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Knowing No Man, "After the Flesh"
By David A. DePra
For the love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Cor. 5:14-17)
There are some Truths wrapped up in this passage that are amazing. Some of them are obvious, but one that is often overlooked is wrapped up in Paul’s statement, "Henceforth know we no man after the flesh." What does that mean?
What makes this an even more interesting question is that Paul says, "We did know Christ after the flesh, but we don’t anymore." So what does it mean, "to know someone after the flesh," in the context in which Paul means it?
To know someone AFTER (or according to) the flesh means to first, discern them through YOUR flesh. And secondly – going hand in hand with this – is that you see only THEIR flesh, and not the real them, who is the new creation in Christ Jesus.
In this passage, Paul isn’t using the term, "the flesh," to indicative anything that is wicked or sinful. No. He is using the term, "the flesh," to stand for the NATURAL part of man – as opposed to the SPIRITUAL. We know this because of the contrast he makes between, "the flesh," and the new creation in Christ Jesus.
In the Bible, "the flesh," is a term that embodies the SELF LIFE. As such, it includes the natural dimensions of our being. And since the natural part of us is never saved during this life, that is why, "the flesh," is prone to evil. But nevertheless, God does want us to bring, "the flesh," or natural man, under the control of the Holy Spirit.
So, "to know someone according to the flesh," really means to know them from the perspective of my natural thinking – which would be to view them from the perspective of myself as the center of my universe. It would also mean that I know them based on their natural traits, personality, and fleshly characteristics. In other words, Paul is talking about relationships that exist fully in the NATURAL realm, rather than ones that are based on the new creation in Christ.
But Paul tells us that all of that is wrong – it is a wrong way of looking at things because of Jesus Christ. We are not the center of the universe. Christ is. And the REAL person we are, and the REAL person that someone else is, is NOT the natural man that we see, or think we see. No. The REAL person is found only in Christ Jesus.
The Real Us
The fact is, most of us know OURSELVES only, "according to the flesh." We think that this is who we really are. The Truth is: That is not the real us. It isn’t even the real us if we are UNSAVED. That might shock some people, but it is the Truth. And it is a Truth found all through the Bible.
In the final analysis, the REAL YOU is who you are in Christ Jesus – or to say it another way, the REAL YOU is who you are in relationship to HIM. Thus, despite the fact that we tend to view life from the perspective of SELF at the center of our universe – which is exactly what it means, "to know according to the flesh" -- that is all a lie. It is not seeing things according to the Truth. The only way to see the Truth is to see Jesus Christ, and to see things with HIM at the center of our universe. Fall short of that, and you see things – including yourself – from a completely wrong and distorted perspective.
When I say that we must see things from the perspective of Christ as the center, I am talking about a vision that is utterly FOREIGN to natural man. You and I have no clue what that really means until we begin to come into it. All that we know, and all that we have ever done is view life from the perspective of SELF. Thus, I am here talking about a perspective that is possible only through the new birth. And of course, this is exactly what Paul is getting at in this verse. He says, "Henceforth know we no man after the flesh….if any man is in Christ he is a new creation."
Paul says, "We used to know Christ after the flesh, but we don’t know Him that way any longer." Certainly this was true of the twelve apostles. If you read the gospels you will find that they continually interpreted Christ according to natural thinking. Indeed, most of the time they were really trying to use Him for their own goals. This came so natural to them that they didn’t even realize what they were doing. In fact, even after they confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, this thinking continued.
This is a lesson for us. Christians by the millions, "know Christ after the flesh." We operate from the position of SELF, and assume that this is the position from which God operates. So, if WE want something, surely GOD must want it. If WE feel a certain way about something, then certainly GOD must feel that way about it. Indeed, if we demand that something is true – whether it be doctrine, or simply a fact about another person – we assume that God agrees. It may never occur to some of us that every bit of this could be completely OUTSIDE of the Truth, and that we could be totally WRONG.
