Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

Welcome back to the podcast. On Monday, last time, we looked at a duality at work in our Bible reading, of how God encourages us and then warns us. There’s a healthy balance of encouragement and warning that we need in the Christian life, and we get that balanced diet as we read through the entire Bible as a whole. And that leads us nicely into something else we are going to encounter in the Bible as we read, and we’re actually going to encounter this together over the next two days in the Navigators Bible Reading Plan.

We are going to be reading together Philippians 3:8–11. As we do, it reminds me of a couple mistakes to avoid in the Christian life, specifically about our precious Savior, Jesus Christ. One mistake is to simply emphasize him as the victor — as the King who is enthroned in heaven, resurrected, shining, sovereign over the universe, triumphant. On the other hand, we can overemphasize Jesus as victim — as the suffering servant, only as the bleeding Lamb who died for us on the cross. In Philippians 3:8–11, Paul holds together both of these glorious realities — of Christ’s weakness and his power — and then he braids them together into our experience of the Christian life. It’s a remarkable example of theology in application, as Paul wants us to experience Christ in “the power of his resurrection” as we “share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” In other words, we experience his victorious power not by escaping the suffering of this life, but by enduring the suffering of this life. Pastor John, do what you do so well, and just walk us through this text and explain how Paul pulls this off.

In 1992, I listened to one of J. Oswald Sanders’s last messages. He was 89 and a great missionary statesman. He told the story of an indigenous missionary who walked barefoot from village to village, preaching the gospel in India. After many miles, he comes to a certain village, he tries to speak the gospel, but he’s spurned by the leaders and the people in this village. So, discouraged, exhausted, he goes to the edge of the village and lies down under a tree and sleeps.

When he wakes up, the whole town was gathered to hear him. And the head man of the village explained that they had come out while he was asleep to look at him, and they saw his blistered feet. And they concluded that he must be a holy man and that they had been wrong to reject him, and they were sorry and they wanted to hear the message that he was willing to suffer so much to bring them.

Upside-Down Logic of Salvation

Now, that kind of story can be repeated again and again in the history of the church as Christians fulfill Colossians 1:24, which says that we complete in our own sufferings what was lacking in the afflictions of Christ — namely, a personal, individual, flesh-and-blood presentation in our own bodies, our own suffering, of the love of Christ and the power of Christ. So, from the beginning of Christianity in the ministry of Jesus to this very day, people have failed to recognize what I would call (and you’ve pointed out now in Philippians) the precious upside-down logic of salvation — namely, that power comes through weakness. The power of Christ comes through our weakness, and salvation comes through our suffering.

“Jesus was able to save others in spite of their sin because he refused to save himself in spite of his righteousness.”

Do you remember the chief priests as they saw Jesus hanging on the cross? They mocked him and said, “He saved others; he cannot save himself” (Matthew 27:42). What they failed to see, and so many people fail to see it today, is that it was precisely by refusing to save himself that Jesus was able to save others. Or to say it another way, Jesus was able to save others in spite of their sin because he refused to save himself in spite of his righteousness.

As you said, Tony, this weaving together of weakness and power, suffering and salvation is carried right through the Bible. And Christ suffered not to spare us in this life our suffering, but to show us how to suffer, to give us power to suffer — and in our suffering to experience the triumph of his salvation, both for ourselves and for others through suffering.

Knowing Christ in Two Ways

Let’s read it and then make a couple of comments. This is Philippians 3:8–11:

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know him . . .

Pause. So, now that he’s clothed with a righteousness from God that is not his own — by being in Christ, having union with Christ — Paul says that, with this already-salvation that he’s tasted (as being clothed with the righteousness of God in Christ), he says his aim is to know God or to know Christ in two ways.

And here they come. First, that I may know “the power of his resurrection.” And second, that I “may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” — in other words, “that I may know a share of his sufferings in my own life” — “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

So, Paul put together these two great Christian aspirations: “I want to know his power, the kind of power that raises the dead, and I want to live and minister in that power. And I want to embrace a life of sacrifice and suffering as God wills in the service of his mission: the salvation of sinners, the building up of the church.”

Our Death, Your Life

What confuses a lot of people and creates the prosperity gospel is that the only conception we have, many of us, of resurrection power is that of course it will keep Paul from suffering. That’s what power is for, right? What else is resurrection power for except to protect us and keep us from suffering?

And the answer is no, that’s not the way. It’s upside down. Not in this life for Christians living for the salvation of others — that’s not what resurrection power is mainly for. The power of Jesus was not used to escape the cross. And in Paul’s life and our lives, the present power of the resurrection gives life to other people through our sacrifices. And then, in the end, Paul hopes through that to attain the resurrection from the dead.

So, here’s an illustration of how this worked in Paul’s life. This is 2 Corinthians 4:8–10, 12:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. . . . So death is at work in us, but life in you.

In other words, Paul’s suffering, his carrying the death of Jesus in his scars, is the way the power of the resurrection brought life to other people. “Death is working in us; life is working in you — through our suffering, through our sacrifices.” The power of the resurrection did not keep Paul from sacrifices. It turned his sacrifices into manifestations of life-giving power in the salvation of sinners. And as he said in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “[Christ’s] power is made perfect in [my] weakness.”

What Wins People to Christ

We all know this is true when we think about it, just from our own experience. People don’t fall in love with the worth and beauty and greatness of Jesus because they look at rich, healthy, comfortable Christians. They don’t. If that’s all they see, why wouldn’t they just conclude that we live for the same worldly things they do? If that produces conversion, it’s not conversion to Jesus, but to more money. What wins people to the infinite beauty and worth of Jesus is that they see people for whom Jesus is so precious that they are willing to endure suffering to follow him.

So, when Paul says in Philippians 3:10, “I want to know him in these two ways: his power that gives life and his sufferings that cost life,” he wasn’t confused. He had been mastered and formed by Jesus, who saved us with his omnipotent power through suffering and death.