Paul had to lose to gain
1) Works of the Law – Faith in Christ
2) His life on earth – His life in heaven
3) Persecution of the righteous – pursuit of righteousness
You might be familiar with the expression, “addition through subtraction.” The idea is that by reducing something you can add value, such as: making something simpler, faster, more reliable, or less expensive. An example of “addition through subtraction” would be streamlining an automobile. I read an article this week about a company that is replacing the side mirrors of cars with video screens on the dash, both for the right and the left. By subtraction, that is, reduction of wind resistance of the mirrors, they hope to add fuel efficiency. On it’s own, or we might say mathematically, the principle of “addition through subtraction” doesn’t make sense. Addition and subtraction are complete opposites in the mathematically world. Yet, we know that the principle works because we’ve experienced it. It takes a broader picture than just seeing the mathematically definitions, in order to understand “addition through subtraction.”
In our section of God’s Word for today, we see Paul talk about how the Lord used addition through subtraction in his life. But just like the many ways we use that principle in our lives, we see that it takes a broad understanding to fully appreciate in our spiritual lives. If we haven’t considered everything that God has done for us the basic principle that He could give us gain through loss won’t make sense. We ask for the Holy Spirit to broaden our understanding as we consider how Paul had to lose to gain. He lost his works, he gained Christ’s. He lost his life, he gained a resurrection. He lost his persecuting ways, he gained pursuit of the truth. We read from Philippians 3:8-14:
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 9 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; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul says that the first thing he needed to lose in order to gain Christ was his reliance upon works of the law. This is something that all people struggle with because we have an inward desire to please God through what we do. But this was also significant to Paul for another reason. He was raised as a Pharisee. His entire life prior to faith in Christ had been built on the notion that keeping the law of God was the way to righteousness. And Paul reminded the Philippians that he was renowned among the Pharisees for this very point. He writes in just a few verses earlier: If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; 6 regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless (Philippians 3:4-6).
If there was anyone who exemplified the mindset of the Pharisees, it was Paul. He had been raised to follow every law and regulation, and his attitude was more zealous than most, showing through in the ways in which he previously persecuted the Church. Very few, if any, had so vigorously attempted to be justified by works of law, as Paul had. And that’s why it was the very first thing he needed to lose.
We can see why God chose Paul as His servant. Paul was the perfect missionary to the Jews at the time of the early Church. He was able to relate to the ways in which they had been led astray by the Pharisees. But Paul still speaks to more than just Jews. The sect of the Pharisees has long since faded from society. Yet, the desire to be justified by one’s own works is alive and well today, across every culture and every belief. That’s because work righteousness, as we typically call it, is not limited to the Jewish culture only. It’s a problem that we all have because it’s product of sin. Every type of sin has the singular ability to lead one away from the truth. What better way to accomplish that very thing than to negate the need for a Savior?
This is precisely what reliance upon the works of the law does. It makes the individual solely responsible for attaining salvation with God. Paul had tried this method more than any of us, and he categorically condemns it as false. Of all Biblical characters, Paul speaks at the most length about the futility of salvation by works. We take the lion’s share of our theology on this doctrine from the writings of Paul. In each of his letters, the theme of works vs. faith is present.
When Paul lost the reliance upon his own works, God filled the void with the merits of Christ. The same is true for everyone else who heeds the warning of the Law and trusts the promise of the Gospel. The free forgiveness through Jesus was so powerful to Paul that it changed his attitude. Instead of having such a limited and worldly-minded focus, he now counted all things that detracted from Christ as worthless. So, likewise, many have walked the same path. So often, we are scared and insecure about the implications of our faith. We worry about what total denial of our works might entail. It’s difficult to trust in the actions of Christ, and not our own. Faith runs so contrary to the typical way we do things. Yet, once faith exists, all those worries and cares subside. With Jesus in our place, we say with Paul that all other things are worthless in comparison to the riches of our faith.
This transformation led to the second thing that Paul had to lose – his own life. He says in verse 8 that after he counted all worldly things as lost for the sake of Christ, it led directly to further suffering and loss. This is what we call the “Christian cross,” as we studied earlier this week in our midweek service. Jesus described it in detail to His first disciples: Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul (Matthew 16:24-26)?”
