“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.
All He Had to Isaac
“And Abraham gave all that was his to Isaac.”
As with Ishmael, the other sons of Abraham are not meant for the covenant — the covenant line shall be set through Isaac. And thus Isaac is the inheritor of his father’s estate, but he is also the inheritor of something far more important — a covenant promise. It is for sure that the gifts mentioned in the following verse, given to the other sons, were substantial from an earthly perspective, but from an eternal view, they are like dust. The wealth of the nations will turn to dust but the promises of the Lord will last forever.
Why is it though, that so often we focus on the earthly inheritances that we are offered? When a man with great financial wealth passes away, people immediately begin dreaming of spending money and even professing Christians sometimes are reduced to bickering and fighting over what they perceive as their “fair share.” Yet, had Abraham given all of his earthly wealth and property to his other sons and left Isaac only with the promise of God’s covenant, Isaac’s wealth would have still infinitely surpassed that of his brothers’ and this statement, that all Abraham had was given to Isaac, would have been no less true. For all that Abraham had of any lasting value was the promise of God — all else was just a measure of earthly comfort.
In the west, we labor hard to provide an inheritance for our children, but sadly that inheritance for which we labor is often of no value. That which is of value is a spiritual, Godly inheritance offered in the name of Christ, Jesus. The children who inherit from their parents a knowledge of the Lord and a model of a life lived faithfully before the Lord, but not a penny in wealth, have received far more than the children who are given millions of dollars but nothing of lasting value. Take care in choosing that for which you labor. Set your efforts on things of lasting value, not on things of this earth.
The fourth of the relational statements that the early church fathers made reflected God’s relationship to the church. “I will guard them,” says God of his people. At first, we might be inclined to think that this statement could be fuller or more involved. We might expect God to say Ego Redimam (“I will redeem”) or Ego Amabo (“I will love”) or even Ego Sanctificabo (“I will sanctify them” or “I will make them holy”). At the same time, if we explore this idea of guarding something, we can argue that it contains at least an element of each of these statements. One guards those things that they love or hold to be valuable and one must have something in one’s possession to guard it, thus God redeems his people from the sin that once held us captive. Also, those things that we guard and cherish, we choose to refine, removing those imperfections that we can find in the object of our affection. Thus the language of Ego Custodiam includes all of the above comments.
So, why does God choose to guard his church? Certainly it must not be assumed that God places his affections upon us because of who we are or because of what we have done. All of our works, we must affirm like the Apostle Paul, are naught but dung (Philippians 3:8). No, he places his affections upon us because of whose we are—his own—and as a revelation of his glory. What we all deserve is eternal condemnation because of our sins and the guilt of sin we have inherited from our forefathers, yet he has chosen us since before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), before we had done anything good or bad (Romans 9:11), and sent his Son to pay the price to redeem us from our just judgment, substituting himself in our place (2 Corinthians 5:21). As the value of an item is based on the price that one is willing to pay for it, our value to God is without measure, for his Son, Jesus, being eternal God, paid an eternal price for our souls. And because of that price paid, he will never let one of his own slip from between his fingers (John 10:28-30).
Beyond redemption is the idea of his guardianship. God does not save us to leave us saved but to our own devices. No, God preserves us and guides us through life. The Psalmist writes of God’s guardianship:
“For his angels he will command regarding you—
To guard you in all of your ways.”
The picture here is self explanatory; God is a jealous God (Deuteronomy 5:9) and he will not share us with any other. We are guarded, kept, and held secure for this great purpose and he will not revoke his calling upon us (Romans 11:29). Indeed, nothing on earth or in heaven can separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39).
But what does that mean for us? It means that there is no reason for us to despair. How often we go through life and feel as if we are standing as one person against a host of enemies and that the world’s sole goal is to tear apart the things that we have sought to bring together. How often we feel lost, confused, and abandoned when confronted by tragedy in this world. How often we feel as if God is not listening to or responding to our prayers. How often chaos seems to dominate our lives and the world around us. Yet, all of these perceptions miss the mark. Because our hearts are deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9) and from our hearts flow all sorts of vain imaginations and sin (Mark 7:20-23), we miss the glory that God has prepared for us even in the challenges of this world (1 Corinthians 2:8-9).
You see, we often get so wrapped up in the events of the moment that we forget that we do not see the big picture. Indeed, even when we begin to try and focus on the big picture of God’s redemptive history, because we are finite and grounded in this world, we still do not see with the scope and breadth that our Lord sees it. Indeed, compared to the immensity of God’s vision, our vision is minuscule to be generous. The sad thing is how often we take our minuscule vision as the whole of God’s vision and then wonder why God is permitting things to take place, all-the-while questioning his character and his goodness. There is none like our God (Psalm 77:13) who calls us not to be anxious about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34), but instead to cast all of our cares before him because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).
Reflect on what God speaks through the psalmist as Psalm 91 is brought to a close:
“Because he clings to me in devotion, I will save him;
I will make him untouchable because he knows my name.
When he calls me I will answer him,
With him, I will be in times of distress.
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long days I will satisfy him,
I will reveal myself to him in my salvation.”