Philippians 3:7-8 Devotional
Philippians 3:7-8. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.
Reflection. In the Bible we find many ‘purple passages,’ or familiar and favourite verses. Philippians is home to a few of these—1:6; 1:21; 3:13; 4:4 and 4:13. But it has always surprised me that 3:7 is not tattooed on more forearms: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.” It is reminiscent of two parables Jesus tells in Matthew 13:44-46. In each of them a man joyfully sells everything he has to purchase something priceless. Only, here, Paul is referring to experiencing Christ. Knowing Christ was of incomparable value to the apostle. But why is that not always the case for us? I will offer four suggestions.
Firstly, in 3:7 we read, “Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” In 3:5-6 Paul lists these “gains” in detail: his proud heritage, religious orthodoxy, high community standing, and righteous behaviour. Paul had many reasons for pride. He could boast of more achievements than most. Many would have esteemed him—this Pharisee. Yet Paul joyfully surrendered all of this “for the sake of Christ” (3:7). These “gains” were inconsequential when he bathed in the bright light cast by Christ. Drawn to that singularly brilliant light, Paul left all lesser ones behind for “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ” (3:8). Perhaps the first reason we struggle to echo Paul’s words and join him in the pursuit of Christ is that we want him together with our “gains.” We are unwilling and unprepared to consider those things loss.
This brings me to another point. To adapt the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, many of us have been peddled an entirely passive faith; we operate with “cheap grace.” The extent of what we are willing to give up for Christ are self-righteous works. This perfectly suits most of us because we didn’t treasure them anyway. I grew up both morally upright and spiritually indifferent, which is true for most Westerners. Giving up trying to cobble together a righteousness of my own was not as difficult as it is for me to daily die to myself. I’m still struggling with that—nearly two decades later.
God’s grace does spell gloriously free forgiveness. But there are almost innumerable obstacles in my life that prevent me from considering Christ to be of surpassing worth. I am more than ready to receive salvation from God but desperately uninterested in God himself. So when God commands me to take up my cross and follow him I can’t. In some dark recess of my heart I believe that the cross means Christ loss everything, so that I don’t have to lose anything.
Thirdly, I do not desire to know Christ. To be honest, we aren’t even sure if we can know God in the same way that we know people. Our knowledge of God is impersonal and abstract. Sure the articles of faith we profess about Christ matter. That we identify with Jesus is important. But can we, with Paul, say that we know Christ Jesus? Do you experience him? Is it a delight to meet with God in Christ, both praying to and meditating on him? Or will someone have to point him out to us when we arrive in the kingdom of heaven? Will we meet a stranger on that day? If we truly desired to know Christ we would prioritise being with him, hearing from him and speaking to him. We would hunger for God. We would be discontent with knowing about Christ and desperate to have more of him.
Fourthly, most of us don’t lose much in order to know Christ. After saying the he considers knowing Christ to be of surpassing worth, Paul writes, “for whose sake I have lost all things” (3:8). Perhaps bringing all of my points together, we don’t give up or lose anything for Christ because we haven’t had to. Overlooking the fact that it’s still fairly easy to be a Christian where I live, the culture in most of our churches could not be described as costly. The bar is so low that a long past profession of faith, perhaps answering an alter call, constitutes Christian faith. Following Christ is little more than following someone on social media. We aren’t asked to give up anything for the sake of Christ because we already gave up trying be self-righteous. Wasn’t that the condition? Didn’t Christ die so that we could enter into heaven? No. Christ came so that we might know God, who is of surpassing worth. Therefore we should not only consider everything loss but be willing to lose everything that obscures Christ in our lives.