Whatever was Gain to Me
Our attitude about stuff and accomplishments is at the heart of our attitude about God and eternity. We may be prone to pride, to boast about what we have and what we have done. One of the problems with this is that we are forgetting God’s grace. If we are boasting about stuff and accomplishments, we are taking the credit for it all.
Yet earthly accomplishments and things cannot give us true confidence in anything eternal. In Philippians 3, Paul warned about certain men who put their confidence “in the flesh” (v. 3). He pointed out that if they really wanted to go there, Paul could start laying out his own fleshly accomplishments. But what good would that do for his relationship with Christ? Therefore, he writes,
“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may 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, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (vv. 7-11).
Paul’s attitude is up front: “whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” For the sake of Christ, his earthly accomplishments meant nothing. He goes further, saying that he would count them as “rubbish,” a strong term that indicates refuse or dung. In comparison to what Christ gives, no earthly thing or accomplishment can begin to match up.
Why would Paul make such a strong statement about his fleshly works? I believe it has to do with his understanding of what Christ did on our behalf for the sake of our eternal inheritance. Paul no longer cared that he had been a Pharisee or a Hebrew of Hebrews. Instead, he cared about gaining Christ, being found in Him, and attaining to the fullness of the resurrection of the dead. His focus was now eternal rather than temporal (see how he expresses this same attitude in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Paul’s attitude here is shaped by the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul wants to be “conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” This phrase packs power because it highlights both the current life that a Christian lives and the future hope that a faithful Christian maintains. How so?
When we become Christians, we conformed to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul writes in Romans 6:5, “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection …” Our baptism is a form of death and resurrection. We bury the dead, old man of sin and are raised up with Christ to walk in newness of life. In that way, then, we are experiencing the power of Christ’s resurrection, and as we are transformed to be what God desires us to be, we are living resurrected lives. Even so, we realize that while we are in the flesh as we are, we will not yet be perfected. To that end, Paul continues in Philippians 3:12-14:
“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul’s life was still being transformed by the resurrection of Christ with a view toward attaining the final resurrection. This is a view toward eternity, and once we see the value of this, we can say, with Paul, “I press on.” We will know that there is nothing in this life that can be worth losing our eternal inheritance. There is a prize at the end of the road, but it will not be won by laziness or lack of faith. We cannot let our past hinder our current lives and goals.
Earthly stuff and things are temporary and will pass away. None of that can bring us to our eternal goal. If we are to be dedicated to pressing on, then we must gain an appreciation of this difference between the temporal and the eternal. We are raised up with Christ in order to be raised again with Christ! As Christ asks, “what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt 16:24)