I Want To Know Christ
Key Verse 3:8
“What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”
Paul’s whole letter to the Philippians is really beautiful. It shows the heart of a man who has indeed known Christ Jesus personally and intimately and whose life goal was to make Christ known to others. Chapter 3 brings that out very clearly. We see in it a man who had so much going on for him before he knew Jesus. But from the moment he came to know Jesus, his life changed, and all that he knew and had to his credit became as nothing to him compared to knowing Jesus. This passage we are looking at today seems to be like his own personal life testimony. Towards the end of his life, what do you think his prayer might have been for himself? Remarkably it was to know Christ even more.
Look at verse 1. “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.” The word “finally” here is interesting. Paul might have intended to end the letter very soon, even though he ended up writing them another two chapters. But whatever the case may be, he wanted them to rejoice in the Lord. After having written them about Timothy’s genuine interest in their welfare, how could they not but rejoice to have a man of God like Timothy in their lives who loved them with such sincere love. Also after writing them about Epaphroditus, how could they not but rejoice to have a man of God whom God had given to shepherd them like a father. Some churches have business men in leadership position serving their own interests. But he was a true shepherd who loved them with a sincere love. These two men’s lives were not easy at all either. They suffered with Paul when he was in prison by caring for him and for his needs. Yet even in their situation they were able to rejoice because of their faith and hope in the Lord Jesus. They had a relationship with the Lord Jesus which was the source of their joy. And nothing could shake nor hinder that joy. It’s odd how people try to find joy in unholy relationships and in the strangest places. But sooner or later the relationships break apart, the joy seeps out and nothing remains except the anger and the frustration. But the word of God commands us to rejoice in the Lord.
Look at verse 1 again. “It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.” Paul’s either written them about the dangers of false teachers and false teachings in an earlier letter or spoken to them about them at an earlier time. And he doesn’t mind writing them again because it’s a safeguard for them. Actually it’s never enough to warn our exhort the Lord’s people in the word of God regarding any danger they may face that endangers their souls. Peter said the same thing to the early Christians when he warned them against those who mocked the second coming. Jesus also warned his disciples and us many times and repeatedly against the deceptions of this world. People are desperate for salvation from their homes, jobs, human situations— they would welcome any change that liberates them from their pain and misery. But whatever relief they may get is no salvation at all. It’s why Jesus warned us against being deceived by the lure of a false sense of salvation. Salvation is being united with Christ in his suffering, death and resurrection. Paul said in verse 1: “it is for your safeguard.” We may be criticized for studying the same passages in the Bible again and again, repeating the same teachings again and again. But no matter! “It is for your safeguard”. Your souls are too precious to risk deception by corrupted teachings.
Look at verse 2. “Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.” This is not a warning like the warnings people put on fences that say: “Beware of dog”. Actually it is much stronger and more serious. Paul uses a very strong word here, calling people who are teaching false doctrine “gods”. But Isaiah the prophet also spoke of dogs too when he spoke of false prophets (56:10-11). He said that these dogs are mute dogs who don’t warn the people of the impending disaster but only speak comforting words to the people even when the enemy is right at the door. It happened to Israel before they were swallowed up by their enemies. Dogs are those who do not declare the full counsel of God to others, and in doing so they lead them astray to destruction. These days too it seems there are many dogs who don’t bark at the dangers they see. So there are many people who are deceived by a false sense of security in the world and even in the churches. Most people want to hear words that soothe their conscience rather than words that challenge their faith.
Paul warned the Philippian Christians to watch out for those dogs. He also called them evil doers, and mutilators of the flesh. The dogs he’s taking about specifically were those who lead God’s people astray by the false teaching of legalism and the righteousness that is by the works of the flesh. The Philippian Christians needed to always be wary of such false teachers and their false teaching. But to counter their false teaching Paul reminded the Philippians of something crucial to their faith and ours as well.
Read verse 3. “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.” Dogs were teaching that apart from faith in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, Gentiles who wish to be righteous and receive the gift of salvation should also obey the laws of Moses and be circumcised. For those of you who do not understand the seriousness of such a claim, what they are proposing is that Christ’s sacrifice isn’t enough. That man must also exert an effort in the cause of his own righteousness. In other words once a man has believed in Jesus, he should supplement that faith with circumcision. Paul knew that once a man does that, he will not be supplementing his faith at all, (because there is no such thing as supplementing one’s faith), but he will be nullifying his own faith, as well as he will be nullifying Jesus sacrifice on his behalf. That’s how serious this issue was to Paul, enough that Paul would call these people teaching it “dogs”.
The Gentile believers at Philippi were already men and women in Christ. Paul wanted them to remember that. look at verse 3 again. “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.” What does it mean we are circumcision? In contrast to the dogs who claimed that they were the true circumcision because they obey the laws of Moses, Paul asserted that it is we who are the circumcision. It means that we are the true people of God, who have been circumcised by the spirit of God in our hearts when we repented of our sins and trusted in Jesus’ deliverance for us through his sacrifice on the cross. At that time the spirit of God circumcised our hearts and set us apart as heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.