I don’t know if many of us catch the significance of this possibility in ourselves. It isn’t a matter of us plotting to get our own way with God. No. Rather, it is a matter of us doing what is NATURAL, and according to the flesh or self, and thinking that this is what it means to walk with God.
This tendency is so bad in some Christian movements that some, including leaders, eventually begin to attribute what they think, feel, and believe to the Holy Spirit in them. You hear statements like, "I feel this in my spirit," or, "the Holy Spirit is indicating to me, etc." Or, you might hear people simply give their opinions about something, based in pride and arrogance, without making any reference to the Holy Spirit. But in the end, for a Christian, it all goes back to the same problem: Knowing AFTER the flesh, and not after Jesus Christ.
It is entirely possible to walk entirely in the natural realm, but to think that the Holy Spirit is leading you. You can FEEL, and sense, and even have times of great elation – and yet ALL OF IT might nevertheless be in the natural realm. This is why experiences – or our interpretation of them – are never the guide for Truth. We must take all things back to the Bible. If it isn’t in there, it isn’t of God. Period. End of argument – no matter how REAL my experience seemed to be.
We must come to terms with the fact that an experience can be absolutely REAL, and yet absolutely WRONG. It is possible to have a real natural, psychic, or emotional experience – one that is profound and moving – and yet for it to have nothing to do with the Holy Spirit or the Truth. Bank on it. Cults have those, as do those who are in the occult. What is REAL is not the question. What is OF GOD is the question.
There is also the other side of the coin. It is entirely possible to reject ALL experience, because I’ve been taught to do so, and yet to do so purely on natural grounds. There are many churches today who claim that they are holding the line on the Bible. They say that they honor God’s Word and will not deviate from it for the sake of experience. That’s great. But the Bible affirms that Christianity, and much that God does, is an experience. So rejecting all experience is also dangerous. Indeed, doing so is nothing more than, "knowing Christ according to the flesh," in a passive way. It is nevertheless still not to know Him in Spirit and in Truth.
Human beings are capable of many REAL experiences in the natural part of our makeup. We are also capable of exalting our LACK of experience AS an experience – if you know what I mean. But if we aren’t careful, we can begin to mistake some of these possibilities for the Holy Spirit. The only safeguard, as I stated, is the Bible. But just as importantly, we must have an open and yielded heart before God. Otherwise, we are going to end up thinking that the center of God’s universe is US, and our perspective, instead of Christ. This is pride, and that will lead to deception.
Paul said we must come to know Christ, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. What this means is that we must no longer create God in OUR image – and then begin to live according to that image. No. We must allow God to reveal Christ TO US – and be set free by this Truth. It means that we must begin to develop God’s perspective – and allow God to tear down ours. In short, we must come to know the Truth. It all comes back to that in the end.
All of us are prone to knowing Christ, "according to the flesh," that is, of knowing Him as a product of OUR natural thinking, perception, and blindness. We create a Christ who fits either what we need, or one who fits our tendency to FEAR. But Truth is not the result of THINKING, reasoning, or coming to conclusions based on how I read Bible verses. Truth is not INFORMATION. And it is received only through REVELATION.
Paul actually tells us HOW to come to know Christ. He says, "We don’t know Christ after the flesh anymore." Why? "Because if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation." In short, Paul is giving a principle in this passage that is all through the Bible. That principle is this: The LIGHT about Christ is bound up in the LIFE of Christ in us. Therefore, if you want the LIGHT, the LIFE must be released.
This gets back to the fact that LIFE is not a THING. Neither is LIGHT a THING. Life and Light are a Person – the same Jesus Christ. They are the product of HIM being unfolded to us. Therefore, as Jesus Christ is increased in us – which is LIFE – the LIGHT or Truth about Him becomes clear.
