THE EXCELLENCY OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST
“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ”. Philippians 3:8.
What a beautiful personal confession on the part of the apostle Paul, a confession which at the same time, of course, is part of Scripture, and is intended also for us, that we may take it on our own lips! The idea is that you may lose all things in the world, and, if it be for Christ’s sake, you lose essentially nothing. In fact, you may and ought to count them, and all other things with them, but dung if to possess them should prove a hindrance in the gaining of Christ. Only one thing is important, and just one thing, that you gain Christ. Only one thing is above all things preciousÂ—the excellency of the knowledge of Christ.
Do not overlook the personal note. The apostle does not speak of ‘the” Lord Jesus Christ, but of “my” Lord. Do not fail to read it in that very same form in which the Spirit of Christ elicited this confession from the heart of the apostle. And so reading it, apply it
as a criterion to the condition of your own heart and soul, to the course and direction of your life in the midst of the world. Apply it by repeating the words of the apostle with the question in mind and heart: are they still true if I apply them to myself? ‘I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.’ Is it true when you speak these words?
Notice that the apostle uses the full name of Christ to express the excellency of His knowledge. Wholly in accord with the intensity of his feelings and the keen joy of possessing this knowledge of Christ, the apostle refers to Him as He stands revealed in all the preciousness of His Person through His threefold Name: JESUS, CHRIST, LORD.
In these names the apostle would fain express all His fulness, exhibit all His beauty, show at once that there is nothing in all the earth to be desired above Him and besides Him. He would strongly emphasize that it is but folly to compare anything with Him. He would explain why a man may lose all things for His sake, and still count the loss a gain. He would fix the matter beyond all doubt, that all things may be considered dung, no matter how precious, how dear, how beautiful, how desirable they may appear, when and in as far as they would be a hindrance to us in gaining Christ. For he is
speaking of the incomparable excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord.
JESUS. In that Name is expressed all the realization of God’s .salvation. The central and personal revelation of Jehovah as the God of our salvation, who redeems from the guilt of sin and reconciles us Himself through the blood of the cross, blotting out the handwriting of sin against us, thus making peace, is expressed in the name JESUS. The name Jesus denotes Him who delivers us from the corruption of sin, cutting the shackles of death in which we are held, opening our prison doors, leading us out into liberty, into the everlasting liberty of perfect righteousness. The name Jesus points to Him who makes us partakers of the highest good, the only good, life eternal, the fellowship of friendship with the ever blessed GodÂ—to know whom is to know the peace that passeth all understanding, the peace that is rooted in the blessed consciousness that our sins are washed away and witness no longer against us. To know Jesus is to know Him in whom we possess the only comfort in life and death, light in darkness, joy in the midst of sorrow, life while we pass through the valley of the shadow of death. Such in brief is the implication of the name JESUS.
CHRIST means the Messiah, the Anointed of God. It means that
He is God’s prophet to us, God’s priest in our behalf, God’s king
over us. The thrice-blessed Servant of Jehovah, who speaks of God and glorifies Him, reveals the Father and makes Him known in all the riches of His counsel of salvation; who is set over the whole house of God as the perfect and eternal High Priest, sacrificing, atoning, reconciling, entering into the heavenly sanctuary to abide there forever, interceding for the brethren, blessing them with all the riches of graceÂ—this He is.
He is the anointed King, who battled alone and had the victory over the powers of darkness; and having become obedient unto death, yea the death of the cross, is now highly exalted, seated at the right hand of God, clothed with all power in heaven and on earth, to lead us on, to protect us against all the onslaughts of the enemy, to give us the victory. He is the Christ of God, the Anointed One, whose anointing we share, so that we also know and speak of and glorify the Father, we sanctify the Lord God in our hearts, and bring the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; we fight the good fight in the midst of the world even unto the end, that no one take our crown. Jesus is the Christ, the Christ of God.
But He is also LORD, my LORD. He is the One who possesses His people because He is the One who levelled to the ground the throne of the prince of this world in our hearts, that He might establish His own dominion of grace in our inmost soul. He is the One who is responsible for us, responsible in life and death, now and in the day of judgment whose will is our will because He turned us by the gracious power of His Spirit. He indeed is Lord over all, but He is more particularly my Lord, so that it is the soul’s keenest delight to say, “My Lord.”
The apostle speaks of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. He is not speaking of the excellency of Christ, but of the incomparable preciousness of the knowledge of Him. For that knowledge the apostle is ready to lose all things. That knowledge is so dear to him that in the light of it all things appear to lose their value and are but refuse to him.
It is evident that this knowledge of which the apostle speaks is far more than an intellectual conception, than a mere image of the mind, than a mere cold assent to the truth concerning Him. To know all about Him is still wholly different from knowing Him. Or, who would surrender all things and give them up gladlyÂ—his name and position, his treasures and pleasures, his liberty and his very lifeÂ— for a mere intellectual, philosophical conception? What power is there in a mere intellectual apprehension? What virtue is there in knowledge, in mere knowledge of mind, of the head? What glory and what joy, what excellency and what comfort is there in a head full of knowledge about the Christ, if the heart remains empty of His grace? What soul-redeeming virtue is there in saying, “Jesus Christ
is the Lord,” if I cannot say that He is my Lord?
