The Surpassing Value of Christ
Topic: Topical Passage: Philippians 3:4-8
After a couple of weeks away, this morning we get to return to Philippians 3 and to Paul’s incredible testimony regarding his conversion and passion for Christ (Read vv. 1–11).
Remember that this section is framed by Paul’s warning regarding his archrival, the Judaizers. They had caused Paul a lot of trouble because they didn’t stand out as the bad guys. They believed that Jesus is the Christ, that he died for sin, and that we need to believe on him for salvation. But they also believed that Christ alone is not enough for salvation. They taught that Christians must get circumcised, obey Jewish food laws, and observe Jewish holy days in order to be fully saved.
Therefore, Paul strongly calls them out as imposters in v. 2. Then in v. 3 he reminds us of the basic nature of gospel Christianity (read). That last statement is a wonderful summary of what distinguishes gospel Christianity from every other religion. Christians are those who “rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh,” meaning our good works to earn us salvation. Our hope is in Christ and Christ alone!
And in vv. 4–11 Paul drives home the wonder of the gospel by taking us on a journey back in time to his own conversion, when he first saw Christ for who he truly is and understood the true glory of the gospel.
We know from Acts that Paul is reflecting on his radical conversion on the Road to Damascus. So today, we are going to go back in time with Paul to this glorious moment and listen in as Paul describes what Christ did that day and how it radically reshaped everything about Paul. Notice that the first piece of Paul’s testimony is that…
I. Before Christ, Paul pursued his own righteousness (vv. 4–6).
Have you ever heard the argument like, “The only reason you don’t think this shampoo or vacuum or TV is necessary is because you’ve never experienced how wonderful it is.” This is the kind of argument the Judaizers were probably making to the Gentile Philippians. They flaunted their religiosity and claimed that they needed to just try what they had to offer.
Paul responds in vv. 4–6 by introducing us to a younger Paul. He’s going to emphasize that this Paul had everything the Judaizers offered and quite a bit more. Notice the bold claim that Paul makes in 4, “If anyone…” No one could say that Paul hadn’t experienced the blessings of Judaism or that he was just jealous of what the Judaizers had.
So, I imagine that if we met Paul when he first left for Damascus, we would meet a very confident, secure young man. In v. 5, Paul mentions 4 major religious privileges he had inherited from his parents.
First, he was “circumcised the eighth day.” Some 2,000 years earlier, God told Abraham in Genesis 17:12 that all of his male descendants were to be circumcised when they were 8 days old, and Paul’s parents blessed him right on time with the primary mark of Israelite privilege.
Second, Paul was “of the stock of Israel.” This is significant because there were many Gentiles throughout the Roman world who had converted to Judaism and submitted to the Law. But Paul wasn’t merely a Gentile convert. He was a purebred Jew with a front row seat to God’s blessing.
Third, Paul was “of the tribe of Benjamin.” This put Paul in elite company even among the Jews. Afterall, Benjamin was a son of Rachel, and the only one of Jacob’s sons who was born in the Promised Land. Jerusalem and the temple mount were within their territory. Later on, when Israel divided after Solomon’s death, Benjamin and Judah were the only tribes that stayed loyal to David’s line. Therefore, the young version of Paul took great pride in the fact that he was a Benjamite.
Fourth, Paul was “a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” In the first century world, many Jews throughout the Roman empire maintained their Jewish identity; however, they had become highly Hellenized, meaning that they had blended into Greek and Roman culture. But Paul’s family held fast to Hebrew customs and remained separate from the pagan culture.
In sum, Paul was born into the center of Jewish privilege. Then Paul adds that his privileged childhood was only matched by his personal zeal.
Fifth, Paul adds, “concerning the law, a Pharisee.” This is significant, because the Pharisees were the purest, most conservative sect of Judaism. And Paul tells us elsewhere that he was the cream of the crop among the Pharisees. As a boy he was sent to Jerusalem to study under the preeminent Pharisee of his day Gamaliel.
And he embraced what he learned. He says in Galatians 1:14, “I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” Therefore, when we meet Paul on the Road to Damascus, he was quickly ascending up the ladder of Pharisaism.
Sixth, Paul says, “concerning zeal, persecuting the church.” Acts 9:1 states that Paul went about Jerusalem, “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Of course, that was the reason Paul was going to Damascus. He had secured authority from the high priest to arrest Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial.
And Paul confesses in Galatians 1:13, “I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.” Paul was working zealously to stamp out Christianity, even if meant tremendous suffering for Christians. The man on the Road to Damascus was a serious, focused man.
Seventh, Paul says, “concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” Paul is not saying that he was perfect, because no one is. Rather, think, for example of 1 Timothy 3, which says that a pastor must have a blameless testimony. That’s how Paul’s peers saw him. From every appearance Paul’s record was spotless. He had achieved the righteousness available in the law.
So, again, the young man walking to Damascus was surely very self-confident and very sure of his relationship with God. He probably assumed that there were only a few people on earth who were more righteous than he was. He was confident that he had God’s blessing.