Now, if all of this were a matter of INFORMATION, all we would need to do is study. But it isn’t INFORMATION. As I said, it is REVELATION. And to receive REVELATION requires not mere thinking – but a new creature. It requires an ongoing change and adjustment IN US. In short, if you want the LIFE, you must continually come under the power of the Cross, which will crucify your natural way of operating. The Cross will bring death to the SELF – which is natural man’s base of operation. And yet that DEATH will result in HIS LIFE in us being enlarged. And with HIS LIFE will come Truth and LIGHT.
This is all stated in our passage. Paul says, "He (Christ) he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
If you want to know Christ, you have to DIE IN HIM. And if you do, you will no longer live UNTO YOURSELF – which is that SELF principle – but you will live unto HIM. And THAT – Paul says – will make it possible for you to know Christ, not according to your flesh or self way of knowing – but it will make it possible to know Him according to the Truth. For you will be growing in your capacities as a new creation in Christ Jesus.
Just as it is impossible to know Christ in Truth if we know Him only according to the flesh, neither can we know others in Truth if we know them, "according to the flesh." If you haven’t noticed, there is essentially NOTHING about you that is objective. You really cannot step outside of yourself and view life, or view others, or view yourself. No. You view everything THROUGH yourself. We are, by nature, totally subjective creatures.
As I said earlier, this is the SELF-principle. We view everything through SELF. We judge it based on how it affects US. Therefore, if someone hurts us, we depreciate his or her value and establish that judgment as FACT. If they give us what we want, we increase their value. All things in the universe, we think, find their value and worth based on US as the standard.
Of course, all of this is deception. The REAL person is never who I think they are, if I am basing my evaluation on who they are to ME. The REAL person is who they are to God Himself. And because this is true, most often I cannot know the real person.
There are many examples of what it means to, "know someone according to the flesh." Certainly, this means to know them with MYSELF as the center of the universe, and them as one of the many revolving, "planets," around ME. We have already stated this, and likewise stated that we need to come to the place where we see that Jesus Christ is the center, and that ALL of us are to revolve around HIM. This is our fundamental need for adjustment. And the only way to come to it is if we allow God to actually, "put us in our place," as one of His many children. If we would do that, we would find freedom, Truth, and realize that everything God wants to give us comes only through this fundamental adjustment.
But there are other examples, too. For instance, it is possible to think that the REAL person is the personality of the person. There are people, believers and unbelievers alike, that have good temperaments and bad temperaments. If they have a good temperament, and are quite agreeable in personality, it is so easy to mistake this for Christ in them, for Christian character, or to assume that this means they are right with God. Likewise, if a person is saddled with a difficult temperament, and is often testy or in a bad mood, it is easy to condemn them as a bad Christian. We may think that they are not right with God, or that they have little Christian love. And yet all of this is simply, "knowing them after the flesh" – it is knowing them through OUR FLESH, and it is knowing them based on THEIR FLESH.
The fact is, the REAL person is never the personality we see. It is not the temperament we see, or the interaction we witness. That may have absolutely nothing to do with the real person – no matter how good it might be, or how bad it might be.
Now, it is possible that a person’s personality and temperament DOES manifest aspects of the REAL THEM. We know that. Some people who are in a bad mood all the time are in that bad mood because they are in a bad spiritual condition. And some folks who act loving are loving. But what I am saying is that if we think we have the right to judge others based on their personality, we are not only doing what Christ said not to do, but we don’t even have the facts at our disposal. What we see is NOT the real person – we are seeing them through SELF. And we are seeing the person THEY present – not the real THEM.
The real person is who they are in relationship to Jesus Christ. The rest – personality, temperament, and what seems to be character – are reflections. But often there is no way to know what these are a reflection OF.
For example, I have known people who have a great temperament. They get along with everyone. They are outgoing, and everyone enjoys being around them. You don’t feel threatened by them, and are at ease. Some seem to be able to handle even the difficulties of life with a smile. But then you discover that they are not believers. In fact, I have know a few folks like this who are agnostics, and even antagonistic towards God. If you talk to them about God, it is like pushing a really BAD button. But the point I’m making is that everything you see and know about the person I’m describing is, "according to the flesh." It has nothing to do with the REAL person – who is found only in Christ.
