Philippians 3:8-11 Devotional
Philippians 3:8-11. 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. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 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 on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Reflection. Breaking up 3:7-11 was difficult. So last week we focused on “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ” (3:7). Now Paul goes even further, contrasting knowledge of Christ with “garbage.” So, in 3:10, he simply writes, “I want to know Christ.” I think it goes without saying that this knowledge is not theoretical but deeply personal.
Christians do not study Christ they experience him: “the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (3:10). This sort of language, along with being found in Christ (3:9), describes a life that is intimately joined to God. These verses may refer to an external righteousness from God through faith (3:9). But they also point to an internal awareness of God’s presence—along with the desire to know Christ better.
But what exactly is Paul calling “garbage” (3:8)? In the preceding verses he joins it to his reasons for confidence in the flesh (3:4), such as his religious accolades, proud ancestry and moral purity (3:5-6). Though on the one hand these were “gains,” Paul counted them as loss for the sake of Christ (3:7). So we saw that Paul considered knowing Christ to be of incomparable worth (3:8)—priceless. Only in 3:8b we learn a little more about this “garbage,” which we might conclude was a hindrance to gaining Christ. “I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (3:8-9). Initially, therefore, we might conclude that this garbage was whatever kept Paul from gaining and knowing Christ. In Paul’s case this was aspects of his Jewish heritage, personal holiness and desiring the recognition of others.
It is worth noting, however, that what Paul calls “garbage” was not essentially bad. In fact, elsewhere in the New Testament Paul can be found appealing to his Jewish heritage as well saying that those in possession of the Old Testament were privileged by God. His negative evaluation stems from the fact that these were obstacles to knowing and enjoying Christ, experiencing a deeper intimacy with Christ to the extent that one is “found in him” (3:9), or participating in his death and resurrection (3:10). The other reason Paul calls his religious accolades and personal achievements “garbage” was in the realisation that he did not possess “a righteousness of [his] own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ” (3:9). Paul needed “the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (3:9). Any claims to a righteousness apart from Christ undercut the necessity to embrace Christ.
We might say two things about the Christian faith, by way of conclusion. Firstly, faith is empty handed and beggarly. Faith receives from God. It puts into perspective our flawed goodness and former confidences. Paul was rich in the eyes of the religious world yet he realised that we was spiritually impoverished and morally bankrupt. He was without a righteousness of his own before God, despite his impressive litany of religious accolades (3:4-6). If this was the case for Paul, how much more should it be the case for us? As Robert Letham writes in The Work of Christ, “Faith in itself is nothing. It is self-abandonment. By faith we entrust ourselves to the keeping of Christ. We rely exclusively on him and eschew all dependence on ourselves.”
Secondly, coming back to where we started, empty handed faith goes away full. This was Paul’s experience. He did not merely receive God’s righteous merit through faith in Christ; he entered into a personal and intimate experience of God. At many points in my own life I have regrettably majored in the many benefits of salvation rather than rejoicing in its most unfathomable centre: I can know God. Whatever God has done for us, which we receive through faith, has the purpose of bringing us to himself. Christ is of surpassing worth not because he grants us righteousness but because he invites us into fellowship. He summons us to “be found in him” (3:9). Therefore faith that delights in righteousness alone fails to delight in God, through gaining and knowing Christ.