What is worth holding on to in the face of death? Your house, car, iPhone? Your job and education? Awards and recognition? To Paul, following Christ was more important than anything he had done or been in his life. In Phil. 3:7-11, he covers the deep significance in gaining Christ through faith.
Part 13 of a whole book study series called “Joy in Christ: A Study Through Philippians.”
Forsaking All to Gain Christ
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
In the last study, Paul gave us a laundry list of why he looked righteous by worldly standards, but was clear that none of his reasons measured up. After he’s given us that list, he makes a sharp delineation here: these man-centered reasons are not just without value, but more emphatically, they are a loss, damaging, detrimental. However significant his background and training looked like it had value, when it came to comparing it to the value of Christ, it was a complete wash. When he trusted Christ, he turned his back on all that the world considered in him to be success and accomplishment.
Have you lost anything as a result of following Christ? Friends, work opportunities, the approval of others? Have you let go of dreams or plans that you thought were best for you in favor of pursuing things of eternal value? The next verse should be encouraging to you in that knowing Christ is worth more than anything you may have lost or given up.
Knowing Christ Surpasses All
8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
Not only did Paul turn away from who he was at that time (past tense “I counted”), he continues on a daily basis to put Jesus Christ above all else (present tense “I count”) — above all the world’s enticements or definitions of success. It is as if he is saying, all that I encounter on a daily basis, I effectively “strain” through the value filter of Christ — and none of it matters more than Him. Paul definitely had the right perspective when it came to things of the world.
Surpassing (huperechó) conveys something that excels, is superior, is prominent over all else. For Paul, knowing Christ rises above and is superior to anything this world can offer and anything he ever did or could accomplish in it. When he speaks of knowing Christ, he means in the way you would an intellectual understanding that was being walked out in real life, not just in theory. All that we need in order to know Christ, God has given to us in His sufficient, inerrant written word.
I’m especially struck by how Paul says Christ Jesus my Lord. Literally, “the Lord of me” is how the Greek reads, with a particularly emphatic usage of “my.” This is just so beautiful to me because Paul rightly affirms Christ’s total and absolute lordship and mastery over him. He is not simply the Lord, but He is my Lord, the apostle says. He is not some distant ruler, although He is certainly vast in power and sovereignty; rather, He is right here with me, near me, and holding me in His hands — and walking out His purpose through me.
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish,
We’re so tempted as people to have the wrong perspective — to view things from a temporal not an eternal standpoint. We “need” our house, our car, certain clothes, the latest technology, a new this or that. We “must have” our diploma from the right university to get the best, highest paying job.
And I am not saying (and neither is Paul) that we cannot enjoy the things God provides us in this world. But when the world and its attractions (and distractions!) take the central place in your life and affections, then it’s time to examine your faith and ask, what is it that is really ruling my heart?
Paul does describe the loss of all things in the sense of suffering. He was a human and had emotions, so it was probably in some sense difficult for him to let go of all that he had been raised with and all the behavior he was accustomed to, all that he had been convinced were the right attitudes and achievements to be successful in the world.
I have suffered the loss (zémioó). “Here Paul shares the irony of how loss brings gain. As a person grows in knowing Christ they willingly “lose” their “right” to be self-governing – to gain eternal significance in every scene of life by living in faith” (HELPS Word-studies).
In a way I can see how it would have been jarring to turn your perspective upside down, but at the same time, there’s an inherent freedom in it, too: to no longer be bound to the striving rat race of this world system and to be free to prioritize and pursue what is truly meaningful!
It’s Just Trash
In referring to what he has lost, Paul uses the word rubbish (skýbalon), two words put together in Greek: “dogs” and “throw.” The idea here is that of something that is good for nothing but putting in the trash or as scraps thrown to dogs. In fact, this word goes so far as to mean “excrement.” Clearly in Paul’s eyes, his so-called accomplishments were worthless.
Christ spoke of this in Luke 14:33 when He said: So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. This means, as the notes in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges so aptly put it, renouncing “every affection, gift or possession that interferes with true discipleship.” Renounce (Gr. apotassó) in this verse is quite similar to what Paul is saying here in Philippians 3:8 in that it is a withdrawal and a drawing away from all that has come before in order to pursue that which is far better.
As someone who attended both a private high school and college (to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, thanks to my father’s hard work), whose experience as a writer and editor spans twenty years, I can see how tempting it might be to point to all of that and say, “look how successful I’ve been, look how educated I am.”
Just as Solomon in all his wealth and wisdom found that all is vanity, so would life be without Christ as Savior and Lord. I cannot imagine trying to find satisfaction in this world in what I did or studied or where I traveled or my abilities or talents. Apart from Christ all of it is meaningless.
