The passage we consider today is a personal confession of Paul. We read in Philippians 3:8: “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.” He writes this in the context of warning the church in Philippi against heretics that were plaguing the early churches at that time. Paul warns in verse 2 of Philippians 3, “beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.” These dogs and evil workers were the Judaizers, who were attempting to persuade God’s people that the law of circumcision was yet necessary for salvation. In a certain sense, this heretical group desired to press God’s people into a modified form of the work-righteousness of the Pharisees. Paul here warns the Philippian church against this error, and as he does he recalls his own zeal as a Pharisee. He at one time believed the same way—he too was swept along in darkness.
So zealous was he to maintain the outward customs and laws of the Jews that he even persecuted the church of Christ. But now he by God’s grace was given to understand the folly of this error. “What things were gain to me then,” he writes in verse 7, “those I count loss for Christ.” After his conversion on the road to Damascus he realized that all these things were but dung in light of his salvation in Christ. These outward works of the law had nothing to do with his justification, nor were they the ground for his salvation. In fact, they stood directly opposed to salvation in Christ. Therefore he gives the personal confession of our text: “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.”
We may not overlook that this is a personal confession made here. Paul exclaims, “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.” This is a confession that flows out of a heart of faith! For this reason this personal confession of Paul is meant to be taken upon our lips as God’s children today. We must be ready to make them our own. We must be ready to make them the course and direction of our own lives for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus in this present world of sin and darkness. We must confess that we count all things but loss for the knowledge of Jesus our Lord. So we bear in mind the personal confession of our text. We must lose all to win Christ.
I. Excellency vs. Dung
Let us take careful note of what Paul is doing in the words of this verse we consider. Twice in this verse, and once in the verse prior to it, we find the word “count.” Paul is counting, or taking account. That term does not mean merely that Paul is considering something. The term denotes a deliberate and careful judgment that Paul makes. In other words, Paul means to say that he is taking two different things and weighing them against one another. He is comparing them. He is carefully scrutinizing the advantages and disadvantages of both, the strong points as well as the weak points, and making a deliberate judgment in order to come to a determined conclusion concerning these two things. He lays them in the balance, so to speak, in order to find which one is of more value to him.
Furthermore, we bear in mind that this counting, this careful weighing and comparing, he performs as a believer—one in whom Christ has worked by His Spirit. He is one who has been enlightened by the grace of God. An unbeliever would not come to the same conclusion that Paul does in our text. The comparing he is performing is a spiritual one that requires a heart and soul capable of making such a value-judgment. So, it is implied that not all men can make the careful counting that Paul does here.
But what is Paul comparing? Well, on the one hand, there is the “all things” that Paul compares and judges over against, on the other hand, the knowledge he has of Christ Jesus the Lord. Obviously, the “all things” of our text is comprehensive and all-inclusive. In fact, it includes anything and everything that stands outside of the knowledge of Christ and his salvation. In other words, Paul looked first of all at everything he had or that he was in his life: whether that be his honor and title as a Pharisee, or his line of descent in the generations of Israel, or even the laws and traditions that were his as a good Jew. Concerning these he now makes a judgment as to their real value as opposed to the knowledge that he now had been given of Jesus Christ. We, together with Paul, make this same deliberate judgment. How much are all the things of this present life worth, its fame and glory, its prestige, its riches, in comparison to the knowledge God has given us of Christ and the righteousness we have in Him alone.
Now, this knowledge includes Christ in all the revelation of His precious work for us on the cross. Paul emphatically states Jesus’ threefold name: Jesus, Christ, our Lord. The knowledge we have of Christ, therefore, is in the first place that He is Jesus, Jehovah salvation. This name means Savior or Deliverer. As such, Jesus saves us from the guilt of our sin by imputing to us His righteousness and reconciling us to God through the blood of the cross. Jesus redeems us from corruption and restores us into the favor and friendship of the ever blessed God. He gives us by means of this a joy and peace unspeakable—a comfort that will never be gained through the earthly possession and rigorous keeping of the law. How wonderful a gift, to be washed in the precious blood of Christ and to know our sins have been forgiven us!
