To Know Only Christ

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For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Cor 2:2 NIV

There is a song, “None of Self and All of Thee,” which begins with the idea that a person without Christ has “all of self, and none of Thee” and that there is then a gradual progression of growth and experience in knowing Christ to “some of self, and some of Thee” and then “less of self, and more of Thee” until finally, triumphantly, there is “none of self, and all of Thee.” Is the intended message, and the goal of Christian faith, simply to be more like Jesus, to put Jesus first, or… the annihilation of self?

The annihilation of self is not a Biblical doctrine, and is truly foreign to the Christian message. Jesus taught that the greatest possible personal tragedy is to lose one’s self (Luke 9:25). In Biblical terms personality needs to be trained and restrained in a godly way, but not abolished. Jesus did invite us to “take my yoke upon you and learn of me” (Matt. 11:29) but he does not say that if anyone comes after me he must deny himself, take up my cross and follow me, rather Jesus says that if anyone comes after him he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus (Matt. 16:24). To follow Jesus, you have your own cross to bear. Each of us has his own cross to bear, unique to our own life and circumstances and personality. I have a cross to bear, if I am to be a disciple of Jesus, but it is my own cross, for as his follower, I am still me.

Some religions advocate the abolition of self in something infinite as the greatest possible good (look up “nirvana”). The Christian scriptures though teach that the discipline of self in conscious imitation of Christ is the highest goal, wh poets and natural observations, to introduce them to the concept of God the creator and his son Jesus Christ. The episode won a few people over (Acts 17:34), but the effort was not a tremendous success. In Corinth, still among the Greeks, Paul chose quite a different approach, and stuck to it with determination, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” In the verses before and after 1 Cor. 2:2 Paul describes the problem humans have in approaching God, the Jewish appetite for signs and wonders, and the Greek preoccupation with wisdom. Paul resolved to concentrate on presenting a focused and unified message, without distraction, that of Christ and him crucified. The goal was “that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Cor. 2:5)

In becoming a Christian himself, Paul had determined that his greatest need, his greatest desire, his greatest satisfaction, was in knowing Christ. What else could he possibly present with equal effect, with similar zeal and determination, in his preaching and teaching among the Corinthians?

Paul also wrote, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Phil 3:7-11 NIV

Paul’s greatest treasure had become his knowledge of and relationship with Jesus Christ. “I want to know Christ…” was the goal that exceeded all other goals and put all other desires into a new perspective.

Paul was in good company in this desire. Though Moses initially resisted God’s will for his life (Exodus 4:13), once he saw the grace and power of God in practice, his own greatest desire was to know the LORD (Exodus 33:12-33) and see his glory. Moses understood too that to know God and enjoy his favor began with learning His ways (Exodus 33:13). Moses exposure to God created an appetite in him for a stronger relationship, as David would later observe, “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” (Psalms 34:8 NIV and see 1 Peter 2:2-3)

David himself was certainly in the company of those who knew the value of knowing the LORD. David’s greatest advice to Solomon was – “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever. …” (1 Chron 28:9 NASU)

When Moses sought to know God, he was empowered by his quest and became the man God wanted him to be, one of the greatest leaders in all history. Solomon was bold, courageous and successful when he followed his father’s instructions to know God and serve him wholly, and his kingdom and influence grew beyond measure during that time in his life. Likewise, Paul found power in the knowledge of Christ, and he based his preaching in Corinth in that power alone (1 Cor. 2:1-5).

We can’t, like Paul, resolve to know nothing but Christ and him crucified in our teaching and preaching unless we in fact know him. We can know him, Paul says, and there is a process by which this relationship comes about. Paul wrote, “You, however, did not come exemplify to others, all nations for all time, that we can all truly know Christ even though we didn’t walk beside him in Galilee or hear him in Jerusalem. Paul came to know Christ after Jesus was glorified, and so can we. Knowing Christ became the best thing in his life, the thing at the core of all his other choices. We too should aspire to know Christ personally, learning of him, communing with him, talking about him.

There is no doubt that each person’s behavior, speech, and very thoughts are affected by the friends they are in company with. Knowing Jesus as a constant friend also affects everything about us, certainly including our courage and our boldness. Is he a friend we know? He wants to be. He claimed the reputation of being a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matt. 11:19) and identified himself as a friend to his disciples (John 15:13-14). He is willing to be a friend to sinners and have them become his disciples today, and we can know him if we will.

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2 NIV)

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