At the end of World War I, General Pershing sent word to the troops in Europe announcing a victory parade through the streets of Paris. There were two requirements for the soldiers to qualify to march in the parade: They had to have a good record; and, they had to be at least 186 centimeters tall.
Word came to one company of American soldiers and the excitement built about how great it would be to march in that victory parade. Being Americans, no one knew for sure just how tall 186 centimeters was. But the men began comparing themselves, lining up back to back to see who was the tallest. The taller men in the company were ribbing the shorter ones, “Too bad for you, Shorty! We’ll think of you when we’re in Paris!”
Then the officer came to find out if there were any candidates for the parade. He put the mark on the wall at 186 centimeters. Some men took one look at the mark and walked away, realizing that they weren’t even close. Others tried, but fell short by a small amount. Finally, the tallest man in the troop stood up to the mark and squared his shoulders. But he discovered that he was a quarter of an inch shy of the mark (6’ 1/2”). When those men compared themselves with themselves, some thought they were tall enough to qualify. But when the standard came, it proved that none qualified.
It is commonly thought that the way to get into heaven is by being a good person. People who believe that compare themselves with others and think, “I’m good enough because I’m better than my no-good neighbor who drinks beer and watches sports on TV every Sunday. I usually go to church; I don’t get drunk (at least not on Sunday); I don’t gamble (sure, I buy an occasional lottery ticket, but I don’t gamble as much as he does). I don’t hit my wife (we yell a lot, but I’ve never hit her!). I pay my taxes (well, at least most of what I owe; nobody declares everything!).” That’s the way people justify themselves and convince themselves that they’re going to get to heaven. They compare themselves with others and figure that they’re in the top half that’s going to make it.
That’s the problem with trying to get to heaven by our own goodness. We compare ourselves with one another, and we don’t realize that we fall far short of God’s standard, which is perfection.
Paul states in Romans 3:23 that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Or, as he puts it in Galatians 2:16, “by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.”
Here in Philippians 3 Paul has been arguing that if anyone could put confidence in the flesh, he would be the perfect candidate. He had an impeccable pedigree and a stellar record of behavior. In every way he was head and shoulders above everyone else.
But through the Damascus road experience, Paul had come to recognize that as tall a moral stature that he was, he did not measure up to God’s standard of perfection. Paul came to realize that all of those things that he was relying upon to get him to heaven were absolutely worthless. So he threw them all on the trash heap in order to embrace Jesus Christ alone as his Savior.
Here is how Paul states this re-evaluation in Philippians 3:7-11
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.
Paul took all those trophies of his past pedigree and performance that once showed up in his profit column, and one by one he gave them up and threw them in the garbage heap.
Why? Because in Christ he had found something worth losing everything for. In Christ Paul had found what was of infinite worth, what really counted.
Paul came to see and savor Jesus Christ as a greater treasure of joy than all these other accolades and accomplishments.
Everything pales in light of Christ’s greatness and worthiness. Jesus is the treasure chest of holy joy so that over everything else we write “LOSS.”
Paul came to realize that everything that he had once thought made him spiritually rich, only bankrupted him spiritually. So he took them out of the profit column and put them in the loss column. He took his trophies off the shelf where he once proudly displayed them and now threw them on the garbage heap.
In a flash Paul struck off everything in the credit column and inserted it in the debit column. Christ alone stands in the credit column. The apostle’s language is explicit because “gain” is in the plural and “loss” is in the singular. One by one the apostle had carefully added up the cumulative benefit of all the individual items of merit as he looked to the judgment. They were real pluses. But in a blinding moment they became one great singular loss.
Paul had the experience that Jesus talked about in Matthew 13:44:
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
In verse 8 Paul says that he now considers “everything to be loss,” not merely those things he had accomplished, but absolutely everything. Nothing matches the supremacy and desirability of having Christ. Paul had now found something of “surpassing greatness,” of infinite value, of colossal worth to him. And that allowed him to give everything up.
