Losing to Gain

Philippians 3:1-11

June 5, 2005 | Brian Bill

The longest sermon on record was preached by Clinton Lacy in February of 1955.  It took 58 hours and 18 minutes to deliver it.  It was after suffering through this sermonic soliloquy that someone remarked: “Blessed is the preacher whose train of thought has a caboose.”  

Erwin Lutzer, pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago, likes to say to his preaching class: “If you can’t strike oil in 30 minutes, stop boring.”  That reminds me of the preacher who announced after a long, dry sermon, that he wished to meet with the church board following the close of the service.  The first man to arrive was a visitor.  The minister turned to him and said, “You misunderstood my announcement.  This is a meeting of the board.”  The man replied, “I know, but if there’s anyone here more bored than I am, I’d like to meet him.”

Let’s jump into our text by turning to Philippians 3 where we will learn that a relationship with Christ, not religion, is what makes us righteous.  In this extremely autobiographical section, filled with strong speech and vivid word pictures, Paul begins in verse 1 with a preacher’s favorite phrase: “Finally…” Now those of you who have listened to sermons for awhile should know that this doesn’t necessarily mean that the message is almost over.  Paul still has two more chapters in the book!  This literally means, “As for the rest.”  He’s addressed a number of topics and now wants to tackle a few more.  

True to form, he once again focuses on the need to “rejoice in the Lord.”  Notice that we are to rejoice in the Lord, meaning that joy comes only from Jesus.  I love how Paul works this theme into every seam of Philippians.  It seems whenever he changes subjects in this letter, he interjects the responsibility we have to rejoice.  Notice that it is “no trouble” for him to repeat the need for rejoicing, referring to it as a “safeguard” for them.  This word is the opposite of the verb meaning “to trip up, or cause to stumble.”  Paul’s passion is for the believers to stand firm, to be steady and secure.  His concern is three-fold as he establishes that we are made righteous through a relationship with Christ, not by being religious.

1. Watch out for the expectations of others (2-3). 

Verse 2 begins with a warning: “Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.”  Using strident speech, Paul moves from some sweet words to several strong warnings.  Let me give some background.  In the opening seven chapters in the Book of Acts, the Gospel message was preached to those with a Jewish background.  But when you come to chapter ten, Peter goes to the Gentiles with the gospel, and this causes some concern and conflict for those who believed that a person needed to become Jewish first.  At the end of chapter eleven, it seems like the matter is settled.  Notice Acts 11:18: “‘So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.’”  

grace always trumps the Law

Now that the door had been opened, Paul was sent out to the Gentiles in Acts 13, but it didn’t take long for the “Judaizers,” men who taught that people had to submit to Jewish rules, to come along and cause the church to have its first doctrinal disagreement in Acts 15.  The conclusion of this conference was that Gentiles did not have to keep the Jewish law in order to be saved.  James summarized their decision in Acts 15:19: “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it more difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”  They concluded that grace always trumps the Law.  But the dissenters were not happy with this decision so they followed Paul wherever he went, stirring up the churches and pulling people away from the gospel of grace.  

The Philippians were to “watch out,” or perceive with their eyes, by paying close attention to these men.  They were to constantly look out for dangers that were coming their way.  Paul describes these false teachers in three strong terms:

  • They are “dogs.”  We need to get the lap dog or the nap dog out of our minds.  These were not pampered pets or docile dogs, but rather dirty, despised and diseased scavengers.  I wanted to sing the song, “Who Let the Dogs Out?” but all of you would be out of here if I did!  They often traveled in packs, intruding where they were not wanted and barking all the time.  I saw a lot of these cantankerous canines when we lived in Mexico and during the summer I was in Zimbabwe.  Paul is really asking, “Who Let the Dogs In?” The Jewish people often referred to Gentiles in a derogatory way as “dogs.”  The Judaizers had become just like those they had been trying to avoid.  
  • They are “men who do evil.”  Paul is picking up on the declaration of Jesus in Matthew 23:15: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” They may come across as sincere but they are really sinister.
  • They are “mutilators of the flesh.”  Paul is using a play on words here to show that these men, who have been preaching that circumcision is a requirement for redemption, are actually mutilating the message of the Gospel.  Circumcision is taught in Genesis 17 and other passages and did distinguish God’s people from the pagans around them, but when the spiritual meaning is lost, it is nothing more than a mutilation.  Paul used even stronger words than this in Galatians 5:12 when he stated: “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” 

In contrast to these false charlatans, Paul describes real religion using four terms.