It is just as possible to know someone who is always tense, in a bad mood, or disagreeable. You don’t like being around them. It is just easier to avoid them. We might assume that his person could not possibly be a Christian, or certainly not a very good one. But what we might not know is that this person is hurting. Whether they are saved or not, they might be someone who is truly seeking God, but are going through terrible pressures. What we see is the reflection of that – their reactions to life. What we don’t know is what is going on in their hearts between them and God – which is the REAL person.
This is why some people claiming to be leaders in the Body of Christ can seem to be so loving, so charismatic, and so persuasive as to their teaching -- and yet be totally out of the will of God. Indeed, it is possible to be a complete heretic, but to come across as a person who knows what they are talking about, and as a person who would love you to death! This dichotomy is the result of knowing someone after the flesh, and not the REAL THEM. It is one reason we are to take all things back to scripture, and NOT to base things upon knowing people according to that flesh realm of personality.
Jesus has already told us NOT to judge. That is because we just don’t know. This doesn’t mean that right is not right, and wrong is not wrong. It doesn’t mean that when I am in a bad mood and act wrongly towards someone that it is acceptable – because that isn’t the real me. No. But it does mean that we usually cannot know what is going on between a person and God. Indeed, even THEY might not know what is going on between them and God. Or they may. But in the end, God wants us to know people, not according to THEIR flesh, nor according to OURS. He wants us to know them according to Christ.
"To know no man according to the flesh," is impossible unless we go back to what I said about knowing Christ Himself. I cannot know someone according to Christ until I begin to know Christ. It is impossible to stop viewing people according to the flesh until I stop viewing Christ according to the flesh. Otherwise, I will not only create Christ in my image, but I create others in my image. God wants us to view people, and life, through HIS eyes. And His eyes are Christ.
It may be a shock to some Christians, but you and I don’t know ourselves in Truth. Rather, we know ourselves, "according to the flesh." The self-image that we have created throughout our lives is NOT the product of the Holy Spirit. It is not the product of knowing Christ. Nope. It is the product of SELF and flesh. Only after we become new creations, and begin to know Christ, is there any possibility that we can know any Truth about ourselves.
You cannot use SELF as a standard by which you measure SELF. If you try, then the, "tape measure," you are using as your standard is inherently flawed. To measure SELF by SELF will always produce ridiculous results. Again – you can only know SELF by knowing Christ.
But we need to see what this means. I have said that we cannot know ourselves unless we know Christ. That is true. But that does not mean that the GOAL is to know yourself. No. The goal is to know Christ. Knowing yourself is simply a perspective that comes along with the package.
Our true identity is impossible to know without Christ because without Christ we don’t have a true identity. We see this if we go all the way back to Genesis 3. Before the sin, Adam was said to be, "naked and unashamed." After the sin, Adam was, "naked and ashamed." In-between these two conditions, he sinned. But the difference between them was not the NAKEDNESS. The difference was the SHAME. This difference was therefore caused by the sin. What does that mean?
Well, before Adam sinned, he was NAKED and UNASHAMED – and the Bible says that God made him that way, and that it was very good. To be NAKED means to have nothing in yourself as a resource for life and Truth. Adam was made stripped of these things – naked of them. But this was very good because God always intended man to be naked of those things. Why? Because God wanted to be those things IN US. Thus, when we read that Adam was both naked and unashamed, we see that he was COMPLETE IN GOD. He was naked if left to himself, but unashamed – because he was not left to himself. Rather, he was completed by God, and therefore unashamed, that is, he was not conscious of his nakedness. He was not conscious of any need. He was fully complete in God, by virtue of his relationship and oneness with Him.
Yet after the sin, Adam was still NAKED, but now he was ASHAMED. Why? Because he was no longer completed by God. So he was fully conscious of his nakedness and barrenness. He had separated himself from God and the result was that Adam became a creature with NOTHING in himself for life or Truth – but now also without God to complete him.
