"But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ."
Philippians 3:7 NRSV
Read Philippians 3:1
As we have already said, Paul wrote the book of Philippians and it is one of his prison letters (or epistles). He wrote Philippians toward the end of his life and was probably the last prison letter he wrote. I say that because it is amazing to me how a man that had been in prison so long, falsely accused by Rome, assaulted and beaten, was still able to love and care for his accusers. This is a beautiful picture of the transforming heart that the Holy Spirit gave Paul on the road to Damascus.( Acts 9:3
9) The very people (Romans) that he fought were now his accusers and rather than being better and angry with them, he loved them
a true testimony of the heart changing ability of God.
While in prison, Paul continued to minister to his flock: he became a bishop to his church planters around the region. It’s clear that he loved them all, but he had a special fondness for the people of Philippi. They were his babies and he wanted them to stay faithful to the Gospel and remember who they are in Christ. You can almost see his earnest care pop off the pages of this letter in Philippians 3. He truly wanted them to know Jesus, so he lays it out plainly; he shares his life story, beginning by listing how great he was before he knew Christ. He gives them his credentials, his elevator speech.
Look what he says in verses 4
"...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."
He had a real reason to boast, but he didn’t. In fact, he calls it loss
compared to knowing Jesus. Look at verses 7
"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. 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."
Paul continues with this beautiful reminder of what happens when the fruit of the Holy Spirit begins to blossom in the heart of man. I love how Eugene Peters in the Message Bible puts verses 12
“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward
to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”
Friends, in this time of fear and uncertainty, we can have a hope in our Good Father who knows you by name. Paul says to keep running the race set before you and don’t look back, to trust in the one who has saved you, is saving you and will save you. You say, “Jonathan, how do you know that?” Well, read the next part.
Read Philippians 3:15–4:1
Paul concludes the chapter with an exhortation and a reminder of the hope we have in Jesus. Life is not always going to be the way it is today–or any day. In fact, we have a promise from God that he will come again as he, in the words of Sally Lloyd Jones, is “making all sad things come untrue.”
Even today, as we wait in the unknown and as we “hold fast to what we have attained,” (verse 16), we have assurance that we are safe in the cleft of his hand (the Rock).
Exodus 33:22 says, “...
while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.”
In the day of trouble, He will keep you safe “
For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.
Paul reminds his reader in 4:1 to stand firm in the Lord, as we know that our citizenship is in heaven (3:20). This gives us strength to lean into the promises He has made us when we can’t hold on anymore. Fall into the arms of your Heavenly Father who is the one that has been holding you up all along. He is the one who able to transform all things–quit trying to do it on your own terms. Rest easy today; it will be okay.
Questions for Reflection
- What are ways in which you have “confidence in the flesh” (or have had confidence till recent months)?
- Why is knowing Christ better than our successes in this life–things that make us feel safe, our securities or our stock portfolio?
- Do you hear the peace in Paul’s voice? What are his grounds for having that peace?
- Do you have peace today? Do you feel the freedom of Jail (quarantine) or the Prison of desire (careers, stock portfolio)?
- Do you have the confidence that Paul has that Christ Jesus “has made you his own” (v. 12)? Why? Why not?
- Paul instructs the church to imitate Paul and those who follow his (and Timothy’s) example (v. 17). Looking through Paul’s testimony in Ch.3, what are the ways in which you’re seeing growth in following this example? Where are places you are finding this difficult?
- What is the future hope Paul points to in vv. 20–21? How can this give us confidence when days are tough and our insecurities are high?
A prayer for this week:
Heavenly Father, we admit that we are scared, weak and afraid. Would You please meet us in our need? May we learn to trust You and You alone. And may the joy of our salvation return as we remember the promises and stand firm in You. Amen.
Quotation from Sally Lloyd Jones,
Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing
The Rev. Jonathan V. Adams
Associate for Pastoral Care and Outreach