7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
Philippians 3:7-8 (KJV)
Loss – As a Pharisee, Paul was taught the law. This meant that he was taught to love God with all his heart, soul, and might (Deuteronomy 6:5). He was taught to love his neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). He was taught not to murder, not to commit adultery, not to steal (Exodus 20:13-15). Paul was taught to honor his parents (Exodus 20:12) and to wear tassels on his clothing (Numbers 15:38). He learned to eat only clean meats (Leviticus 11), and provide for the orphans and widows (Exodus 22:22). But yet, in Paul’s letters to the Philippians, he seems to suggest that this is all dung, or considered loss at the knowledge of Christ? Does that sit well with you?
Really? If we interpret this at face value from our 21st century westernized Christian perspective, we might believe this is exactly what Paul is suggesting. And being that we consider Paul the great facilitator of the Christian faith, we just might follow suit and abandon those laws as well.
But before we do, maybe we should think about this a bit further. The word in Greek is zēmia and means “loss or hurt.” But in the context of this verse above, zēmia takes on a subjective manner.
The point in Phil. 3:7-8 is not objective loss but subjective loss of value. For Paul all value now lies in Christ, and therefore things that were once highly estimated (his zeal and legal righteousness) are now regarded as worthless. The idea is not that the are harmful to his new Christian life, and there is certainly no thought of punishment. (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, p.299)
So Paul views this righteousness that comes by the righteous law of God as a loss compared to Christ. This sits well with me. Just as the laws of a kingdom fall utterly short when standing in the presence of the King.
The laws are still valuable. They are still profitable and beneficial to our lives, but when we stand in the presence of the Messiah, Yeshua… well they’re secondary to everything Yeshua is. I cannot imagine the overwhelming feeling of awe I will experience in the presence of the King, but I can assure you it will overshadow the feeling I get when reading and practicing the commandments.
Think very carefully now. Is Paul suggesting that every commandment found in the law is dung so that he might win Christ? Is that his testimony? Does he speak against the law so that he might win Christ? Well let’s examine his testimony during the last days of his life?
7 And when he was come, the Jews which came down from Jerusalem stood round about, and laid many and grievous complaints against Paul, which they could not prove.
8 While he answered for himself, Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended any thing at all.
9 But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure, answered Paul, and said, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me?
10 Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest.
11 For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar. (Acts 25:7-11)
So looks to me at the end of Paul’s life, after he accepted Yeshua as the Messiah, he still contends that he kept the laws of God. And even the Jews who witnessed against Paul couldn’t prove their claims that Paul broke the commandments. If Paul really counted it as loss or dung, then surely he would have stopped doing that thing which he though was so awful. But he didn’t… and no one could prove he did. Isn’t that baffling?
Maybe Paul did realize the value of the laws, but as mentioned, maybe their value was diminished in the presence of Yeshua. Nothing compares to the King. This is true. But the will of God holds until the end of time. His will is His law (Romans 2:18). We need to stop looking at the law as a burden and remind ourselves that it is in the law that we find freedom.
To add to this, remember that Paul was a Pharisee. His obligations to Judaism didn’t stop at the Torah. They continued into the Talmud and Rabbinic commentary. There are thousands of more laws added to Paul’s life down to every detail that dictated his every movement. The traditions of men controlled his every action. Paul found these as loss as well. He realized that Yeshua preached against these traditions, but Yeshua enforced the commandments. If you love me, keep my commandments.