction with a machine gun trying to kill me and my friends, while we were going up to take the hill where he was, trying to kill him. I cannot imagine the terror of it. I have heard various people talk about it, and humanly speaking, I can see no way to stand up and rush a defended site where people were shooting at us with automatic weapons while lobbing explosives our way, too, without giving myself over to death, just to quell the fear. But that is the intercessory cost soldiers pay. Even if I don’t die that day, it was “as if” I had died just in the acceptance of death which quelled the fear, and in that “death” I rise up out of my position and not for myself, but for my unit and the ones I represent, and charge on to victory – or death.
And that is what this “I die daily,”“the fellowship of His sufferings, and “being made conformable to His death,” has to do with. Not for the sake of death but for the resurrection unto Life!
To give it a name, it is the intercessory life, or the “fatherhood level.” Paul is talking about the principle of intercession. But it does not even need a name or a special designation or title. It is simply the Lord being Himself in us, as us, in this “level” as much as we have known Him to be in us, as us, in all the others.
What is the fellowship of His sufferings? Well first, what ARE His sufferings? Isaiah chapter fifty-three is the richest source in scripture in describing the intercession of the Messiah.
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. … Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.” (Isa 53:3a, 4a).
God became Man in Jesus Christ, of whom Paul declared in Colossians 2:9, “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” I do not think we can comprehend what Paul meant with that. This is a familiar passage, so because of that we might easily dismiss it, but this is an incredible statement Paul is making! We cannot even understand how it could be so. How could all the “fullness” – everything the Godhead was, is, and is to come in the Eternal (that’s “infinite”) – be “encased” within one human being – bodily, and “in the realm of Time and space”!? Logic, human reason, cannot make that work.
Nor can logic make work the truth that Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary, and that the Man that came forth out of her, was a fully-living, fully-experiencing total human man, as human as any human could be. And as such, he was automatically within reach of all the sin, corruption, sorrow, grief, discontent, injustice, sickness and death, as well as the daily temptation to evil (live as self-for-self), that thrived in humanity from the Fall. How else could the Son “know” man, except to be man? And being man, no doubt every thought, temptation, criticism, fear, worry, sadness at the loss of loved ones, and every other thing that humanity faces, He faced within Himself.
He knew what it was to laugh, and He knew what it was to weep. He experienced hunger, and no doubt other bodily desires, too. He heard judgmental thoughts in his mind toward others. (People think He was too pure in mind to have those kinds of thoughts, but I have them, so He must have had them as well. To have the thoughts in one’s brain, however, is not an entering into judgment or sin. They are just there, but we do not have to pick them up or use them in the way they initially appear.) But my point is, He KNEW what we face. He must have known grief and mourning at the death of Joseph, and no doubt other family members and friends as well. He certainly saw the dire straits of the people of Judea and Galilee, and the ungodly oppression of the Romans and the Herods, and sometimes it must have made Him feel great anger.
The Son came to be the Man, Jesus, standing in the gap for Adam who was lost, not only to restore what was lost, but also to take us into His own heights in the heavens, as we are reborn from fallen Adam into Last Adam, into a far greater glory than the first Paradise.
To accomplish it, He had to do what was necessary. What was necessary was that He had to make intercession for them. He had to give Himself as a “ransom for many.” Surely He knew this early on. Golgotha was always on His horizon. His daily Life was leading Him straight there. The Spirit had taught Him, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24). He knew that He, Himself, was that grain of wheat.
It was His “commission” from the Father, in order to bring home those whom He called and had chosen. He knew what it would entail, and what its physical end would be. He had come to fulfill the scriptures in prophecy, to “stand in” for Man, and through His physical suffering culminating in His physical death on the Cross, in a way the mind of man cannot understand, the “Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa 53:6).
Jesus no doubt knew these words from Isaiah very well:
“Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isa 53:10-12)
Jesus knew His commission. And He also knew the cost, and the reason for the cost. He also knew He was a man and as a man He knew He was weak. That is why the foundation “principle” by which He lived had always been, “the Father that dwells in Me, He does the works,” and, “The Son does nothing of Himself, but what the Father does, the Son does.” So He knew that, even though He would be in weakness, yet He could walk that road by the grace of the Father, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God.” (2 Cor 13:4).
It was the fruit He was after. What fruit? We know – we are the fruit He was after!!!
In one place it says a town got mad at Jesus because He wouldn’t stop and spend time with them, because His face was set on Jerusalem. (Luke 9). He HAD to complete His mission. All the scriptures that spoke of Him would be fulfilled. He knew He could not engineer all that, only the Father could cause everything to come together at the right moment. He just knew He HAD to go to Jerusalem. He could not “rest” until His mission was completed. Though He had an inner serenity, I am sure He also had every emotion and thought imaginable regarding all these things, and once he alluded to the “pressure” on His shoulders, “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50).
