The Excellency of Christ

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.” Philippians 3:7 NKJV. The life and teachings of the apostle Paul reflect a relationship with Jesus Christ that is so deep and so profound, so all encompassing, that it is a thrill to read the inspired words.

What things do we count to be gained in this life? There are the obvious things that people feel are a gain to them, perhaps their reputation, or even church position. What was Paul referring to in his own experience? To find out, we need to turn back to earlier verses in this chapter.

“Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel [generations of Seventh-day Adventists going back], of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee [one of the conservative branch]; concerning zeal, persecuting the church [attacking the independents]; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless [or so he thought]. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” Philippians 3:1-8 NKJV

Paul is saying that in comparison, to possessing Christ, to having Him as his Saviour, his Lord and King, all else fades into oblivion. And the things that he once put confidence in, that he thought were gain, these he now counts but loss.

“Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” Philippians 3:8. [All emphasis supplied.] He says not only that he counts all things which he once considered gain to him as loss for Christ, but moving on now to a greater arena, Paul points us to the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus.

Because of the impact of rationalism, modernism, relativism and all of the other philosophies upon our society, we live in a world where people are starving in their hearts. They are turning to the occult and to spiritualism. They are turning inwardly to self to try to find something beyond, but the genius of Christianity is that all things are promised to the believer. There is a greater life, a holier existence, a higher, more elevated plain upon which life can be lived, and an invincible, overwhelming power made available to men through Jesus Christ.

“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things.” Philippians 3:8. It will be those who have experienced this by faith who will successfully negotiate the perils of the last days, standing for the law of God at the cost of liberty, property and even of life.

Because of the conviction that struck him as Stephen was being stoned, Paul took up the cross where Stephen had laid it down. The wonder and the beauty of Christ transfixed and transformed his heart. This vision never left Paul. When he was shipwrecked, when he was set upon by robbers, when the Jews worked to undermine his work, one look at the cross of Calvary reconsecrated and reinvigorated him, empowe

ring him to continue carrying on the message of Jesus Christ, even to Rome.
Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as Paul pondered the cross, he saw that Christ was the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. As Paul saw Him to be the foundation of the Jewish economy and that all the promises of God are found in Him, suddenly all of his supposedly bright future vanished in the face of the glory of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord. The Sanhedrin no longer held the interest for him that it once did. The driving force within him to take this knowledge of Christ to every person in the known world drove him on and on. Hated, reviled and persecuted, he pressed on. Finally, standing alone before Nero, when all men forsook him, he had something which was beyond anything that this world could offer; and in the wonder, the glory and the beauty of that, all else faded into insignificance.

Therefore Paul says, “I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” Philippians 3:8

What a statement! In the Greek, the word used for dung means human excrement. Paul did not want anything to interfere; and anything that came close to interfering with the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord he counted as but refuse, that he might win Christ.

What does it mean to “win Christ”? It means everything. It means eternity. It means fellowship with the saved, fellowship with those who have never fallen, fellowship with God Himself. It means to be able to sit on His throne and to commune with Him, to understand the deep things of God. Jesus Christ is the pearl of great price. Everything else has to go, for in finding Him, we find everything else. He must be supreme, and nothing must jeopardize that relationship. All of the life is then negotiated and mediated through Him.

“And be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.” Philippians 3:9 NKJV

The thing that transfixed Paul was the realization that the very righteousness of God Himself could be his by faith.

He then goes on to say, “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed unto His death.” Philippians 3:10 NKJV

Christianity is a religion not only of love but of power. Paul wanted to know the power of Christ’s resurrection. Inspiration tells us that when Jesus came forth from the grave, it was by his own power. This power of the resurrection may be ours, for we are told that we will come forth from the grave, should we die before Christ returns, by virtue of the indwelling Christ.

Paul could never forget the part that he played in the stoning of Stephen and in the persecution of the church of Christ. Paul had persecuted the church of Christ, the body of his Lord, and he felt that he was the chief of sinners. Now he could not covet enough to know what the fellowship of His sufferings was. He wanted to be made conformable to the death of Christ, which is why he said, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

“If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:11, 12

A very interesting construction. Christ Jesus had apprehended him for something and he wanted to apprehend that himself. So he and Christ were working together to apprehend the same thing.

“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13, 14

This work, forming a union with Christ, is a very, very interesting one. As Jesus left the upper room with His disciples, knowing that He was facing the hour of supreme crisis in His life on this earth, with eternity at stake, He sought to explain His mission to the world and the spiritual relationship His disciples were to sustain with Him. The moon was shining, revealing a flourishing grape vine beside them. Jesus drew the attention of the disciples to this grape vine and said to them, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me.” John 15:1-4

One of the most precious concepts in all of the Scripture is that of abiding in Christ. Ellen White commented on this with these words, “A union with Christ by living faith is enduring; every other union must perish. Christ first chose us, paying an infinite price for our redemption; and the true believer chooses Christ as first and last and best in everything. But this union costs us something. It is a union of utter dependence, to be entered into by a proud being. All who form this union must feel their need of the atoning blood of Christ. They must have a change of heart. They must submit their own will to the will of God. There will be a struggle with outward and internal obstacles. There must be a painful work of detachment as well as a work of attachment.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 231

Salvation is a gift which we must receive, but it costs us everything. It is the pearl of great price, and so it is with the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord; it is a gift that can only come to us by the agency of the Holy Spirit, but it costs us everything. We must count all things but loss in order to receive this gift.

Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, a good man from all outward appearances and one of the wealthiest men in Palestine, came to Jesus by night. He came by night because he did not want to have people see him identified with this lowly Teacher who, as yet, did not have recognition from the Sanhedrin. Approaching Jesus, he said, “Rabbi, we know that art a Teacher come from God.” John 3:2. He did not recognize Him as his Lord and Saviour and Master but only as a teacher.

Ellen White tells us that Jesus knew that what this man needed was not the discussion of a theory but a new birth. He needed this work of detachment and attachment to Him as the Saviour of the world and an attachment to Him as the Saviour of the world. Jesus said to him, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto Him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” John 3:3, 4

Nicodemus took it literally, but Jesus was talking about a spiritual birth. A struggle is involved in birth, which is why it is referred to a labor. In ancient times, giving birth would often take the mother’s life. It is a struggle for the baby to be born. Even so in spiritual things, the spiritual new birth is a painful work.

Ellen White says of detachment and a work of attachment, “There must be a painful work of detachment as well as a work of attachment. Pride, selfishness, vanity, worldliness—sin in all its forms—must be overcome if we would enter into a union with Christ. The reason why many find the Christian life so deplorably hard, why they are so fickle, so variable, is that they try to attach themselves to Christ without first detaching themselves from these cherished idols.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 231

This is why people whom we thought would be faithful to the very end, suddenly flip and are no longer walking in the narrow way. They have not been born again; the painful work of detachment has not taken place in their heart as the Word of God is applied. That is why Jesus said to His disciples, “Ye are clean through My word; ye have been purged.” The grape vine’s tendrils, as it grows, can have a tendency to go down toward this earth; but those tendrils have to be pruned off so that it can reach up toward heaven, toward the light. The pruning is a painful process, but it must take place because no man can serve two masters. There cannot be a divided heart. Christ will not co-exist with sin and with this world. There must be a detaching from the cherished idols and the formation of this attachment with the union with which Christ’s believers become one in Christ. But one branch cannot be sustained by another, the nourishment must be obtained through vital connection with the Vine. We must feel our utter dependence upon Christ. We must live by faith in the Son of God. That is the meaning of the injunction ‘‘abide in Me.”

A mere assent to this union while the affections are not detached from the world, the pleasures and dissipation, only emboldens the heart in disobedience. “God makes no compromise. Until the heart is surrendered unconditionally to God, the human agent is not abiding in the True Vine and cannot flourish in the Vine, and bear rich clusters of fruit. God will not make the slightest compromise with sin. If He could have done this, Christ need not have come to our world to suffer and die. No conversion is genuine which does not change both the character and the conduct of those who accept the truth. The truth works by love and purifieth the soul.” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, 1144

Ellen White draws on this concept of Paul in Philippians, chapter 3, in the book The Great Controversy. In describing the day of the Lord, she speaks of a mighty earthquake that shakes the entire earth. God’s people, hidden in the forest and solitary retreats in the mountains, are being threatened with utter destruction by a universal death decree. Throngs of evil men are about to rush upon them when suddenly, from the throne of God, a rainbow spans the heavens and seems to encircle each praying company. The murderous throngs are arrested. Though it is midnight, the sun appears, shining in its strength. Signs and wonders follow. Everything in nature is turned out of its course; streams cease to flow. Hail stones the weight of a talent are pulverizing the cities of the earth. Graves are opened and a special resurrection takes place. All who have died in the faith of the three angel’s messages come forth from the tomb glorified. Lightnings envelope the earth. Above the terrific roar of thunder, voices, mysterious and awful, declare the doom of the wicked. The day of the Lord has come, and through a rift in the clouds there beams a star whose brilliance is increased fourfold in contrast with the darkness. The star speaks hope and joy to the faithful but severity and wrath to the transgressors of God’s law. And now this statement, where it all comes together, “Those who have sacrificed all for Christ are now secure.” The Great Controversy, 638

They knew what it was to count all things but loss. They knew the voice of their Redeemer when conviction came and the Holy Spirit said the time has come to speak and no longer be silent. The time has come to move with the message. They sacrificed all for Christ and now they are secure, hidden, as in the secret of the Lord’s pavilion. Yes, the message of Paul comes down to us, a message glorious and wondrous in its beauty. Only those who understand what it means to behold Christ and to be transformed into the image of His glory, having been detached from everything in this world, will be secure when the day of the Lord comes. Their voices are raised in triumphant song, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.” Psalm 46:1-3

Holiness is what binds the faithful as one together with their Lord and with one another—wholeness for God, complete surrender to Him. In the greatest hour of earth’s history, as Jesus comes in the clouds of heaven, those who have made that supreme surrender, who know what it has meant to count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus their Lord, can now look up at the Lord and say, “Lo, this is our God. We have waited for Him and He will save us.” Isaiah 25:9

The End