Our Savior is, in the second place, Christ, the Anointed One of God. He is our prophet, priest, and king—our blessed Mediator, who performs for us the complete work of salvation. As our Prophet He reveals to us our heavenly Father and makes us to taste and see the depths and the riches of God’s grace. As our Priest He works in our hearts by His Spirit consecrating us for holy service, renewing us, and cleansing us from all our sins. As our King He fought the fiercest of battles against our foes on the cross, emerging victorious and all glorious. Christ has conquered sin and death and given us the victory over Satan, sin, death, and the grave.
This Savior is also, in the third place, our Lord, who has purchased us with His blood. He sits in the heavens and rules over all the affairs of this world, directing them unto our full and complete salvation. He protects us from our enemies and guides us to that home that awaits each one of us in our Father’s house. That is the knowledge we have of Jesus Christ our Lord.
That knowledge is, in fact, the knowledge of faith, a knowledge not simply of the intellect, but also a knowledge that is rooted in the heart—in the very spiritual core of our existence. Our Lord and Savior in all His fullness and glory is not someone we examine at arms length but who has no real effect on our hearts and lives. If our knowledge of Christ were merely intellectual, it would not be all that precious to us personally. But our knowledge is one by which we embrace Christ, we cling to Him, we hold Him to our hearts as the most valuable and precious person in our lives. He is, after all, the only source of our salvation. There is salvation in none other. And such salvation from sin is the most precious of all gifts to us. Not only by means of it do we escape the horrible wrath of God in hell, but by means of it we are again received into the favor and fellowship of our God! Someday, because of what our Savior has done for us, we will see God in heaven and dwell with Him in perfection. All that is true because of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Do you understand, fellow believers, the value that we must find in our Savior? If we do not understand the full value of the cross, we will never be able to make proper judgment between Christ and everything else in this world. We must know Christ. Then we are able to make a careful and deliberate judgment between our knowledge of Him and all other things. This, then, will be the outcome of our counting: “I count all things but dung in comparison to the excellency of the knowledge of Christ.” Can we say that? Can we say that concerning all our possessions? Can we say that about our position and rank in this world? Can we say that about the works we bring forth in this life? They are dung! They are nothing better than a big pile of manure. Paul holds nothing back, does he?
Everything in this life: what I possess, my name and title, my work, my house and car, my fun and entertainment, they are all refuse, waste, having no value whatsoever when I compare them to Christ and my salvation. All things are worthless—no, detestable, ugly. They stink when I compare them to the knowledge God has given me of my salvation in Jesus Christ. That is quite the confession Paul makes here. Life in this world is vain, empty, worthless without Christ! The knowledge of Christ and our salvation is of such great value that Paul calls it excellent. He finds such knowledge superior, far surpassing anything else in life. It is of such surpassing value to him that everything else fades to the background. It is the pearl of great price. It is the treasure chest a man finds in a field and spends everything that he has to buy the land so he can obtain that treasure.
I fear that at times we become so caught up in this life that the excitement that ought to be ours over the gospel fades away. If we were to be honest, riches, houses, entertainment, and bank accounts become to us the excellent things we strive for. The knowledge of Christ and salvation, the riches of the kingdom of heaven, can become secondary. We can become so excited about the things of this world that we fail even to contemplate the things that await us in heaven. This confession of Paul makes us think, does it not? I know I must make this same confession, but can I? Honestly, can I?
II. Winning Versus Losing
Because of this excellency of the knowledge of Christ, all Paul cared about in life was that he might win Christ. That was his goal, his aim in life, to win Christ. Yet, this winning, he knew, could only come by losing. Winning Christ stood opposed to the things of this world. He could either win Christ and lose all things or win all things and lose Christ. This is why he tells us, “for Christ I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them dung that I may win Christ.” Now, when Paul speaks of winning Christ he does not have in mind that Christ is the great prize of a race he is running. Other passages of Scripture may speak of this, but not really this one. By the term “win” is meant “to gain,” or “to acquire,” Christ. So Paul speaks of his desire to gain Christ, that is, his goal and purpose in life is to receive or gain to himself the benefits that are found in Christ Jesus. You see, Christ is a storehouse, so to speak, of all the blessings of salvation. These blessings are found in Him.
