Paul reveals his spiritual priorities in these verses, and in so doing reveals to us what it means to be Christ-centred. All of us have ambitions or goals and if we want to attain them we have to work out how to do so. Paul’s ambition is to know Christ and he says that it will involve two strategies: one is the power of his resurrection and the other is the fellowship of his sufferings. Again, with regard to our goals, we usually have a reason for them; Paul’s reason for knowing Christ is so that he ‘may attain to the resurrection of the dead’.
Often if we were to ask an onlooker for his opinion of Christianity, he will reply that it seems to be a series of regulations and may refer to the Ten Commandments or to the Sermon on the Mount. Or he may say that it seems to be a set of rituals and he may mention prayer, baptism, the Lord’s Supper and so on. Obviously, in a sense his observations are accurate, yet they still omit the most crucial aspect of true Christianity which is that it is a relationship with Jesus Christ. Without a relationship, the regulations and the rituals are pointless; with the relationship, they become meaningful expressions of the bond that a Christian has with Jesus Christ.
We know that the relationship began when Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus and became his follower a few days later when he was baptised by Ananias. Since Paul had until then been an enemy of Jesus’ cause, we can describe this new relationship between Jesus and Paul as a gracious one as far as Jesus was concerned and a grateful one as far as Paul was concerned. It was a gracious relationship because Paul had been forgiven his sins by Jesus and given a role in spreading his new Master’s kingdom, and it was a grateful relationship for Paul because of the same reasons.
Since that auspicious day three decades previously, Paul had discovered that the relationship was also a growing one. I once heard an illustration that helped me understand what Paul meant when he wrote that he still wanted to know Jesus. The speaker said that in 1492 Christopher Columbus discovered America, but then added that Americans are still discovering America in the sense of locating and using its various resources. Then he said, that on the Damascus Road, when he discovered Jesus for the first time, Paul had taken his first steps into a continent of never-ending wonder, and in the subsequent thirty years he had discovered some of the amazing riches found in Jesus Christ.
Over these decades, Jesus had functioned as his prophet teaching him about the contents of salvation and what insights Paul was thus able to give to the church regarding the relationship believers have to the heavenly Father, regarding the work of the indwelling Spirit, regarding the future when Jesus returns, and many more. In fact, everything that Paul taught was linked to what he was taught by Jesus. Further Jesus had functioned as his priest, who interceded for him, who sympathised with him, who strengthened him for each day, who was his friend. And Jesus also functioned as his king, both overpowering the sins in Paul’s life and protecting him from many powerful foes.
The fact is, every thing that Paul learned from and about Jesus Christ caused him to want to know more. As D. A. Carson writes: ‘And already, during our pilgrimage here, it is our delight as well as our duty to know Jesus Christ better and better.’