I’ve thought long and prayed hard in an effort to understand the secret of the Apostle Paul’s contentment. Could it have been the awareness that God causes all things to work to the good of those who love Him? Or perhaps the glorious reward Paul would receive in heaven some day? While I don’t think those unimportant, I remain convinced that he was referring to something greater still.
I believe that Paul’s secret was to be identified with Christ. The concept almost sounds too simple, but yet is all encompassing.
We can catch hints of Paul’s motivation as we read through his letter to the Philippians:
“For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” Philippians 1:21 (NET)
“But these assets I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ. More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things – indeed, I regard them as dung! – that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness – a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11 (NET)
Wow! Paul’s inward motivation was certainly evidenced by his outward actions.
I’m especially struck by the way the NET Bible translates verse 7: “But these assets I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ.” The very things that Paul once thought to be most important had actually become obstacles to His goal of knowing Christ.
It’s interesting to note that the primary context of those liabilities refers not to stuff as we seem to naturally interpret, but primarily to those factors that once established Paul’s sense of significance. In other words, Paul surrendered (perhaps even despised) the core components of his former identity in order to identify with Christ. (I’ll refrain from dwelling on the personal identity issue at this time, but will come back to it in much more detail sometime next year after our Search for Me identity study is published. If you are interested in listening to a rough draft audio version of this in-depth, life-changing study, simply click the “audio messages” item on the menu bar at the top of our blog page.)
In saying identified with Christ I find several specific applications:
- To know Him.
- To know what He is like.
- To be with Him.
- To share in His experiences.
- To be conformed into His image.
- To be identified by a personal relationship with Him.
- To make Him known to others.
I’ll spend more time with each of these applications in the near future, but for now I simply want to leave you with the image of a very young child in relationship to his/her father. One of their primary goals in life is to identify with dad. They excitedly run to the door when dad finally arrives home from work. They want to hang out with dad and do stuff together. They seek to dress like dad—especially when uniforms or outdoor clothes are involved. And of course, they want everybody to know that they have the greatest dad in the world.
Perhaps in this limited illustration we can catch a small glimpse of the true heart of evangelism.