Oh, it is true, the knowledge about Christ is necessary. And the more we know about Him, the better and the richer we are. How shall we know Him, if we do not know all about Him? The revelation of Him must fill our mind if He is to fill our heart. Our mind must apprehend Him if our soul is to embrace Him and to appropriate Him. If we truly know Him, we will never grow weary of learning more and more, and still more, always more, about Him. Yet on the other hand, to know all about Him is still a far cry from knowing Him. A learned man may know all about the ingredients of a splendid meal, so that he will be able minutely to determine the food value of every last bit of it, though a cancer of the stomach prevents him from partaking of it. Is there then not an ocean of difference between that man and the poor beggar who knows nothing about vitamins, but whose hungry stomach relishes the food and readily digests it? Is the reading of a bit of the most beautiful poetry glorifying a mother’s love at all to be compared to the joy of pressing one’s own darling to the heart? Will a reading on honey cause us to taste its sweetness, or an exposition on the power of fire warm our home? Neither will a complete knowledge about Christ satisfy our heart.
A learned theologian you may be, or a thoroughly instructed layman, so that you are able to instruct others in the knowledge about Christ; yet you may not know Him. Perhaps you even wrote ably on the incarnation and defended the two natures in unity of the divine Person. You published articles in defence of the doctrine of vicarious atonement, and manifested that you were thoroughly schooled in all the significance and power of the resurrection, the glory of the ascension and the exaltation, the hope of His coming to establish His kingdom forever. But if you cannot say, “My Lord” …?
What if the fire of the love of God in Him is not kindled in your soul? What if you never learned to cry out, “Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner”? What if you never despised your own righteousness? What if you never saw the guilt of sin from which He redeems, the corruption of sin from which He delivers, the power of death from which He liberates, the darkness of sin out of which He leads you into the light, the profundities of misery out of which He elevates the soul into the heights of the Father’s glory? What if you never saw Him as the fulness that fills your emptiness, as the righteousness that justifies you, as the life that is your resurrection, as the bread that satisfies your hunger, as the water of life that quenches the thirst of your soul, as your Redeemer and Deliverer? Ah, then you never knew Him, even though you knew all about Him! Then your soul still remains dark, and loves the darkness, though your intellectual eye caught the light. Though you write expositions
about the fire of His love, your soul’s hearth remains cold and dark.
Oh, no; you must know Him! For this, to know Him, means that you say, “My Lord!” This it is to know Him, that your soul hungers and thirsts after righteousness and flees to Him for salvation; that you see His fulness and appropriate Him; that you eat and drink Him by a true and living faith. This is the excellency of knowledgeÂ— that you know Him, Jesus Christ the Lord. Then it will be the longing of your heart, the aspiration of your soul, that you may gain Him. For knowing Him, we realize that in Him there are pleasures for evermore, treasures we never counted, depths of grace we never fathomed, riches of love we never tasted, heights of glory we never climbed, a fulness of joy we never experienced. Knowing Him we feel that we have only begun, that our knowledge of Him is only in part, and that we have not yet attained to apprehend that for which we are apprehended of Him.
And knowing Him in part, we long to know Him in all His fulness, to gain Him. Having tasted of Him, of His knowledge and wisdom, His righteousness and holiness. His peace and joy, His love and life eternal, I cannot rest until I have completely gained Him and see Him face to face, until I know as I am known. That is the meaning of gaining Christ.
Do you not agree that this knowledge of Jesus Christ is excellent, that it is above all things precious? How foolish it is to evaluate anything at all as precious and desirable apart from Him, beside Him, in comparison with Him, or even in opposition to Him!
Yet, how often do we manifest this folly. How many of us are able to take the words of the apostle on our own lips, “Yea doubtless, I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”
Oh, it is true, these are tremendous heights of faith on which the apostle stands. Yet, so it was with himÂ—and so it ought to be with us, principally at least. All that was connected with his own righteousness, which was of the law, his privileges as a Hebrew of the Hebrews, his name and position and influence, his fellowship with the brethren according to the flesh, his ecclesiastical standingÂ—all that had been counted but dung by the apostle the moment he had begun to taste the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. And still he counted all things but refuse, and was willing to lose all that pertained to his earthly life, yea, that very life itself, that he might gain Christ.
The apostle stands on amazing heights of faith, almost unattainable for us. Yet on those heights he truly evaluates all things present in this world. For after all, what shall a man profit if he gain the whole world and lose Christ? Or, on the other hand, what would
he lose, if for Christ he lost all things? And therefore let us take these words by faith on our own lips, and confess that we too will count all things but dung and loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ, if only we may gain Him. Let the world take its treaures and pleasures. Let the world take its dross, if only we may gain ChristÂ—so gain Him that we know Him, know Him more and more, till finally we see Him face to face, and in the eternal tabernacle of God with man are blessed for ever. JESUS CHRIST, MY LORD! Amen.
Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965).