Look at verse 3 again. Paul says we are the circumcision, we who worship by the spirit of God. In other words our worship of God is neither habitual not ritualistic, but it is a worship done by the Spirit of him who came to live in our hearts when we believed in Jesus. Jesus our Lord promised to send us the Spirit to be with us and to be in us, and by whom we commune with our Father God. Paul reminded them that they worship not by tradition nor ceremony but by the Spirit. look at verse 3 again. We are the circumcision, we who glory in the Lord Jesus. Indeed Jesus alone is our glory, in him alone we boast. We have nothing else to glory in nor to boast about. Even our righteousness is as filthy rags. So we boast in Christ who in his mercy sacrificed himself on our behalf to become our righteousness. Apart from him, we have no glory, no boast. Look at verse 3 again. We are the circumcision, we who put no confidence in the flesh. In other words, we have no confidence in anything we do to achieve any merits with God. We believe that while we were powerless Christ did for us. Paul wanted to make sure they are well safeguarded. He was a good shepherd for them.
Look at verse 4. “Though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more.” Now why would Paul even say something like this? There were those who followed Paul after he had preached the gospel of grace in a town and set down the grassroots for a church, instead of encouraging and blessing and serving and praying for the kingdom of the Lord to grow and to prosper, they were like snakes whose motive was to plant doubt and to destroy. They would go in to the church and try to discredit Paul by downplaying his credentials. He preaches the gospel but he has no firm foundation in the Laws of Moses and therefore he doesn’t know the importance of carrying on the traditions of the Old Covenant along with the gospel that he preached. Here, we have the proper credentials and the knowledge to help you gain the proper righteousness and salvation. These dogs were devious and shrewd. But Paul was wise in the ways of the Lord. look at verse 4 again.
Paul says if there is any person who should have confidence in the flesh it is I and even more. From a religious, moral and nationalistic perspective he was willing to go head to head with anyone who dared compete with him. It’s like saying “come on whoever you are, I’ll take you on.” He is now ready to list 7 things he once trusted in religion for his righteousness and salvation. If religion could save anyone, here’s a portrait of a man Saul of Tarsus whose religious life was impeccable. Look at his credentials in verses 5-6. He grew up in a strict Jewish home following the mosaic law. He was as Hebrew by blood as is possible. Of an elite Jewish tribe and family. He belonged to the Pharisees sect observing God’s laws to the letter. Furthermore, when it came to his zeal for God he went as far as persecuting the church, the very institution he was helping now build. Finally when it came to his status of righteousness, who could have been more righteous than him since he was considered without fault! What an impressive list of amazing credentials and assets for a man who was so genuinely sincere in his religious walk in life. I think when Paul added up all his religious assets, he truly felt outstanding among his peers.
But something happened to him that changed his whole perspective of life. Read verse 7. “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” What a change in perspective and in value system! One day while on his way to Damascus to persecute and kill Christians the Lord Jesus met with him and invited himself into his heart. Since that day everything changed for Paul. For him that relationship became the most important most precious asset of his life. And that relationship grew and solidified and became better and deeper as the years went by. I know that sometimes people meet the Lord personally and he sheds his grace on their lives and they taste that wondrous relationship. But for some reason or other when they neglect to remain in him, that relationship falls apart and one day they find that there is no relationship left between them and the Lord. And that’s tragic because the loss is enormous, and beyond count! But Paul remained in Jesus as Jesus remained in him and that relationship matured until Paul could honestly and sincerely and wholeheartedly say these amazing words in verses 7 and 8. “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.”
For Paul knowing Christ was the greatest asset and accomplishment of his life. Everything else, his learning, his achievements, his religious background and upbringing, his knowledge of scripture, his religious fervor and zeal for God, his scholarship, his dignity, his pride, his nationalistic glory, his family honor, his wealth, his success, his seat of power, and everything else which once was to his gain— he now considered loss. Why? First he tells us for the sake of Christ. How beautiful this is! Christ, for my sake gave up his life to redeem mine from hell! Most Christians never stop to think of what Christ had had to give up for my sake. When Paul thought of Jesus who gave up all things to redeem Paul from the grip of death and hell, Paul was ready and willing to consider all things a loss for the sake of Christ. I think people today are not willing to give up much for the sake of Christ. They like it that Christ gave up for their sake. But rarely are they willing to give up something for the sake of Christ, let alone consider all things a loss for the sake of Christ.
Second, Paul considers all things a loss because he found something of greater worth than all things. Whatever he once had in his favor, whether accomplishment or asset, what he found in Christ was worth more than anything this world could ever offer him. Knowing Christ was worth more to him than the world and all its precious perishing things. Jesus once said: “This is eternal life that they may know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17.3) What Paul found in Jesus was eternal life, the most precious thing a man or woman could ever want in life. People live in this world and die in this world without ever touching everlasting life. Some come close to it but unless they know Jesus personally and have an intimate relationship with him they cannot have eternal life. They will live and die in this world without life eternal. But Paul found what he was always looking for. He had tried to live a religious life. But that didn’t earn him eternal life. It earned him frustration and guilt, depression and uncertainty. Then he met Jesus. In Jesus he found life eternal, and bonded with the God whom he had always longed to know and to be with. Knowing Jesus was worth it all to him. How foolish are those who run after the deceptions of this world that seem worthwhile at the time, but at their core have Satan’s mark and the sting of death written all over them! How many will perish for not knowing Jesus. What can be worth to you more than Jesus and knowing Jesus!