Paul had not always viewed Christ as having “surpassing greatness,” and, I would guess, neither did we. Paul had viewed Jesus as “accursed” by God for having died on the cross—at best a moral man and a troubling teacher.
I don’t know how you viewed him, but it is not until you see Jesus in “surpassing greatness,” as all supreme, all sufficient, that you will be willing to discount all other advantages and accomplishments (indeed all other pleasures and treasures) that you will come to the cross and give them ALL up for the sake of Christ.
In that moment that Paul came to the realization that all he had depended upon before was WASTED and that in Christ was the life that COUNTED, he was transformed.
Who else, besides that brilliant Pharisee now transformed by his encounter with Christ, could so well explain the mistakes we make about our salvation and the truth that they must embrace?
Who else could describe with such sympathy the attractions of systems of self-salvation and, at the same time, their fatal flaws?
Who else could recommend so winsomely and persuasively the good news of eternal life though faith in Jesus Christ?
Who could better explain the infinite distance that separates one’s own works from the work of Christ?
As one poem states:
Upon a life I did not live
Upon a death I did not die;
Another’s life, another’s death,
I stake my whole eternity.
Paul never imagined, before his conversion, before he met Jesus Christ, that he would ever believe such a thing, still less that he would ever preach it to the nations.
And many people today are where Paul as before he became a Christian, depending upon their own efforts, trusting in themselves, comparing themselves favorably to others, but in reality falling far short of the standard of perfection that Jesus set.
Paul now chooses to count as loss those things that once were gain. Why? That he might have Christ.
Paul went on to emphatically explain why this was so: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (v. 8a). This statement is uniquely personal and looks back to Paul’s meeting the risen Christ on the Damascus Road. There the grace of the Lord Jesus found Paul the terrorist. And from that point Paul began a process of understanding, first in the house of Ananias and then in Tarsus and then during several years in Arabia (cf. Galatians 1:17, 18).
Now Paul’s understanding has become stunning because it is only here in Paul’s writings that we find the intensely personal “Christ Jesus my Lord.” This is the only place where Paul calls Jesus “my Lord.”
The wonder of this increases when we realize that the Philippian hymn of 2:6-11 climaxes with Jesus being given God’s name “Lord” (Yahweh), so that at the end “every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ [Messiah] is Lord [Yahweh], to the glory of God the Father” (2:11).
Here Paul made the astonishing claim that the same Christ is “my Lord” — the awesome Yahweh of Scripture was Paul’s Lord. No wonder all his credits slid to the debit column. He sees the “surpassing value” of Jesus as his Lord.
Paul had regarded his advantages over other people as what put him in an especially good position with God. However, he had come to realize that absolutely nothing apart from Jesus Christ’s work on the cross was of any value in his gaining God’s acceptance.
Paul here put a personal relationship with Jesus Christ at the very center of the Christian’s life. He joyfully accepted the loss of all other things for the greatness of this personal relationship.
In v. 7 Paul said that he counted; in this verse he said I also count. This first counting was at his conversion; the second – some 30 years later – was in his Roman prison. After all he had experienced, he still counted it worthy to give everything up for the sake of following Jesus.
As Spurgeon says…
“After twenty years or more of experience Paul had an opportunity of revising his balance-sheet, and looking again at his estimates, and seeing whether or not his counting was correct. What was the issue of his latest search? How do matters stand at his last stocktaking? He exclaims with very special emphasis, ‘Yea doubtless; and I [still] count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.’”
Not only had he mentally considered all things loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as his Lord, but he had actually suffered loss. Now, in the Roman prison, many privileges had been stripped from him. He was suffering for Christ.
Did he still value Christ? Of course he did!
In fact, Paul uses the term “rubbish” in verse 8 to describe all those accolades and accomplishments that he had once depended upon and been so proud of. He came to realize that no good works give us credit before God. In fact, as Isaiah 64:6 says, “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.”
Isaiah is speaking of our righteous deeds being like the menstrual clothes women used during their period, or we could liken it today to used toilet paper.
