COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“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, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil 3:4-7, NKJV).
Paul is sharing with the body of Christ his personal approach to life. But it is more than a personal approach. It is actually the manner of the Kingdom. This is how faith affects those possessing it. Any advancement in spiritual life must be preceded by the fervency and determination revealed in these verses. While there will be different measures of this spirit, according to the faith and ministry of the individual, the same disposition must prevail. This frame of spirit separates those who believe from all perfunctory or routine religion. It will not allow for a lifeless assent to the truth, or impersonal theological positions that do not shape how we think and live.
THE EXCELLENCY OF THE KNOWLEDGE
“What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (NIV). Some things are “lost” because they are taken away by someone else. Scripture calls this “the spoiling of your goods” (Heb 10:34). It is when a person is plundered or robbed–when possessions are forcefully taken from him against his will. But this is NOT the kind of loss to which our text refers. Here, things were“counted” or “considered” A loss. They were actually still available to him, but he forfeited them in preference of something else. He lost them by choice. He chose to take hold of something else.
The word “loss” also carries the thought of disadvantage–something that worsens our situation. In this case Paul takes “everything” apart from Christ, regardless of its seeming value, and considers is a loss, disadvantage, and something potentially damaging.
This is not intended to be an academic definition. Rather, it is a comparison–a judgment made when “everything” is laid along side “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” He has already told us this was his manner of thinking in the past (verse 7). Now he tells us it is still the way he things. In the world, it is possible to get swept up in momentary pleasures, forgetting essential and profitable things. When we then come to our senses, we regret that we were so distracted as to forget important matters. But this is not the situation in this text. The things counted loss were REALLY inferior and unworthy of being at the center of our thinking. Something better in every sense of the word has been found.
And what is this better thing? It is “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” It is “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (KJV). This “knowledge” is not surpassing or more excellent in appearance, but in reality. It is a superior knowledge and experience with which nothing can favorably compare. Here we see a person can be in Christ and acknowledge Him as Lord, yet lacking in personal acquaintance with the Lord Jesus. Redemption has made Jesus more accessible to the saved than ordinarily conceived. Far too much contemporary religion allows the individual to remain at a comfortable distance from Christ, not coming into the greatness of the knowledge available to us.
“The knowledge of Christ Jesus” is not academic knowledge or erudition. Such knowledge does not satiate the soul or gladden the heart. This is fellowship with Christ, into which we have been called (1 Cor 1:9). It speaks of a relationship where Christ “manifests” Himself to the individual (John 14:21). It is where the individual actually “learns” from Christ (Matt 11:29) and is “taught by Him” (Eph 4:21).
There is a satisfaction in this knowledge that brings great peace, joy, and stability to the soul. It equips the person to live triumphantly in this world, serving the Lord with gladness and singleness of heart. This knowledge is, in fact, nothing less than “eternal life” (John 17:3; 1 John 5:20). It is confirmed to be the superior knowledge by experience alone. This is the knowledge referenced in Ephesians 3:19: “And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.” It is the experience of Christ’s love.
COUNTING TO WIN CHRIST
“ . . . for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (KJV). Paul now reveals another Kingdom manner. Not only did he “count” or “consider” all other things loss, he actually experienced it: i.e., “I DO count them . . . ”
As he perused “all things” other than Christ, he considered them to be“dung.” Other versions use the word “rubbish.” This is the only place in the Bible where this particular word is used (sku,bala). It is a strong word meaning “dung, rubbish, garbage, offscouring.” It is something of no value. In fact, it is offensive as well as worthless, and damaging as well as useless.“Dung,” in this case, equates with “abomination,” as explained by Jesus in Luke 16:15: “for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.” It is something detestable and desecrating.
There was a reason why Paul considers “all things” in this manner. It was in order to “win” or appropriate Christ. Other versions use the expression“gain Christ.” The word “win” accents the competitive nature of “all things.” In this world, we are involved in a contest. The appropriation of Christ is the objective, and that cannot take place while maintaining a grasp on the fleeting things of this world.
