The story of Saul’s conversion is one that points us to the transforming power of Christ! When Saul meets Christ on the road to Damascus, the man that emerges from that event is forever and completely changed. The man that once actively worked against the spread of the Gospel would become its champion – spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to all who would listen. Saul is transformed, saved, redeemed and Saul becomes Paul, the man God calls to extend the reach of the good news.
It can be hard to fully grasp a transformation like this. It was hard for the people who knew the man before and after his interaction with Jesus; it was especially hard for those who had heard the story second hand. Even today, we find it hard to believe stories of complete transformation like this. But our God is still in the transformation business! Thanks be to God!!
Paul knew his story could be and would be hard for some people to understand. He knew that there would be some that would require more of him in order for them to listen to what he had to say. We see that here in Philippians 3. Paul gives us his background information to show his credibility and why he should be believed. In verses 4-6 Paul gives us his lineage and his resume to show the impact his encounter with Christ really had.
He says, “This is who I am. I am of Jewish descent, circumcised like you. I am from the tribe of Benjamin; I was a Pharisee and did what I could do thwart the movement of Christ among by brothers and sisters. And then I met Jesus and something amazing happened…I realized just how worthless all of that was compared to knowing Christ!” Paul says, all these things that we think are important – heritage, lineage, status, none of it matters – it is all worthless compared to knowing Christ and being in relationship with Him.
Paul came to realize just how much all of these things left him lacking. These were things about himself that he used to think made him special, they made him important. But instead of filling something in his life, they actually kept him from finding and discovering true life, true fulfillment. It wasn’t until he met Christ that he found true fulfillment.
As I was praying through this passage I began to think about our churches and the people who sit in our pews. Where are they looking for their fulfillment? How many people in our churches would be willing to say, like Paul, that all of the things they have or think they have are worthless? Are they willing to declare their social status, their financial status, their heritage, their lineage, all of the things they have worked and strived for are worthless compared to knowing Jesus?
Pastor, are we? Can we truly say it is all rubbish?
The Greek word for rubbish in verse 8 is the word, (σκύβαλον) skýbalon. According to Strong’s it means “the excrement of animals; worthless, detestable.” Are we willing to throw it all away, just to know Jesus?
But Paul doesn’t stop there. He says he counts all those things as rubbish not just to know Christ, but to be known by Him – to be found in Christ – to be made new, righteous, whole.
This is what Paul desires and prizes above all else. In verse 12 Paul talks about pressing on toward the goal. The goal Paul is striving for is to know and be known by Christ. This is the prize; this is the goal. He wants to know Jesus. Period. Everything can just fade away. Nothing else matters to Paul. He wants to know Christ. He wants to know Christ in the good and the not-so-good. He wants to know Christ in the power of his resurrection, and He wants to know Christ in His sufferings.
What does Paul mean by “to know?” The Greek word used for “to know” is the word (γινώσκω) ginṓskō. This word is more than just a head knowledge kind of “knowing.” This is a deeper knowledge; this is an intimate knowledge. This kind of “knowing” comes only through experience. This word is also sometimes used when describing the way a husband and wife know each other.
How deeply do our people know Jesus? How deeply do we, as pastors know Jesus? Are we striving to know Christ more deeply each day or are we settling for just enough? If we’re going to be honest, I think too often we are comfortable with knowing Jesus just enough. We are quick to settle for just enough Jesus. The same is true for hope open we are to being known by Christ. We’re ok, with allowing Christ in to some of the rooms of our hearts, but there are still places we try keep from Him, things about us we try to hide from Christ.
This passage causes us to pause and ask, are we willing to know Jesus – truly and deeply know Him? To know Christ means we know the things that bring Christ joy. To know Christ means we know the things that break the heart of Christ. Are we willing to know Jesus and experience what Christ experiences? And are we willing to fully be known by Jesus? Are we willing to open every part of our lives to Christ? To allow Christ to have access to all our hurt, pain, shame, sin, and regret?
It's in the knowing and being known that we discover “the prize!” It’s in the knowing and being known that we are not only invited into relationship with Christ, but we are invited to join Christ in bringing the Kingdom of God to the world!
As Laura Mendenhall writes,
So this text calls us to consider how it is we know Jesus Christ. It is clear that knowing Christ is more than simply gaining information with the presumption that knowledge yields privilege. This knowing calls us to identify so closely with Jesus Christ that we find our security for our past/present/future in Jesus Christ, rather than in our own achievement. This knowing calls us to identify so closely with Christ that we seek out where God continues to be at work to bring life into places of death and join in that resurrection. Doubtless there will be suffering in such situations. Yet in knowing Christ’s resurrection and suffering we are privileged to participate in what God is doing here and now—in individual lives, in the community, in this world – to bring live out of death, to bring light into places of darkness. The privilege of identifying so closely with Jesus Christ calls us to set aside anything we formerly valued because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ.
In thinking through this text for our congregations on this Sunday, perhaps the questions we need to ask is, “What is holding you back from the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus? What do you need to set aside so you can fully know Jesus and be known by Jesus?
When we’re ready to know Christ and be fully known by Christ, that’s when we discover what Paul discovered – we discover the prize! We discover the joy and the life – the abundant life Christ desires for us! And what could be better than that?
*Pastor’s note: Perhaps leading the congregation in a time of confession might be an appropriate response to this Word.
1. Strong, J. (2010). The new Strong’s expanded exhaustive concordance of the Bible (Red letter edition). Thomas Nelson.
2. Strong, J. (2010). The new Strong’s expanded exhaustive concordance of the Bible (Red letter edition). Thomas Nelson.
3. Bartlett, D. L. (2015). Feasting on the word. Year C, volume 2, Year C, volume 2,.