I count all things but loss for the excellency
of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord
For to me to live is Christ... (Philippians
The excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus...
Clearly that means that the knowledge of Christ in the
case of the Apostle Paul far transcended all other
knowledge. For him it was a knowledge that outstripped in
its value all other knowledge which he had had or
conceived himself capable of having. He sets the
knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord over against every
other thing, and just as the candle light pales when the
sun shines, so for him the most powerful light and glory
which man is capable of experiencing faded in the
presence of Christ Jesus his Lord.
Such words were not just words in the case of Paul. This
was not some fine flourish of language. Coming from such
a man as he was, they carried tremendous weight, not
because of who he was, but because of the life out of
which the words sprang.
Really to get something of the power and the strength
the depth, the fulness, the wonder of this
phrase, of this language it is necessary to turn
to contemplate this mans life and to see the
background of his words. Words are of value in proportion
to the reality of a mans history the history
that lies behind his words and relates to his words. We
may say things, but those things may be worthless,
because there is nothing behind them in ourselves. Or we
may say things, and those things may carry with them
tremendous weight of meaning and value because of what
lies behind them in the person of the speaker. We must
remember, then, that when Paul said these words, he was
practically at the end of his earthly course... and that
a whole life crammed with spiritual history lay behind
every syllable. But what a life! Everything culminated
and was gathered up into these final utterances.
Look at him personally. Here is a man, worn and
feeble, upon whom there has broken... and upon whom there
has rolled waves mighty and continuous waves of
every kind of suffering that you could think of if you
sat down to try to catalogue the sufferings of man: a
victim of gross perjury, the prey of many contending
enmities; a broken and enfeebled physical frame; in
circumstances of deep affliction; vexed with hundreds,
possibly thousands, of opponents; having very few real
friends now remaining.
He has placed on record some of his experiences of
adversity. They run like this: In afflictions, in
necessities, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in
fastings; chastened, sorrowful, poor, having nothing; in
prisons, in stripes above measure, in deaths often;
five times received I forty stripes save one.
Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice
I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in
the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in
perils of robbers, in perils from my countrymen, in
perils from the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in
perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils
among false brethren; in labour and travail, in watchings
often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold
and nakedness. Besides those things which are without,
there is that which presses upon me daily anxiety
for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:24-28).
There are many other touches as to the experiences of
this man of God. He lightly refers to them and passes on:
I who am rude of speech (that is what some
had said about him): I who am despicable in
presence (again, what some had said about him). The
yes and the no man that is, the man who
vacillates, who at one time says yes and at another time
no. Sending requests to a beloved yokefellow, he says:
Bring the cloak which I left at Troas
...clearly showing that he was knowing coldness.
If you look among his writings and in his history, you
accumulate a tremendous amount that points to his history
of suffering, of trial, of adversity. In the end he says:
All they in Asia have turned away from me;
Only Luke is with me.
Then we see what he had given up for that; see that for
which this is the exchange from the human side. He tells
us what his natural advantages were how that he
had a reason and occasion to boast more than any other.
If any man thinks to have confidence in the
flesh, I yet more (more than any man): circumcised the
eighth day (i.e., he was born a Jew; he was not a
proselyte), of the stock of Israel (not a graft, but the
original stock), of the tribe of Benjamin (After the name
of the tribe, the next most distinguished name is that of
Saul, the first king, who was of the tribe of Benjamin),
a Hebrew of Hebrews: as touching the law, a Pharisee; as
touching zeal, persecuting the Church (Philippians
All of that represented position, advantage, influence,
reputation something in this world that provides a
basis of honour and success, a name and a place among
men. He had exchanged that for all this of which we have
spoken... and much more.
How does Paul feel about it? See the extremes in this mans
life: the extreme, on the one hand, of honour and earthly
glory that in which men pride themselves, that
which from this worlds standpoint was to his
advantage. It went a long way. On the other hand is the
opposite extreme. Think of it! A man like that, standing
out amongst men in a place of conspicuous honour and
privilege and influence, yet beaten with rods, thrashed
with a whip, flung into prison, stoned, and all the rest.
How does he feel about the exchange? What is his attitude
to the whole thing? At the end of a life like that, how
does he sum it up?
Rejoice in the Lord ...rejoice... rejoice!
You say: There is something behind these words! These are
no empty words. Put a history, an experience, like that
behind an utterance, and the utterance counts for
something. It is amazing.
If we stayed long enough to meditate upon it, it is
calculated to bring us down to our knees in shame. There
is no complaining, no repining here; no saying: I
have given up everything (and it is a big everything)
for Christ, and look what He has brought me to see
what I have got! No! There is not a sound or a sign of
complaining about it all.
If he says, Sorrowing (and he does), he
immediately couples with it: Yet always rejoicing.
If he says, As having nothing, immediately he
says, Possessing all things. If he says
As poor, he instantly says, And yet
making many rich. His attitude toward the whole
thing is not one of complaint, but rather the opposite
glorying, rejoicing, and bidding others rejoice.
Alone, forsaken, enemies all around, his lifework being
torn to pieces by those enemies, universally suspected,
all friends leaving him, alone in prison
rejoicing, glorying, exulting.
