Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
To know Christ was of supreme value for Paul. Nothing in this life compared. Paul wrote a similar thing to the Romans, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Paul has just outlined his Jewish heritage and record as a law keeper. On paper, Paul had a stellar reputation on which he could easily draw in order to live a very comfortable life; however, the value of knowing Jesus outstripped all the identity, hope, and security that could come from such religious standing. Whatever Paul might have gained before men by some religious action or by earthly possession so paled in comparison to knowing Jesus Christ that it was rightly counted as a loss, a liability. In Paul’s mind, Jesus was the only asset.
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things
Paul did not hold on to anything earthly as if to gain some righteousness from it – not his law keeping, not his possessions, not his reputation, not his life. For Paul, the choice between holding on to anything in this world and knowing Jesus was a clear choice, know Jesus. Paul was regularly faced with the very real choice between possessions and Jesus, comfort and Jesus, freedom and Jesus, reputation and Jesus, life in this world and Jesus. Paul gave it all up for the sake of Christ. There is a profound freedom from this world and all its demands and arbitrary standards that comes with knowing and being known by Jesus Christ.
and count them as rubbish,
If you’re not British, you are probably missing what Paul is saying about his law keeping, and anything else we may look to in this world to gain some standing. In an American context, “rubbish” is entirely too cute and sanitary of a word for what Paul is saying. The King James translates the same word as “dung.” That’s better! Daniel Wallace, professor of Greek and New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, concludes his word study of this word (which can be read here) saying,
In Phil 3:8, the best translation of σκύβαλα seems clearly to be from the first group of definitions. The term conveys both revulsion and worthlessness in this context. In hellenistic Greek it seems to stand somewhere between “crap” and “s**t.” However, due to English sensibilities, and considering the readership (Christians), a softer term such as “dung” is most appropriate. The NET Bible, along with a few other translations, grasp the connotations here, while most modern translations only see the term as implying worthlessness. But Paul’s view of his former life is odious to him, as ours should be to us. The best translation, therefore, is one that picks up both worthlessness and revulsion, and probably a certain shock value.
Paul is not just rejecting his former life of religiosity, he is disgusted by it! This is a proper view of our good works by which we think we gain some standing before God. When we pretend our good works make us righteous, it’s as if we are rolling around in dung and pretending not only that we are clean but that it is the dung that makes us clean.
in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him,
There is a strong contrast at work in this verse. Much like Jesus’ statement, “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24), Paul is saying, “You can’t trust Jesus and your own righteous works.” Paul understands that he is either entirely defined by and justified by Jesus or he is not at all. If he holds on to his works he loses Jesus. If he holds on to Jesus he loses his works. It is as if Paul is a one-armed man stuck in pit, being offered two ropes, and faced with the reality that we can only hold on to one. If you are like me, your very first thought was, “Why doesn’t he just tie the ropes together and benefit from the strength of both?” And my response to myself and to you is, “Your arrogant confidence in the rope of your works to add some strength to the rope of Christ’s righteousness, betrays your supposed faith, and will be your death.”
There is one way out of the pit of sin and death and it is to be united to Jesus Christ by faith. Throughout the New Testament we find prepositional phrases like “in him,” which is employed in this verse. These phrases point to our being united to Jesus by faith. This is the doctrine of union with Christ. We are in Jesus. We are united to him in such a way that his perfect righteousness and wrath-satisfying death count for us.
not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,
Paul wants to be clear. The righteousness he desires, the righteousness he needs, is not his own. His law keeping won’t cut it. He does not want to be found standing on his own righteousness because he knows it would a self-made mountain of dung. Christians are not righteous because they have believed in Jesus and kept the law. They are righteous because by believing in Jesus, his righteousness is credited to their account. Our righteousness is not a resident righteousness, it is an alien righteousness. It’s not from these parts.
but that which comes through faith in Christ,
The righteousness Paul desires and needs comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is justification?” and answers, “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.” Later, the Catechism asks and answers another helpful question. “What is faith in Jesus Christ? Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.”
the righteousness from God that depends on faith -
The righteousness whereby we can stand before the holy God does not come from us. It is “from God.” This righteousness that is “from God” does not depend on our works, that is, it is not applied to us by our being good, but it depends on faith, that is, it is applied to us by faith – by receiving and resting upon Jesus alone, as he is offered to us in the gospel. The righteousness required and by which we are counted righteous before God, is not something that we can come up with, it is supplied by God. In another letter, Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And again in Romans,
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17).
The righteousness we need cannot be produced by us, but is freely given to all who believe in Jesus. Stop playing with dung and pretending to be clean. Turn to Jesus in faith recognizing that all you’ve managed to do is cover yourself in excrement and actually be cleaned.