Philippians: Paul’s New Balance Sheet

October 18, 2017

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Philippians 3:7

In Philippians 3:4-7, Paul prepares to go into his famous discourse on profit and loss.

He starts by outlining all of the things he had considered profit during his pre-conversion, religious pursuit of righteousness. He states that if anyone could have put confidence in the flesh, it would have been him. In his list of accomplishments, Paul states:

Circumcised on the eight day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”

Let’s pause for a moment as we each start to compile our mental balance sheet and ask:

What are things that we are prone to think commend us to God?

Are you kind? Do you love your neighbors well? Do you control your temper? Do you give? Do you go to church regularly? Do you serve? These are all good things, but good things done for the wrong reason become sinful things. Are we trying to curry favor with God or other people in these good works, or are they the outflow of a life transformed by Christ? It’s a subtle difference, but one that changes everything.

Paul finishes his list of spiritual accomplishments and launches into his discourse on profit and loss in earnest. He uses this accounting analogy to talk about what he ultimately values. It’s clear from the get go that he has been firmly shaped by a previous discourse on profit and loss.

In Matthew 16:24-27, Jesus says to his disciples:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For
whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it
be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their
soul?”

When Paul met Christ and understood the significance of Christ’s righteousness having been credited to his account, Paul’s balance sheet changed. In Paul’s previous life, he banked on his works to produce right standing before God. They were all in the profit column and he was in the black because of these things.

However, as Jesus makes clear in the verses above, in His kingdom a man can gain the whole world and forfeit his soul. By contrast, a man can posses nothing, yet have Christ, and in Him have everything that actually matters.

Paul had “gained the whole world” in his context, but was in danger of forfeiting his soul. When he met Jesus, he realized that all of his good works, if relied upon before Christ, actually belonged in the loss column. And if he left them un-dealt with, they would usher him straight into eternal separation from God.

And that is what Paul is driving at here. Good things have a subtle and creeping way of becoming sinful things, and can be much harder to “count as loss” in comparison to Christ when it comes down to it. Saying no to a virtue is not always as clear cut as saying no to vice. But both are just as destructive to our soul if not dealt with at the cross.

So Paul freely discards all sources of self-confidence and personal profit in favor or Christ’s righteousness.

As we, with Paul, consider Christ’s righteousness credited to our account, what does that do to our balance
sheet?