Robert D. Pace
It is said that St. Augustine, of the Fifth Century, longed to see three things: Rome in its glory, Christ in the flesh, and Paul in his preaching. Perhaps you, too, have a list of aspirations. Since I was born in France, I’ve always wanted to return and visit the Eiffel Tower. In 2006, I was on my way to Nigeria but was delayed at the Charles De Gaul Airport in Paris. That gave me time to visit the Eiffel Tower for a scant few minutes! Additionally, it’s remarkable that of the many countries I’ve visited, I’ve never been to the Holy Land! So rather than seeing Rome in its glory, as St. Augustine desired, I’d choose a present-day trip to the land where Jesus walked!
(Transition) But there’s a higher aspiration that every Christian should have. Every believer should desire to intimately “know” Christ. “Knowing” Christ should be our chief ambition and desire.
The Aspiration to Know God
In our text, Paul said he counted everything as “loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus.” When you study Paul’s life, you understand the sincerity of this desire because he was entirely consumed with living for Christ. In the first two chapters of Philippians Paul expressed seven wishes that focused on Christ: he desired to “know” Christ, “win” Christ, “magnify” Christ, be “conformed” to Christ, be “found in” Christ, “rejoice in the day of Christ,” and “live forever” with Christ. Paul passionately pursued his Savior!
(Definition) What exactly did Paul mean in Philippians 3:10 when he expressed his desire to “know” Christ? When Paul wrote that Greek word know, he knew precisely what it meant. Etymology translates it this way: “to know Christ in a great variety of applications and with many implications; to know by experience; to find out and discern; to know him in a multifaceted manner.” he wanted to Jesus as fully as possible.
(Application) Some in this sanctuary know each other only as worshipers. We converse with each other from Sunday to Sunday as we gather in this house. Others among us are acquainted beyond these walls and you are also business associates. And beyond that, some worshipers here are also personal friends, and you share meals together and eat together and perhaps even vacation together. And then some here are family members. And this relationship gives you intimate knowledge of each other.
The Apostle Paul wanted to know Christ more fully than a worshiper, business partner, or even a “best friend.” He wanted to know every aspect and detail of Christ. This is how the Lord wants every Christian to pursue him. He invites us to know Him, study Him, and investigate his character and actions.
The Psalmist said, “In his presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). I’m convinced one of Heaven’s joys will be to eternally explore God’s glorious nature. We’ll never stop learning of his inexhaustible glory. And the reason God invites us to plumb the depths of his being is because he’s perfect from any angle!
I want to challenge you to do something. At some point today I challenge you to “put pen to paper” and enumerate your knowledge about the nature and character of God.
He’s holy, perfect, and just.
He’s eternal, omnipotent, and invisible.
He’s all-powerful, all-knowing, and completely wise.
He’s loving, good, and merciful.
He’s our Savior, Healer, and Deliverer.
He’s our Wisdom, Righteousness, and Power.
He’s our Helper, Companion, and Provider.
He’s our Counselor, Captain, and Conqueror.
He’s our Advocate, Judge, and Friend.
He’s our Prophet, Priest, and King.
Examining God is like turning a prism; there is a different fire and brilliance that sparkles from each angle. And I love what Job concludes: “these are but the fringe of his works” (26:14).
(Quote) Listen to the words of a twenty year-old preacher named Charles Spurgeon:
It has been said by someone that ‘the proper study of mankind is man.’ I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s [people] is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the Word, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls His Father.
Isn’t that amazing? A twenty year-old said that! He made the point with the eloquence of a seasoned scholar. And Spurgeon agreed perfectly with the prophet Jeremiah when he said in Jeremiah 9:24, “let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD.” I want to ask you: How well do you know God? Do you know Him as your Savior? If you don’t, invite Him into your life today. But as wonderful as Christ’s saving, forgiving work for us is, we need to know more about Him than that. He’s your Savior, but He’s much more! He’s your Helper, Friend, and Constant Companion. I challenge you to know more of Him!
