Counting It All as Loss
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“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know Me.”—Jeremiah 9:23–24
If any Jew had any reason to boast for having the most outstanding résumé in terms of family background, education, and occupation, we would have to say it is Paul. He was circumcised on the eighth day, from the tribe of Benjamin, where he was a Hebrew of Hebrews. Although he lived in Tarsus and Seleucia, he was educated under Gamaliel, a famous Jewish teacher of the day, and learned to be proficient in the Hebrew language and scriptures. He studied the law and was a Pharisee with such great zeal that he persecuted the Christian church.
After stating all his qualities, Paul tells us, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 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…”1 We see the word Paul repeats throughout this verse is “loss.” Soberly, he considers all his credentials and qualifications as loss and rubbish.
Paul gave everything up so “that [he] may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of [his] own that comes from the law.”2 Paul’s impressive résumé catalogued his own righteousness, but righteousness that comes from God has nothing to do with that. Paul reminds us that our righteousness comes “through faith in Christ”—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.3 This is not a produced righteousness, but a received righteousness.
If our relationship with God is based on what we did, some of us would have an advantage over others because some are more disciplined and self-confident than others. But the marvelous thing is that the weaker we know ourselves to be and the less confident we are in ourselves, the more likely we are going to put our confidence exclusively in God and say, “This is not what I do for You, but what You do for me.”
No matter how strong our résumé is, our righteousness does not derive from what we do for God... When we stop trying to justify ourselves through our qualifications and start believing in faith that our righteousness is found in Christ, even when we consider everything we have in life as loss, we have gained the most precious treasure—to be found in Him.—Brett McBride
The treasure that turns treasures to garbage
Paul … does not simply say that compared to Christ, legal achievements are garbage; he is more specific. He says that what is superior to moral and religious achievements is (1) knowing Christ, (2) gaining Christ, and (3) being found in Christ.
1. Knowing Christ. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”4 “Knowing” here is not just knowing the fact that Jesus is Lord. It is the kind of knowing that prompts the phrase “my Lord”! He knows the supreme Lord of the universe5 as his Lord. So there are two aspects to Paul’s passion for Christ here. One is the rational and relational knowledge of the greatest person in the universe. Paul’s mind and heart are full of Christ. The other is that he belongs to Christ as subject to the all-ruling, all-protecting Lord. This is better than being at the top of any human heap.
2. Gaining Christ. “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”6 “Gain” means get all that Christ is for us in heaven, not just on earth. Paul has already said, “To live is Christ and to die is gain,”7 because “to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”8 ... So it is clear that part of what makes human achievement a pile of garbage compared to Christ is that soon (and very soon!) he is going to meet the king—in a way far more full and intimate and stunning and satisfying than anything he has known here. And he has known so much of Christ here that the garbage verdict has been rendered on that alone.
3. Being found in Christ. “. . . 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.”9 Paul was overwhelmed by the fact that “in Christ”—that is, united to Christ by faith alone—he possessed a righteousness that was infinitely better than all his legal achievements could ever be. Paul knew he needed a righteous life in order to be accepted by God and in order to enjoy all the glories of Christ forever. He did not have such a righteousness in himself. He needed the free gift of righteousness from God himself. God gave it to him in Christ.
Therefore Jesus Christ was both the treasure he cherished and the one who provided the right to have the treasure. … Christ alone is the ground of our acceptance with God and the goal of our heart’s desire. He is our righteousness and our reward. Compared to him (knowing him, gaining him, being found in him), all else is garbage.—John Piper10
The eternal things that matter
Our true citizenship isn’t on earth. God’s Word says, “But what things were gain to me, these I counted loss for Christ.” Paul was saying that all things were just nothing, he counted them loss! They weren’t worth anything compared to what he received in the Lord Jesus Christ. “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ… that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.”11
Then Paul goes on to say, “For our citizenship is in heaven.”12 Our attitude as a citizen of heaven is to be detached from this world, not attached to it. Not to be conformed to this world, though we be well informed in some ways, but we are to be transformed by our living in the things that are eternal, and in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, and living upon His Word.13
We must have a deep realization that we are living for eternity and not for time, and our heavenly citizenship can never be put in a secondary place. There never was a day when spiritual matters could be so easily put in a second place, and the things of time can consume our thoughts and our energies. We can’t thoughtlessly give ourselves to the temporal because we would be defeated mentally and spiritually by all the hubbub that surrounds us.
If we could but see the events of life framed in the ultimate results that they lead to, what a change there would be in our lives and in our sense of values! God help us that we might keep the divine perspective clear and not allow ourselves to become so occupied with the temporal that we have little time for things eternal.
God’s Word says in Colossians, “Ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God,” and “Set not your affections upon the things on earth, but on the things that are above.”14 And Hebrews 13:14 states, “We have here no continuing city, but we look for one to come.”
Can you trust that in the Lord Jesus Christ you can have a supply of His strength and His power and His wisdom, to play an active role in His service and in the affairs of the heavenly kingdom where your real citizenship is?—Virginia Brandt Berg
Published on Anchor February 2021. Read by Jon Marc. Music by Michael Dooley.
1 Philippians 3:7–8 ESV.
2 Philippians 3:8–9 ESV.
3 Philippians 3:9.
4 Philippians 3:8.
5 See Philippians 2:9–11.
6 Philippians 3:8.
7 Philippians 1:21.
8 Philippians 1:23.
9 Philippians 3:9.
11 Philippians 3:8–10.
12 Philippians 3:20.
13 Romans 12:2.
14 Colossians 3:3, 2.