During this Sunday’s study of Philippians 3, we saw the Apostle Paul having just communicated his long list of accomplishments that should place him at the top of humanity’s heap.
Indeed, Paul was a “blameless” Pharisee — “a Hebrew of Hebrews” who was so zealous in his devotion to the law that without a second thought he persecuted the emerging Christian church that was threatening Israel’s religious order. But none of Paul’s earthly, mortal qualities mattered compared to what he found when the Lord knocked him off his horse on the road to Damascus and opened his eyes to the truth: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” (v. 7)
Pastor Scott helped us take Paul’s confession to a personal place and asked us what’s important to us. What do we value? What do we strive for, day to day? And the interesting challenge here is that even when we value good things (e.g., loving our family, helping others), they don’t come close to who Jesus is. And problems can emerge when we’ve devoted too much emotional energy to even good things, because when they go bad, it can crush us. (And then we inevitably head straight for our savior for help when he was the one we should have been looking at the entire time!)
Pastor Scott also noted that Paul drew a distinction between his past Christian life (i.e., past tense “counted as loss,” verse 7) and his present Christian life (i.e., present tense “count everything as loss,” verse 8) in terms of his own spiritual audit. In other words, Paul continued, day in and day out, to assess his own spiritual state even after having been saved for quite some time. And if we, as Pastor Scott suggested, do a spiritual audit every day, we’re much less likely to get off track with the Lord.
And why would Paul count everything as loss? “Because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” he writes in the continuation of verse 8. The idea of “surpassing worth” is a concept Paul repeats three additional times in his letter to the Philippians, and in a nutshell it can come down to one word many use to describe this entire book: JOY. (Or if you like acronyms, Jesus first, others second, you third.) Indeed we always find joy when we put Jesus first and then others right after him.
Paul goes further in the remainder of verse 8, sharing that “For [Jesus’] sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Rubbish? That’s not the typical descriptor of things we value and hold dear, is it? But as believers, when we honestly look at even the good things we cherish in our lives, isn’t Jesus far beyond them? For that reason, let us not keep Jesus in our back pockets and simply pull him out when we need him. Instead let us place Jesus at the forefront. He’s the one who will never waver, who will never disappoint or go wrong.
Paul adds some indispensable salvation theology in verse 9 when he points out that being “found in” Jesus results in true righteousness that “comes through faith” in him — as opposed to his own frail and failing efforts. Paul knew that even his devotion to the law as a Pharisee comes up way short of what God requires — and striving for it is a fruitless exercise. So he instead places his reliance upon Jesus, who has already conquered sin and death and made a place for him (and for us) in God’s kingdom.
Arguably the key point Pastor Scott made on Sunday was drawing a distinction between knowing Jesus by observation — in the way a student learns, for example — and knowing Jesus by experience (“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection” v. 10). Sure it’s important that we learn all we can about the Bible, about the life of Christ. But if we ignore or minimize knowing Jesus experientially — talking to him every day, continually casting our cares upon him, asking him to help us and reveal his will for our lives — we’re missing out!
Of course, knowing Jesus experientially — as raw and real a relationship as any we have on earth — can lead to “sufferings” or “becoming like him in his death,” as verse 10 points out. But the other side of that is attaining “the resurrection from the dead” as Jesus did. And what is more important than that?
Are you overdue for a spiritual audit? If so, take stock and move forward toward the Lord. Because the main goal isn’t just to know about Jesus — it’s to know Jesus.