7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)
Our study through Philippians and Philippians 3 in particular has really given reason for me to do some personal evaluation. I hope that’s true for you as well. In part what I mean is that Paul uses language that is so sweeping in thought that we have to say, “Wait a minute, is this guy just being dramatic? Is he just being overly dramatic? Who talks like this?” And then I think, what I am reading is in God’s Word, and we know from 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” So given that, this is not just drama. It isn’t simply hyperbole, it is truth. Truth from God, truth given to help complete us, equip us for good works. God is communicating to us through Paul, using Paul’s experience, words that are communicating to us truth about Jesus Christ and His value, His worth, and they are for our sanctification.
It’s not simply one man’s perspective, but it is what should be our perspective as Christians. It shouldn’t be unusual or strange to talk like this. The Bible is not about simple personal experiences, it is about a story of redemption, and what redemption looks like in all of its grandeur for the people of God. This makes each story very useful for each one of us. So we can’t really say, “Oh, that’s just Paul, you know how he is,” or, “That’s just Peter.” It’s not about personalities but it’s about Christ and descriptions of Him and who He is and how we should view Him and live for Him. So if we’re tempted to say, “Well, I’ll never be like Paul,” remember it’s not about us being like Paul, it’s about us treasuring Christ. Paul is just a tool of God, a person who helps us to see what it means to really treasure Christ. I say all this, again, because of the shocking language that Paul uses in our passage this morning.
As you may recall Paul has described his position as a Jew, his accomplishments as a religious, very devout religious man, and how he counts them, all his accomplishments, as loss compared to knowing Christ. He named seven things that were dear to him, important to him, and he would have said of those seven things, prior to his salvation, that they defined who he was as a person. These were big things, big accomplishments, and he now looks at these seven things and sees them as loss as compared to Christ.
So take your heritage, three things you are proud of about your heritage, and then take your four biggest personal accomplishments, things you have been proud of. Could be your education, professional accomplishments, awards won for outstanding achievements, professional organizations that you may have the privilege of being a part of, intellect, the raising of fine children, success in whatever you imagine success to be, whatever you have accomplished. Can you take those things and say, “All of that is loss for the sake of Christ”? If you were stripped of all those things, whatever they are for you, would you be devastated? Sort of lost as a person? Or would you say, “Okay, losing those things changes nothing for me, because what’s important for me is belonging to Christ, and that can’t be taken away”?
That is what Paul is saying of himself and his works and accomplishments and what he is helping us to see with ours. That is what verse 7 is about when he uses the words, “But whatever gain I had.” This is past tense for him, he is referring back to his real heritage, his real work and accomplishments, those things he now sees as worthless, again as compared to Christ and the work of Christ.
But in verse 8 we see a shift, I want you to notice a shift in Paul’s words. Paul goes from calling his past into the light of what he knows now as the Gospel. What I mean is he has now come to Christ, and having come to Christ he can look at his pre-Christian days, his past and think, “Wow, all of that got me nowhere.” He goes from, almost like, trashing his past, as compared with knowing Christ. Then verse 8 says, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” He was speaking in the past tense naming his heritage and accomplishments specifically, to now adding to that everything even in the present. He moves to the present tense.
What this does is it enables Paul to move from his own story and specifics of his life to a full list that might touch any of our lives. He is saying, “Not only are my past accomplishments worthless for my righteousness, but anything I am doing now or may ever do are also of no value compared to knowing Christ.” Anything that might compete with our allegiance to Christ he says is loss. This is everything, all things that might encourage confidence in the flesh. All rivals of Christ are totally devalued by his statement.
Now we may sit back and say, “Well, I’m not like Paul. My heritage is not really that impressive, and I’ve not accomplished anything big really, so I can say for me all is loss, Christ is greater.” We may not think this is a big challenge. But wait, just dream a bit. What about all those things you wished you could have accomplished in life? What about all the relationship you have dreamed about? What about the power and prestige that would be yours if you could have it your way, all the riches? What if all your dreams really did come true? The perfect body, the perfect job, with the perfect family, the perfect lover, living in the perfect place, with the perfect friends, wealth unmeasured, everything that this world has to offer, all yours. Maybe like the rich young ruler that we read about in the New Testament, times one million. What then would you say? Would we say, “Yes, all of that, all of it loss, as nothing, worthless compared to knowing Christ.” Could we say, “In fact for me, giving it all away, giving it all up for the sake of Christ, I would gladly give it up”?
