The Apostle Paul wrote nearly a third of the New Testament, so it is hardly a surprise that any decent list of Bible verses to memorise always features his lines. While he is known to have written some incredibly complex passages (Even the Apostle Peter noted that some of Paul's letters were hard to understand! See 1 Peter 3:16) he also had a way of encapsulating truth in beautiful, easily memorable phrases.
Think about lines such as "To live is Christ, and to die is gain" and "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Short, punchy and full of beautiful truth!
One of the popular passages to memorise is found in the letter to the Philippians and goes like this:
Philippians 3:7-9 (NIV) – But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him...
I have heard this passage since I was a young boy and the words roll easily over my tongue, so much so that I have to be careful that the meaning doesn't drift away in the rhythm of the familiar cadence. Sometimes I can say something so often I forget exactly what I am saying!
Just a bag of trash
Paul is saying here that nothing on this earth means anything to him compared to the greatness of knowing Christ. In fact, the things that he used to cling to are now worthless to him – the riches, power and loves of this world are mere rubbish to be thrown away on the trash heap.
In fact, the word for rubbish that Paul uses here is even stronger than the English can adequately convey. It is the Greek word skubalon, which Thayer's Greek Lexicon defines as 'any refuse, as the excrement of animals, off-scourings, rubbish, dregs' and 'of things worthless and detestable.'
This isn't just taking out the trash; this is getting rid of that nasty filthy rubbish that you wouldn't dare allow to sit in your house more than it needs to. There is no recycling this junk, it is going straight to the incinerator!
This is a very strong word that Paul uses – and what has really hit me lately is that this word is no accident; he put it there because that is exactly how he sees things. Christ is everything to him and nothing can hold a candle to the roaring flame of being known, loved and positioned in Christ. This is his reality. It is not hyperbole.
The real thing
I can quote the words, but can I come close to grasping the depth and meaning and reality in these words?
Do I really consider everything that could be gain for me in this world as absolute garbage compared to the gain I have in Christ? Is my social standing a throwaway rotten potato? Is my financial security, the roof over my head, a mere cat litter? Is my career just a bag of trash?
The world has its claws in me, with all of its pride and sparkle, glam and fame. I like the approval of my peers; I love the thrill of the chase. I like the finer things in life, I love nice things.
And yet I can't eat, drink and be merry because I have been granted a glimpse of Christ. His work in my life has brought me to my knees and exposed the lights of this world to be simple dollar shop nightlights compared to the glorious light of the Son.
Even as I struggle against the pull of this world I know that its satisfaction is hollow, its glories counterfeit. And the counterfeit never stacks up next to the real thing.
And so I have realised that Paul can say what he does because he has seen Christ, and to see Christ fully is to see all that you could ever want, hope or need to see. When you see Christ, you see real love, real joy. You see real life. And in the presence of the real thing, suddenly the imitation is easily discarded as worthless - skubalon even.
The lines of this old hymn seem fitting:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace