Holy Ambition

In Philippians chapter three Paul frames life in terms of winning and losing. ‘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,…’ 3:7-8. In fact the idea looms large in his thinking as seen by his statement in chapter 1 and verse 21 ‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’ 

Winning and losing are popular ideas in the world as well. But Christians are in danger of being swept up by worldly ideas of success rather than spiritual ones. Paul himself recognized even his noble religious ideas were considered along with ‘all things’ to be loss towards the treasured goal of knowing ‘the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord…’

Here was Paul’s holy ambition. It was fourfold. Firstly, ‘that I may know Him’, secondly, ‘and the power of His resurrection’, thirdly, ‘and the fellowship of His suffering’ and fourthly, ‘being made conformable unto His death;’ v. 10. Him, His resurrection, His suffering, His death. This was the pathway to ‘winning’ as Paul understood it. What a challenge to every believer in Christ. This too can be our holy ambition. What a relief to set aside earthly ideas that constantly bombard the mind and set our sights on this single minded purpose detailed in this beautiful quartet.

‘that I may know Him’

But didn’t Paul already know Him? Of course He did, initially at least in Paul’s conversion. ‘Who art thou Lord?’ were his words on the road to Damascus. And Paul met and came to know the Saviour. But He cannot be fully known in an initial meeting. He is unfathomable. No lifetime is long enough to fully know him. No human has the capacity to plumb the depths of the knowledge of the Son of God. But this unreachable goal was Paul’s ambition.

‘and the power of His resurrection’

The resurrection stands as an irrefutable fact of history. What tremendous integrity this gives the message of the gospel. There is no message in the world that can address the matter of life and death with such an intelligent, logical explanation. Our hope is not a dream but a hope based on the undeniable fact He is risen! 

But His resurrection goes broader than our eternal destiny. The resurrection speaks to us now. We too have been resurrected to a new kind of life according to Paul in Romans chapter six. A life victorious over sin is likely what Paul was thinking about in the power of His resurrection.

‘and the fellowship of His sufferings’

Not His Calvary sufferings. Only He and He alone could die for the sins of world. I can have no part in it except to receive it as a gift. But He suffered in other ways. Our Lord stated that those who are His will suffer because of Him. To be so identified with Him invites hatred of the world. (Jn. 15:18-21; 16:33). Beware of the hospitality of the world. It may be friendly but it is not our friend. Satan’s hostility is also aimed at believers in Christ. Paul’s holy ambition was he would not be spared ‘the fellowship of His sufferings’. I like that word ‘fellowship’. To know the fellowship of His sufferings is to know His fellowship in those sufferings. Whatever you may be passing through today, you do so with His presence.

‘being made conformable to His death’

Here is the pattern to follow. Several scriptures speak of Paul’s connection to the death of Christ. ‘I have been crucified with Christ.’ (Gal. 2:20). ‘I die daily’ (1 Cor. 15:31). ‘Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.’ (2 Cor. 4:10) What a strange paradox. Life manifest in death. Do I know anything about the death to self? Am I conformable to His death? This was Paul’s ambition.

Winning and losing. Here is the formula for winning. Hardly what we would learn in this world. But it is the truth nonetheless. May we have this holy ambition!


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