I collect baseball cards. The most valuable baseball card in history is a 1909 Honus Wagner. Wagner was the 2B of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The card sold for a mere 2.35 million dollars in 2002! Interestingly, the card was originally produced and inserted into a package of cigarettes that sold for a whopping 30 cents! Of course, I’ve never owned a Honus Wagner card. You know how you can tell?
Our world places value on many different things from baseball cards to collector cars. It’s been said that Jay Leno has invested over 500 million dollars in collectibles in his Big Dog Garage in Southern California. Leno’s collection ranges from a Ferrari to a P-51D Mustang fighter plane. Items of excessive value have often been perplexing for me. How could a baseball card be worth more than the combined costs of 22 average-sized houses!
In Philippians 3:7-11, the Apostle Paul speaks of value. What is of greatest value in life? Paul’s response to that question is worthy of our consideration. Let’s take a walk through these verses.
“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”7 The term counted is an accounting term. Paul has examined the general ledger of his life and he has calculated the profits and losses columns. All that was once considered gain in life as a Pharisee (3:4-6) is now considered a loss compared to knowing Christ Jesus. The term loss carries with it the idea of cargo being tossed overboard. In Acts 27 we read of Paul being sent to Rome. A violent storm occurs while sailing toward the island of Crete and to lighten the weight of the ship they began to toss the cargo overboard. Anything in life is equal to discarded cargo compared to knowing Christ.
Paul says that all things are not only counted as loss, but he counts “them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” The term rubbish refers to that which has no value (i.e. table scraps tossed into the garbage, dung or human excrement). Paul is contrasting the value found in the world with the value found in knowing Christ. Of course, there is no comparison. “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”8 The term surpassing can be understood as “beyond knowledge or comprehension.” Paul is saying that it is impossible to place a value on knowing Christ. It transcends all human comprehension that the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, all loving, all holy, all loving, all faithful God would choose to take on human flesh and go to a cross that sinful man might come to know Him personally.
Knowing Christ means forgiveness of sin. Knowing Christ means salvation. Knowing Christ means eternal life. How do you place a value on these realities? “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21 NASB). How do you place a price tag on that verse? As a sinner, I was dead in my trespasses and sins. I was walking according to the course of this world. I was living in the lusts of the flesh and indulging in the desires of the flesh and mind. I was a child of wrath subject to eternal destruction by God and eternal separation from God. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4-5) NASB). In Christ, I have been co-crucified, co-buried, co-resurrected, co-ascended, co-seated, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and set free!
The term know used in verses 9 and 10 goes beyond intellectual knowledge. It refers to knowing something through personal experience. Paul says that he has come to know Christ personally and experientially. His experience with Christ is so real that it’s somewhat difficult to describe. How do you find words to effectively communicate what God in Christ has done in your life?
Have you ever tried to retell a story or share a personal experience with someone when you finally come to realize that it’s just not working out? You get to a point in the story where you just say, “I guess you just had to be there!” As I ponder the teaching of these verses it seems that Paul might be saying something similar.
A number of years ago I took a trip to Disney World. I was so excited because of the popular roller coaster Space Mountain. I had heard for years that it was a roller coaster experience like no other. Of course, being a roller coaster enthusiast who had been on scores of coasters, I just had to try this one out! Sure enough, I got my chance. Now, I could try to describe my Space Mountain experience for you. I could tell you what it was like to be in total darkness. I could tell you about going up and down and being tossed from side to side. But, it wouldn’t take long to realize that my description just wouldn’t be too convincing. Nevertheless, I must say that Space Mountain is unlike any other roller coaster experience I’ve ever had!
As difficult as it is to describe a roller coaster experience, can you just imagine trying to describe the beauty of God? How about the love of God? How about the faithfulness of God? It’s as though Paul is saying, “Don’t take my word for it just experience Him personally for yourself!” For those who don’t know Christ, my prayer is that they experience a taste of His goodness. May they come to realize that nothing in the world compares to knowing Him. I can say with complete confidence that God is unlike any other god they’ve ever experienced.
Paul says that he has come to know Christ personally and experientially in three specific ways: through the power of His resurrection, through the fellowship of His sufferings, and through the likeness of His death (v. 10).
I. The Power of His Resurrection:
The term power refers to “ability in Christ.” Paul is saying that he has come to experience the ability of God in his life. How able is God?
In the Old Testament, we read that He is the Creator of the universe. He is the One who spoke all that is into existence. We read that He formed man from the dust of the earth. We read that He established a nation and desired to call for Himself a people. We read that He parted the waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan River. We read that He saved the lives of three Hebrew children from the fiery furnace. We read that He saved a young man from the mouths of hungry lions. We read that He took a shepherd boy and established a throne on which He Himself would one day occupy and rule and reign forever. How able is God?
