Paul’s exercise to fulfill his ministry was not in the heavenlies, however, but in the local churches! It was relatively easy for Paul to realize that his ministry in the Body must be something organic, but to apply this realization to all the situations he confronted in the local churches was not so easy. First of all, it required a certain kind of stand while he labored in the church life. What was this stand? It was to know Christ, and only Christ, in the midst of all the situations here below.
To Know Christ
When the fundamental stand in our human life becomes “I must know Christ,” then we begin to experience something called the power of resurrection. After we decide that, above all things, we want to know Christ, we find that we are able to go on in the Christian life in spite of everything that would otherwise frustrate us. This is because when we take this stand to know Christ, we begin to experience the power of His resurrection.
The fact of the matter is this: our daily life is full of failure, weakness, discouragement, and all that is mundane. It would seem that when someone becomes a Christian, his life should be full of victory, and every day should be an exhilarating adventure.
When we awake in the morning, we should immediately begin to pray ourselves into the Spirit, should we not? And when we go to school or work, or when we are with our family or friends, shouldn’t those around us see a shining Christian testimony? But is this our case? Usually not. That is why we possess this stand that we want to know Christ. If this is our stand, then we find that we are able to continue on following the Lord in the church life even when we feel we are unable or unworthy to do so.
The Power of His Resurrection
From a certain angle, nothing seems more difficult, oppressive, or depressing than serving the saints in the church life. Consider all the people and situations you have to deal with, and how things often do not turn out how you wish them to. Yet after all these years, I can still tell the Lord that I love Him. I tell you, the Christian life is a mystery. I should be “burnt out” by now, but I feel that the Lord to me is more fresh and real than ever. This is because I am experiencing the power of His resurrection.
This power causes us to rise up and go on even when we do not desire to do so. Perhaps one day you even made a vow that you would not come to any more meetings. Such a vow means nothing as far as the Lord is concerned, for He realizes that His resurrection is operating. Once you begin to love the Lord and take a stand that you want to know Him, the Lord will begin to bring you into many things just so that you might know this power. Those who have not experienced death cannot experience the power of resurrection! Therefore the Lord allows you, as the one who wants to know Him, to experience those things you do, day after day. In this way, you can know the power of His resurrection. Your diligence will fail and must fail. Your promises to the Lord will all turn out to be lies. To know Christ in the church life, you must know the power of His resurrection.
Not Simply Resurrection, but the Power of His Resurrection
Why is it that it is the power of His resurrection, and not simply resurrection? If you were to ask me how many truly joyful moments I have had as a Christian, I would have to tell you that they have been few. Then if you were to ask me, Would you select another life for yourself if you could? I would say, Absolutely not. It is true that I have experienced a lot of suffering over the years. I have shed a lot of tears. But I feel that I have lived the best life.
You may think that I might wish that I had lived a life filled with happiness. But then, brothers, where would be my experience of the power of Christ’s resurrection? Within me I have come to know this organic inward operating element called resurrection. When I am defeated, I find it is there. When I am woefully wrong, I find it is there. When I lose my health, I find it is there. When I am discouraged, I find it is there. Resurrection has carried me through.
How does this power carry me? As a kind of power, but not as we think. To our mind, resurrection power must be something like Superman experiences when he flies around saving people. That is not resurrection power as we come to know it in our daily life. Resurrection power in our experience is: “Lord, though I fail, I love You more. And though I cannot seem to please You, I still am able to rise up to touch You.” This is the power of resurrection in our experience.
The Fellowship of His Sufferings
Out of such power comes the fellowship of His sufferings. What are “His sufferings”? These are the sufferings we experience from all that God measures to us according to His purpose, even though it seem unjust or unreasonable. It is such sufferings that build the church. In Christ’s experience, nothing that happened to Him was fair; nothing was reasonable; nothing He did was understood. But everything He experienced was according to the desire of God for the fulfillment of His purpose. The Lord’s suffering and death are what produced the church. Today there is still something called “the fellowship of His sufferings.” The Lord’s suffering produced the church, and through our sufferings today, the church is being built up. Our “fellowship” in the Lord’s sufferings has this goal in view.
Therefore, if you want someone to grow, be prepared to suffer. If you want to be built up with another brother, you both had better be prepared to suffer. We were begotten through the Lord’s resurrection, but for us to be practically built up in the church life, we need the fellowship of the Lord’s sufferings.
Being Conformed to His Death
The final aspect that we experience after we determine to know Christ is being conformed to His death. What is death? When someone is dead, he is at rest – he has no opinions, he does not react, and he cannot protest. When a dead person is mistreated or misunderstood, he remains at rest. He does not protest. He doesn’t argue. He’s dead. Everything has been finished by the Lord. Everything is accomplished. Now we can be conformed to His death. Many years ago, we reacted to everything. Now we find that more and more we are being shaped to His death. This is wonderful.
So the Christian experience is something totally different than what we might have imagined when we first desired to know Christ. We thought we would become more and more victorious and prevailing. Instead, we find that Christ is our resurrection power in the midst of our experience of being depressed, oppressed, and suppressed. This organic power of resurrection then ushers us into the fellowship of the Lord’s sufferings for the Body’s sake. Yet in these sufferings there is the rest of the Lord’s death. We learn to hand everything over to God and to submit ourselves to Him.
To Lay Hold of Christ
Paul tells us he is pursuing Christ so that he might lay hold of Christ. In order to lay hold of Christ, he stretches forward to what lies ahead and drops whatever he may be holding on to. He was pursuing towards the goal of gaining Christ. It is easy to declare this if you have nothing much to leave behind. But Paul had been given much and had accomplished much in his life. And, could he forget about how he had seen Christ on the road to Damascus? Could he forget about how he had been taken up to the third heavens to see unspeakable things? (Even an astronaut who only sees the earth from space cannot forget that sight. How could Paul forget what he saw, for he was taken to the very highest point in the heavens?) We may declare we give up everything to gain Christ, but our “everything” and Paul’s “everything” may not quite match.