But what did Adam try to do about this terrible condition? Well, he tried to FIX IT. He sewed together fig leaves and tried to cover himself. This is such a picture of what man has been doing ever since. Because we are not completed by God in Christ Jesus, we remain naked, and absolutely tormented by it. And we try to use every conceivable device of flesh and self to cover it. We try to COMPLETE OURSELVES. And what you see in people is a reflection of it.
What human beings become in personality, and in their human spirit, and what they become morally, is often nothing more than the result of naked human being trying to cover that nakedness with fig leaves. In the end, so much of what we are is a defense mechanism against our true condition, and an attempt to protect ourselves from being exposed as naked and barren.
This is not big news. Everyone knows, for instance, that arrogant people are often the most insecure. And even if they are not insecure, it is only because they are convinced that their covering of fig leaves is an adequate one. Insecure people are guilty of the same attempt to cover their nakedness, except they don’t believe they have done a good job.
The bottom line is this: Every one of us is incomplete without Christ. We are not a whole person. We are naked, barren, and unless we turn to Christ, we are doomed to spend our lives sewing fig leaves to try to compensate for our nakedness, and doomed to trying to cover up the real us. Some of us are able to cover our nakedness with pleasant personalities. Others manage only to produce a bad temperament. Others use RELIGION and self-righteousness to cover our nakedness. But in the end, all of this is the FLESH. It is US doing for ourselves what only Christ can do. Indeed, it is us BEING for ourselves what only Christ can be IN US.
Christ alone can complete us. If we use anything else as a substitute we will never be complete – even if we think we are.
I once saw two chains and medallions in a store that many engaged couples buy to express their relationship to each other. Each medallion is half of the other. The thought is that each person is INCOMPLETE without the other, and wearing the half-medallion is suppose to express that. But this is a good picture of us and Christ – even though Christ is more than just our, "other half." The Bible says that Christ IS OUR LIFE. It says that we are to be FOUND IN HIM. It says that we are COMPLETE IN HIM.
You cannot know yourself unless you know Christ. You cannot know yourself unless your identity is found in and through Him. Now, the ramifications of this Truth are quite shocking. It actually means that until you and I come to that place, almost nothing we think about ourselves is the TRUTH!
I’m not sure we realize how freeing a statement like that is. It is an absolute fact that if you know yourself only according to the flesh, that you don’t know yourself according to the Truth. Sure, you may know some facts about yourself, and you may be right about whether some things you do are right or wrong. But you don’ know the REAL you unless you know Christ.
Only God can expose the real you TO you. And this is necessary to show us our need and bring us to Christ. One of the primary things that the Holy Spirit begins to do in a life is to expose us as naked and ashamed. We must be brought down to seeing this condition. But if that is ALL the Holy Spirit did do, we would have no options. It would be hopeless. Thus, what the Holy Spirit really does is show us Jesus Christ – and seeing Him is the reason why we are able to see ourselves as naked and barren. And yet, it is at that point that we are able to allow Him to, "peel off, " all of our fig leaves – if we will trust Him. And if we do, we will no longer be ashamed, for we will be completed in Him.
Unfortunately, today’s modern gospel of self-esteem teaches no need for us to be exposed as naked. Rather than teach the necessity of God peeling off our fig leaves, and the necessity of God to expose our nakedness before Him – in order to bring us to the Cross in repentance – much modern teaching suggests that our covering of fig leaves is just fine. In fact, some are even teaching that it is, "how God made us." No. No matter how nice a covering of fig leaves I have, or how ugly it may be, it is ALL OF THE FLESH. It is all a man-made covering that I have fashioned in reaction to life, and in reaction to the fact that I have no life in me. It is that even though I have never realized it. The solution is not to ADD Christ to my covering of fig leaves, as many of these modern teachings suggest. The solution is to crucify the flesh and the SELF, so that I can be fully covered and completed by Jesus Christ.