In the New Testament, we read where in the fullness of time He came in the flesh. We read that He raised the dead. We read that He healed the sick by making the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, and the blind to see. We read that He went to the cross and died to atone for the sins of man. We read that He was placed in a tomb and three days later rose again. We read that He established His church so that people of all nations may come to know and worship Him. We read that He ascended back into heaven and is presently seated at the right hand of the Father. We read that He sent the Holy Spirit to comfort, guide, and convict people of sin. We read that one day He is coming again to reestablish His rule and reign upon the everlasting throne promised to David. We read that the day is coming when people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation will be gathered around this throne in worship. We read that He will one day establish the new heavens and the new earth. How able is God?
Ephesians 1:18-23 says,
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (NASB)
Paul says that he has come to know the power of God in his life. This speaks of Christ living within him. Galatians 2:20 teaches that we no longer live, but it is Christ who lives in us. Christ living in us gives access to the unlimited and all-conquering power of God. By allowing Christ to live in us we have power to defeat the second greatest power in the world – SIN. The resurrection of Christ is a demonstration of God’s power over death, hell, and the grave. That’s why believers can sing the old hymn; “He breaks the power of canceled sin – He sets the prisoner free – His blood can make the foulest clean – His blood availed for me!” Paul says that he has come to know the power of His resurrection.
II. The Fellowship of His Sufferings:
Suffering is not something that we seek to experience. We don’t arise each morning and consciously prepare for our daily suffering. Nonetheless, suffering is a reality. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Pet. 4:12-13 NASB). We should not consider suffering as something out of the ordinary. Christ suffered so shall His people.
With this phrase, Paul is speaking of his identification with Christ. He is saying that he wants to approach suffering in a way that would bring honor and glory to Christ. The Lord Jesus faced suffering with great joy because He knew the Father’s redemptive work was being accomplished (Heb. 12:1-2). Paul understood that there is a mystery in suffering. God is accomplishing His purpose in us and through us when we suffer. God is sovereign. Therefore, He not only allows suffering but He often ordains it. Suffering is a necessary component of sanctification. It is God’s sculpting process used to make us more like His Son.
Not long ago I was privileged to watch an ice sculptor. Taking a chainsaw the sculptor began to carve away at a shapeless and formless block of ice. Slowly, with each application of the chain to the ice a masterpiece of stunning beauty emerged. Such it is with the life of a shapeless and formless sinner saved by grace. God allows and often ordains suffering that we might be carved into the image of His Son. Wouldn’t it be of great encouragement to keep this in mind the next time we face adversity?
Suffering accomplishes a three-fold work in our lives:
1. Bringing us closer in our fellowship with God.
2. Removing that which hinders us from total submission to God.
3. Causing us to decrease and Jesus to increase and be more visible in our lives.
Suffering reminds us of what Jesus experienced on the cross. Nothing compares to knowing the One who suffered and died in our place. Paul says that he has come to know the fellowship of His sufferings.
III. The Likeness of His Death:
Obedience is a word that characterizes the Christian life. In the great Christological Hymn of Philippians 2:5-11, Paul speaks of the obedience of Christ. “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (v. 8 NASB). Christ was sacrificially obedient to the Father, even to the point of giving His life. In Matthew 26 we see Christ in the Garden as He prays to the Father. What is the resolution? That the will of the Father be accomplished. How does our obedience to the will of the Father compare to that of Christ?
In verse 10 Paul uses the phrase “being conformed” to His death. The present tense speaks of continuous, on-going, and daily action. In Galatians he speaks of being “crucified with Christ” (2:20). These phrases together teach us that we must daily die to self and die to sin. As we choose to die to self and die to sin we are being conformed to the death of Christ. We cannot live for ourselves and live for Christ – only one of those pursuits can be accomplished. Paul lived for Christ because he had died to self!
How can we know Christ in the way Paul has described in verses 7-11? Paul says, “…and be found in Him, 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” (v. 9). Faith is the key. Simply stated, faith believes and trusts in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Faith is personal. Do you believe?
Verse 11 speaks of the promise of the resurrection, which is the blessed hope for the believer (1 Cor. 15). Because Jesus was raised so shall His people be raised. Physical death is not the end – faith becomes sight! Paul lived in light of eternity, which is why he considered anything gained in this life to be counted as loss compared to knowing Jesus.
What is of greatest value in your life? Is it knowing Christ Jesus?