The crux of the question is, where do we hold Christ in our hearts and minds compared to what’s ours or perhaps what could be ours? I know some would say, “Well, I can have both, it’s not like Jesus is saying give everything away and live with nothing, begging on the streets.” We don’t see that in the Bible, not in that way, but the point is one of the heart. And this is where we have to be honest with ourselves. We do see real examples of people giving all. The disciples who walked away from their careers. We may sit back and think, “Big deal, they were poor fishermen.” But it was their careers, it was a big deal to them! Zacchaeus giving up his riches, Nicodemus giving up all his power, prestige, and place in life, John the Baptist living in the wilderness, Daniel and his friends willing to give up their lives, and Paul doing all he did as we have read. In each of these cases, what do we see? We see heart attitudes that resulted in practical acts which communicated that nothing compares to God, nothing compares to Jesus Christ, not money, not power or position, not comfort or health. That God the Father and God the Son rise above it all, they are incomparable to everything else. When that is not happening, we call that idolatry.
In Isaiah 40-48 we have many pictures of the incomparable God. The people of God, His chosen people were having severe problems with idolatry. It’s really ugly reading about their idolatry. Not much has changed, has it? They had real problems with elevating things to positions where they didn’t belong. Elevating desires in their minds that ranked above God. They were having a really hard time seeing God as greater than anything else. In fact, they were placing many things before God, weighing what they knew, what they saw, what they loved, and saying in their hearts, “Yeah, I’ll treasure this thing or that thing over God.” They weren’t saying it out loud, but that’s what they were doing.
The primary problem with idolatry is that it always minimizes God. It is spiritual adultery. The fundamental heart problem of all human beings is idolatry, the worship of something other than God. As we place desires for whatever, for peace, prosperity, pleasure, praise of man, as objects of our lust, we in essence demand that circumstances and things bring us these benefits. In other words we worship them. As we worship them we are desiring people and things to bring us peace, prosperity, pleasure, praise, and comfort, thus making out gods for ourselves. So Isaiah spends many chapters shedding light on the true God as the one who is unmatched in wisdom, power, and comfort.
It’s our dependence on the things of this world and even relationships that can be idolatrous. And so what Paul does is he finds the biggest bucket he can find, big enough to hold everything imaginable that might ever compete in our minds with God – that is a really big bucket – and he puts all of those things in it, anything that we may say we can’t do without, that may compete with the value of Christ, and of those things he says, “I count them as loss.” What gives you comfort and security? Can you put them in that big bucket, give those things to the Lord? What is it that gives you the most pleasure in life? What is it that calms your anxious heart? What are we going after that we think we can’t live without? We don’t need those things, or to rely on them, because they’re passing away, and because we have Christ.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 3:8)
Now, I think we may get hung up here with this radical sort of thinking because of a struggle with the middle part of verse 8. Paul could count as loss all of those things that most of the world treasures because he was discovering something really important. Or to ask it as a question, “How could Paul count as loss all of the things that most of the world would say are of great value?” He could because he found something of even more value. He was beginning to understand that Jesus Christ was worth so much more. Because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ, he could count all other things as loss.
Sometimes we may view the Christian life as just giving up a bunch of stuff and we forget about the gain. We may just think of what I have to give up. I had that view as a kid. It’s like to be a Christian you couldn’t do this or that, all the fun stuff that everyone else did. It was about giving up whatever made life interesting or exciting. I remember sitting in church as a kid and the preacher got up and started talking about a new TV program that was about to air on one of the major networks, and this TV program had some very bad stuff in it morally. Many people were, and should have been, upset over the content this show would contain. But for me, I can remember thinking that morning, “Oh great, there is one more thing I can’t do as a Christian. Everyone else is going to be watching but me. I hope my parents aren’t paying attention. Here we go, giving up something else.” This is so wrong, wrong thinking! The Christian life is not all about giving up what pleases us, it is about gaining Christ Jesus. And what Paul says is he counts everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord.
What he was gaining was huge compared to what was now loss. He is stating that the quality or value of knowing Christ exceeds and surpasses all other alternatives. It’s hard to get that into our minds because we love things. But His surpassing worth far outweighs the value of anything else! So if you have a scale, and on one side is knowing Christ Jesus, and on the other side is everything else imaginable, the scale tips decisively with the worth of Christ.