It actually ought to be a great freedom to realize that I cannot know the Truth about myself unless I know Jesus Christ. It ought to be a freedom to realize this because it means that I can make my goal KNOWING CHRIST. I don’t have to try to FIX the old creation. I don’t have to try to COVER it with fig leaves. I don’t have to try to make myself presentable to God so that He will cover me. No. I need to stand naked before Him and confess what I am without Him. Then I can receive the grace of God and become complete in Christ.
Paul is talking about two realms – one of flesh and one of Spirit. These two realms do not overlap. There is a chasm between them that is so wide that it is breached only through DEATH and RESURRECTION.
Paul is saying, "You and I have known everything – ourselves, others, the world around us, and even Christ – after the flesh. We have interpreted it fully through our SELF life. But this is not the will of God. He wants us to no longer live for ourselves, or to walk with our SELF life as the engine that runs our life. Rather, He wants us to live with Christ as the center of our universe – to live for Christ." Paul then tells us how this is made possible. He says, "If any man is in Christ, he is a NEW CREATION. Old things are passed away. All things are become new."
Paul is not talking about getting a new religion, or about finding out about doctrines. He is talking about BECOMING a creature other than the one who were born AS – and the result will be to know after the Spirit – as God knows – rather than according to the flesh.
Of course, we know from other passages that Paul affirms that even though the new birth as a new creation is all at once, that the process of coming into the realities of it take a life time. You are never going to be finished with the process, and always prone to seeing things from the SELF perspective. And in this age, we will not shed personalities and temperaments. Rather, we are to come to manifest the Christ who is in us THROUGH them.
The Eternal Ages
Have we realized that the REAL US is all that is going to pass through death and be with God for all eternity? That which is of the flesh IS flesh, and that which is of the Spirit IS Spirit. Thus, who we are TO GOD, and who God is TO US, is what is eternal. The rest is going to be shed through physical death and resurrection.
For no other foundation can any man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. (1 Cor 3:11-17)
So what this means is this: The real you is eternal. And what is of CHRIST IN YOU is eternal. All of that will pass into eternity. But those dimensions of you that are of the flesh – whether they be pleasant and agreeable, or the opposite – are not eternal. They are not going to pass into the eternities. They will be figuratively burned up – for they are not of Christ.
This ought to be both good news, but also a sobering thought. It is good news because you will no longer be saddled with damaged emotions, or a difficult temperament. It is good news because you will be FREE of all that is not of Christ. But it is sobering because this ought to tell us that if we are placing any confidence in those things of the flesh we are deceived. They are not the real us. They are of the flesh and they are going to be burned up.
There is more. It also tells us that if we harden ourselves and take ownership over the things of the flesh – whether the issue be sin or simply religious flesh – that the REAL us will be a person who has taken ownership over them. The REAL us will be – not the thing of the flesh itself – but the real us will be a person who has married himself to them. And since they are going to be burned up, and will not pass into the eternal ages, then we are going to suffer LOSS. We will have invested ourselves in the things of the flesh, rather than in Christ. What a waste!
As Paul says in the above passage, if Christ is in us, we will still be saved. But because we have built upon Christ with perishable things – of the flesh – these things cannot survive.
Again – the REAL US is the person we are IN CHRIST. The real us is not our human personality, or our brain power, or our emotions, or our SELF. No. We are complete only in Christ. In Him alone do we find our true identity -- God never intended it to be possible any other way.
Have we recognized what God has given us? He gives us, not a THING called eternal life, but He gives us HIMSELF through His Son. He wants to be in us, and be seen through us. But in order for this to be possible, God cannot simply ADD Christ to us on top of our covering of fig leaves. No. We need to be set free from the fig leaves by the Cross.
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house that is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. (2 Cor. 5:1-5)
It is through Jesus Christ that we come to see all things through Christ. It is through Him that we put on our new tabernacle – one that will eventually be our eternal dwelling place in Him. It is through Christ that we come to see all things, not according to the flesh, but according to HIM.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Cor 13:12)
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