Rembrandt’s Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem (1640)
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ -Philippians 3:8 (ESV)
It is an old saying that is packed with a great amount of truth: all that glitters is not necessarily gold. There are those who peddle a brand of Christianity that supposedly comes wrapped up in ribbons and bows and wads of worldly wealth. Beware the huckster in sheep’s clothing. All he offers is a misprinted bill of goods.
The notion that life – especially the Christian life – is all sunshine and rainbows is unrealistic to say the least. Being a follower of Christ does not make us immune from persecution or pain, lack or illness, troubles or doubts. In fact, faith in Jesus often puts a big Red Cross-shaped bullseye right on our chests.
But, believe it or not, that is good news. The apostle Paul wrote that all he gained on this earth, he counted as loss in Christ. And vice-versa. The reason? This world has nothing to offer that can surpass the incredible joy and peace of knowing Christ. Having Christ in our lives is a treasure of such immense worth that everything lost on this earth for His sake is “rubbish”. Actually, the Greek word is skybalon, which is not “rubbish”, but “excrement”. Or, as the King James Bible so delicately puts it, “dung”.
Think for a moment about the worldly goods, the “dung” that money can buy. Everything tarnishes and fades. All things crumble and fail with age. Even the greatest artwork fades and cracks. The only things of any eternal value are the goods God gives: love, grace, hope, mercy, forgiveness, relationships, community…
But I believe Paul was talking about earthly stuff beyond the temporal. As a Pharisee, Saul was probably not a rich man. But, whatever he may have lacked in material wealth, he made up for in legalistic zeal. Saul made a career out of hunting down and persecuting those who opposed the Pharisees’ strict view of God and, more importantly, threatened the power they shared with the Sadducees.
When Saul encountered Jesus on the Damascus Road, God forced him to face reality. A face-to-face between Jesus Christ and an enemy of God (who does not see himself as such) could not be comfortable for the other party. Nor could being blinded and sent to live among Christians – the very people you viciously persecuted just days before.
Saul was forced to give up his beliefs, his pride, his station in life as a Pharisee… In short, Saul had to lose Saul. His surrender was so great that Saul gave up his very identity and became the apostle God christened Paul.
Paul as an apostle would learn what persecution truly is. Like the prophet Jeremiah some 600 years before, the last of the apostles learned the promise of God: I will give you message. They’re going to hate you, but I will be with you every step of the way.”
Through Paul, we learn the sufficiency of God’s grace over all else: our plans, our enemies’ schemes, our own foolishness and greed, our misgivings and misunderstandings and missteps…
We all have a God given job to do, a message of love and hope to proclaim. We can only do what truly matters when our hearts are focused on:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:8-9 (ESV)
Whatever is truly good in life is good because it came to us from out good, loving, gracious and forgiving Father. True treasure is found only in following the Lord with faith and joy, helping others along the way and loving one another. All else is of no eternal use. Not worthy of worry or care. Simply a distraction. Glittering dung with a ribbon on top.