Excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus - Phil. 3:7-16

by Thomas W. Finley

3:7 “But what things were gain to me” = all the things of Paul’s former life in Judaism, including his “pride of ancestry (v. 5a); pride of orthodoxy (v. 5b); pride of activity (v. 6a); pride of morality (v. 6).” (Believer’s Bible Commentary) He counted these as loss on account of the gain to be had in Christ.

3:8 “But surely I count all also all things to be loss on account of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” Here Paul uses the present tense indicating his practice is to count all things, all things in the human realm and in the Christian realm, as a loss when compared to the surpassing value of the knowledge of Christ. The excellent thing here is not just Christ (although He is excellent), nor is it knowledge about Christ. Rather it is the experiential knowledge of the person. The Greek word for “knowledge” means here an intimate knowing of the object by the one seeking to know. Knowing Him is our experience of Him, our knowing of His life. It is experiential knowledge, where we learn of Him in our intimate contact with Him in spirit. It is our inward, personal experience of the living God. It is eternal life that He came to give us, experiencing it abundantly and increasingly. The whole passage is deeply experiential, showing Paul’s one great aim in life was to experience Christ in the fullest possible way, even living Christ (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:19). The great danger to the carnal and worldly Christians is to pursue something of this world instead of Christ. The great danger to the serious Christian is to pursue something in the Christian realm other than the deep intimate knowledge of Him (such as truth, right practice, service, gifts, miracles, works, “worship”, etc.). This does not mean that we do not need truth, right practices, service, etc., but all of these things should flow out of our single-minded pursuit to know Him intimately. Paul saw that the excellent thing was to know the living Christ. As one pursues this goal, all of our Christian activity will flow out of and in concert with our spiritual union with Him (Jn. 15:4). Paul’s initial prayer for the Philippians was that their love would abound in full knowledge and discernment so that they would “approve the things that are more excellent.” (Phil. 1:10). The burden behind this prayer may be linked, at least to some extent, to the choice of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. “On account of whom I have suffered the loss of all.” He has let everything go, in a sense, in order to concentrate on one goal: gaining Christ. To “gain Christ” means to gain Him as a person, to thoroughly know Him in our experience. The strength of Paul’s passion and pursuit are interestingly captured in one translation: “Not only those things; I reckon everything as complete loss for the sake of what is so much more valuable, the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have thrown everything away; I consider it all as mere garbage, so that I may gain Christ.” (GNB)

3:9 “And may be found in Him.” Again, this cannot be positional, but experiential. Paul is already “in Christ” positionally, but his desire is to be found by others, and the Lord, in his daily living in a condition of being “in Him.” “Not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in [lit., of] Christ, the righteousness which comes from [ek] God on the basis of faith.” Self-righteousness (“a righteousness of my own”) is established through carrying out the requirements of God’s standards by our efforts. Paul’s throws aside this way of righteousness and expresses his desire for a practical righteousness in his daily living that comes from God through faith. This would be the righteousness of God Himself being manifested in our living through our intimate union with Him. Faith, dependence upon and trust in God, is needed in order to live this righteousness. We need to place our faith in God for this. Yet, as we gaze upon Him and His word with a seeking heart, His virtues, and perhaps even His faith, are infused into us (2 Cor. 3:18). The Greek Scriptures contain both the term “faith in Christ” (e. g., Gal. 3:26; Col. 1:4; 2:5) and the term “faith of Christ” (e. g., Gal. 2:16; Phil. 3:9), as well as “your faith” (e. g., Rom. 1:8). Consider Rom. 10:17 and Heb. 12:2.

3:10 “to know Him.” This phrase does not introduce a new topic, but lays ground for the expansion of the matter under discussion – the knowing of Christ. The knowing of Christ’s life is constantly a matter of knowing His resurrection power to live unto God and of His dying to self. These two aspects of His life always go together. Eph. 1:19-20 show that this resurrection power is towards us. Eph. 3:16-21 shows that this inward power from the Spirit leads to Christ dwelling in our hearts, that is, His ongoing expanding residence in our inward parts, especially affecting our mind, emotion and will so that we (corporately) grow together in apprehending all the dimensions of Christ, especially expressing His love and eventually being filled unto the full expression of His life in the body of Christ. Thus, His power here primarily refers to the spiritual power to follow the Lord and to live Christ. Spiritual power for miraculous manifestations is real, but exceptional, according to God’s sovereign will (Heb. 2:4). But, spiritual power for Christ to dwell in our hearts is normal, the power of the Spirit that we should know daily in our lives. To know “the fellowship of His sufferings” is to share in His sufferings of death to the choice of the self in order to obey God’s will. “Not my will, but Thine, be done.” “Being conformed to His death”, means dying to the self to the fullest extent, which for Christ meant accepting the death of the cross.

3:11 “In order that I might attain to the ek-resurrection from the dead.” This compound word, “ek-resurrection,” is used only here in Scripture. Paul has in view that reward consisting of the prize, if he indeed knows Christ in a complete way, being conformed to His death. The ek-resurrection refers to a select group from among the resurrected ones. It might be more literally translated as “[the ones] from among (ek) those who are raised from among (ek) the dead ones.” This resurrection equals the “better resurrection” of Heb. 11:35, a reward for the overcoming Christian.

3:12 “Not that I have already obtained it” means Paul had not yet obtained the prize. He still had to finish his course, continuing to pursue and know Christ until the end of his course. When he knew he had finished his course in 2 Tim. 4:7, then it was revealed to him that he had indeed obtained the prize, shown there as the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8). “Or have already become perfect.” Paul sensed that his completion in the growth of Christ’s life, his completed conformity to Christ, was still ahead of him. He felt that there was room for more development in his Christian life. “But I press on so that I may lay hold.” Paul presses on, chases, to lay hold. He is pressing on to fully lay hold of Jesus, of knowing Him in the deepest way, or experiencing eternal life to the full extent possible in this life. 1 Tim. 6:12: “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” We were apprehended by Christ in order to fully apprehend Him in our experience.

3:13 Paul did not assess that he had yet fully gained Christ in his experience, but one thing he practiced: he constantly forgot the things behind (all experiences of success or failure) and stretched forward, as in a great race, to discover the dimensions of this person, Jesus.

3:14 “I press on toward the goal.” Paul chases onwards toward the goal of knowing and gaining Christ as much as possible in this life. He wishes to finish his course, pursuing to know Christ. For finishing the race successfully there is a prize: the uttermost experience and enjoyment of Christ in the millennial Kingdom (Mk. 10:30; Lk. 18:30).

3:15 “Let us therefore.” Now Paul turns to application and appeals to the Philippians. “As many as are mature,” here indicating full-grown, not perfected. Paul is calling these full-grown ones to have an attitude of pursuing Christ as their aim. If we have some maturity we should indeed have this mind, this attitude, of counting all things loss in order to know Christ, to gain Him as fully as possible and finish our race for the prize. If we have another mindset, God will reveal that to us. Then we should repent. Our pursuit should be towards intimately knowing and experiencing Christ. If we misaim in our pursuit, choosing instead to focus on something lesser, then the light of God should come to us eventually that we have not made the excellent choice – the pursuit of knowing Him as our life.

3:16 “Only, whereunto we have attained, by that same rule let us walk.” (ASV) As we have already attained to some state of spiritual maturity, let us continue to walk in the same way, the same orderly steps, which brought us to that maturity – the path of pursuing Christ in order to know Him in our experience.

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)