Sunday, January 6, 2013

From Great Loss to Great Gain

Though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:4-8)
Paul is dealing with the joy stealers, the legalistic teachers who insist that Gentiles must be ritually circumcised in order to be identified as belonging to the people of God. They have confidence in the flesh — literally! But Paul sounds a very different in response: “We have no confidence in the flesh.” However, if these teachers want to boast in themselves and their accomplishments, Paul can match them point for point and put them under the table. Here is his resume:
  • Circumcised the eighth day. Paul was no proselyte but a Jew from birth and circumcised as an infant, according to the law of Moses.
  • Of the stock of Israel. His ancestry went all the way to Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel and who fathered the twelve tribes that became the nation of Israel.
  • Of the tribe of Benjamin. Paul’s line came through Benjamin, the only tribe that was loyal to the tribe of Judah and the throne of David when the kingdom divided.
  • A Hebrew of the Hebrews. Paul was no Greekified Jew, but a Hebrew-speaking Jew born of Hebrew parents.
  • Concerning the law, a Pharisee. Though Jews in other regions followed pharisaical notions of piety, it was only in and around Jerusalem that the Pharisees themselves flourished, and Paul was there in the thick of it. He was not merely a wannabe but a real Pharisee.
  • Concerning zeal, persecuting the church. Paul even outdid many of his fellow Pharisees in zeal — by actively pursuing and prosecuting Christians.
  • Concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. Paul conformed completely to every legalistic standard and observance.
Add all that up and Paul wins the competition hands down — if that is the game those teachers want to play. He was very well-credentialed and that should have been quite profitable for him, or so he had thought at an earlier time in his life. But now comes the kicker, and Paul adds it all up in his own estimation: All that was once in his plus column turned out to be a minus. “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.”

The latter three points are not a source of pride for Paul — certainly not persecuting the church. He is not ashamed of his Jewish heritage (nor should he be), but at the end of the day, not even that matters if he has missed the most important thing. So he is quite willing to count even that as loss because he has found the thing that is exceedingly greater and much more excellent: To know Jesus as his Messiah and Lord, “for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” That is all that matters for him now — it eclipses everything else.

The words “loss” and “gain” are accounting terms, the language of the marketplace. The things Paul has enumerated above, he now counts as “rubbish.” The Greek word he uses, skubalon, is much more severe than the that English translation lets on. The KJV renders it as “dung.” It is excrement and offscouring and rubbish, vile and detestable (you can supply your own modern day equivalent and it would be quite accurate), and everything that keeps us from knowing the Lord Jesus should be counted as such.

So Paul puts it all in the loss column, and if that were all he had, he would be in a very deep hole. But, joyfully, he has something else that cancels out all his loss. He has come to know the Lord Jesus, God’s Messiah King. And that is great gain!

Focus Questions
  1. What heritage and accomplishments are you most proud of in your life?
  2. Have you experienced Jesus the Messiah as your Lord in such a way that eclipses all of these?
  3. How would you describe or explain that?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

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