If someone else thinks they have reasons to put 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; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
Here, Paul seems to be issuing a challenge of sorts, as if to say that if anyone could claim salvation from being a Jew, it is Paul, but Paul claims salvation in Christ alone. He gives a brief summary of his resume as a Jew; it is an impressive one. Thus of all people, Paul the Jew among Jews, has no confidence in the old ways, for he knows that only Jesus Christ can take away sin and give the gift of eternal life.
If we were to extend his reasoning a little bit, we might ask a question like, “What of this world can possibly save you from destruction? Your fortune, your possessions, your education and accomplishments?”
No, none of these things can take away sin, and without that, there is only destruction. It is no wonder, then, that Paul began this passage by encouraging the people to rejoice in the Lord always.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, 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. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
We need to be mindful of our context as we begin this text. Paul, in the preceding verses has been discussing his Jewish resume, his accomplishments, and his former position. Yes, he was an accomplished man, well-educated, influential and a member of the ruling elite of his day, and he has given all of that up to follow Christ.
Here, almost talking like an accountant, he is writing off losses and seeking gains. What is it that he considers to be losses? His former life, its accomplishments and position. Now we need to recognize that he isn’t lamenting his loss of position and all the rest, he is considering these things, his training, his accomplishments and position as losses in and of themselves. Those things he declares in verse 8 to be “garbage”. His training is garbage, his accomplishments are garbage, his former position is garbage, not the fact that he has given them up.
Why did he give them up? Simple, he gave up everything he had for Christ. In all of those former things, Paul was trying to attain righteousness by his own power and effort; now he has obtained God’s righteousness through his faith in Jesus Christ. It would seem that in Paul’s estimation, he has attained a very strong bottom line as a result. Check out verse 10: I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death… Interesting isn’t it, how he has tied together knowing Christ with “the power of his resurrection, and participation in his sufferings” and death. Then, notice in verse 11 how he links this with the attainment of His resurrection and eternal life. It would seem that Paul’s whole point is that those attainments of this life, when compared to resurrection and eternal life, are just garbage; utterly worthless.
In light of all this, how should we look at our earthly life, its achievements, its positions, its ‘glories’? If we dare to follow Paul’s example, then they must all be nothing more than garbage!
OK, so maybe we aren’t willing to follow Paul’s radical example. Yet maybe we should rethink this, for Paul was following Jesus’ example, just like we are supposed to be doing.