If everything a carpenter knew about construction was limited to hammering everything would get pounded into shape. The carpenter needs to understand all the tools of his trade. There is more to the Christian Life than “pardon from sins.” Learn of your Lord and His goodness! This is why the Apostle Paul said in Ephesians 1:17, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”
(Transition) There’s a significant reason the Bible asks us to seek God and understand His character. Seeking to know God will keep you on track and can deliver you from Satan’s snares.
The Need to “Know” God
Paul understood the value of pursuing God. He knew that it solidified a Christian’s spiritual standing. That’s why it’s important to maintain a fresh revelation of Jesus. Proverbs 29:18 says: “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.” Let me illustrate this from Exodus 32 where Moses is atop Mount Sinai.
(Bible Example) When Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai he was apart from the Israelites and alone with God for forty days. Notice what happened during that time. For the month and a week that Israel was without Moses, the Israelites removed their jewelry, melted it, fashioned it into a golden calf, and bowed before it. They even had the audacity to claim it had delivered them from Egypt. How could that possibly happen? Israel had witnessed God’s incredible signs and wonders free them from Egypt.
They saw God transform the chemistry of the Nile from water into blood.
They saw the burdening plagues God laid upon Egypt.
They witnessed the death angel sweep through Egypt and slay the firstborn males.
And the drama climaxed when God delivered them through the Red Sea and swallowed Pharaoh’s army therein.
No nation has witnessed such divine intervention and that’s why their rebellion was so grievous! But let me offer Israel a defense for their rebellion. Do you realize that until this point in history God had provided no written Law to which Israel could look? There was no Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, or any written law for them to keep. That’s why Moses was on the mountain—to procure the Ten Commandments.
Here is where it gets interesting: Without any written Law from God, Moses, the man, stood as the embodiment of God’s revelation to Israel. God’s Word resided in Moses. That’s incredible! Before God revealed His written Word in stone or on parchment, He first placed it in Moses.
Moses was the one with the word, “Let my people go.”
Moses was the one that received the revelation of offering the Passover lamb and putting its blood upon their doorposts.
Moses initiated and explained the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Israelites while in Egypt.
And then, God revealed to Moses, not a committee, each of the Ten Commandments.
Thus, when Moses, the embodiment of God’s revelation to Israel, disappeared from the Camp and spent 40 days on Sinai, the Israelites “threw off restraint” and worshipped the golden calf. And this principle applies to God’s people today: Christians cannot live righteously and above temptation without keeping Christ and His Word before them.
This is why Psalm 16:8 says, “I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”
It’s why David said in Psalm 1:1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; (2) but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (3) He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”
God wants Christians to meditate on His love, mercy, grace, compassion, and faithfulness. God calls us to thoroughly learn of Him and His teachings. Keep your mind focused on Jesus!
(Transition) As we continue to investigate “Knowing God,” I want to disclose a secret that brings great spiritual enlightenment upon Christ and His Word. This secret is unparalleled in its disclosures. And it’s not a method; it’s a person!
The Illuminator—the Holy Spirit
The ultimate way to learn of Christ and His ways is through the instruction of the Holy Spirit. The Bible calls Him our Teacher, Instructor, and Illuminator. That means it is impossible to comprehend the glory of God without the Spirit’s guiding influence. You see, man has known for thousands of years that diamonds are discovered by “mining.” It takes digging, unearthing, delving, and reaching to uncover diamonds. But unearthing a lump of coal with diamonds therein does not reveal the quality of the discovery. It takes the added presence of a microscope to determine the nature and worth of these stones. The same applies to uncovering spiritual truths. God’s riches are discovered when Christians pray and read the Scriptures. But the means of understanding the full radiance of these diamonds of Truth is to investigate them with the illuminating microscope of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the key to spiritual understanding and without Him our pursuit of God is vain.
