AN APOSTLE'S SUPREME AMBITION
by T. Austin-Sparks
"That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship
of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death" (Philippians 3:10).
There are few words in his writings which reveal how committed to the Lord
Jesus this man was. The whole context is one consummate outpouring of
his heart to the One whom he said had "apprehended" him, and he focuses
all in a brief half sentence: "That I may know him."
The impressive thing about this expressed ambition is the time at which it is
made. Here is a man who has had a revelation and knowledge of Jesus
Christ greater than any other man up to that time. That knowledge
commenced whence as he said, "it pleased God to reveal his Son in me".
That beginning devastated him, and sent him into the desert to try to grasp its
implications. Later he had been "caught up into the third heaven and shown
unspeakable things, which (he said) were not lawful to be uttered". Between,
and around those two experiences, there is evidence of an ever growing
knowledge of Christ. Here, after all that, near the end of his life, he is
crying passionately: "That I may know him."
The very least that we can say about this is that the Christ in view was a very
great Christ indeed, who outstrips the greatest capacity and comprehension
of man. This stands in such tremendous contrast to the limited Christ of our
recognition and apprehension! How very much more there is in Christ than
we have ever seen! But we must break down our verse. It is divided by its
main words, and can be stated in its four phrases.
(1) The all-governing passion: "That I may know him."
(2) The effectual power: "The power of his resurrection."
(3) The essential basis: "The fellowship of his sufferings."
(4) The progressive principle: "Conformed to his death."
1. THE ALL-GOVERNING PASSION
"That I may know him."
Here a little study in words is both helpful and necessary. In the original
language of the New Testament there are two words for 'knowing' or
'knowledge' or 'to know'. They run in numerous occasions and connections
right through the New Testament.
One of these words has the meaning of knowledge by information; being
told, reading, by report. It is more the knowledge which comes by
observation, study, searching, or talk. It is rather knowledge about things,
persons, etc. The other word carries the meaning of personal experience,
intimate acquaintance; and inward knowledge. Sometimes there is a prefix
which gives the meaning of "full knowledge" (epi). The second of these
words and meanings is that which Paul is using and employing here: 'That I
may have or gain more of the knowledge of Him which is personal
experience by personal acquaintance, by living, firsthand relationship with
This removes everything from the realm of mere theory, the intellect, and
being told. It is the result and effect of an act of the Holy Spirit within. That is
why Paul links with this knowledge "the power of his resurrection, and the
fellowship of his sufferings". It is powerful knowledge, born of deep
experience. And this is the only true knowledge of Christ! It is planted or
wrought deep in the inner life.
2. THE EFFECTUAL POWER
"The power of his resurrection."
While there is a future aspect of the whole statement, that is, the
consummation in glory, we must understand that in each of these phrases
Paul is thinking of this life. Even in the next verse, where he speaks of
attaining to the "outresurrection from among the dead", he is thinking
primarily of present spiritual and moral out-raising. He had known something
of this power already. His conversion was such. Again and again, in what he
called "deaths oft" he had known it. Perhaps greatest of all were his
experiences in Asia and Lystra (II Corinthians 1:9; Acts 14:19-20).
Resurrection power and life are the knowledge of Christ. This is how we
know Him, and this is available for every believer. It is for endurance, for
overcoming, for fulfilment of ministry, for maintaining the Lord's
testimony in the world; for every need which demands it in relation to the interests and
glory of Christ. It puts life on a supernatural basis. It is the power of His
resurrection, the greatest miracle in history.
3. THE ESSENTIAL BASIS
"The fellowship of his sufferings."
In this connection there are some things that we must at once set aside.
There were sufferings of Christ which we do not share, and are not called
upon to share, although sometimes there seems to be a very fine and thin
line between them.
We do not share the atoning sufferings of Christ. There is a whole realm of
suffering which was His alone. The work of man's redemption was His
alone, for us. When He who was without sin was made sin for us He was
alone, even God-forsaken in that eternal moment. Upon that fact the whole
truth of His unique Person hangs, and the whole system of perfect sacrifice
rests; the spotless Lamb.
But when all that is accepted and established, there are sufferings of Christ
in which we have fellowship with Him. We also, for His sake, may be
despised and rejected of men. We can be discredited, ostracised,
persecuted, mocked, tortured, and even "killed", both in an act and "all the
day long". Paul speaks of a residue of Christ's sufferings which he was
helping to fill up for "His body's sake which is the church". This is another,
and different, area and system of suffering. Paul looked upon this as an
honour and something in which to rejoice, because it was for the One whom
he so deeply loved. But he also saw that this suffering with and for Christ
provided the basis for knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection This
Apostle would agree that only those who know this fellowship truly know the
Lord. We know that! It is perfectly evident that real usefulness in a
way comes out of the winepress, and "they that have suffered most have
most to give" There is nothing artificial about the fruit of Christ.
4. THE PROGRESSIVE PRINCIPLE
"Becoming conformed unto his death."
It is important in understanding the Apostle to realise that he was not
thinking of conformity to Christ's death as the end of all else. His real meaning was
that he should increase in the knowledge of Christ, know the power of His
resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings by becoming conformed to
His death. His death - Christ's - was behind, something at the beginning, and
the spiritual history of the believer is a working back to what that death meant.
It meant the end of the "old man", crucifixion to the world mind and will; the
closing of the door to a whole system which was not Christ-centered and
All this had been stated and presented in Paul's earlier letters; but it was a
meaning which had to be progressively made real and true in spiritual
experience. The meaning of Christ's death - Paul taught - was to be the inner
history of the believer, and this would work out - progressively - in the power
of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. So that, by being
conformed to His death, he would come to the fuller knowledge of Him and
of that Divine power. It is ever so.
The all-governing passion opens the way for the effectual, and effectuating
power, by the essential basis, through the progressive principle of conformity to His death.
From A Witness and A Testimony, September - October, 1969
Austin-Sparks, T. (Theodore) (1888-1971)
Born in London; his ministry was based in southeast London at the Honor
Oak Christian Fellowship Center but extended world-wide through
conferences in the U.K., personal visits abroad, and publication of the
periodical, A Witness and a Testimony (1923-1971); co-worker of Jesse
Pen.n-Lewis (1923-1926); conducted conferences in Taipei (1955, 1957);
emphasized the truths concerning the Body of Christ and the crucifixion
and resurrection of Christ; used such terms as "all-inclusive," "recovery,"
and "incorporation into Christ"; writings: The Stewardship of the Mystery,
2 vols., What is Man?, The Centrality and Universality ofthe Cross, and
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