THAT I MAY KNOW HIM
Philippians 3:7-16 Princeton Christian Church 16 May 2021
Summary: Paul wrote to Timothy, "I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day." There is a great difference between knowing about God, and knowing God. Paul knew the one to whom he trusted all.
I. Is It Possible For Us in our Humanity To Know God?
2 Tim 1:11-12 NIV …of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
What had Paul entrusted to God? His labors and suffering—to be brought forth in the day of judgment? Paul placed everything in the care and keeping of the one who has the greatest concern for the care and keeping of his interests.
Think about it--what have you or I entrusted to God with confidence that he will guard it until we stand in judgment? That is a subject for another message on another day. But, here, Paul KNEW the one he believed and was convinced of God’s ability to guard what he had entrusted to him. Paul prayed that his readers would know God.
Ephesians 1:17-18 (ESV) Paul prayed: “…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,”
But how can anyone know God? God is a different kind of being than humans, with a very different kind of existence.
Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 55:8-9: “...my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
A. Is it possible to know an eternal God? How can our finite mind grasp the infinite? What, for example, lies beyond outer space? How can we, being earthbound, visualize heaven except in terms of earthbound things? How can we, being time-bound, grasp eternity, except in terms of time?
Solomon said God's works are incomprehensible. Eccl 8:17 “…then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.”
Eccl 11:5 - “As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.”
Many people today claim that they are agnostic. An agnostic is a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality of God is unknown, and most likely can never be known. Overall, agnostics are not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God. I guess you could say they are “sitting on the fence” never making a commitment either way. I have found that a large majority of self-proclaimed agnostics are people who work in the area of entertainment, the sciences, and such.
Let’s look at the statements of a couple of actors regarding their religious beliefs.
I'm probably 20 percent atheist and 80 percent agnostic. I don't think anyone really knows. You'll either find out or not when you get there, until then there's no point thinking about it.
I love the idea of God, but it's not stylistically in keeping with the way I function. I would describe myself as an enthusiastic agnostic who would be happy to be shown that there is a God. I can see that people who believe in God are happier. My brother is. My dad is, too. But I doubt.
Agnosticism is popular today. It is one of those “trending” things. I am always a bit leary when I hear of something begin “trendy”. In my mind, that tells me that it is something that seems real and very vital in someone’s life, but in time it will fade and another trendy fad will take its place.
In that thought system of agnostism you don’t have to commit yourself or entrust anything to God. It is a common belief, but, as I said before, it is trendy.
B. So, we come to a question: Who Is God?
In addition to agnosticism, another popular approach is to “Build Your Own God” (kind of like ordering a “build-your-own pizza”). We can easily convince ourselves we know God, if we supplement any knowledge we have with our imagination, and build God in our minds, basing it on our desires for the way that we want God to be, instead of the other way around. If it serves our purposes and appetites to think of God in a certain way, we are more likely to define God in that way so he will mesh with our purposes. In this way, we manufacture our own God, adapted to our own value judgments of what God ought to be. We expect the God we build to pass our approval, or He will not be God. And then we would go on and create another god who caters to all our whims.
Building your own god is what idolatry is. Oprah Winfrey once said to someone in her audience: “My God would never send anyone to hell.” It is clear to see here that she has created her own god. Now, of course, God does not desire for anyone to go to hell. But hell is where God is not, and cannot ever be. Hell is the result of a choice to go where God is not. So those who are destined for hell are not those God sends there, but those who never come to where God is.
C. God is who he is, no matter how we perceive him. I AM WHO I AM
• God identified himself as I AM (Exodus 3:14)
• Moses said “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
• Moses said “our God is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24, also quoted by the author of Hebrews)
• Moses said simply, “Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God.” (Deuteronomy 7:9)
• Moses said “the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords.” (Deuteronomy 10:17)
• Jesus told the woman of Samaria, “God is Spirit.” (John 3:24)
• In John’s first epistle, he wrote, “God is light.” (1 John 1:15)
• Later in the letter, John wrote “God is love.” (1 John 4:8), and said further, “The one who does not love does not know God.”
