Paul has just cited all the advantages that would be his should he wish to argue with the legalists on how to achieve righteousness. He tells the opposition that all those things that as a Rabbi he used to esteem so highly, he now considers to be of no value compared with knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8-10). The passage is theologically rich and we cannot do it justice in the limited space of this column. However, let’s look at the high points.
Paul says that the advantages he has just cited are no more than “garbage” in comparison with the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (v. 8). Being a properly circumcised Jew, a zealous Pharisee, etc., is a “lot of crap” (KJV has “dung”) when compared to personal companionship with Christ. These are strong words, especially in a Jewish setting, for the apostle who by God’s grace emerged from the strictures of legalism into the freedom of faith.
Having set aside all that once mattered, Paul now proclaims a new and distinctly different kind of righteousness. It is not one that he somehow earned by fulfilling the obligations of law. That old kind of “righteousness” based on the value of personal accomplishment. It allowed him to be proud of how good he was because it was something that he had done on his own. But the new righteousness cannot be earned; it is something that God gives to those who accept it by faith. At first this may sound like a rather cheap form of righteousness. One could say, “I didn’t do a anything but accept it; it’s that easy.” However, there is a hidden cost. Accepting righteousness by faith carries the obligation that people be willing to give up something that by nature they prize so highly, and that is their proud evaluation of themselves. It’s called pride. But proud people simply don’t make it on that basis. Salvation by faith requires that you admit your own inability to do it on your own.
For Paul, knowing Christ wasn’t limited to knowing something about him. It was being in a relationship in which he would experience the power that brought Christ back to life, the sufferings that go with loyalty to him, and death to all personal ambition (v. 10). For Christ to be Lord and master requires complete disassociation from the idea that what you do makes a difference and undivided loyalty to the one who asks you simply to believe. To know Christ is for the stout hearted who admit their helplessness and turn to him confessing, as the lyricist put it, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”