Let’s open our Bibles to Philippians chapter 3. I call your attention to our text today which is in verses 8 through 11…Philippians 3, verses 8-11.
Here Paul writes:
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.
Notice how this text emphasizes the personal relationship that Paul had with Christ Jesus his Lord. The pronouns “I” and “my” occur a number of times. Paul is giving his first-hand testimony of the change in his life from putting confidence in himself to putting his whole trust in Jesus Christ.
Before we look at these verses, let me remind you of what we saw last week from Philippians 3:4-7. There Paul identifies the super advantages he possessed by pedigree and by performance that he had once counted to be his advantages, but now counted them loss. Why? Because of the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
He recognized, like Jesus said in the gospels, that he had tried to save his life but was really losing it. Only by trading away all he had once treasured could he pursue the pearl of great price.
Now Jesus was talking about an exchange. He was talking about losing something to gain something better.
If you want to gain your soul it will cost you your life. If you desire to save your life, it will cost you your soul. In other words, if you hold onto the things that to you are precious and reject what God values as precious, it will end up costing your eternal soul.
There is an exchange in salvation. There is an exchange of all that I am for all that Christ is. There is an exchange of all my religious activities, ceremonies and righteous works for the righteousness of Christ. There’s a sense in which I may have spent all my life in religious achievements, but I have to lose it all in order to gain Christ. Whatever it is that I may have spent my whole life accumulating, even if I gain the whole world, will mean nothing if I lose Christ.
You see, the person who comes to God is the person who is willing to pay whatever God requires, whatever the price, whatever the cost, that person is willing the abandon everything…for Christ.
The rich young ruler was faced with the same dilemma. Jesus came to him and said, “This is what you have (your riches and your self-righteousness), this is what you possess…are you willing to exchange it for Christ?” But to him the price was too high, so he walked away. He kept his possessions, maintained his self-righteousness, and forfeited his eternal soul.
Every person faces that choice when they are confronted with the gospel. Some people say “yes,” some say “no.” One’s eternal destiny is determined by what they say about Jesus Christ.
One man who said a resounding “YES!” was the apostle Paul. And we just heard that “yes” in this text. Paul is saying here, “I looked at everything I was, every good deed I had done, and I said, ‘It is loss.’ It is worth nothing when it stands next to Christ. I will exchange it all for Jesus Christ. I will give it all up for Him.”
And if you were to ask Paul, “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Paul says, “I give up everything in exchange for my soul.”
The heart of verse 7 is “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”
I will exchange everything for that pearl. I will give everything away for that treasure. I will give up everything for Christ. I will make any transaction in order to save my soul.
That, in a nutshell, is Paul’s testimony.
If you want the historical record, look with me for a moment at Acts chapter 9. In Acts 9, Luke records the observable record of Paul’s conversion, a 3rd person account.
1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
Up to this point Paul has counted all his religious pedigree and stellar religious performance as profit and Christ as loss. That’s why he’s killing Christians—he wants to get rid of Christ. “We’ve got to get rid of Christianity; we’ve got to get rid of Christians. We don’t want the name of Christ to be proclaimed.”
But then Paul met Christ…
3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Luke records what was happening—what was seen and heard. But in the process of reading down through Acts 9 it is obvious that Paul was converted. It is obvious because by the time you get to verse 11 Saul is praying, and then in verse 15 he is called to be an apostle. By the time you get to verse 20 he is proclaiming Jesus everywhere saying He is the Son of God!
So Luke tells us what happened, but doesn’t say anything about Paul’s thinking.
You might therefore conclude that somehow in the sovereign act of salvation, human faculties are overcome or bypassed and that you are not involved in anything except the act of accepting Christ as Savior.
But the corollary to Acts 9 is Philippians 3. What you don’t see in Acts 9 you see in Philippians 3. You have the external, observable incident in Acts 9, you have the internal response of Paul in Philippians 3. This is what was going on in his heart in the moments when he met Christ on the road to Damascus. He had a decision to make.
You might say, “Well, did Paul understand who Christ claimed to be?” Yes, that’s why he was killing Christians. He know exactly who Christ claimed to be, that He claimed to be the Jewish Messiah, that He claimed to die as a sacrifice for our sins, that He claimed to rise from the dead, that He claimed to be God!
He knew all those facts. He also knew what the Christians were preaching. He knew that they preached a gospel of grace, not a gospel of law-keeping, and that was something he thought was outright heresy.
Factually, he understood who Christ was, he understood the facts about his life. He also understood the facts of the gospel that were being preached by Christians. He was persecuting them because he thought that was heretical.
Intellectually he knew facts about Christ and the gospel. But that’s different from being confronted by Christ, isn’t it?
When Paul was on the Damascus road Jesus stopped him in his tracks and confronted him. The Holy Spirit illuminated his hard heart and regenerated his soul so that he could hear the gospel and see the supremacy and sufficiency and sweetness of Jesus Christ.
Please note this: Salvation is a sovereign act of God by which He invades a sinner’s darkness, gives him light and saves him. But salvation does not annihilate, obliterate, destroy or bypass human faculties. It stimulates human faculties.
And so what you have in Philippians 3 is the record of what was going on in Paul’s mind, in his emotions and in his will during the few days surrounding his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus.
What was he experiencing? What was he feeling? Well, for all his life he had put his confidence in his own flesh, in his own ability to produce goodness in his life. He had always put his confidence in his own human ability, his religion, his sincerity, his race, his tribe, his rank, his self-righteousness. All of that was valued by him, in the asset column.
But then he met Christ, and God’s Spirit opened his heart to a new valuation of his life and to repentance, to turning away from his own goodness to embrace the goodness and the sacrifice of Christ. In other words, Paul for the first time in his life sees the true value, the real pearl of great price, the true treasure, in Jesus Christ.
