Paul has recounted his pedigree to his brethren in the church at Philippi. And an impressive pedigree it is: “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Phil. 3:5, 6). His credentials are impeccable, which makes his next statement all the more remarkable: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss [“detriment”] for Christ. It is not merely that Paul considered them as nothing by comparison with his new life in Christ but rather as a debit on the ledger. He is adamant in this regard: “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (v. 8). What is this “winning” of Christ that Paul regards so highly that he is willing not only to forfeit everything else to obtain it, but considers anything that gets in the way of that objective an absolute detriment to his life?
What “winning Christ” is not. We must first note what should be obvious. When Paul speaks of winning Christ he is not referring to salvation. And when he speaks of rejecting his former position and of refusing the apparent benefits that accrue to that position, he is not speaking of somehow meriting salvation or of obtaining it by works. Paul had been saved by grace long before. He is the apostle of “the grace of God that bringeth salvation” (Tit. 2:11). He is not varying from that bedrock truth. No one knew more perfectly or proclaimed more persistently the message that salvation is God’s work and is the gift of His unmerited favor.
What “winning Christ” is. If Paul is not speaking of salvation when he speaks of winning Christ, what is he saying? He is using a phrase that is roughly synonymous with one he uses earlier in the same verse (v. 8): “the knowledge of Christ.” He repeats the same idea two verses later (v. 10) in a prayer: “That I may know him [Christ] . . . .” Paul had long before received a saving knowledge of Christ. And through the years, he had obtained a further experiential knowledge of Christ through walking with and serving Him. But Paul, having a profound love and respect for Christ, his Savior and Lord, realizes that he has yet to plumb the depths or scale the heights of his infinite God. And so he desires to experience more of the “power of his resurrection,” more of the “fellowship of his sufferings,” and more conformity to his death (v. 10). For Paul, to “win Christ” is to “apprehend,” or “lay hold” of that for which he was laid hold oF by Jesus Christ. Salvation began with deliverance from sin, and death, and hell. But it did not end there. Christ had saved Paul for a purpose, and nothing less than the fulfillment of that purpose would satisfy Paul.
What “winning Christ” should be. That brings us to ourselves. Winning Christ should be, not just the objective of Paul, but of every recipient of the unmerited favor of God. God has preserved Paul’s inspired words, not because they make for riveting reading, but because we are to share his desire and emulate his experience. We should regard any position or property that hinders our love for the Lord, our attempts to know and understand Him better, or our desire to serve Him as a negative balance on our ledger, a debt to be removed immediately, and as dung or rubbish to be disposed of quickly. To do otherwise is to be worse than a young mother who neglects her infant to fondle a doll, or the young man who ignores his work to watch a football game. Paul had the right values: he valued the Lord, His approbation, and His fellowship. May we, too, who are saved win Christ.
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