More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, (3:8–9a)
The forceful phrase more than that is an untranslatable string of five Greek particles (lit. “but indeed therefore at least even”). It strongly emphasizes the contrast between the religious credits that do not impress God and the incalculable benefits of knowing Christ. In verse 7, Paul counted the religious credits in verses 5 and 6 as loss; here he expands that conviction and declares all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus. The verb translated “I have counted” in verse 7 is in the perfect tense; the same verb translated here I count is in the present tense. That indicates that all the meritorious works that Paul had counted on to earn God’s favor, and any that he might do in the present or future, are but loss.
Paul abandoned his past religious achievements in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus. The participle huperchon (the surpassing value) refers to something of incomparable worth. The word knowing in the Greek text is not a verb, but a form of the noun gnōsis, from the verb ginōskō, which means to know experimentally or experientially by personal involvement. The surpassing knowledge of Christ that Paul describes here is far more than mere intellectual knowledge of the facts about Him.
The New Testament frequently describes Christians as those who know Christ. In John 10:14 Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me.” In John 17:3 He defined eternal life as knowing Him: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” To the Corinthians Paul wrote, “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6), while in Ephesians 1:17 he prayed “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.” In his first epistle John declared, “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). Salvation involves a personal, relational knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
To the Greeks, gnōsis could describe secret, cultic, mystical communion with a deity. Those who were initiated into the mystery claimed to have ascended beyond the mundane knowledge possessed by the masses. They imagined that they alone enjoyed some personal experience of their deity. The Greeks often sought such an elevated state through drunken revelry. In the second century, the dangerous heresy of Gnosticism attempted to syncretize the Greek concept of gnōsis and Christian truth. Like their pagan counterparts, the Gnostics claimed a higher, truer knowledge of God than the average Christian experienced. But Paul uses gnōsis here to describe the transcendent communion with Christ that all true believers experience.
There is also an Old Testament context for gnōsis. The verb form was used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) to translate the Hebrew word yada. Yada often denoted an intimate knowledge, even a union or bond of love. It was sometimes used in Scripture as a euphemism for sexual intercourse (e.g., Gen. 4:1, 17, 25; 19:8; 24:16; Num. 31:17–18, 35; Judg. 21:11–12; 1 Sam. 1:19). It also described God’s intimate love bond with Israel: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2 nkjv). Thus, the word can have the connotation both of a transcendent knowledge and an intimate love bond.
Adding personal warmth to the rich theological concept of knowing Christ Jesus, Paul describes Him as my Lord. That threefold description encompasses Christ’s three offices of prophet, priest, and king. Christ views Him as the Messiah, the messenger or prophet of God. Jesus views Him as Savior, emphasizing His role as believers’ great High Priest. Lord views Him as sovereign King over all creation.
Salvation comes only through the deep knowledge of and intimate love bond with Jesus Christ that God gives by grace through faith. Commenting on the believer’s knowledge of Christ, F. B. Meyer wrote,
We may know Him personally intimately face to face. Christ does not live back in the centuries, nor amid the clouds of heaven: He is near us, with us, compassing our path in our lying down, and acquainted with all our ways. But we cannot know Him in this mortal life except through the illumination and teaching of the Holy Spirit.… And we must surely know Christ, not as a stranger who turns in to visit for the night, or as the exalted king of men—there must be the inner knowledge as of those whom He counts His own familiar friends, whom He trusts with His secrets, who eat with Him of His own bread.
To know Christ in the storm of battle; to know Him in the valley of shadow; to know Him when the solar light irradiates our faces, or when they are darkened with disappointment and sorrow; to know the sweetness of His dealing with bruised reeds and smoking flax; to know the tenderness of His sympathy and the strength of His right hand—all this involves many varieties of experience on our part, but each of them like the facets of a diamond will reflect the prismatic beauty of His glory from a new angle. (The Epistle to the Philippians [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1952], 162–63)
For the inestimable privilege of knowing Jesus Christ, Paul gladly suffered the loss of all things by which he might have sought to earn salvation apart from Christ. The apostle went so far as to count them but rubbish so that he might gain (personally appropriate) Christ. All efforts to obtain salvation through human achievement are as much rubbish as the worst vice. Skubalon (rubbish) is a very strong word that could also be rendered “waste,” “dung,” “manure,” or even “excrement.” Paul expresses in the strongest possible language his utter disdain for all the religious credits with which he had sought to impress man and God. In view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ, they are worthless. Paul would have heartily endorsed Isaiah’s declaration that “all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Isa. 64:6).
The phrase in Him expresses the familiar Pauline truth that believers are in Christ, a concept found more than seventy-five times in his epistles. Believers are inextricably intertwined with Christ in an intimate life and love bond. “I have been crucified with Christ,” wrote Paul to the Galatians; “and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).
MacArthur New Testament Commentary
3:8 In coming to Christ for salvation, Paul had renounced all things and counted them worthless when compared to the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, his Lord. The excellence of the knowledge is a Hebrew way of saying “the excellent knowledge” or “the surpassing worth of knowing.”
Ancestry, nationality, culture, prestige, education, religion, personal attainments—all these the apostle abandoned as grounds for boasting. Indeed, he counted them as dung or rubbish in order that he might gain Christ.
Although the present tense is used in this verse and in the one following, Paul is looking back primarily to the time of his conversion. In order to gain Christ, he had had to turn his back on the things he had always been taught to prize most highly. If he were to have Christ as his gain, he had to say “goodbye” to his mother’s religion, his father’s heritage, and his own personal attainments.
And so he did! He completely severed his ties with Judaism as a hope of salvation. In doing so, he was disinherited by his relatives, disowned by his former friends, and persecuted by his fellow countrymen. He literally suffered the loss of all things when he became a Christian.
Because the present tense is used in verse 8, it sounds as if Paul was still seeking to gain Christ. Actually, he had won Christ when he first acknowledged Him as Lord and Savior. But the present tense indicates that this is still his attitude—he still counts all else as rubbish when compared to the value of knowing the Lord Jesus. The great desire of his heart is: “That Christ may be my gain.” Not gold, or silver, or religious reputation, but Christ.
Believers Bible Commentary