And maybe there is someone here who can identify with the young Paul. You may not be that good, but you are pretty confident in your religious standing. You come from a family of Christians, you obey all the major commands of Scripture, and you live a religious life. So, you just assume, “If God accepts anyone, he surely accepts me.” But Acts 9 tells us that everything suddenly and dramatically changed in a moment (Acts 9:3–9). God transformed Paul’s beliefs and ambitions. Notice in v. 7 that…
II. Through the gospel, Paul discovered that Christ is better than human righteousness (v. 7).
Paul’s head had to be spinning when he saw Christ. It rocked his world in many ways, but v. 7 points out that above everything else he came to understand the infinite value of Christ!
The Significance of Christ: Remember that moments before the vision, Paul thought that Jesus was a blasphemous imposter and a rival of the true faith. He hated Jesus. So, Acts 9:4–5 describe an earth shattering Paul sees a blinding light and hears a majestic voice. So, he asks, “‘Who are You, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Talk about a humbling moment.
But in that moment Christ also planted the seed of the gospel in Paul’s heart, and Paul saw the infinite worth of Jesus. Through the blinding light, he saw that Christ is infinitely more righteous than us. He saw that all of the privileges in 4–6 could never make him acceptable to God.
And I’m sure that his understanding grew over time, but he understood that Jesus had provided the perfect sacrifice on the cross. He had atoned for Paul’s sins in a way that Paul never could. And he understood that Christ offered a righteousness far greater than Paul could ever achieve himself.
Paul could be credited with the perfect righteousness of God’s Son. Notice how he describes this in 9. Paul could receive perfect righteousness, and remarkable, it was available simply through “faith in Christ.”
Just to expand a bit on this, turn over a couple of pages to Colossians 2:9–10. Paul saw that Christ is God in human flesh, and he offers all of that fullness simply by faith. Paul could enjoy perfect righteousness, divine acceptance, eternal life, and divine power to battle sin. Paul could be “complete in Him.”
What a sight for Paul to behold. And if you are a Christian, I hope that you never grow calloused to the beauty and grace of your Savior. All the fullness of God resides in him. That’s what we celebrate in Christmas. Infinite God appeared in bodily form. As John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
And what’s even more incredible, is that by faith, I have been united to Christ, and I have been made “complete in Him.” I am forever loved and accepted by God, I am justified without any fear of condemnation, I am on my way to heaven, and I have divine strength to fight sin and glorify the Lord. Christ is my life, my all for all eternity. Praise God!
So, on the Road to Damascus, Paul saw the glory of Christ, and using accounting terminology, v. 7 says that Paul made the easiest calculation anyone has ever made (read). He looked at Christ on one side of the ledger, and then he looked at his own righteousness through the law on the other side, and there was no comparison. Paul understood…
The Vanity of Legalism: It’s hard to overstate how radically God changed Paul’s thinking. Paul had devoted his life to achieving righteousness through the Law. Paul was no CEO (Christmas and Easter Only) Christian. He had put every egg in the basket of the Law. And Paul thought he had achieved righteousness. He thought he was big stuff.
But when he saw the holiness of Christ and righteousness that he offered, everything that he had considered to be a “gain,” he now “counted loss.” He understood that his life’s ambition didn’t just have a discounted value; it was worthless.
It’s important that we are precise in understanding what Paul means here. He’s not saying that all sincere obedience to God’s commands or religious activity is a waste of time. Rather, what made Paul’s former life a “loss” was the fact that all of it was driven by a desire to earn salvation or acceptance with God. In other words, Paul hadn’t done these things out of love for God and in the power of his grace. Instead, it was all a waste because PAUL was trying to achieve righteousness.
And the moment, I try to add anything to the perfect righteousness of Christ, I lose the gospel. Paul makes this abundantly clear in Galatians 5:1–4. The Galatians were considering embracing the works of the Judaizers as a means of adding to Christ, and notice the warning Paul gives (read). Paul is very clear. You cannot trust in Christ plus anything, because the moment you add to Christ, you lose Christ. Salvation is by grace and grace alone.
So, if I asked you today, “Why do you believe you are going to heaven?” What would you say? Would you begin to talk about how you grew up in a Christian family? Would you tell me about your baptism, your church attendance, your gifts to charity, and all the bad things you haven’t done? If so, Galatians 5 warns, “Christ will profit you nothing.”
And I would urge you to count all of that as loss, acknowledge your sin, and cast yourself on Christ with both feet. And I can assure you that if you do, he will be faithful. You will be in Christ under the shield of his righteousness and strengthened by his resurrection power. You will be forever secure.
Please be saved today. If you have questions, we’d love to talk with you afterwards about how you can know the same Christ and the same assurance that Paul describes in this text. In sum, on that day, Paul discovered that Christ is better than human righteousness. Then v. 8 adds that…
III. Through the gospel, Paul discovered that Christ is better than every earthly treasure (v. 8).
This verse repeats the thought of v. 7 but it also expands on what is loss in this world and what is gain in Christ. Notice first the incredible gains that are available in Christ.
