Trashing Our Treasures
Written by Karen Ehman (First 5 Ministries)
“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 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith .”
We humans love when others notice our accomplishments. After all, we don’t typically frame our diplomas and hang them on a wall to keep up with the latest home decorating trend. Something in us wants to be recognized for our achievements. This can be especially true of spiritual accomplishments.
In Philippians 3:8, Paul gives a graphic description of his thoughts about his prior achievements and accolades he once considered glorious. How does he describe them? As rubbish.
Some other Bible versions use the terms garbage, filth or worthless trash. The actual Greek word is skubalon, and this is its only appearance in all of Scripture. Its meaning is a combination of two root words: “dog” and “throw.” The combined word points to two earthly substances.
First, it refers to refuse – those unwanted and worthless scraps, peelings and pits that are thrown to the dogs for food. However, it also can mean that which comes out of the dogs after they have digested the scraps. YIKES! (In fact, several versions of the Bible translate this word as dung.)
The vivid choice of words Paul uses here seems to indicate his desire to conjure up the most worthless object on earth to describe the accomplishments and qualities he used to boast about and find glory in. To him, they are no longer wonderful. They are a waste. What he once thought of as treasures are really just trash.
When it came to being religious, Paul was the best! He had all the reasons to boast, but he didn’t. Paul, also known as Saul, was born into a devout and wealthy Jewish family in the city of Tarsus, the capital of the small Roman district of Cilicia in Asia Minor. Therefore, he was a Roman citizen. (Acts 16:37; 22:25-29) It was a very prestigious city for Jews and the center of wealth and commerce. Both Paul and his father were Pharisees. (Acts 23:6) His father was also a man of standing in the community, a member of the ancient tribe of Benjamin and named his son Saul after Israel’s first king.
The spiritual education Paul received was similar to the education one might receive today at an Ivy League school. He studied under a man named Gamaliel who was a first-century Jewish rabbi, a leader in the Jewish Sanhedrin, and also a Pharisee. It was under the tutelage of Rabbi Gamaliel that Paul developed an expert knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures. (Acts 22:3) Paul’s educational and professional credentials allowed him to preach in the synagogues wherever he traveled.
Paul appeared spiritually superior when he was a Pharisee. But now, having been converted by the gospel of Christ, he ceased his boasting and adopted an attitude of humility. May we, like Paul, realize that spiritual, earthly accomplishments amount to nothing compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.