In his letter to the Philippians, Paul penned a line that has adorned an uncountable number of Christian trinkets in the millennia since: “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.“ (Philippians 3:7-8a). This scripture is often quoted to show a Christian’s willingness to give up material possessions to serve Christ. That’s a noble sentiment, one we all should strive to emulate… but is that all Paul meant with this text?
In the lead-up to the quote above, Paul lays out a lesser-known but critical section of scripture. He says:
“For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:3-6).
Interestingly, Paul makes no mention of material goods (though I suspect he would be entirely on board with the idea of giving up physical comforts for Christ’s sake). Instead, Paul speaks about something far harder for humans to give up: ourselves.
Paul spent his early life as a devout Jew – far more zealous than most Christians who grew up in the church. While it’s unclear how high up in the religious order Paul was at the time of his conversion, he was doubtless destined to be a future leader of Israel, someone who would have the admiration and respect of an entire nation. His past was impeccable, his future was bright, and his character was pristine: he had followed the law and performed all the works – if anyone deserved eternal life (from a human perspective), it was him. Yet, Paul gave it all up. He gave up confidence in his works, he gave up the prestige of power, and he gave up the adoration of his people, all to immerse in the true life of Christ. Paul gave up himself.
With this in mind, we should turn the focus back to us: what have we given up for Christ? Do we slap Philippians 3:7 on our wall as a pretty picture and convince ourselves we fulfill it when we skip our morning coffee so we can give the congregation an extra couple of dollars that week? Or have we truly given up ourselves? Have we become willing to suffer embarrassment, scorn, and even hatred for the glory of Christ? Have we set aside our strength to lean wholly on his, trusting not our reputation or respectability but His power to bring us to life? I suspect we all (myself included) can lower ourselves a little further. Take heart that the reward is well worth the cost.
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— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8b-11)