To those who are not privy to it, it might seem like madness or obsession. But this is the life of the intercessor, we MUST do this thing, that may cost us dearly, to bring about the Father’s result. WE are the ones who are tapped on the shoulder. When we hear a voice that says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.” (Isa 6:8). Foolish though it might have been to the flesh, we had no choice but to say it, “Here am I, send me.”
There was that saying a few years ago: “What would Jesus do?” THAT is what Jesus did!! Who’s up for that – horrible torture and crucifixion? But He was not just beaten and tortured in His body, dying a horrible death by crucifixion. Many men and women have endured the same physically. But Jesus of Nazareth was the only one who became Sin for us finally giving Himself over to death, trusting the Father’s Word to be true as He gave up the ghost and sank completely into the sleep of death, “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” (Ps 16:10.)
It was a Divine leap of faith for the Son of Man to take that leap, not only into physical death, but into spiritual death as well, to trust He could come back out of it. Once He “gave up the ghost,” any sense He might have had of His hand being on the wheel, was gone. Just like we must, all His marbles were bet on Another’s Promise, that only He (the Father) could fulfill. And the Father DID fulfill His Word! Jesus descended into the lowest regions where Sin/Satan reigned, and took captivity captive and by the power of Another was raised from the lowest depths to the highest heights, giving gifts unto men!
Certainly we do not repeat that one act, by Him alone, that secured for us our Life in Him, but nevertheless He has let the full manifestation of His Kingdom flow out through time, by means of us, in succeeding generations in an ever increasing way across the whole world. As Hebrews says all things are under Him and therefore all things are under us, but we do not yet see it all, but we see Jesus. And it is in that life, that we walk for others as Paul walked for his others, saying, in Col 1:24, “[I] now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church,” and we now say the same.
Paul actually “bragged on” his sufferings a time or two. But he didn’t just see them as events “happening” to him, even just for the sake of the gospel, but he saw further than that. God had given him a commission to fulfill that part of Christ’s own commission regarding being a Light to the Gentiles, the nations. “I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles.” (Isa 42:6). He saw his sufferings and daily dying as life-producing!
That was Paul’s commission – intercession – to and for all the nations of the earth. As Paul said in Acts 26, when speaking before King Agrippa, he was “not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” To fulfill his commission it required everything of him. He told the Corinthians, “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you.” (2 Cor 12:15). For Paul, it was all in. Not for his own sake, not for lauds and congratulations and pats on the back, not to be known as someone great himself, but that those who were his would know the Christ he knew. Everyone he had come across and had helped into the kingdom were precious to him, and he to them, though he complains it seems like they love him less. But their appreciation or lack of it did not deter him in any way. He was operating in a Divine Unction, a Divine “MUST,” which is not to be confused with the legalistic, condemnation-producing, “I ought to,” or, “I should.”
Just as Jesus, operating under the same Divine Unction, had to complete His work, so did Paul, and for those of us who see it, so do we. It may be a lifelong commission, filled with many shorter-termed mini-commissions. There really is no law or form for it, except what the Holy Spirit gives in the moment.
Before Jesus suffered the “Passion,” everything was in the theoretical, (according to one way to look at it), or in the “invisible,” (another way to look at it). At the last supper, He has yet to fully pay the cost to complete the intercession. So in a sense, especially in the apostles’ minds, but even it must have been for Jesus as well considering His struggle in the Garden, everything is still up in the air. Out in the unknown. Even the things He says to them in those marvelous chapters in John, culminating in 17, are only faith statements from where He stands at the moment. Even though He has done astounding things, including raising at least four people from the dead, their minds are still dull and they still do not grasp who He is. Which is why they found it so hard to believe three days later when told He had risen.
Now let’s get back to Paul. Everything Paul has been praying, talking about, believing for, etc., has not been about himself. It has not been about his salvation or about his “rewards.” Paul’s whole thrust in these passages is about the life of Christ not for himself, but for others. Why else would he also seek to know the Lord’s sorrow and concern – “the fellowship of his sufferings,” or to be “made conformable unto his death”? These are not holy brownie points he is seeking. He truly DID know the fellowship of His sufferings, and he truly WAS MADE conformable to His death.
“If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
It is his commission Paul is speaking of here. That word “perfect” throws us off. Christianity has historically equated that word with behavior or mental attitudes, etc. But Paul cannot be falling back into everything he preached against, a microscopic introspective constant self-evaluation, somehow saying he hasn’t done enough, yet, to be secured a place in heaven! Or that his behavior still is not what it should be? Does consideration of that belong in this discussion of Christ in us, as us?
