“I rather count all things as forfeit because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord. Because of him, I count all things as waste in order that I might gain Christ.”
Often, when reading comments that people make on this verse, they begin with the notion of sku/balon (skubalon), which refers to rubbish, waste, or even to human excrement…something that has no place in the presence of the people of God — its only value is to be taken out and burned. And that is a powerful image, but as I reflect on this verse, I would prefer to start with the notion of counting all things as forfeit in exchange for Christ. For, whether your works are of any measurable value or not, the heart of the matter is that you count the relationship you have with Christ as more valuable.
Of course, that is a notion that is far easier said than done. We like to hold on to the trappings and comforts of this life. We like to hold on to the notion that we are doing things our way. We like to hold onto the notion of “our accomplishments” and contributions. We like to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Such is our fallen state and such is our stumbling block. We might give lip service to the notion that our works are rubbish but rarely do we give heart-service to them. We like the acknowledgement of men no matter how that acknowledgement pales in comparison to the acknowledgement of the Lord.
That is perhaps why I think it valuable to begin with whether we are willing to count all things as loss for Christ. Because if we are not willing to lose all things for Him, we will not be willing to count all things as waste, rubbish, or dung.
And how great is the value of knowing Christ? Is it not everything? Without the knowledge of Christ there is no hope for life beyond the grave. Without the knowledge of Christ, there is no hope of knowing true joy, peace, and happiness. Without the knowledge of Christ, there is no hope in finding meaning in the suffering we experience in this world. Without the knowledge of Christ, there is no hope in truly appreciating the beauty of the world around us — for to fully appreciate the beauty of something, you must also appreciate the skill and mastery of the creator. When you see a piece of artwork, is it not more meaningful when you know the life of the artist behind the piece of art? When you read a novel, does it not become deeper and more meaningful when you have engaged with the life of the author? When you hear a piece of music, does not the composer’s life add depth to what you hear? And the better you know and understand the author’s person, do we not more carefully appreciate the work they have created? If we say this of the works of men, shall we not also say this of God’s works? And since the created order is far surpassing in majesty and beauty anything that man might create, is not the knowledge of God far more surpassing than any human knowledge we might encounter?
Oh loved ones, how often we choose the poorer and shallower thing to pursue. Pursue Christ and do so through his Word and you cannot help to see the surpassing beauty of our redeemer and the surpassing greatness of his person. And you will see that knowledge of him is infinitely more valuable than knowledge of any other thing we might encounter in life.