Some thoughts on – Philippians 3:7-8a

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Many Christians, especially in America, speak of having a “life verse” or “verses.” By that they mean specific verses from the Bible which have meant something special to them, or  which they wish to imitate or obey in a special sense.

Recently I have been captivated by Philippians 3:7-8a. To me, these verses have not risen to the level of a “life verse” in the sense described above. They have, however, captured my attention and captivated my thoughts, some of which I will work out below.

Without going into too much background, Paul wrote these verses in the middle of a passage where he simultaneously defended both his ministry and the gospel from those who sought to add obedience to Mosiac Law to it (Judaizers), who he refers to as “evildoers…those who mutilate the flesh” (3:2), indicating their primacy of requiring circumcision by Gentile believers.

It is also worth noting that Paul wrote this while imprisoned in Rome.

Paul said: “whatever gain I had I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Three things stand out to me: 1. Paul’s ‘gains’; 2. As good as loss, and; 3. Christ’s value.

1. Paul’s gains. In the previous few verses (4-6), Paul briefly outlined his CV. In light of his discussion of the Judaizers, the implication is obvious: his adherence and dedication to the Law was the “real deal” while theirs were bad imitations. In purely human terms, the Philippians should have listened to him because he had the better background and experience.

This reasoning explains why Paul used the term “whatever gain”. In the Greek, the word gain (κέρδη) is defined as “profit, made through trading.” It is a financial term but in this context it indicates profit made through faith transactions (rather than financial); in other words, whatever benefit or value Paul would have received from his spiritual investments in training and the Law.

2. As good as loss. Paul did not hold on to these gains, though. Instead he “counted [them] as good as loss.” While the word for ‘counted’ is interesting, I don’t want to focus on it. Instead, I am captured by the thought that Paul considered his gains to be the equivalent of losses. And the word he used for loss (ζημίαν) is the opposite of the one he used for gain; it is for a “loss resulting from a unsuccessful business transaction which results in a fine or penalty.”

Paul did not mean that his ‘spiritual profits’ were not gains. No, he meant that what he and others considered to be spiritual value-adders should actually be considered the spiritual equivalent of a bad business transaction, so bad in fact that it resulted in the forfeiture of any previously acquired gains.

What could possibly turn his personal spiritual profit to a fine-worthy loss?

3. Christ’s value. Paul wrote that it was “for the sake of Christ” that he viewed his gains as losses. The term for the sake of (διὰ) is a Greek preposition meaning “on account of” or “because of,” account not being a financial term in this instance. Since this is a prepositional phrase, we can know it must have an object; it does. In this instance, the object of the phrase, and in fact of Paul’s entire sentence, is Christ.

To Paul, knowing Christ (verse 8) made all previous personal enrichments less than the equivalent of a state of bankruptcy. Knowledge is not merely “knowing about;” it (γνώσεως) is “first-hand knowledge and derives its worth from the object of the knowledge.” In other words, it is the inherent value of Christ that makes everything else lose its apparent value.

In this thought Paul echoes two parables preached by Jesus during His earthly ministry: the Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13:44) the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:45-46). Both parables compared the kingdom of heaven with a hidden treasure that is worth more than the cost of everything one possesses to obtain.

According to the Gospels, the kingdom of heaven is representative of eternal life, and Jesus said in John that “this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (17:3). If knowing Jesus is eternal life, and eternal life is worth more than anything of value that one can or does possess, then Paul correctly interpreted and applied the teachings of Jesus when he said that he counted everything as loss for “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [his] Lord.

With all this in mind, I have to ask myself – do I consider “all things” as loss compared to knowing Jesus Christ? Do I consider my position at work, perceived social status, family origins, education, etc., as valueless in light of Christ? Not always, but I should. What can I call a personal gain, when Christ is infinitely more valuable in a way that nothing even compares with? The value of knowing Christ is on a whole different plane of reality, it is eternal and unchangeable. I have nothing that even remotely compares to it and there is nothing in this time-constrained world that ever could compare to it.

So why do I cling to things that don’t matter? Most likely because of two things: pride and a lack of belief. Pride, because I want something for myself that I have earned or I have done; a lack of faith because I am not believing what God says in His word.

Paul’s words have grabbed my attention and will not let me go. May I truly be able to say with him that I have count all things as loss for the sake of Christ.