Now he recognizes that all that was valued by him is not valued by God at all. What God values is the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Jesus said on the cross, “Paid in full” and God raised Jesus from the dead to set his stamp of approval on all Christ had done on the cross. It was enough.
Now, all that once was in the asset column is found to be worthless. Only Christ is really valued. So Paul chooses to throw all the trophies to his past goodness into the trash and take Christ because Christ is of “surpassing value.”
What will a man give in exchange for his soul? Paul gave up everything. Paul sold everything he had to buy the pearl of great price.
Why did Paul make such a difference and why do we still talk about him today? Because he abandoned it all for Jesus Christ. That’s what we said last week, that people whose lives really count treasure Christ above everything that this world has to offer.
Paul had accumulated a treasure chest of good works, but now he realizes that God has written “wasted” over it all and the only true “gain” is Jesus Christ. He is willing to trash everything he formerly valued for Christ because in Christ he had found something worth losing everything for.
May I note one other thing? Paul didn’t say, “I had something good, but this is better.” No, he said, “What I had is really loss. It isn’t an asset, it’s a liability, it’s not neutral, it’s not good, it’s bad.”
You see, the hardest person to reach in the world for Christ is the person who is religious. And the more religious they are and the more sincere they are and the more stuck in tradition and religion they are and the more ceremonial they are, the harder they are to reach.
Why? Because all their confidence is in that stuff and consequently they count on that for salvation.
That’s why Paul says it is loss, it is bad, it’s dangerous. Religion damns the soul.
Here is the second point I want you see observe in this passage: “Those whose lives count trust Christ to provide everything they could ever need.”
And what did Paul gain?
The first thing Paul gained was an experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ, a personal relationship with a living Savior. He gained “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
By the way, God is impressed with that. God isn’t impressed with any of the accolades or achievements of Paul back in vv. 5 and 6, but God is impressed with the fact that Paul came into a personal relationship of knowing Jesus experientially.
Listen to the words of Jeremiah 9:23-24…
23 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”
To understand and know God, that is what God delights in. Paul expresses this in verse 8…
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
Right in the middle of that verse Paul says “the surpassing value of knowing Christ.” Knowing Christ far surpasses any of those accolades and achievements in vv. 5-6. Paul says, “I will gladly get rid of them for the sake of knowing Christ.”
In fact, Paul wants to make that point so strongly that he starts out verse 8 with a string of five particles that is difficult to translate (most editions of the Bible have something different). To actually read them straight from the Greek text would sound something like, “But rather therefore at least.” Just a pile of Greek particles, which together makes Paul’s expression much stronger.
It’s like Paul is saying, “But way beyond that I count all things to be loss…not only my pedigree and my performance, but all things. Nothing compares to the value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
Here’s the thing: If we put our trust in any of those things—our goodness, our commitment, our intellect, our religious instincts, our spiritual track record—any of those things, then we are not trusting in Christ. We can’t trust Christ and ourselves at the same time.
You must trust in Christ completely and wholly and only to provide everything you need for justification, sanctification and eventual glory.
What does Paul mean by “all things?” Any kind of allegiance, any kind of act, any type of performance or even stopping some habits—those things that we might think are meritorious before God—all of that is loss.
So Paul says, “Look, not only have I counted,” (that’s a perfect tense verb which took place in the past but has continuing results in the present), but then in verse 8, he says, “I am counting” (present tense), which refers to a continuous present action.
In other words, unlike some of us, he is not regretting what he once did (gave it all up for Jesus), but is daily reinforcing that decision by continually “counting” all things loss.
It’s all loss. It just can’t compare to Christ. There’s nothing in life that can.
Now, I have to say, it is an uphill battle to keep our value system in Christ, to continue to value Him above everything. If we stop counting everything loss compared to Him we will drift back into self-reliance and self-recrimination. Yes, we do that even as Christians.
Paul says, “Make a wholesale break with everything,” for the sake of knowing Jesus in a personal relationship.
That’s what happened on the road to Damascus, Paul was enabled by the Holy Spirit to see and savor all that Christ truly is. That is where salvation begins.
The Greek word for knowing Christ here is actually a noun—knowledge of—and it is important to understand that it’s not referring so much to intellectual facts—information about Christ—but a deep, personal knowledge that comes from interaction with and involvement with Christ.
This is what it means to be a Christian. Jesus, the Great Shepherd, says, “I know My sheep and they know me.” In Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17 he says, “This is eternal life that they may know Thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”
It is a relationship built on interactive knowledge that starts at the moment of salvation and continues to our great delight throughout eternity.
It is a union of love built on knowledge, that becomes intimate and transcendent.
The South African pastor F. B. Meyer explains the depth of that relational knowledge like this:
We may know Him personally, intimately, face to face. Christ does not live back in the centuries, nor amid the clouds of heaven: He is near us, with us, compassing our path and our lying down, and acquainted with all our ways. But we cannot know Him in this mortal life except through the illumination and teaching of the Holy Spirit.
What a difference there is between the knowledge which the man in the street has of some public character and that which is vouchsafed to the inner circle of his home; and we must surely know Christ, not as a stranger who turns in to visit for the night, or as the exalted King of men,–there must be the inner knowledge as of those whom He counts His own familiar friends, whom He trusts with His secrets, who eat with Him of His bread (Psalms 41:9).
To know Christ in the storm of battle; to know Him in the valley of shadow; to know Him when the solar light irradiates our faces, or when they are darkened with disappointment and sorrow; to know the sweetness of his dealing with bruised reeds and smoking flax; to know the tenderness of His sympathy and the strength of His right hand—all this involves many varieties of experience on our part, but each of them, like the facets of a diamond, will reflect the prismatic beauty of His glory from a new angle.