“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.
“having been filled with the fruit of righteousness because of Jesus Christ to the glory and honor of God.”
“Having been filled…” Notice the language that this verse begins with. We do not “fill” ourselves but we are filled. It is God’s work in us from the beginning to the end. We take no credit, we can only ever give praise for what our God has done in and through unworthy lumps of clay such as we. With the Apostle Paul, I can say that my works are but dung…something to be cast out lest they defile the holiness of the camp. Yet, in Christ, I can also say (again, with the Apostle Paul) that I have been filled with the fruit of righteousness. What a blessed tension there is between the two.
Thus, the righteousness that I have been given — the righteousness in which I stand clothed before the throne of God — is not my own. It is Christ’s. Everything that is good or admirable that is found within me is because of Jesus Christ. I bring nothing of my own to the table when it comes to things of value. Without Christ’s work, I would be but a hollow shell in line to be crushed…destroyed under God’s wrath for God’s glory. Such is the man that I am and such is the cause for my praise. He has done for me that which I could never have done for myself. My debt of sin has been paid and I have been redeemed from death and Hell. I have been purchased by the blood of Christ, forgiven, reconciled to God, adopted as a son of the Most High, and am being prepared, along with the rest of the church, to be part of the bride of Christ. What more can we say but, “Glory!” and “Hallelujah!” What more can we do but to tell others the good news of this wonderful Savior!
And to whom is the honor given for this work? To God himself. May we never be “stingy” with our praise to our Redeemer-King. May we never hold back the honor that he is due. May we sing our praises to the Triune God without compromise and may we strive to live lives that are honoring to Him in everything we do. Such is the heart of a believer. Such is my prayer for you.
“But now, you must take off—even you—the whole: wrath, anger, evil, blasphemy, obscene speech from your mouth.” (Colossians 3:8 )
Oh, the follies of youth. Sometimes, in looking back on some of the things that I did growing up, I groan a little—and sometimes I groan a lot. I remember one summer evening, I had just gotten home from doing something with my friends Heath and Jason, and the three of us got to talking and then we got to boasting. As I remember it, it was Heath who boasted that Jason and I could not wrestle him down—it was not long before the three of us were on the ground, in the dark, wrestling about. And had things ended there, the memory of the event would have faded into obscurity. The reason the evening has remained in my mind all of these years is because of what Heath did next.
As we were wrestling about, Heath reached out his hand for balance and put it in something soft and mushy—a pile of dung left behind by one of the neighborhood dogs. And with the kind of logic that only makes sense to the teenage mind, deciding that if he had it on him, we might as well have it on us as well, it was not long before he started smearing it wherever he could get it on us. Oh, the exclamations of surprise that came from the two of us! When everything was said and done, Jason fared the worst, but we all reeked of something that we ought not to have reeked from. Jason’s mom made him hose off before he was allowed in the house. When I got inside, I could not get out of my soiled clothes and into the shower fast enough. I wanted to get that stench off of me and fast.
Now what does having dog poop smeared all over you have to do with what Paul is talking about in this verse? The word that Paul uses here, translated as, “you must take off,” is the Greek word ajpoti/qhmi (apotithami). Literally, this word refers to the taking off of one’s clothing. But Paul adds force to this word by using the imperative, saying you must take these things off! In the larger context of the passage, Paul is saying to us, “look, you have been born again, you have been made into a new person because of the work of Jesus Christ—get out of those dirty, wretched, filthy, smelly clothes that you have been wearing and put on the righteousness of Christ!”
Clothes are a common metaphor in scripture, and are used to convey the idea of status and righteousness. Our own righteousness is as soiled rags, horrid, wretched things deserving of nothing other than to be burned up in the fire (Isaiah 64:6; Philippians 3:8). Yet, the wonderful blessing of God’s grace is this, if we are born again believers in Jesus Christ, having repented of our sins and come to Christ in faith, when we stand before God in judgment, we will not stand on our own merits or, to maintain the metaphor, in the clothing of our own righteousness. As believers, we stand before God clothed in the righteousness of his Son, Jesus Christ. Oh, what a wonderful gift we have been given as believers—and how that should spur us on to get out of our own stained and smelly rags as fast as we can with the Lord’s help.
Beloved, one of the difficulties of this life is that even though we have put on Christ, we so often drift back to the rags of our own life. It is almost as if we, after having been given new garments, have saved the old soiled ones, putting them away even without washing them so that every once in a while we might get them out to see if they still fit. Loved ones, the things of your old life—the things that belong to this world—should not be clung to, but should be burned! Friends, let your mouth and your actions reflect the one who has saved you—the one whose garments you wear. One of the arguments that is made for making children neat, clean uniforms to school is that children tend to behave better when they are dressed better. While I am not entirely sure just how true this is, Paul is applying a similar principle to believers. Beloved, work to make your behavior match the clothes that you wear; in doing so, you will glorify the one who has saved you and draw others to his wonderful presence.