Three Blessings of the Cross (Philippians 3:7-11)

What do eggs, new clothes, and spring have in common? They all suggest new life. They are also all associated with Easter, and surely that is appropriate because Easter is when we commemorate Jesus’ being lifted up on the Cross, “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:15; see also vs. 16).

Recently, as I was rereading D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s exposition of Philippians, I was struck by how a short passage (Philippians 3:7-11) brings out three aspects of the new life available to us because of what Jesus did on the first Easter—justification, sanctification, and glorification.

This passage brings out Paul’s absorbing passion, not just to know about Jesus Christ, but to know Him intimately. Paul looked upon everything else in his life as of no value compared to knowing Christ, and so he was willing to give up everything else in order to know Him.

Yet, at one time, Paul’s overriding goal in life had been to destroy the Church (“concerning zeal, persecuting the church,” 3:6). Then, while he was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus to arrest Christians there, he was encountered by the risen Jesus. The result was that he joined the ranks of those whom he’d previously persecuted and became as zealous for Christ as he had once been against Him. In the 25 or so years between then and his writing Philippians, Paul’s relationship with Christ deepened so much that he could even tell his Philippian readers, “To me to live is Christ” (1:21). Nothing else seems to have mattered to him. He even looked upon death as desirable because it would result in his departing to be with Christ—”having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better (1: 23).

The first of the Easter blessings, justification, is referred to these words, “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” Justification is God’s act of declaring a person righteous in His sight. Although before his conversion to the Christian faith Paul had been, “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (3:6), apparently he hadn’t experienced peace when he was relying upon obedience to the Mosaic law to be considered righteous by God (see Romans 7:8-11). But now that he was relying upon “the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ” and “in his blood” (3:22,25)—His sacrificial death on the Cross—he enjoyed “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1) and, as he took his problems to God, an inner peace, “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

The second Easter blessing, sanctification, is suggested by the phrase “the power of his resurrection.” Sanctification involves separation from sin and dedication to service to God. Although the Christian has peace with God, he or she still has to struggle with sin (see Romans 7:13-25). Thus he must “continue to work out [his/her] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12, NIV). However, the believer has help, “for it is God which worketh in [him/her] both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (2:13). This help is given by “the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead” (Romans 8:11), whom Jesus promised His disciples that after His resurrection and ascension He would ask His Father to send to live with and be in them (see John 14:16-17; 16:7). Thus Christians are enabled to “walk in newness of life” just as “Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Romans 6:4).

The next phrase in verse 10, “the fellowship of his sufferings,” is not only connected to “the power of his resurrection” by “and” but also shares the same definite article in the Greek. This suggests that it might refer to another aspect of to the same experience as “the power of his resurrection” refers to, which I’ve suggested is sanctification, rather than to a different experience. Many commentators think that it does and point to Romans 6:1-11 in support of the identification. For example, Gerald F Hawthorne claims that “just as knowing Christ in the power of his resurrection is an inward experience that can be expressed in terms of being resurrected with Christ (cf. Rom 6:4), so knowing Christ in the fellowship of his sufferings is equally an inward experience that can be described in terms of having died with Christ (cf. Rom 6:8)” (Philippians in Word Biblical Commentary, Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1983, page 144).

Personally, I think that by “the fellowship of his sufferings” Paul was referring to external suffering. Strange as it may seem to us, Paul actually viewed suffering for Jesus Christ as a blessing. “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29), an idea that likely originated in his knowing that Jesus had told His disciples, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all matter of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). According to this interpretation of “the fellowship of his sufferings,” the phrase that follows it, “being made conformable unto his death,” refers to Paul’s even being willing to die for Christ, a willingness that he had graphically expressed earlier in the letter, “Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all” (Philippians 2:17).

The third Easter blessing, glorification, is referred to in these words, “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” Glorification refers to the time when Christians will be raised to heavenly glory. I’ve already mentioned that Paul’s desire to know Jesus Christ caused him to look forward to death, when he would go to be with Christ. However, when he wrote this verse, Paul may have been thinking of another aspect of his future death and resurrection, one indicated by something that he says a little further on in the letter, “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (3:20-21). Paul looked forward to his becoming wholly like Christ in heaven, the glory of which “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with” (Romans 8:18).

Thus, in Philippians 3:7-11 Paul referred to at least three blessings that he enjoyed or looked forward to because of what Jesus did on the first Easter—justification, sanctification, and glorification. But what Jesus did on the first Easter, He did for everybody, not just for Paul. Therefore, these are blessings that all of us can enjoy now or look forward to enjoying in the future. The only thing that a person has to do to experience them is to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus on the basis of what He did for us on that first Easter and then to let God bestow upon him/her the blessings that He wants to give everybody because of what His Son did on that first Easter.

This article originally appeared under the title “Easter Blessings” in the Easter 1997 issue of “Hunter Family Holiday Newsletter” and the April 1999 issue of “Good Tidings” (the monthly magazine of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador). Biblical quotations in it are from the KJV unless otherwise specified.


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