“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.”
In the immediate context, we have seen the autobiography of an intensely religious man. Paul just listed seven accomplishments he thought would commend him to God. He supposed he could gain God’s favor by his religion. Verses 7 and 8 give Paul’s estimate of his scrupulous religiosity in one word–manure. Everything he assumed was an asset he found to be a liability before God.
“But what things were gain to me”
But the word “but” is a conjunction of strong contrast. It is a right-about-face word. There is a strong contrast between legalism and grace. There is a massive difference between what we do to gain God’s favor and what Jesus did.
The word “what” means what quality of things—such quality of things as the seven things he has listed in verses 5 and 6. These things, he at one point, estimated as “gain.”
“these I have counted loss for Christ”
Under grace, nothing depends upon human achievement and self-confidence. Religion can give us a veneer, a religious culture. There is disillusionment in depending upon religion, morality, character. This can be synthetic, man-made righteousness, which is not acceptable to God.
The word “counted” means to esteem, conclude. Paul concluded that everything he thought was successful was, in fact, failure. The Greek indicates that this became a settled conviction of his. He lost all confidence in his attempts at gaining God’s favor.
The word “for” in “for Christ” means because of. It was because of Christ that he lost his confidence in self-confidence. The more he thought of the wonder of the person and work of Christ, the less he thought of his own accomplishments. Everything that we have in grace is because of Christ.
Paul changed his life ambition from being one of the most religious men on earth to become a man who loved the Lord Jesus with all his heart. This was the life ambition of a spiritual giant. This is more than a testimony of salvation; it is a testimony of spiritual aspirations.
Paul came from the right nation (Israel), the right race (Hebrews), the right sect (Pharisee); he had the right drive (zeal). He was always up on his sacrifices. He was scrupulously righteous. Yet all that was manure (dung). All these things were weights, not wings. They were the rags of religion, the relics of superstition. As a girl who ends a relationship with her boyfriend gathers up all her letters and throws them into the fire, so Paul gathered up all his achievements and viewed them as a pile of manure. This was a vote of no confidence in Paul’s pedigree.
Christianity is person-centered.
It is “because of Christ,” we can live in the grace of God. Are you centered in Christ? Do you make much of Him? It would be thrilling to be invited to Buckingham Palace to be introduced to the queen. That would be exciting. Yet we know the Lord of Glory, King of Kings. Does He diminish all the other pursuits of our lives? Is everything else a pile of manure in comparison to Him? The studied estimate of the apostle Paul, after more than two decades as a Christian, was the inestimable wonder of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only one who has ever gained the approbation of God. He is the only one who can recommend us to God.