Just prior to this passage Paul was involved in a challenging exchange with the Jewish teachers of his day. His opponents might have been tempted to say, "But you are a Christian and do not know what you are talking about: you do not know what it is to be a Jew." So Paul sets out his credentials, not in order to boast but to show that he has enjoyed every privilege which a Jew can enjoy and had risen to every attainment to which a Jew could rise.
Paul had created quite a list of human achievements.
And then he met Christ.
And everything changed.
I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, 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 is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.
What had Christ offered to Paul that caused him to honestly look at his life and to decide that a life lived in and for Christ surpassed all he had achieved? What happened deep within his soul that woke him up to another way of living? What was it about encountering Christ that would cause Paul to do such soul-searching work?
Don't move past those questions to quickly. Pause and ask them of your own journey.
Changing the direction of one's life is not easy. The things Paul had worn as badges of honor were indeed; in regards to his heart and soul-useless. Walking away from the way he had always done things took courage. Leaving behind a life of comparing, competition, and achievement took real effort. However, for Paul there was no other way. He had encountered the living God and God's call on his life was clear. Change direction, let go, listen and learn became his slogans for living.
Throughout Paul's faith journey he was learning to discern what to keep and what to let go of- that he might grow ever closer to Christ. Jesus spoke about this graced action to his disciples. In John's gospel, he tells that a grain of wheat has to "fall to the ground and die" if it is going to produce "much fruit." If the wheat seed does not die, it will never bring about new life (Jn 12:24-26). The wheat falling to the ground and dying is another way of saying, "this way of living has got to be let go of before another way can be lived." Paul is inviting us to never settle with our old ways of seeing and thinking but rather, to be open to the never-ending call of change and transformation.
What do I wish to let go of, let end, leave behind for my own new growth?
What suffering do I most fear when it comes to making change?
What is it about Christ that draws me closer?
What does soul-work look like for me?