The excellency of knowing Christ
“I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” — Philippians 3:8a
It was quite something for Paul to say these words, not because they were untrue – far from it; it was because he had gained so much. We often see this in the physical sense of tangible possessions, yet this is not the all. Paul had climbed to prominence on the ladder of Pharisaical power. He was well educated and schooled in the Tanakh and Hebraic traditions, and held fast with zeal to Jewish doctrines. He was influential and instrumental in the defence of the Abrahamic covenant against those perpetrators of “evil and blasphemy” – the followers of Christ. He was knowledgeable and possibly in line to be High Priest. Through his education and zeal, Paul had everything to live for and everything to gain – power, wealth, honour, fame. Yet, once having glimpsed the risen Lord, that which would have given him all these things was now considered dung and a loss. All his zeal; all his discipline; all his practise; all his learning – dung and a loss to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord.
How often does the appeal and lure of education, knowledge, status, accolades and credentials influence our position and perspectives? How often is a professor of theology excluded from the enlightenment of God’s revelation due to his education? How often is a doctor of divinity deluded through the dogmas of tradition, or led astray by the liberalities of leadership, and actually misses the Lord’s call? For if Christ not be the centre of it all, and Christ’s principles be not at the heart of its purpose, it is all but loss and dung. Charles Spurgeon has said, “It is possible for a person to read too many books. We don’t despise learning; we don’t undervalue education. Such achievements are very desirable, and when a person’s talents are sanctified to God, the educated person frequently becomes in the hands of the Holy Spirit far more useful than the ignorant and the uneducated. But at the same time; if a person acquires their knowledge entirely from books, they will not find themselves to be very wise.”
There was once a young man who felt that the credential MBA added to his name would be advantageous, and its appeal in terms of knowledge was as strong as its appeal in terms of honour. He sat the entrance exam to a prestigious university and passed with a grade of distinction that caused the administration to express their emphatic want to have him as a student. The young man sat the initiation class and his heart lighted at the prospect of further education. However, at the close of the introductory session, something stirred his spirit and he realised that he was not meant to be there. He left that faculty building with three letters dashed on the rocks of realisation – he would not return to attend class, nor graduate with pompous ceremony. Yet, later on God revealed to him an aspect of Himself that the young man would never have gained had he pursued an avenue outside of God’s will.
Paul had an incredible perspective, for he could see the loss in respect to knowing Christ. Too often we can only see what we perceive will be gain, not the loss or the farther reaching shores of influence that such loss will reach, even touching others not just ourselves. Was all that Paul learned and gained a loss? By no means, but outside of Christ it was, and outside of the control of the Holy Spirit it was. Outside of God’s approval and guidance, is it not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Saint, was it not the attainment of knowledge and status that deluded Eve and drove her to desire its fruit? Indeed, this was its foundation, and it says that what God wants us to have is not enough, we need more. But does God not approve of doctors, engineers, educators, scientists, biologists and the like? Far be it from the truth, for they are all necessary – and God himself is learnered, and the head of all such lawful faculties. The issue is our purpose, our motive, our heart – and God’s directive.
Should our Lord say, “Do not eat!” yet we do, for to us such “learning and education and practice and perspectives and zeal” are good for food, and pleasant to the eyes, and desirous to make us “wise” and gain in power and status; we can consider it loss and dung. Dear reader, if you be one such person, may Jesus meet with you on the road to Damascus. For once confronted with the living Lord – risen from the dead and ascended to heaven – Paul was never the same. It only required one instance of brilliant light to take him from his heights of honour and drop him with his face to the ground before the feet of Him whom he pursued. One sight of Christ, one word from the Master, was enough to bore deep into a heart of religious zeal and piety, inflicting anguish and pain to the doer of iniquitous deeds. Yet, it was the commencement of all gain for Paul.
There is nothing that should separate us from walking with our God in the cool of the evening, and there is nothing that should rob us from attaining the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord. Believer, in all you learn and do; do not lose sight of Paul’s perspective, for outside of the excellency of knowing Christ, being guided by Him and doing His will, it should be considered as loss and dung.