If our righteous acts are like polluted garments to God, how much more revolting must be our sins?
Paul uses the somewhat embarrassing term “rubbish,” which literally means “dung,” “waste,” “poop,” a dirty diaper, or it could refer to “table scraps.” In extrabiblical Greek, it describes a half-eaten corpse and lumps of manure.
Adam Clarke says…
“The word [rubbish] means the vilest dross or refuse of any thing; the worst excrement. The word shows how utterly insignificant and unavailing, in point of salvation, the apostle esteemed everything but the Gospel of Jesus.”
Thus, Paul meant that his former advantages (his standing, wealth, and position in the Jewish community) were not only worthless, but strongly offensive and potentially dangerous.
So Paul, and Isaiah before him, helps us see more clearly the ultimate value of our own good deeds—they are like used toilet paper. But instead of flushing them down the toilet, we frame them, put them up on our walls and proudly point out to others our good deeds, when they ought to be in the garbage heap.
This serves to point out the absurdity of our thinking, imagining that God would value this!
Paul’s former accomplishments had become abhorrent to him, not because they were bad (for they were not), but because they kept him from Christ.
It wasn’t so much that those things were worthless in themselves, but compared to the greatness of the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, they really were nothing
And he had no regrets. John Calvin noted that when people battling a storm at sea cast their belongings overboard to lighten the ship, they wail afterward at the loss. But Paul did not look back. There was no hidden longing. Why? Because he will gain Christ in that final great day when his goal is fully realized. To die will be gain (cf. 1:21)
What he had learned to value was Christ Jesus his Lord. Consequently, coming to know Christ, entering into a deeper and fuller appreciation of His person and work, was of primary importance to Paul.
This knowledge (Gr. gnosis) is the kind that one obtains only by personal relationship. It is different from the knowledge we gain through objective academic study (Gr. oida), though information is part of our growing personal knowledge of Christ. It is knowledge of the heart in addition to knowledge of the head (cf. John 17:3; Gal. 4:9; 1 John 2:18, 29; 4:8).
To gain this fuller knowledge of Christ, Paul had let everything else in life go. To use the language of 2:6, Paul did not regard anything else in life worthy of retaining. All he wanted was a fuller and deeper experiential appreciation of his Savior (cf. Ps. 73:25).
Gordon Fee points out the relationship between Paul’s salvation experience here with the humiliation that Jesus experienced.
“While Christ did not consider God-likeness to accrue to his own advantage, but ‘made himself nothing,’ so Paul now considers his former ‘gain’ as ‘loss’ for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.
As Christ was ‘found’ in ‘human likeness,’ Paul is now ‘found in Christ,’ knowing whom means to be ‘conformed’ (echoing the morphe of a slave, 2:7) to his death (2:8).
Finally, as Christ’s humiliation was followed by God’s ‘glorious’ vindication of him, so present ‘suffering’ for Christ’s sake will be followed by ‘glory’ in the form of resurrection.
As he has appealed to the Philippians to do, Paul thus exemplifies Christ’s ‘mindset,’ embracing suffering and death. This is what it means ‘to know Christ,’ to be ‘found in him’ by means of his gift of righteousness; and as he was raised and exalted to the highest place, so Paul and the Philippian believers, because they are now ‘conformed to Christ’ in his death, will also be ‘conformed’ to his glory.”
Thousands of churchgoers will assume their lives will count because they have grown up in church, taken their children to church, associated with evangelical, conservative Christians, attended Bible studies and seminars, graduated from Bible college, memorized Scriptures, never missed church, spoken in tongues, devoted themselves to ministering to people, gone on mission trips, kept themselves morally clean…yet over their whole life God writes WASTED.
Jesus speaks of this near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7, when he says…
22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Knowing Christ, and being known by Him, that is what salvation is. Valuing a personal, growing relationship with Jesus Christ is eternal life (John 17:3).
Are you willing to give up anything and everything else to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Ultimately, that is what makes this life and the life to come count.