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—
(Philippians 3:8-9 ESV)
Paul has just explained how, upon meeting Jesus along the Damascus road, he realized that his Jewish pedigree and social standing were not worth holding on to. Now, some thirty years later, as he sits in a Roman prison having “suffered the loss of all things”, he determines that everything and anything is worth losing in order to know Jesus.
Once again this is a reasoned decision by Paul (“I count”) who weighed the benefits of earthly gain against having a relationship with Jesus. Having a nice home, or a secure job, or fame are not bad things. But if those things become the focal point of one’s life or, worse, if they stand in the way of knowing Jesus in the first place, then they are spiritually damaging.
The only thing that can gain someone eternal life is a relationship with Jesus [Matthew 7:21-23, John 3:16, et. al]. Therefore, there is no ultimate value in anything else that can be attained on this earth. While earthly things such as money and power have utilitarian value, they have no spiritual value. Their usage is temporary – limited to earth – not eternal. So in the long-run they are rubbish.
In its original language the Bible is often very graphic. Our English translations clean up the original Greek and Hebrew. But in doing so we can lose the intense meaning behind the given author’s choice of words. This verse is a perfect example. The word “rubbish” hardly paints an accurate picture of what Paul is saying here. In the original Greek the word is σκυβαλον (pronounced: skoo’-bal-on) which means “animal excrement”.
Paul had as much use, spiritually speaking, for the things this world has to offer as he had for animal excrement. In other words, the things that the world had to offer him were useless, offensive, and toxic. This is a very strong statement. But it was true for Paul 2,000 years ago and it is true for us today.
No one would disagree that the more education a person has the more successful they can become. Knowledge provides opportunity. This is true of our lives and it is also true when it comes to our eternity. “Knowing Christ Jesus” has a “worth” which surpasses all else. It is the ultimate education.
The Greek word for “knowing” here is γνοσισ (pronounced: gno’-sis). It describes a knowledge that is acquired over time through experience and relationship. Knowing Jesus is a life-long process, but is worth more than everything else on earth combined.
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