Righteousness Through Faith
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—
When Paul speaks of releasing the self-centered “glory” of his past achievements, he does so to gain Christ. He uses the word gain (Gr. kerdainó) to convey that he’s essentially trading something worthless (or at the very least, nowhere near as good) for something of eternal value: “Christ’s favor and fellowship” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). In our modern way of talking, we might say he “traded up.”
and be found in him. To be “found” in Christ is both being saved by Him, placed into His righteousness, and united with Him. Moreover, it is that when people look at our lives, they see Christ in us. That what they see of us speaks of His ways and who He is.
Law Versus Grace
Paul then contrasts the kind of righteousness that is based on keeping the law (probably again with a disparaging nod toward the Judaizers) with that found from faith in Christ.
The righteousness Paul refers to here as the true righteousness is not one resulting from the works of the law, that is, based on what he did, does, or ever could do (related: Gal. 2:16; Gal. 3:10; Rom. 10:3-6). As we have seen, Paul does not seek to rest on his own merits and efforts for salvation, but solely upon Christ’s finished work at the cross. When believers speak of appearing righteous before God, it is because of this work of Christ’s and in no way our own ability or good works (no matter how well-intentioned!).
As Isaiah puts it so directly:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. [Isa. 64:6 NIV; emphasis mine]
In our own self-worshiping world, our best efforts are filthy rags, but in Christ we are clothed in His righteousness.
If you’re an unbeliever reading this, please know that a true Christ follower understands that he is saved only because of Christ, not because he or she follows some construct of rules or principles to such an extent that God calls them perfect. We are not perfect people and we don’t get “good enough” to be saved or come to God; we are forgiven people, and only saved by God’s grace!
Related study: Saved By Grace, Living By Grace
Faith in Christ, From God
that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith
In this somewhat challenging part of verse 9, Paul is saying that the means of our faith is Christ and the source of that faith is God. It is by our faith in Christ that we are saved and made righteous before God and that is only because God in His grace gave us the faith in the first place. (related: Eph. 2:1-10)
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible breaks it down very clearly (read slowly, it’s intense!):
(1) God is the author of pardon – and this is a part of the righteousness which the man who is justified has.
(2) God purposes to treat the justified sinner as if he had not sinned – and thus his righteousness is of God.
(3) God is the source of all the grace that will be imparted to the soul, making it really holy.
In this way, all the righteousness which the Christian has is “of God.” The idea of Paul is, that he now saw that it was far more desirable to be saved by righteousness obtained from God than by his own. That obtained from God was perfect, and glorious, and sufficient; that which he had attempted to work out was defective, impure, and wholly insufficient to save the soul.
Hope of Resurrection
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.
In verse 10, the focus is dual: to know him (Christ) and to know (the second “to know” is implied) the power of His resurrection.
The knowledge that Paul speaks of here is more than just knowing about Christ or knowing He exists. Rather he means knowing Christ in the sense of His person, His attributes, His ways, His blessings — all that is comprised in knowing a person below the surface. It is not a surface acquaintance that Paul proposes here, but an in-depth, consuming personal knowledge — a knowledge that is of salvation and ultimately resurrection.
The power that lies behind the resurrection of Christ is the same power that believers hope in for their own future resurrection. It is the same power that renders our salvation sure. This is critical to our joy as believers!
For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. [1 Cor. 5:16-17 ESV]
In addition, the life we live in Christ we live in the same power that raised Christ from the dead. And so we live in the light of that resurrection, seeking each day to know Him and be like Him, denying ourselves and embracing Him.
Conformed in Suffering
What does Paul mean when he hopes to share in Christ’s sufferings and become like Him in death? He moves back in these verses to one of the predominant themes of the letter to Philippians (and to Paul’s theology overall): that of unity in and with Christ.
One of the most concise explanations of the idea of sharing in Christ’s death (and resurrection!) is found in Romans 6:
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. [Rom. 6:5-10 ESV; emphasis mine]
As far as sharing in Christ’s sufferings, my earlier study Sharing Christ’s Sufferings is an overview of that idea and its implications for us as believers. We are conformed to Christ and should expect to share in and be identified with suffering, death, and resurrection just as He did.
With All Diligence
11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Here Paul is not having doubts or fears that he somehow may not share in the resurrection to glory. Rather, he seeks to convey “the earnestness of the struggle of faith (1 Cor. 9:26-27), and the urgent need of jealous self-watchfulness (1 Cor. 10:12)” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).
It is not simply resurrection in and of itself Paul is looking toward, because all people will be resurrected — some to judgment, others to reward. Rather he is focused on the resurrection of the righteous (related: 1 Cor. 15:12-28). In other words, I will put all my energy and all that I am into pushing forward toward the day of resurrection and glory!