Rather than being a chameleon which changes his color to match his surrounding, God acts powerfully in our interest, but in his own way. Even with these identifiers, do we know God as he wants to be known?
D. Someone might say: Maybe if we could see God, then we could know him.
1 Timothy 6:16 “the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.…who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
God told Moses, “No one can see me and live (Exodus 33:20) Job, however, expected to see God (Job 19:26-27a): “And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh, I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself…” There is the realization that we will see God – in His time.
Jesus says: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”. (Matt 5:8) God is seen in a different way than we see one another. God is seen by the eye of faith.
E. Someone might say “I have some questions for God.” Or, “If God would answer my questions.” Or, ”If I could talk to God, and ask him questions, and he would answer my questions, then I would know him.”
Job wanted to question God. In Job 31:35-37 (NASB) “Oh that I had one to hear me! Behold, here is my signature; Let the Almighty answer me!” Job’s only offense in his entire story was to call on God for an answer. Job wanted to KNOW WHY God was causing or allowing all this suffering.
F. Someone says, “I just want to understand God.” There is a difference between understanding all of God's thoughts and actions, and knowing God. Consider that is this light. I live with my wife whom I know a lot about. Sometimes, even after nearly 60 years of being together, I still do not understand her. But I love her and trust her. Is there any man who will claim to always understand his wife? Or, a wife, her husband? You do not have to understand your wife, or husband, to know her or him and love her or him. You do not have to understand God to know God. Understand him we cannot. Know him, we can.
Ancient Athens was the world’s center of knowledge, understanding, and philosophy. The philosophers in Athens could not understand God, so they made an inscription on the Acropolis, “To the unknown God.” They did not understand God through philosophy. They considered him unknown and probably believed he was unknowable.
In Paul’s day, agnosticism existed. Those who followed that path spoke with Paul about their curiosity. Paul spoke to them on a rocky place known as Mars Hill. What he said is recorded in Acts 17:22-23:
“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To the unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
God can be known, and in a few minutes of speaking, Paul made God known to the Epicurean & Stoic philosophers. Vs 24-31 of Acts 17. Knowing God is not an academic or philosophical exercise.
G. Knowing God is the pivot point for where we will spend eternity. 2 Thess 1:7b-8 “…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
II. Knowing About God vs. Knowing God
A. We may become very accomplished at knowing doctrine and being able to spot false teaching. We may inquire into the deepest meanings and truths of the Christian faith. All very fine—yet interest in theology, and knowledge about God, and one’s capacity to think clearly and talk well on Christian themes, is not at all the same thing as knowing him. There is a difference between knowing some, or even knowing a lot, about God, and knowing God.
B. • Eve knew about God, and she sinned. The serpent took advantage of her knowing a little about God, but not knowing God. • Pharaoh knew something about God because he watched as God brought plagues on Egypt. Pharaoh knew about God, but didn’t know God, and rebelled at God’s command. Moses knew God. • The Canaanite nations knew about God and fought Joshua and the Israelites to keep the land God determined to give to them. They knew about God. Joshua knew God. • Nebuchadnezzar knew about God because he saw that Shadrach, Meschech, and Abednego were saved in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:28-29). The three Hebrews knew God and did not fall down and worship the gold image. • King Darius knew about God because Daniel, in the lions’ den, was saved from the mouths of the lions (Daniel 6:25-26).
C. Darius knew something about God. Daniel knew God and did not obey the king’s decree to pray to no one but himself. Daniel knew God. He would rather die than not pray. • The scribes and Pharisees had a vast knowledge about God, but received a severe rebuke from Jesus because they could have known God himself, but chose to rivet their attention on things they supposed were about God.
D. We must not presume, then, that knowing much about God, although that,
in itself, is a worthwhile pursuit, necessarily means that, by virtue of that knowledge, one knows God.
