Sunday, February 06, 2011

Dung and Excellence

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 3:08, NKJV).
Dung. That's the more literal translation of the Greek word, skubalon (skoo'-bal-on), that the NKJV translators more politely interpret as rubbish. Worthless, detestable, defiling animal excrement is what Paul forsook to gain Christ. His is a revealing and instructive perspective, since the apostle's description of the things he had lost in the verses previous to this statement, was a long list of lifetime accomplishments that he had expended a great deal of time and energy to achieve. But then he obtained the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus [his] Lord, and he saw all those benchmarks and belt notches as what they really were: dung.

I firmly believe that on the day of my death, if I am conscious and thinking, I will not regret time spent away from the office, or time not spent acquiring material things or pursuing worldly goals, like fame or power. If I regret anything on that day, it will be the opportunities the Lord gave me to do good and to share that I ignored, or rebelled against. I will regret time spent not laying up eternal treasures in Heaven, which, since we can take nothing material with us in the afterlife, will mean time that I squandered, when I could have been sharing the gospel, or providing godly comfort and encouragement to the most priceless created thing in the Universe - another soul made in the image of God.

Sacrificing anything  - relationships, principles, integrity, morality, excessive time - for the things and rewards of the world results in dung. Sacrificing the things the world sees as valuable for Christ, results in excellence. The contrast could not be more stark. Paul's priorities and vision were clear. This is such an important lesson for us. It is the difference between a life spent pursuing temporary rewards or permanent, everlasting ones; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. And make no mistake - the Lord wants your heart with Him.

In the parable of the four soils in Matthew, Jesus teaches that the best soil is deep and rich, and unencumbered by the shallowness or thorny entanglements of this life. Certainly, this is not meant to promote lack of diligence, or good stewardship, or sloth, for the Bible teaches that those things are also needful. But it is a lesson on keeping in mind what is truly important, what supersedes every other consideration. If you are holding onto anything more than you are holding onto the excellence of the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, then you have it wrong, and require a course correction.

In like manner in the Book of Romans, Paul concludes that the opposite is also true. Since earthly power, prestige, and accomplishment are rubbish in comparison to knowing Jesus, it also follows that the sufferings of this present time are also unworthy of comparison to the glory that shall be revealed in us. Whatever befalls us here as Christians, is light affliction. Why? Because even a lifetime of anguish and loss, when held up against an eternity with God, is but a twinkling of an eye. Again, the pattern is unmistakable - Christ is preeminent. Our relationship with Him takes precedence over anything and everything else.

It occurs to me that the apostle must have been constantly amazed at His transformation in Christ from a zealous persecutor of the church, to its leading, and perhaps most influential human proponent. From consenting to the stoning of Stephen, to being let down over a wall in Damascus as a Christian refugee. From an up and coming Pharisee, to an itinerant evangelist of the very sect he had vowed to exterminate. Christ does unexpected and surprising things to a life, and a heart, that is surrendered to Him. Sometimes the road is rough. Paul's certainly was, with his imprisonments, beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, and being reviled by his countrymen, his beloved brethren according to the flesh. Yet, despite the perils and heartaches of the journey, the destination is his life was worth it all, and more. Whatever he had to suffer was nothing in the light of that, as was whatever he had to lose.

Note, please, two additional thoughts on this passage, that are sort of the dual supporting pillars of Paul's marvelous perspective, both centered upon the Lord Jesus, Himself. The first, as already mentioned, is the  excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, and its counterpart is Paul's desire to gain Christ. Whole libraries could be written about these concepts, even as the Apostle John wrote at the end of his gospel, that if all the things pertaining to Jesus were recorded, he supposed the whole world could not contain the books that would be written. 

Why, then, is knowledge of Jesus considered excellent and what does it mean to gain Christ?

Many believe that knowledge itself has intrinsic value (by definition, I am speaking of knowledge that is true, not so-called knowledge, or false knowledge). To know anything is better than not knowing. In that sense, all knowledge is valuable, but there is a vast difference in quality (and I choose that word purposely) between knowing how to be a peacemaker, let's say, and how to be a warmonger. Peacemaking is better than warmongering, even with today's "modern" disregard of absolute values and critical thinking. Knowledge of peace, because of what it brings about when applied, is more excellent than knowledge about war. 

For the same reason, knowledge about Christ is the most excellent of all because of what it brings about when applied - eternal life in the Presence of God. The Bibles teaches that mankind, made in the image of his eternal Creator, is immortal. There is life after death whether we agree with it or not. That life never ends, again, regardless of what we believe about it. The only indeterminate thing is where that never-ending life will be lived out; either in unending torment, or bliss. The determining factor is what you do about Christ. The more you know about Him, the more likely you will see His majesty, mercy and love, and the more you will be moved, if sane, to accept His gift of justification by faith. Thus, application of that most excellent knowledge brings about the most priceless result imaginable: everlasting life as a child of God.

And by deciding in His favor, you gain Him. This, in itself, is mostly inconceivable. The Almighty God gives Himself, and all that He is and means and can do, as a reward for accepting a gift! Do you see the brilliant connection? Knowledge of Christ leads to life. By acting on that knowledge, you gain Him, and by gaining Him, you gain everything else!

One final point; none of this can be viewed outside the context of Jesus Christ being Lord, and more specifically, Paul wrote that he was "my Lord". By implication and extension, this means He is Lord of each and everyone of us, individually. Personal appropriation of Jesus as Lord now, is an essential part of His being Savior. Yes, it is true that He is Lord regardless of our acquiescence, for one day every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. But when that day comes, if He is not already your Savior, He will be your Lord and Judge. He will be a consuming fire. That is why now is the Day of Salvation, and is yet another reason why knowledge of Him now is excellent, and of the greatest possible gain.

It boils down to this: pursue the world and the things of the world and, in the end, you gain dung. Pursue the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus and, although you may lose the world in the process, in the end, you gain Him, and everlasting life, and fullness of joy.

Your choice.