The Excellence of Knowing
This goes a long way beyond us. But what is the
explanation? It is the excellence of the knowledge of
Christ Jesus. The knowledge of Christ to know
Christ as He may be known; to know Christ as He is open
to be known; to know Christ as He desires to make Himself
known; that is the explanation... and Paul had come into
that in large measure.
He is saying this, in other words: It is possible to know
Christ in such a way that, although to begin with you may
lose everything in this world that is precious in the
eyes of men, you have something infinitely more; and to
go on with, it is possible so to know Christ that no
matter how many may be the forms of suffering, how deep
may be the suffering, how inexplicable may be some
experiences, how continuous right on to the end
the adversity may be, yet that knowledge of Christ
is something which keeps you above and well above... so
that you are not submerged. Although these mighty seas of
sorrow and suffering and adversity may throw their weight
against you, they break; they do not break you... they
break on you. It is possible to know Christ like that.
That is what he is saying, if we understand him aright.
Most of us will have to confess that too often the
problem has shaken us; the suffering has brought clouds
of questionings and doubts into our hearts; we have not
stood up to it like this. But our object is not just to
see Paul doing this thing, neither is it to measure
ourselves to a disadvantage at the side of Paul; but it
is to see that Pauls Christ is our Christ, and what
was possible to Paul is possible to us... that Christ is
the same yesterday, and today, and forever; He is a
Christ who is knowable in exactly the same way that Paul
Christ as the Dynamic of Life
What is the way to this knowledge? On the one hand,
there is our side, and I think the answer is: For
me to live is Christ. How will you know Christ in
fulness? How will you know Him as He can be known: Only
on this basis, that for you to live is Christ. What does
Paul went into Arabia for three years after he met Christ
on the way to Damascus, and during those three years he
had ample time in solitude to face the implications of
his new relationship. For him it became perfectly clear
in the course of three solitary years that it was going
to cost him everything. All these issues were faced out
then. For him it became simply and ultimately a matter of
life and death. It meant this: Everything I have on this
earth in this world has got to be held for
the Lord, for Christ; and if, in the course of my
relationship to Him, all or any of these things have got
to go, then I settle that now. If it means suffering,
persecution, and death itself, I come there now I
accept it all so that for me to live will not be
home, family, friends, reputation, acceptance, influence;
but if it means none of these things at all
rather, the loss of all things then the very
motive of my being in this world will be none of these
things, but only Christ... Christ, the dynamic of life!
In other words Paul would say: For me to be on this
earth simply means Christ! I will accept with gratitude
what He may give! If He gives something or allows me to
retain something here, I will be grateful for it; but if
all has to go, then it does not make any difference.
Christ and only Christ is the object, the
dynamic, the motive of my being on this earth!
When we have settled things like that when it is
really brought to that conclusiveness of issue
that for us to live is Christ, then the Lord has a very
open way to become everything to us. Is it not true in
our case that too often our relationship to the Lord, our
Christian life our being Christians and being
brought into difficulty, resulting in suffering has led
us to stand still or draw back for a minute and say:
Ah, well, I did not expect that it would mean this!
I do not know that I am prepared for that!
Something like that has very often happened with us, has
it not? Suffering the loss of all things is easy
language, but really only a man who has put
everything once and for all into the balances can know
Christ in fulness utter fulness and say:
I suffer the loss of all things for the excellency
of the knowledge of Christ!
It just means this: the utterness of Christ to us
requires our utterness for Him. If we are holding
anything instead of Christ apart from Christ,
contrary to Christ we are limiting our own
knowledge of Christ.
That is one side our side: For me to live is
Christ. We have failed we have broken down
in this matter. And yet our hearts are bent and set upon
one thing (I trust they are)... that when we have passed
this way, which we pass only once, the eternal verdict
will be that our having lived was Christ. It is a solemn
thing to bring into view: What is going to be the effect
of my having passed this way? Unto what have I lived?
What will the end of my life represent as the result of
my years? What will eternity show and what will
time show as to the value of my having gone this
When we are utterly for the Lord like that, it gives the
Lord the opportunity of the other side the divine
side: The eyes of your understanding being
enlightened... to know the love of Christ which passes
knowledge... that God may give you a spirit of wisdom and
revelation in the knowledge of Him.
I am sure that if the human side is right and there is
utterness for the Lord... the divine side will be all
right. But between the two there comes a test
there comes a point where the whole issue of life is
focused upon one full-orbed decision: Am I going to be in
this world with any interests of my own whatever, or is
it going to be, no matter what it costs and what the way
may be, just Christ? That is very often headed up in a
practical test not a mental test and not
whether the Lord asks us to say a thing... but to do it.
Everything as to our knowledge of Christ in fulness hangs
upon an act sometimes one act that commits us.
We may recognise the implications: ostracism,
persecution, defaming, misrepresentation, suspicion, loss
of influence, loss of reputation, loss of place
launched out in a way in which comparatively few will go
with us and in which we shall be misunderstood. That may
be the way of the challenge of the Lord... and of His
highest interests. The question is: Are we going to stand
back and say, No, I cannot go that way? Or is
it going to be: For me to live is Christ? If
so... and we put that into the required act... we shall
know the excellency of Christ and have the most excellent
knowledge of Christ Christ excelling. May it be so
with all of us.
An extract from "The Excellency of the Knowledge of Christ", Chapter 2. First published in "A Witness and A Testimony" Magazine, Mar-Apr 1935, Vol. 13-2.