B. Let us also consider our motive as we set out to educate ourselves about God. If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is likely to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject matter will puff us up, and we will think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in the science of knowing about God. We will look down on those whose theological ideas seem wrong to us, and think of them as poor Christians. For, as Paul told the conceited Corinthians, “Knowledge puffs up. . . The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.”
Knowledge about God can be pursued for selfish purposes. We may become “showboaters” as we hold it over others who we think know less.
C. This is not to say that ignorance about God is an advantage to knowing him. Ignorance of God, or a false idea of who he is, is, in fact, a barrier to knowing God. In fact, we can easily convince ourselves we know God, when our knowledge is fragmentary or flawed.
• If we look at God through the wrong end of a telescope we will see a pigmy God, not very large or powerful in the things that matter to us.
• If we look at God as from a great distance we will see a remote God, detached from any relevancy to ourselves.
• If we look at God as a partitioned part in the universe we will see him as having questionable or borderline relevancy to the “real world,” which is what we think “our” universe is.
He will be “walled off” from parts of our lives where we think he has no business and is unwelcome.
These distorted views present a very trainable god, who conforms to our wishes but does not meddle when we want to be left alone.
D. We must gain knowledge about God to know him at all. We must know what we can learn about God to know God. But we have seen that--though related--the two are different. Knowing about God may or may not lead to knowing him.
If we do not know the things Paul taught the philosophers in Athens, we will be like the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers on Mars Hill, and either worship or ignore an unknown God. Or like today’s agnostics, say that God is unknowable. We may learn a lot about God by studying his attributes.
• His deity• His unchangeableness• His majesty• His wisdom and omniscience• His truthfulness • His faithfulness• His love• His power• His eternal nature• His goodness and severity• His jealousy• His wrath• His grace
Knowledge of who God is and what can be known of his attributes is a wonderful and profitable pursuit, as long as the acquiring of that knowledge doesn’t in itself become the end, like those Paul wrote about in 2 Tim 3:7, who were: …always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth”. Knowledge about God is a start, but it rots on the vine if it does not lead us to a true knowledge of God himself. Our aim in studying God’s attributes must be more than to learn a list of attributes, but to know God himself better.
Our concern must be to deepen our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrines of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are. We must seek, in studying things about God, to be led to God himself.
III. We Must Know Jesus to Know God
Jeremiah foresaw a time that everyone could know God. We live in that time.
Jeremiah 31:34 “No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
What was God talking about, saying they shall all know me? Jesus. Jesus would make the difference. It was to be a very different kind of covenant from the one made at Mt. Sinai. He did not mean there was literally to be no teaching, but that God would not be known by studying volumes of information apart from Christ. God would be known by Christ himself, who is God revealed.
A. God is best known through Jesus Christ. Jesus said: To have seen Jesus is to have seen God. John 14:6-9a: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him." Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”.
1 John 5:20 NASB – “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life…”
…leading Paul to say, “I count everything loss...the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord...” (Phil 3:8-9)
B. Knowing God is not Dependent on High Intellect (from the least to the greatest). Knowing God involves learning, but knowing God is not first and foremost an intellectual pursuit. Thank God for the early church fathers, and others down through the ages who had exceptional minds, who have captured wonderful, illuminating thoughts about God, blessed with a gift for expressing them well. But I do not know God because of those great minds.
A person with modest intellect and education is at no disadvantage, and in fact, may know God as intimately, or more so, as a professor with advanced degrees in theology, considered an authority in biblical studies.
In Psalm 19:7 David said: “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple”. Jesus said, "unless you … become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven”. (Matt 18:3)
The Psalmist is writing about babes and children, not in years, but in understanding, to whom God is pleased to reveal the truths of his Gospel when he hides them from the wise and learned.
Though we can’t see God, ask him questions, or no matter how much we study him, can’t understand him – Knowing God is a priceless treasure!
Romans 11:33 KJV - O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out”!
Let us say as Paul wrote in Phil 3:10-12 (NIV):
“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”.
That treasure can be yours.