I consider them rubbish, that I might gain Christ...(Philippians 3:8).
Have you ever wondered if Jesus ever used four letter words (other than “love”)? How about Paul? The question is open to debate depending on how you translate a couple of words that show up in the New Testament. Jesus warned against using the word “Raca” in the Sermon on the Mount, (Matthew 5:22). Marginal notes usually explain that it is a term of “contempt” in Aramaic. In context, it is a word you might yell at someone with whom you are so irate you want to kill them. My sense is that is was a little stronger than “contempt.”
Today’s text falls into the same category. Paul evaluates the accomplishments of his past life as “rubbish” compared to knowing Jesus. It cost him everything, from a secular perspective, to follow Christ. But from Paul’s perspective, all that was lost was skubala (the word in the Greek text translated “rubbish”). The word was used primarily in reference to “excrement”. That is why the King James Version used the word “dung” to translate it. Modern interpreters seem to have taken the safe path in translation and have gone with “refuse” or “rubbish”. I think there is a strong probability that Paul was using the word in a little more intense sense. Compared to knowing Christ, all secular “success” for Paul had become “crap” (I’ll use the more tame form of the “S” word).
Of course, the point of all this is not to legitimize vulgar language. The real point is to see how radically Paul’s value system had shifted as a mature follower of Jesus. He writes the above text after knowing Christ, and serving him, for some twenty-five to thirty years. He has taken what Richard Rohr calls “the wisdom journey” to becoming a “Holy Fool”. In the larger passage Paul gives a brief biography of his life before the Damascus Rd. In his culture, he had arrived. His credentials were impeccable, and you could say he had it made. Then came Jesus.
In a relatively short time, all that he had accomplished, and the place of respect and honor he held, were lost. But when he compares what he has lost, with what he has gained, he reaches the conclusion that his old life was skiable…crap: that is, compared to knowing Christ, and gaining a relationship with God that was not based on his performance, but on Jesus’ finished work. Paul’s passion shifted from gaining prominence and position to growing in his relationship with Jesus. I know few men and women, even faithful Christians, who have made this transition so radically.
Take a few minutes and think about the things that are of greatest importance to you. Be honest. Then compare those things to knowing Christ. If you gain the world, but miss Jesus…you lose. But even if you lose the world, but gain Jesus…you win. Put an S on your hand today to remind you that most of what the world dangles in front of you to entice you is just crap in the long run.