It was Paul’s goal in life therefore to reach out to Christ in order to win or gain all those blessings unto himself that are found in Christ. That was his desire. He wanted more than anything else all the riches of the blessings of salvation found in Jesus Christ alone. In fact, as he contemplated the things of this world, his place in this world, everything he possessed, he was bold to say that he would count all these things but loss to win Christ.
He believed that the things of this present world only caused disrepair and damage to his one true desire to win Christ. They are damaging, while the knowledge of Christ was alone excellent. Wow! To look at our life in this world, its entertainment and possessions, as getting in the way of winning Christ! How many of us could confess that? In our prosperous world, we place so much emphasis on what we have here. We always seem to be living for these things! We might be willing to say, “Yes, these things are not worth as much to us as is Christ and His blessings.” But that these things get in the way of gaining Christ? Seeking His blessings? We are not prepared to go quite that far!
Is it really true that our seeking the things of this world impedes our desire to win Christ? We would rather place the two side by side with each other, wouldn’t we, and say they are not mutually exclusive. We can have our cake and eat it too, so to speak. But to say that the one cancels out the other, we are not too quick to say that. But the confession Paul makes here (that we make our own) says even more than that.
It is exactly when we win Christ, he says, that we will lose all these things. Paul writes in our text, “For Christ I have suffered the loss of all things.” Paul suffered the loss of everything because he sought to win Christ. How? He lost his name and title among the Jews, he had little in the way of possessions, and he ultimately lost his very life for Christ’s sake. Paul did not of himself give up his Jewish excellence. Christ took this away from him on the way to Damascus where Paul was converted. It is not as if we deliberately seek to become hermits and live in a cave in order to lose everything for Christ. This is not the idea of the Word of God we consider. We do not give up the things of this earth ourselves, but when Christ calls us unto Himself, He often takes these things away from us. When He does, we are willing to count them as loss. By working in our hearts the desire to win Him and His benefits and gifts, He so works in us that all else becomes subservient to this. We are willing to give them up if our possession of them means forsaking Christ and the blessings of salvation we have found in Him. We will give it all up. We will chalk them all up as loss. Why? “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). That is what counts to the believer. The rest of the things of this life are peripheral. Even our life is nothing in comparison to winning Christ. Jesus teaches us in Matthew 16:26, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
At times there is even another way that in wining Christ we lose everything else. The wicked, unbelieving world will take them away from us. The time will come when those who have won Christ will not be allowed to buy and sell in our world. Unless they renounce their faith in Christ, they will not be able to function in society. Then, in a very real sense, we will lose the things of this world in order to win Christ. Paul lived as one who was deeply aware of what he was losing because he loved the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. We too must live in that awareness.
III. Faith Versus Unbelief
Let us not forget what we mentioned at the outset of our broadcast today: this is a personal confession. For us to join with this man of God in making the same confession requires that we with him walk in faith. Faith is always necessary to make this kind of confession. With the heart we believe and with the mouth confess. When a person has become totally absorbed in the things of this present life, he is living by sight and not by faith. When a person’s heart is not all that thrilled with the salvation freely received in Christ, but is more excited with the amusements of this life, he will not readily make the confession that Paul makes here. If our spiritual life is pushed to the background and the things of this world take top priority, then faith is weak, or faith is non-existent. Then we certainly cannot say, I count all things but dung in comparison to the excellent gift of salvation received in Christ. We are called, therefore, as we apply what we contemplated in these past few minutes, to meditate on this confession of Paul to make it our own.
An unbeliever will never make this confession. He never will because he lives only for the here and now. His affections are placed on the things below and not on the things that are above. He is void of faith. He simply does not care about Christ and about salvation. This confession will never come to his lips. The believer shrinks from this attitude of the unbeliever and seeks the more to live up to this confession of the great apostle.
What do we say together today, then? Yea doubtless—without a doubt—“I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord!” Do we see how personal that is? There is nothing more precious to me than my salvation in Christ! There is nothing more valuable than deliverance from hell and being received into God’s favor. That is life to me, without a doubt! I believe that. In that faith I will seek the more to win Christ. Is that our faith? Is that our confession? Then in faith we have just won Christ!