The Prize of Jesus Christ
When Paul begins this chapter with the word "Finally", he means to tell us that this is the heart of his letter to the Philippians. I hear Paul saying, "Now that you know that I love you and am committed to you, and now that you understand the necessity of being united, finally I can tell you about what is of utmost importance. I want to talk to you about the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ."
The key verse in chapter 3 is verse 8, "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 in order that I may gain Christ and may be found in Him".
If you have ever wanted a summary of the Christian life, I can find no better verse than this. Paul speaks of counting all things as rubbish in view of the opportunity to know Christ.
What were some of these things that Paul had previously cherished? In verses 5 and 6, Paul gives us a bit of an autobiography telling us that what he once cherished was religious prestige, writing that he was, "circumcised on the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless."
Paul had come from an elite tribe, of an elite religion, of an elite nation, he had gone through all of the religious rites, he possessed sufficient zeal, and the sum of all this was that he was regarded as blameless.
If anyone could legitimately think they might merit salvation, it was Paul--and he did think that . . . Until he met Christ. When Paul met Christ, everything in his gain column went to the loss column. All gain was now considered rubbish.
I don't want you to miss the strength of Paul's statement, "I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish". The Greek word translated "rubbish" is the word "skubalon". And the word, "skubalon", literally translated is dung, or excrement. Compared to Christ, Paul says that everything else in life is as valuable as manure. Keep in mind, also, that what Paul regards as manure is his credentials. Paul is not saying that only his sin is like dung, but the things he valued are dung when compared to Christ.
I find this to be truly amazing. As human beings, we prize many things. We prize our possessions--our homes, our cars, our bank accounts. We prize our hobbies--golfing, gardening, woodworking. We prize our career, our reputation, our standing in society. We prize our relationships--our spouse, our children, our friends. Admittedly, there are many things in this world worth prizing.
There are so many things in this world that I greatly value, yet I must discover, and you must discover, what Paul discovered--that compared to Christ, everything we treasure is as valuable as manure.
If this is true, if Christ is infinitely more valuable than anything in our life, let me ask you: Is that obvious to others around you? Is there evidence in your life that would convince someone that Christ is indeed the surpassing One?
What Paul is modeling for us is a passion for Christ that is not extinguished over time. This is what separates the true Christian from the pretenders. The one who pretends to be a Christian knows only the facts about Christ. Paul reminds us, however, that there is a difference in knowing Christ and knowing about Christ. The pretender may know all about Christ--His wise teachings, His blameless lifestyle. The pretender may know the history of Christ, but this is not the same as knowing Him.
I could tell you a great deal about the life of Wayne Gretzky--how he was born in Brantford, began playing hockey at the age of 3, played junior in Sault Ste. Marie, how he captained the Edmonton Oilers to multiple Stanley Cups in the 1980's. I could tell you every team he played for, every NHL record he broke. I could tell you who his parents are, the name of his spouse and children, yet none of this can change the fact that I do not know Wayne Gretzky.
Paul not only knew about Jesus Christ, but he also knew Christ, and his greatest passion was to grow in his relationship with Him.
What did Paul expect to gain from his relationship with Christ that was so valuable? In verses 9 and 10, Paul talks about gaining 3 things when we gain Christ. The first thing we gain is the righteousness of God. Paul spent his entire life trying to gain the righteousness of God by his own efforts. Paul thought he could count on his circumcision, his race, his privilege, his tradition, his zeal, his morality, and thought the accumulation of all these things would make him righteous. Eventually Paul learned that God's righteousness was not something to be earned, but a gift to be received, and so Paul told the Philippians about the, "righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith".
The second thing Paul expected to gain was the power of God. Paul writes, "(I want to) know (Christ), and the power of His resurrection". Paul was not interested in maximizing his personal potential. Paul was interested in maximizing Christ's power in his life. Paul understood that to gain Christ was to gain the power to overcome sin, temptation, and yes, even the grave.
The third thing we gain when we gain Christ is "the fellowship of (Christ's) sufferings"(v.10). It would be a strange thing if Paul simply desired to suffer in the general sense, but we see here that Paul wants a certain kind of suffering. Paul wanted to suffer for the Gospel in the same manner that Christ suffered. This is how much Paul wanted to know Christ. Paul's passion for Christ led him to want to share every experience of Christ--even suffering.
We should pause to ask, "Just what is it that Paul has in view here? What does Paul seek to obtain by gaining Christ's righteousness, power, and fellowship in suffering?" Well, whatever it is, verse 12 tells us that he hasn't obtained it yet. Paul writes, "Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus."
What's this Paul? What are you trying to lay hold of? You've got righteousness, you've got power, and you've got fellowship so intimate that you share in Christ's sufferings. What else do you want to lay hold of?
"I'll tell you. I want to lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus". What? "I want to get I was gotten to get." What are you saying Paul? "I want to obtain what the Lord redeemed me to give me."
Paul understands that he was laid hold of by Christ Jesus for something. We are laid hold of by Christ Jesus for something. God has a purpose in mind when He saves us--what is it?
Listen to what Paul writes in Romans 8:29, "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son." Why were you saved? Foreknown, predestined, in order to be made like whom?----Christ. You and I were saved to be made like Christ. Paul is saying that's what I was laid hold of for, and that is what I want to lay hold of. I was saved to become like Christ one day, and in the meantime, that is what I pursue--Christ-likeness.
"Brethren, (v.13) I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; (I haven't become like Christ yet) but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal"--What's the goal? Christ-likeness. "For the prize"--What's the prize? Christ-likeness. The goal is the prize. It's the same thing.
Verse 14 finishes, "for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus". When we're called up to heaven the prize is Christ-likeness, and in the meantime, the goal is Christ-likeness.
We need to recognize what Paul recognized--we have not yet obtained from Christ all that we are expected to obtain. Most people would admit that they are not like Christ, but I fear that some are satisfied with this condition. This was not the case with the apostle Paul. Paul realized that he was not like Christ and this motivated him in his pursuit of Christ-likeness.
We, too, must be relentless in our pursuit of Christ-likeness given the fact that we are not perfect yet. We would think it strange if a failing student did not seek out a tutor. We would think it foolish if someone with a debilitating virus refused to take antibiotics. We would think it irresponsible if a drug addict did not seek out a support group. In the same way, we dishonour Christ if we shrug our shoulders at our spiritual deficiencies.
Paul's example is to go hard after the prize of Christ-likeness. We exist for this purpose. We were saved for this purpose. But make no mistake, your pursuit of Christ-likeness will be greatly hindered if you insist on clinging to your rubbish.
You may be engaged in some very worthy pursuits, I grant you that. The Christian life does not demand that you withdraw from every worldly pursuit. What Paul is reminding us of is the relative value of our earthly pursuits when compared to the pursuit of becoming like Christ. Even our most worthwhile pursuits are manure in comparison to knowing Christ.
Believing this to be true, I urge you to go hard after the prize of Jesus Christ. Amen.