Knowing Christ is Worth Your Pain (And Everything Else)
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:8-11).
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
When Paul encountered Jesus Christ on the Damascus road everything changed. He could not go back to living how he had been just moments prior to the encounter. He had seen Jesus. In an instant, Paul was irrevocably converted and Christ was now his pearl of great price (Mt 13: 45-46). Paul’s esteem for Jesus Christ was what prompted the above words written to the Philippian church from a Roman prison around 60 AD.
What Paul saw on that road caused him to, “count everything as loss” and Paul just a few verses before tells us exactly what this “everything” was. He writes, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Phil 3:5-6). This may not seem like much to us, but these took Paul (then Saul) to the very top echelon of his society.
Paul “counts” or considers all of these areas of boasting in his flesh as “loss”. The Greek word for loss used here is zemia which is a word used to describe the kind of loss a person would experience as a result of a penalty or a fine. It’s as if Paul is saying, “all my accomplishments in the flesh did nothing for me except to incur penalties” and so Paul had a choice, as we all do, he could pay the penalty for a life in the flesh or he could “lose” it all and gain Christ (Mk 8:35). For the Apostle, this choice was as easy as blinking. Paul is the antithesis of the rich young ruler found in Luke 18: 18-25. Paul saw all he had and despised it compared to the worth of Jesus. The rich young ruler clung to his “riches” and lost his soul (Matt 16:26).
Nevertheless, it cannot be overlooked that there is a certain kind of mental suffering that comes with counting all things as loss. We have an enemy whose job it is to get us to remember the things we have lost. In times of trouble, he uses these things to create bitterness and resentment towards our Lord. Undoubtedly the Accuser brought up events like the ones Paul outlined above when he was undergoing the events he recounts in 2 Cor 11:24-28:
“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”
Imagine Paul’s situation. Paul is drifting in the sea holding on to a piece of driftwood for dear life. Rescue is nowhere in sight and he is left to his thoughts stranded on the open sea. The demonic whispers come to Paul, “Paul you were going to be the greatest teacher in Isreal! You had it all going for you…you would surely be on the Sanhedrin right now. But look at you…you’re hopeless, lost and in constant troubles all because of Jesus! If he really loved you, you wouldn’t be in this mess! You threw away a good life for this Paul. Your situation proves following Christ was a mistake.”
As Christians, we have all heard and had to deal with some variation of thoughts like this. Each of us has had to fight back the temptation to relish our past with a certain demonized luster which makes us think only of the joys and not the sin and thus yearn to return to it. We must in these moments remember Paul’s words to the Philippian church that the worth of knowing Christ far exceeds the “worth” of whatever we have lost whether real or imagined. Also, we must remind ourselves [it’s not easy] that our suffering actually can help us to know Christ better (Phil 3:10).
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.
Paul drills down on the worthiness of Christ by saying that the loss of all things that he suffered was for “his [Jesus’] sake.” Considering the station Paul was in this is a potent statement as to how Paul assessed the value of Christ compared to the value of all he had in the world prior to Christ. Paul was so convinced of the worth and value of knowing Christ that he refers to all he had prior to Christ as rubbish or garbage. This begs the question, do you see Christ this way? Is your relationship with God and your knowledge of him more precious to you than all you have or could have without him? If your honest answer is no, please believe that it really could be yes!
Jesus’ words found in Matt 10: 37-38 are, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” If your relationship to God is not the most precious thing you have it is because there is something more precious to you than Jesus. This is the point of Jesus’ warning. But what if, even in the condition of loving [or prefering] other things to Christ he used some kind of suffering to take those things away and insert himself in their place in your life, wouldn’t that ultimately be something to be thankful for?
For Paul, knowing Christ, gaining Christ and being found in Christ were all consuming. Whatever he had to let go of, whatever suffering he had to endure, whatever loss had to be incurred by his body, his money, his comfort, his respectability he paid…all for Christ!
that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead
Knowing God is the end of all things (Jn 17:3). This high vision of his reason for existing freed Paul [and will free us] to follow the Lord anywhere. Paul didn’t cling to this life (Phil 1:21) rather he used this life a means of knowing Christ his Lord. To be firmly set on this course Paul had to endure much suffering (Acts 9:15-16). If you and I will take up this same course we can be sure it won’t be easy. We will have the whole world, the flesh, and the devil fighting us at every turn. But if knowing Christ has surpassing worth to you and having him is a great gain to you, if he is your treasure then suffering is just another way to know him and so it serves our ultimate purpose and we can be thankful (2 Cor 4:17). I leave you with a parting verse from Jer 9:23-24:
“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”