To follow Christ and to bear His name by faith leads to further loss, but it doesn’t always mean martyrdom. Sometimes we lose the respect of others. Sometimes we lose the right to freedoms. Sometimes we lose the reception of dignity from others. Sometimes we lose means and possessions. Every persecution is the loss of something in our lives for the sake of Christ. And Paul knew this well, he even called it “fellowship with the sufferings of Christ,” and “being conformed to the death of Christ.”
Paul wasn’t ashamed of the persecutions he endured, because he had the confidence of knowing that his faith in Jesus was based on truth. And he also knew that each thing he lost here on earth was one less attachment to the sinful world. Paul had already tried the rat race of earning favor through his own works, and he knew well that there was no peace in it. Therefore, he was more than willing to give up everything for what Christ had given him, knowing with complete confidence that this life was not the end.
Yes, Paul, like many before and after him, also gave up his life in the name of Jesus. As Paul penned these words to his fellow Christians, he was already in captivity. He knew it was only a matter of time before he provided the ultimate fruit of faith to his Lord and Savior. His final writing, the second letter to Timothy, contains his farewell: For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
There’s good evidence that Paul committed his life to the Lord as a martyr. But even before that moment, Paul had already given his life up, as you have too. Paul, as all Christians, had died to sin and risen through faith in Christ. As we do, so he regularly confessed his sins to God in the hope and confidence of full forgiveness. Long before his final breath on this earth expired, Paul was a new creation of his Savior’s working. Yes, Paul had lost his life as a sinner back on that road to Damascus. What he gained in return was true life through Jesus, a promise that he was soon to fully realize.
This leads us to the final thing that Paul lost and what he gained in its place. By subtracting his life of persecution he gained the pursuit of true righteousness. We might think that persecution would fit better with point 1, as part of the works Paul was doing as a trained Pharisee. That certainly is true, but there’s a reason why it fits here too. At the end of our text Paul writes, Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Twice he uses that phrase, “press toward,” to describe his longing for the courts of God in heaven.
Paul was not expressing discontent with God here. He was more than happy to serve in whatever way God required. But even Paul could sense that the end was near. He knew that his earthly tasks were soon drawing to close and he desired to be with his Lord. The reason we think of Paul’s former ways as a persecutor here is because he most certainly did too. The Greek word for “persecution” is the same one used by Paul to describe his “press toward” the kingdom of God. Paul never shied away from his former life as a persecutor. He lived with it and understood that God had changed him, yet also used his past to shape his service to the Word. One example of this honesty was Paul’s defense before Jerusalem mob in Acts 22: “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers' law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. 4 "I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women (Acts 22:3-4).”
The same word used in Acts to describe Paul’s persecution of others is used here in Philippians to describe his quest for heaven. What a reflection must have been on Paul’s heart as he wrote these words! Surely, he would have taken a moment to contemplate the journey of his life. What a stunning contrast that one who had so ferociously persecuted God’s people, was now hastening to the kingdom of His Savior with the same vigor! We know how competitive of a persecutor Paul had been. He was the best, the most zealous. How much more so in his walk toward heaven. His focus was not on the things of the world; all those things he had lost for becoming a Christian Rather, it was on everything he gained through Christ.
When Paul lost those persecuting ways, the Lord still used the same energy and passion for good. What began as a pursuit of destruction changed to a pursuit of eternal life. In many areas of life, Paul had to lose in order to gain.
As you think of your life, consider what God might be calling you away from, for the purpose of greater gain. We’re not talking money, career, riches; we share Paul’s thoughts about those things; compared to Christ, they are worthless. The greater gain that God desires for you is the same peace of faith which Paul had. Imagine having his confidence; rejoicing in hardships, praising the Lord through persecutions, witnessing in captivity, and pressing toward the upward call of heaven. But you don’t have to just imagine, you can live it.
Paul didn’t display those attitudes in his heart and actions because he was able to work for them. He tried that more than anyone else. And the more he tried it, the more the Lord had to strip away from his life before he could gain that peace. Paul was never rich, until he was on his knees, in the dust of dirt of that road to Damascus but more importantly, honest for first time about the filth of his sins.
You must come to same place in order to gain the peace of Christ. You have been conformed to his death. You have been promised a resurrection like His. The work is complete. Therefore, it’s okay to lose those things that would hold you back from this peace. The distractions of the world, the allure of sinful pride, and the doubts that Satan throws at you. Lose it all. And gain Christ. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.