This is what Paul is trying to communicate, it’s what he wants us to know. For him, knowing Christ changed the way he viewed everything. It had to, it must have, in order for him to make these new evaluations about both his past and now his present. This is how Paul could sit in a jail cell, or chained to a Roman guard, how he could be removed from his friends, the comforts of life and freedom, and say, “I can rejoice in this! Take my freedom, my comforts of life, my daily interaction with friends, my ministry as I had known it, take them away and I can rejoice. Why? Because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.”
This doesn’t mean that life is not sometimes hard, and we have to just pretend it’s not. This doesn’t mean that we don’t hurt and struggle. We see Paul struggle in Romans 7 with sin, in 2 Corinthians with circumstances, in Philippians with false teachers, in 2 Corinthians with physical ailments, in Acts 20 with the heartache of losing companionship, in Romans 9 severe compassion for the lost of his own race. He knew what it was to suffer and struggle. He was a man who felt and felt deeply, God made him that way and us that way, and yet in it all, in all our evaluation of life, there is One through whom we receive joy and comfort, that is through Christ, in knowing Christ.
Paul goes on to say this very thing: “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” In other words his suffering was real, but worth it. What he lost was real and had been things that were very important to him, but now in the face of reality, in the truth in which he now stands, with a clear look at Christianity and spiritual life, what had been important he calls rubbish, or to be more American, garbage.
What had Paul lost? Paul lost all the privileges and advantages of his coveted social standing, and his personal religious achievements. Because of his commitment to Christ he had forfeited these things and genuinely suffered the loss of them. While Paul was speaking theoretically about losing everything, he knew firsthand that following Christ caused him loss of position and prestige. But what we don’t see is a man moping and saying, “Woe is me for my loss,” or living in regret, but instead saying that was all rubbish, garbage anyway because I gained Christ!
As I wrap up here, I want to be sure that we are not overly focused on the man Paul. I would hate for us to walk away simply thinking we know more about Paul now or just that we are more informed about him and his outlook on life, what he believes. What we need to do is simply say, “What about me? Where do I stand in relation to the value of Christ Jesus in my life vs. other things I may value? I realize some of the things we talked about this morning may seem like a foreign language. I mean I said earlier, who talks this way, who lives this way? If we are honest we may say, “You know, there are some things I hold very dear and I may struggle with saying I can’t live without them even if I have Christ Jesus.” It may be something we may think is good or it may be sin we are holding on to. But in any case, holding anything above Christ is a problem.
So how do we change? How do we get where Paul is, to where we can say, “Jesus is everything, and all else in comparison is garbage”?
Paul, since we are looking at his life, Paul was consumed with Christ Jesus. He was very intentional about being consumed with Christ. When he spoke of his circumstances he always brought Christ into the picture. When he spoke of his relationships, he brought Christ into them. When he spoke of his trials, Jesus was there. When he reprimanded sinners, Jesus Christ was central. When he was discouraged, Jesus was near to his heart and he spoke of Him.
Think of this: when we say, “I’m just not, in my mind, I just don’t normally think about the high value of Christ, but I have no problem thinking highly of other things.” Why is that? Try this: whatever you hold in high regard, a person or something else, begin to record how much time you spend thinking about it, whatever it is. Many times we find that it’s no wonder we hold many things in higher regard than the Lord because we spend all our time on it, thinking on it, meditating on it, thinking how we can make it better, and very little if any time meditating on the worth, the work, the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Daily, minute by minute, are we thinking about Him? Where are our minds in regard to Christ? Where is He in your circumstances, relationships, struggles, and trials? Are we spending time understanding who we are now in Him? Where we would be without Him? Meditating on His reign, His power, His compassion, His love, His grace, His perfections, His eternality, even His wrath? If we’re thinking about all His qualities then won’t we begin to make much of Him and right our perspective?
We can go through a week, can’t we, when we have thought so little of Christ that it’s as if He does not even exist? If we do that, a million other things can seem more important than our Savior. Paul didn’t let that happen. I’m not promoting some self-help, that we just think hard and get our minds straight and Christ will be elevated. There is some work for us to do in our sanctification, but the great thing is that we don’t work that on our own. As believers we have the Spirit in us. As we begin to meditate on Christ, fix our minds on Him, and see Him in everything in life, then by the work of the Spirit we are drawn more closely to Him, we find more comfort, we treasure Him more than we ever have. He is faithful to do that in our hearts.
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-8)
The value of our Lord is incalculable. He is of infinite worth. Do we see Him that way?