Paul went one step further in explaining the glory of his great loss on one hand— and the glory of his great gain in Christ Jesus on the other. He said in 8c-9a. “I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” He not only considered all that was once to his gain now loss. He even labeled them as rubbish. In the New NIV the term “rubbish” is better rendered “Garbage” which is a little closer to what Paul meant to say. Do you know what garbage is? I believe garbage is refuse, what we discard and don’t want or can’t use anymore. Garbage is filthy and smelly and the more you keep it the more it stinks. Garbage is a burden no one needs to carry in his or her life. But sadly so many are and will carry it till the day they die. When Peter realized that his past life and present life and possibly his future life were like garbage before the holy God he said to him: “Go away from me Lord for I am a sinful man.” What a glorious day that was for Peter the apostle. It was the day that the Lord helped him unload his garbage, and receive grace of forgiveness and begin a new life in Jesus. Paul’s past achievements of scholarship and religious excellence were garbage as well. He had once dared trust in them to stand before God as a man worthy of God. He had dared once trust his own goodness and righteousness. But when he now stood before the holy Jesus, all that he was and had appeared as they really were— garbage.
It was a moment of revelation and a moment of decision as well. It is the moment that as human beings every one of us must come to, must see ourselves as we really are, and then make a decision one way or another. At this moment when Paul met Jesus, Jesus offered himself to Paul to be his righteousness. In other words, Jesus offered to exchange Paul’s garbage with Jesus’ own righteousness. What a glorious exchange that is! But Paul needed to let go of his own righteousness and embrace Christ and seek shelter in him. He needed to say yes Lord, I renounce my sins, my own filthy righteousness, my wasted offensive garbage of a life, and I accept your gift of life. I take you as my righteousness and my shelter forever. It wasn’t easy. And here’s why! As filthy as garbage may be most people take pride in their garbage. Ask any person who is still holding on to their own sins; or ask any person who is still trying to justify their sins; or ask any person who is self righteous and prideful and contemptuous toward any Bible teaching that challenges their lifestyle! They love the smell of their own garbage too much to let go of it. But Paul let go.
Why? Read 9b. “Not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” Paul realized that his own righteousness was nothing but an illusion— a fake. He had no righteousness at all. He realized that the only righteousness can come from God— that God had to provide the righteousness himself if he were to be made right with God, and stand righteous before the holy God. And he also realized that that righteousness that God provided for all people can only comes through faith— faith in Christ. So he discarded his garbage and plunged headlong into Christ. He found out that he didn’t lose anything. On the contrary, he found that he had gained Christ, and by gaining Christ, he was made righteous before the holy God. Paul had gained life and blessing. He had gained eternal life. He had gained access to the throne of God. He had gained a relationship with Jesus. He was also found in Christ and in Christ he found his eternal provision and security. In Christ he found rest and peace at last. He no longer looked for anything in this world. It does not mean he no longer suffered or struggled or had hardships. He had these in abundance. But he had Christ and in Christ he had found what’s most worth in life.
Read verses 10-11. “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” We can spend a month of sermons looking at these two verses and never exhaust the wealth of spirit in them. And we just might take a couple of Sundays to explore the deeper meanings of these magnificent words. But let us look at them today as a conclusion to this version of Paul’s life testimony. When Paul wrote this letter he was not a young Christian growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ. He was a seasoned veteran evangelist, one of the greatest missionaries this world has ever known. If ever Jesus’ words came true in the life of a person: “You shall do greater things than these”, they had come true in the life of this man Paul. Yet what was his most earnest desire towards the end of his life? He states his desire very clearly.
He wanted to know Christ above all. He wanted to know Christ in his fullness. He wanted to know everything pertaining to Christ. He wanted to know the power of his resurrection which was working in Paul and the church to bring about the kingdom of God. Paul also wanted to know Christ in his suffering and share in it. He did not shy away from suffering. Some Christians hate suffering. The moment they see relief, they grab hold of it even if it comes from the devil. But Paul wanted to know Christ in his suffering and share in it. He welcomed suffering if only it honored and glorified Christ. Paul also wanted to know Christ in his death. He had died in Christ and with Christ. But to Paul death was not a one time event. He fully understood Jesus who called us to “Pick up our cross daily and follow him.” Paul wanted to die for Christ every day if only it served his purpose. Finally Paul wanted to be united with Christ in his resurrection. Paul wanted to know Christ Jesus above all else. We must each ask ourselves, what we want above all else? What is our prayer? For those who know Christ, is it enough to know Christ and then sit back and lounge till Christ returns? Or do we strive to know Christ more and more through going deeper and deeper into Christ? Let us learn from Paul what is worth more than anything else.