There is a greater measure of fellowship with Christ to be experienced. This is an area in which growth is expected. As it is written, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18). What is more, there is no promise of overcoming the world apart from this knowledge. Jesus stated this same truth yet another way. “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it” (Lk 17:33). Seeking to save our life is clinging to “all things”that are to be counted as “dung.” It is preferring things that are to be “counted loss” for the “excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The contemporary notion of “receiving Jesus into your heart” is wholly lacking in spiritual substance. It does not take into account the contaminating influences all around us, or the necessity of growth in our apprehension of Christ. At the time Paul wrote this epistle, he had been an Apostle for 26 years. Yet, he knew nothing of coasting, or assuming he had already arrived where he should be. He did not consider himself to have fully won Christ. There was deeper and more extensive fellowship to be realized.
I understand winning Christ to refer to a life that is not self-centered, but Christ-centered. It comes when the individual is able to become more fully involved with Christ, as compared with Christ being more fully involved with the individual. While it is true Christ goes with us through our trials, and equips us for our ministry, that is not the acme of spiritual experience. It is one thing for the Lord Jesus to identify with us in our hardships. It is quite another for us to identify with Him in His eternal purpose.
Having “tasted of the Lord” (1 Pet 2:3), Paul found everything else inferior, offensive, and inhibiting. He knew that to “win Christ” such things could not be viewed as preferable. Herein is the secret to spiritual growth, godly zeal, and stability of soul. It reflects a proper assessment of life.
BEING FOUND IN HIM
“ . . . and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (NIV). At once we see that Paul’s attitude is immediately related to salvation. To be “found in Him” refers to the time when we will all appear “before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor 5:10). How we appear, or are “found,” at that time is everything! As you can see, being “found in Him” is not unrelated to effort on our part–hearty effort! Neither, indeed, is it all automatic.
And how is it that Paul wants to be found? He knows righteousness will be the issue! Will he be righteous before God or not? There are only two types of righteousness recognized by God–and both have to do with what He has initiated. The first is a righteousness that “comes from the Law.” It is based upon the doing of the individual. In the energy of the human nature alone, an effort is made to do all the Lord has commanded. Paul has already said he excelled in natural advantage and such personal effort (vs 5-6). It was all futile, every jot and tittle of it! He threw it all overboard in preference of another righteousness–one that “comes from God.”
This is the righteousness announced by the Gospel of Christ. “For in it(the Gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (Rom 1:17). It is a righteousness that is conferred by God “without the law” (Rom 3:21). “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom 3:22, NIV).
The righteousness of the Law depends upon man, and MUST be given up in order to obtain the righteousness of God (which is the only acceptable righteousness). It is no wonder Jesus said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness” (Matt 6:33). Those without this righteousness are, in fact, “unrighteous,” and can in no way inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9). When Jesus comes again, He will find us. How we appear in his eyes will determine our eternal destiny. It is not possible to be more serious.
Our text carefully states this righteousness is realized “through faith.”That is the spiritual hand, as it were, that takes hold of the righteousness announced in the Gospel. Repeatedly, the Spirit underscores this reality. “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ . . . his faith is counted for righteousness . . . the righteousness that he had by faith . . . the righteousness that comes by faith . . . the righteousness that is by faith” (Rom 3:22; 4:5,11,13; 10:6 NIV). This is righteous conferred by God because of faith.
Paul knows this is the ONLY way to be accepted by God. For God to ignore this would invalidate the death of Christ. Not only is the initial belief of the Gospel and trust in Christ required, it must be maintained. There are competing influences–religious influences–that contradict this means of acceptance. They tend to blind the eyes of the heart and cause men to live in delusion. Knowing this, Paul threw them all overboard, considering them worthless and contaminating refuse. He knew it was not possible to be“found” in Christ, NOT having His own righteous, but in possession of God’s righteousness, by having any other frame of mind. Neither, indeed, is it possible for anyone else! The rarity of this view confirms its value.