For what was Paul “apprehended of Christ Jesus?” To be “saved,” and one day “go to heaven?” That had not been Paul’s concern. He knew he would continue until his course was finished, and had completed and gained his intercession. His intercession and poured out life, certainly was not about Paul “attaining” heaven. It was about bringing others into that same resurrection and heaven, who then do the same.
His “rewards” in heaven, though I’m sure he had some, were not his motivation. In the kingdom of God, no one “works” for rewards, they labor for love. “Proof” that Paul’s thrust is not “perfection” regarding his spirituality is in the very same chapter, a few verses down:
“Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” (Phil 3:17-21).
This is not a man in any way concerned about himself, because those issues for Paul had been settled years ago. His only concerns are the furtherance of the gospel, and that he might complete his course. Every day, despite every obstacle, whether free or in chains, Paul lives Christ, all the while knowing, “to die is gain.”
Paul’s last thoughts on the matter in Philippians are these:
“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.
Historically that passage has been preached over and over in good old fashioned rededication sermons, to keep on trying, keep on keeping on, keep on trying to act like Christ as best as we can (though we know we can never measure up), and to redouble our efforts at sanctification, spirituality, holiness, so that the Lord would bless us, etc. But this is not about that at all. Paul had a commission from the Lord. There was no doubt in his mind about that. It took him over. He would consider it “perfect,” when it had reached the point of completion! Like Jesus on the Cross, he could then say, and only then by the Spirit, “It is finished. I have completed what I am here to do. All of ‘my’ part is done, and it is now completely in the hands of the Lord for the fruit, for the increase.”
The prize that he seeks in the “high calling,” is the only thing that is worth anything – living sons of God giving glory to the Father, “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.” (Rev 5:9,10).
Paul’s life, since he began to travel with Barnabas on his first journey, has been about nothing but the saints of God, finding them, loving them, growing them up, and then finally, because he must, leaving them, knowing that after he leaves many wolves will attack the flock. Paul’s letters to the saints and the churches are filled with personal affection that is obviously genuine. A whole community grew up around Paul’s journeys, so that by the third one he is going to people who have been established for years and are growing up. He is eaten up by his zeal for God’s house, not a fleshly zeal such as he had in the days of his persecutions, but by a holy true zeal, that allowed him no rest, no respite, but the daily exercising of his mind and body to the glory of God and the Church of Jesus Christ.
And he finally comes to that in his last letter to Timothy. “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Tim 4:6-8).
Both Jesus and Paul had to endure physical death before they saw the full completion of their intercessions. They had to go to their deaths in the face of what looked like to many failure, or a sure sign of divine displeasure. Neither, in their earthly lives, saw the full results of their intercessions. It is the same with us.
Paul revealed the principle of intercession in his writings, just sharing his experiences and his revelations. He was the one who said he was “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.”
What can that mean? By realizing that the body of the Lord Jesus took into it everything in the world wrought in sorrow and grief, and He assumed all those sorrows and griefs within Himself, took them into Himself and embraced them. He literally assumed, took upon Himself, “the weight of the world.” The best way to understand it is like comparing it with a parent suffering with his children’s suffering. When those closest to us are affected in some serious negative way, we suffer ourselves in their sufferings. We take it with them. We feel what they feel. And it is especially tough when we cannot fix it, or solve their problems. We doubly feel their pain and suffer in their sufferings.
Spiritually, Paul is saying that in Christ, we are experiencing something of the weight of our world. We feel the futility some are in. We feel the pain others experience. Some of it we know about, but we all in general feel what the common feelings of humanity are. I believe when one suffers all suffer.
We feel this in Christ, not to suffer, but to know the resurrection unto life, that these deaths bring to others. We begin to have faith to say our “sufferings” are not punishment or merely injustice or merely from wrong choices, but that Christ in us, in these “sufferings,” which can be most anything, sanctifies these negatives, and instead of misery they produce the Word of Life. Paul said we always bear His dying in our body, that at the same time the “that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” (2 Cor 4:10b).
Paul finishes his word on the principle of intercession in this passage:
“For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you. We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.” (2 Cor 4:11-14)
That is the prize of the high calling.
And now that is the life of all of us. No matter our “stage,” no matter our knowledge or understanding, no matter our vocation or avocation, to live Christ is to have this same Life working in us, knowing we are not our own, but bought with a price, the Blood of the Lamb, and by His Blood and Body we become in some way the Passover Lamb for others.
And let us remember, “This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvelous in our eyes!” (Ps 118:23).