In the text before us, the Apostle Paul openly confesses that the things that he once considered as gain, he now regards as hindrances in the cause of Christ.
The specific things that he once considered gain are listed in verses 5 and 6. He could trace his roots to the tribe of Benjamin; his ancestry was pure; he had standing as a Pharisee and a reputation of zealously pursuing righteousness. These were things that would cause many members of society to think highly of him. The things which he thought to be credentials that commended himself to God he now sees as hindrances to the cause of Christ [that all men might have life, and have it more abundantly (Jn. 10:10)].
Paul now counts all these things as loss for “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus” (v. 8). Paul did not attain his knowledge of Christ Jesus because of his societal standing. He did not attain it because he had studied scripture at the feet of the leading Jewish teachers of his day. Paul received his knowledge directly from Christ on his way to Damascus. Paul did not gain a knowledge of God’s grace because of study or through his own effort. He got it the only way one can attain it — God revealed it to him.
Before his conversion, Paul was busy, zealously attempting to please a God whom he did not know. He now considered everything —his ancestry, his standing among Jews, his zealous efforts— all to be a loss and waste. None of this was helpful in doing that which was most important, winning souls to Christ.
Today, there is often unwarranted emphasis on educational credentials within the churches of Christ Jesus. Seminary training can be useful, but only if such training is used by the Holy Spirit as a vehicle in helping in a pastor’s quest for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ. The excellency of knowledge of Christ is through revelation of the Holy Spirit. In Matthew 16:17-18, Jesus stated that His church would be built upon revelation which is from the Father in heaven.
In verse 9, Paul explains why he places his past behind him. He is looking to the future. He is looking to a time when his righteousness will be scrutinized by God. When that day comes, there are only two kinds of righteousness that can be found in him: (1) righteousness that he has earned and (2) righteousness that he has through faith which is of God. Faith produces righteous works (see James 2:18). The righteousness that Paul had earned through the law was of the flesh. The prophet Isaiah was moved by the Holy Spirit to describe the righteousness of men as filthy rags (Isa. 64:6). Paul wanted no part of his own righteousness; he wanted that which was of God — that which is given freely to all who believe on Christ Jesus.
Paul wants a personal relationship with Christ in which he (Paul) experiences the power of His resurrection and shares in His sufferings. Paul wants to experience the power of Christ in his day-to-day living. He wants that power to change and to mold him, to make him conformable to His death (v. 10). What does it mean to be made conformable to Jesus’ death? Through His sacrifice, Christ has made us dead to sin. He has destroyed the consequence of our sins. He has paid the price for us. To be conformable to His death, is to be transformed to fit the standards created by His death, one must become more like Him. One must take on and exhibit His righteousness.
Christ came into the world so that men might have life and have it more abundantly. Paul wanted that abundance to be found in him. Paul, in questing for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, was walking in the “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). He was doing that which he urged others to do. Paul’s cup was running over.
In verse 15, Paul addresses believers who are mature (those who exhibit Christ in their daily walk). Mature believers ever look to God for guidance in their walk. Paul so walked and he calls for all (the brethren, v. 17) to do the same. Mature believers are to be an example, ever pressing to the mark of high calling (v. 14).
Paul shared these things with the Philippians (and with us) because he wanted them to experience that which he had experienced. Paul had experienced a taste which made him desire the full meal. Paul desired all that Christ has to offer.
To the church of Laodicea, Jesus said: “Behold, I stand at the door , and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). Paul had heard. Paul had opened the door. Now, Paul is inviting all who hear to come and to join in that wondrous meal.
When a believer awakes from death (experiences his resurrection of the dead), a new life awaits. Paul walked in faith such that he might attain the newness of that which is gained by faith.
Let us walk with the earnest expectation of attaining that which has been promised.