  • Christians are “the circumcision.” In a spiritual sense, every Christian has been circumcised in his heart.  
  • A Christian “worships by the Spirit of God.” Instead of exalting the externals, a true believer, as Jesus said in John 4:24, worships in “spirit and truth.” 
  • A Christian “glories in Christ.” Our confidence is to be in Christ alone.  1 Corinthians 1:31: “Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’” Our focus should always be on extending the fame of Christ’s name.
  • A Christian “puts no confidence in the flesh.” This literally means, “And not in flesh having confidence.”  As Paul does an inventory of his life, he knows he could make a case for putting confidence in his accomplishments. 

2. Weigh your accomplishments against Christ (5-8). 

In this section, Paul opens up his soul as he describes his spiritual resume.  He lists seven achievements, some that were inherited and others that were earned.  I’m grateful to Wil Pounds for this helpful outline.  Here then is Paul’s pedigree.  He had the…

  • Right Ritual.  Paul was “circumcised on the eighth day.”  He was a Jew by birth, not a convert later in life.  This literally means, “In circumcision an eighth-day man.”
  • Right Relationship.  He was “of the people of Israel.”  He was from the spiritual stock that can be traced through Jacob.  When the Jewish people wanted to stress their special relationship to God, they used the word “Israelite.” 
  • Right Respectability.  Paul came from one of the most highly esteemed tribes: “of the tribe of Benjamin.”  Benjamin was the child of Rachael, the well-loved wife of Jacob.  This patriotic tribe remained loyal to Judah when the other ten revolted.
  • Right Race.  Paul declared that he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” meaning that both of his parents were Jewish.  He was a pure Jew, growing up speaking the language and practicing all the customs.
  • Right Religion.  Paul stated, “in regard to the law, a Pharisee.”  Over time, the word “Pharisee” has come to be synonymous with hypocrite or legalist, but back then, a Pharisee was the highest level one could attain to.  
  • Right Reputation.  No one could question Paul’s passion for the things of God.  He was so sold on doing what he thought was right that, “as for zeal, [he was] persecuting the church.”  
  • Right Righteousness.  Amazingly, Paul could take a look at his external actions and declare, “As for legalistic righteousness, faultless.”  He could say with the rich young ruler in Mark 10:20: “…all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 

Do you remember the Flonase commercial where there are a bunch of guys standing next to each other?  All of them are using different medications and when various allergens are introduced, one by one, they all fall over until only the guy using Flonase is left.  That’s kind of like what Paul is saying here.  Let’s demonstrate by having you all stand.  I’m going to ask different groups of you to sit down until only one person is left standing.

I’m reading a book right now called, Blue Like Jazz that several guys in the church have encouraged me to read.  I can’t recommend it yet because I’ve just started but I was struck by the author’s autobiographical summary of his spiritual life, because it reminded me of the Apostle Paul’s testimony: “I believe the greatest trick of the devil is not to get us into some sort of evil but rather have us wasting time.  This is why the devil tries so hard to get Christians to be religious.  If he can sink a man’s mind into habit, he will prevent his heart from engaging God.  I was into habit.”  (Donald Miller, Thomas Nelson, 2003, Page 13).

Paul had a bunch of holy habits and high spiritual scores until he met Christ on the road to Damascus in Acts 9.  As good as he was, when he comes to verse 7, he writes: “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.”  That word “but” serves as a contrast and the word “profit” is actually in the plural, meaning that all the “right” things he had going for him were like credits on a profit/loss statement.  That is, until he took the time to “consider” or count what he really had.  This is a mathematical term, meaning to carefully add things up.  When he did that, he recognized that all those things that he thought were gain were actually a “loss” when compared to knowing Christ.  

Let me demonstrate by writing the word “profit” on the left side of this paper and the word “loss” on the right side.  Let’s compare Paul’s life both before he met Christ and after.

Pre-Conversion Post-Conversion

Profit Loss Profit Loss

Ritual Christ Christ Ritual

Relationship Relationship

Respectability Respectability

Race Race 

Religion Religion

Reputation Reputation

Righteousness Righteousness

We could say that Paul is basically stamping the word “loss” across all those things he thought were profits.  His credits have become debits.  Weighed against the weightiness of Christ, nothing stands up.  Verse 8 begins with an unusually strong phrase, “What is more,” which in the Greek contains five particles that reads this way, “But indeed therefore at least even.”  And then he again uses the present tense of “consider” or count, to say that he concludes that “everything” is a loss compared to “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ.”  He’s basically saying that a relationship with Christ is much more important than religious activities.  

The word “loss” is used in Acts 27 of the cargo that was thrown overboard in a storm.  They had to get rid of stuff in order to save their lives.  It was valuable but it had quickly become worthless when the sailors were faced with a crisis.  The cargo had to go if they wanted to go on.  This is similar to what Jesus taught in Matthew 13:44-46 when he said that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that a man gave up everything for, or like the merchant who, when finding a pearl of great value, “went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”  Both of these men had accumulated much but saw everything as worthless when compared to the surpassing treasure of Christ.