(Transition) Turn to Matthew 16 and let me illustrate this.
The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the First Century and they, of all people, should have been able to validate Christ’s Messianic claims and His appearance as the Son of God. Their forefathers had written and preserved the Scriptures; they devoted hours of meticulous study to researching the Scriptures; they quoted and taught from the Scriptures; but they didn’t intimately know the God of the Scriptures. And there’s a reason for that. They didn’t fellowship with the Holy Spirit!
1 Corinthians 2:14 says: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” This is why it takes the combined work of studying the Word and fellowshipping with the Spirit to know and discern spiritual truths. If you study the Word without the Spirit, you’ll dry up. If you fellowship with the Spirit without the infusion of the Word, you’ll blow up. But if you combine both, you’ll grow up!
Look again at Matthew 16:1. “The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking Him to show them a sign from heaven.” Here were the religionists pretending they would accept Christ’s claims if He would provide a “sign from heaven.” And their request for a “sign from heaven” was incredibly crafty! They reasoned that the true Messiah would be willing to duplicate what the greatest Old Testament prophets had done. That is, provide a “sign from heaven.” Let me show you:
Moses had provided a “sign from Heaven” with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to authenticate his claims of leadership.
Joshua provided a “sign from Heaven” by commanding the sun to stand still.
Elijah provided a “sign from Heaven” by calling down fire at Mount Moriah.
They assumed the real Messiah would do this! But Jesus ignored their request! Why? Because Jesus knew the Pharisees had no intention of surrendering their hearts and developing a relationship with Him. He knew they wanted to stand at a distance, without any strings attached, and merely watch Him work a miracle. They would then return to their religious activities without any change of heart. Thus, Jesus denied their request.
God’s ways haven’t changed since the First Century. Christians would love for God to arise and supernaturally interrupt a Presidential Inauguration or an international event and reveal Himself as the Sovereign Lord. We would love for Christ to appear and contravene the laws of nature and convince the masses that Evolution is but fanciful afterthought. We would love for God to indisputably demonstrate His power to nations. As omnipotent, God could do these things, but He’s not compelled to whimsically display His omnipotence. Anyway, like the Pharisees, the scientists, psychics, and professors would be standing in line to discredit any miracle God performed. While miracles are important, God’s greatest desire is to fellowship with man. He wants to enlighten people of His love, mercy, and grace. God wants a “relationship” with men.
The Purpose of Signs
Before I leave this point, let me assure you that God wants to work wonders. There are sincere people that need confirmation of God’s dealings with them. They don’t want a “sign” to tempt God; they need a sign to confirm the truth of God. Is there Scripture for this? Yes! Simon Peter needed a sign to convince him of God’s plan of salvation for the Gentiles. That’s why Peter fell into a trance and received a vision of God’s plan for the Gentiles. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, needed the report of miracles and wonders to assure him that Jesus was the Messiah.
Sincere worshipers don’t “seek signs” to tempt God they “seek God” and signs follow! In other words, when you spend time with God you will experience His wonders. God honors people in relationship with Him. Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, the Prophets, and the Apostles all “walked with God.” Moreover, they understood His ways and beheld His wondrous glory! And no one’s life remained the same after they drew near God. It leads to a transformed life!
(Illustration) The story is told of the CIA needing an agent. The CIA advertised for help and announced a date when candidates could appear for an interview. On the assigned date, scores of applicants crammed into a government building and awaited their opportunity for the interview. Some scribbled notes. Others sent text messages. Others became reoccupied with their mobile devices. Still others stared aimlessly into the air. Suddenly, a man jumped from his seat and bolted into the office to claim employment. That’s because a coded message had sounded over the intercom and invited into the office anyone that could decode the message. The man secured the job because he ascertained something that was oblivious to everyone else.
This is how God wants us to live. He wants us to live with sharp, keen spiritual senses—senses that are tuned to the Spirit of God. I close with the words of Paul from Colossians 3:1. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. (2) Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”