“. . . that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10).
Before his conversion, Paul was a man who knew power. He knew the power of a sharp mind and a good education, of high social standing, of friends and allies in high places. He knew the power that goes with confidence in the rightness of one’s cause. He also understood the power of intimidation by the threat and use of force and violence.
It was surely with a sense of power that Paul set out for Damascus to deal with the Christians there (Acts 9), for he had the full authority of the high priest for his mission. But on that journey Paul met up with a power greater than any that he had ever known. It threw him to the ground. It made him shake with fear. It struck him blind. It was the power of the risen, living and reigning Christ.
But as Paul was led by the hand into Damascus that day, he did not yet know Christ and His saving resurrection power. He came to this knowledge soon after, when the Holy Spirit opened his heart to the Scriptures and convinced Him that the Jesus whom he had been persecuting was the Christ. Then Paul learned that the power of Christ’s resurrection was in His victory over sin and death for lost and condemned humanity.
In Philippians 3, Paul identifies the knowledge of the power of Christ’s resurrection as his most precious possession, a possession of such surpassing value that he could sacrifice everything else for it and say that he had really lost nothing. The knowledge of Christ’s resurrection was of such great value to him because by faith in the crucified and risen Christ, Paul possessed a righteousness that is not by the Law, but rather is a gift from God; that is, righteousness that makes a sinner acceptable to God. Knowing by faith the power of Christ’s resurrection, Paul looked forward to his own resurrection and eternal life. With a possession like that, what difference did anything else make?
Together with the power of Christ’s resurrection, Paul was glad to know “the fellowship of His sufferings.” That at first looks like a rather strange pairing: resurrection and sufferings. But not to Paul. He understood that Christ rose to life after laying down His life as the atoning sacrifice to save sinners from death and condemnation. Paul understood that his own life also had to take the path of sufferings and death on the way to resurrection and eternal life; not to atone for his sins—Christ’s sufferings and death alone did that—but to be “conformed” to Christ’s death, to be joined to Him by faith in both His sufferings and His resurrection.
Like Paul, all of us have experienced power in its various forms. We may have exercised power over others. We may have had to endure the abuse of power from those in authority over us. But earthly power in all its forms diminishes over time and finally passes away completely. There is only one power that continues forever: the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. We have it by faith, and it is working life in us, even when we must pass through times of humbling, weakness, and suffering.
The power of Christ’s resurrection is one thing above all others that is worth knowing and having by faith.
John Klatt is pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Loveland, Colorado.