But then he goes one step further, using graphically gross language: “I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”  The word “rubbish” here is cleaned up a bit because it actually means manure or human waste.  Paul is saying that all of his gains are garbage, his self-righteous deeds are like dung, what he thought was excellent is really excrement.  Some of us are uncomfortable with these kinds of words in church but let me say it strongly.  If you are trusting in religion to get you to heaven, you will never get there because compared to a relationship with Christ, religion is rubbish.  We are made righteous through a relationship with Christ, not by being religious.  Our good deeds are like a smoldering pile of garbage.  Paul is echoing the words of Isaiah 64:6: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…”

We need to tear up our religious resume and instead trust in a relationship with Christ

Here’s the rub.  Most of us have no trouble admitting that our sins are smelly but secretly many of us think that our “good” deeds help balance things out.  One pastor put it this way: “It is not your attitude toward your sins that foul you up; it’s your attitude toward your own goodness.”  Friend, take some time to calculate your credentials and it will not take long for you to admit that apart from Christ everything is rubbish.  Notice that it’s only when we count those things as garbage that we will “gain Christ.”  We need to tear up our religious resume and instead trust in a relationship with Christ.  And when we realize that we have nothing left but Christ, we will find that Christ is everything we ever needed.  Missionary martyr Jim Elliot said it best: “He is no fool to give what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

A good thing can become a bad thing if it keeps us away from the best thing.  As Jesus said in Mark 8:36, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”

It’s possible to be sincere and be sincerely wrong.  When Paul compared himself with these seven measuring sticks, he thought he was fine but when compared with Christ, all his gains were garbage

3. Widen your experiential knowledge of Christ (9-11).  

Verse 9 describes the amazing transaction that takes place when we refuse to trust in the refuse on our spiritual resumes and put our faith in Christ alone: “And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” This verse is really a summary of the Book of Romans.  This passage hit John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress, as he walked through the cornfields one night, wondering how he could stand before God.  Suddenly he saw himself – not just as a sinner, but as sin from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet.  He realized that he had nothing, and that Christ had everything.

Believers are “in Christ,” a phrase that is used over 100 times in the epistles.  We are inextricably united to Christ in an unbreakable bond.  We could illustrate it this way.  Imagine that this piece of paper represents your life and this open book (which I will be giving to our “Ten Tons of Love” collection project) represents Christ.  As I put the paper into the book and then close it, the paper is completely covered.  It is “in” Christ.  When God looks at you, He sees Jesus because to be “in Christ” means that God imputes or counts the righteousness of Christ to your account.  He becomes your gain as you get the credit for His perfect righteousness.

Verses 10-11 establish the two goals of the Christian life: To know Christ and to become like Him: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”  The word “know” is experiential, not just intellectual and has the idea of “knowing absolutely.”  Jesus described it this way in John 17:3: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”  

Warren Wiersbe points out some helpful truths about knowing Christ from these two verses:

  • It’s personal – “I” want to know Christ.
  • It’s powerful – the “power” of his resurrection.
  • It’s painful – the fellowship of sharing in his “sufferings.” 
  • It’s practical – “becoming” like him.

One day Paul came to realize that being good is not good enough.  He could see himself standing before the doors of heaven with his long list of credentials.

I’ve done the right rituals – silence

I have the right relationship as part of the people of Israel – the angels yawn

I have the right kind of respectability being from the tribe of Benjamin – big deal

I’m of the right race and speak Hebrew – the doors don’t move

I’m one of the elite members of the religion – no sound of keys turning in the locks

I have the right reputation as one who is sincere and zealous – the words hang in the air

Then Paul plays his trump card, thinking that this for sure will get him in: I have the right kind of righteousness because I am faultless – he waits expectantly for a flurry of movement but nothing happens.  Heaven’s gates are closed to him while Hell awaits him with open arms.

When Roy DeLamotte was the chaplain at Paine College in Georgia, he preached the shortest sermon in the college’s history.  His sermon title was much longer than his message: “What Does Christ Answer When We Ask, ‘Lord, What’s in Religion for Me?’”  Here’s his one-word sermon: “Nothing.”  A relationship with Christ, not religion, is what makes us righteous

Someone has said that many of us subscribe to the oldest religion in the world – the do-the-best-you-can religion.  The problem with this is that our best is really a mound of smelly manure in the nostrils of Yahweh.  Even the good things are garbage to God.  Are you ready to put your faith in Him right now so that you will be found in Him?  We could define faith this way.






It’s time to do a new accounting of your life so that you will forsake all and take Him right now.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?