The Promises of the Gospel: Specifically, Paul notes 2 promises or 2 blessings of Christ that are available in the gospel, which he then explains in greater detail in 9–11, which we will study next week, Lord willing. I’d like to begin at the end of the verse, where Paul says…
You can receive Christ’s righteousness. Paul says that his ambition is to “gain Christ.” And then he expands on what he means in 9. We’ll say a lot more about this next week, but essentially Paul is looking ahead to the final judgment, when he stands before the Lord.
And he says, that when the Lord judges him someday, he doesn’t want to stand in his own good deeds. Instead, he wants to stand in a far greater righteousness, the righteousness of Christ, because he knows he will be secure and never face condemnation if he is in Christ.
This is the fundamental promise of the gospel. You don’t have to anxiously attempt to earn favor with God. Instead, you can stand before the judgment in Christ, with no fear of condemnation. It’s a wonderful promise. The 2nd promise of the gospel is…
You can know Christ relationally. Paul says I threw my old life in the trash, “for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” Verse 10 expands on this phrase (read). This verse is clearly not talking about a mere judicial Rather, it describes an intimate relationship. Paul wants to know Christ, like you can know your spouse or a good friend.
As such, this ambition has to do with my present experience of Christ and his power as I strive for genuine godliness. And Paul is clear that this experience is radically different from what he experienced before. When Paul was a Pharisee, righteousness was about HIM doing everything in HIS power to work his way to God. He didn’t know God as his Father.
But 10 says that a true Christian lives in “the power of His resurrection.” Colossians 2:6–7 say I “walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him.” Christ is right there with me as my strength and my friend. We experience his grace!
We don’t hear an audible voice, but his Spirit teaches us and draws us closer to him through prayer, Bible study, worship, meditation, and fellowship with other Spirit-filled Christians. And we actually come to know our Savior. We understand what he loves and hates. We experience his love, forgiveness, and power. We know him as our friend.
And Paul describes this opportunity as “excellent,” or as being of “surpassing worth.” Understand that there is no greater gift we can enjoy as frail human beings than to be near to infinite, holy God and to enjoy fellowship with him. The greatest blessing of heaven will not be good food or life without pain. No, the greatest blessing will be to be near to God, and the greatest blessing we can enjoy today is to be in Christ and to know Christ through the Spirit. It is of surpassing worth. As a result, notice…
The Vanity of Worldliness: Again, in 7 Paul said that he “counted” his legalistic works as a Jew to be a “loss.” But in v. 8 Paul broadens the implications of his newfound life in Christ. He says, “I also count all things loss,” and then he adds, “I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish.”
Therefore, Paul is not solely thinking of his legalistic works; rather, he is thinking of anything that would rival Christ’s place in his heart and Christ’s role as his only security. For the Philippians, their Roman citizenship would be a big one, because they put great confidence in their legal standing. For you, it might be your job, your community service, your bank account, your home, or your family.
Paul is not saying that all of these things are necessarily bad, but if it rivals Christ’s place in your heart, and it distracts from pursuing the knowledge of Christ, it is a loss, no matter how impressive it looks.
And Paul drives this home by calling all of it “rubbish.” The Greek word is skubala, and most likely it is derived from the word for dog and the verb meaning “to cast,” speaking here of a dog’s droppings. It could also be used of the rotting scraps that dogs would eat. It’s a picture of foul, rotting waste.
So, I want you to think of those things in your life that tend to rival Christ for first place in your heart, and think of those places that rival Christ as places of security, confidence, and hope. What are you passionate about, and what are you proud of?
And then recognize that however impressive those things may look, if they are rivaling Christ, it’s as if you have a pile of dog poop or decaying garbage in the living room of your heart. This is because it is taking your eyes off a treasure and a confidence that is infinitely more valuable. You’re like a little child playing with the wrapping paper, when a diamond ring is lying under your nose.
So, Christian, recognize today the infinite value of Christ. Someday, you will be made perfect, and the greatest joy of eternity will be to dwell with him.
And remarkably, you get to experience a piece of that glory today! You are in him, and you can spend your life getting to know him. You can walk with him, you can experience his power, his joy, and his love. It’s incredible, and Paul gets it, when he says that nothing can compare to the “excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.”
So, Christian, don’t waste your life chasing garbage. Instead give everything to the pursuit of the knowledge of Christ. Live in his Word. Devote yourself to prayer. Worship with your brothers in the church. Walk in holiness longing to be nearer to him than to the world. And enjoy the richness of his presence.
With the psalmist, may you say, “Whom have I in heavenbut You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever… It is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all Your works” (Ps 73:25–26, 28). Pursue the knowledge of Christ.
And if you have never received Christ, I pray that you will see the surpassing value of knowing Christ and that in comparison to him, everything else is a pile of rubbish. Stop trusting in your own righteousness, and stop hoping in the pleasures of this world. Instead, like Paul did on the Road to Damascus, bow at the feet of Christ and receive him by faith. You will not be disappointed, because knowing Christ is the greatest gift.