Paul is weaving together two distinct domains in these short verses, one static and one dynamic, and both making a stark contrast. The two work together to clarify and motivate static and dynamic aspects of the Christian walk.

Paul starts out this section in the domain of Commerce where value and exchange are in view. Ownership and the buying and selling of things, entails the dichotomy of Near/Far: “Near” being the thing you want to acquire, buy, obtain, make your own, hold close to you and take home and “Far” is the thing you give up, let go, lose, pay, send away from yourself. In the logic of bartering or commercial dealing, if the thing you send away from yourself has less value (at least to you) than the thing you obtain/bring near to yourself, then you have made a good value judgment.

Paul wants to inspire a certain kind of value judgment in Philippians 3:8-11. The stakes are high and the price, at first, seems staggering. Paul puts everything he has gained by his religious life and training (verses 4-7) onto the scales opposite life with Christ and finds a real bargain. Paul not only counts all of the good things in his religious life something worth losing if it means gaining a relationship with Jesus, but he also calls them all, well, rubbish is really quite too nice a word to describe the stinking excrement Paul denotes (a pile of feces which can only be taken outside the camp and burned). Paul is expressing not only the true value of his past accomplishments and sources of confidence (they are not worth crap), but Paul is also dramatically expressing revulsion. Not just, “I am willing to pay this high price because it’s worth it,” but, “Get this stuff away from me! It stinks!”

That is the static value judgment Paul is leading us toward. Paul contrasts the “surpassing worth” (verse 8) of what you gain in this exchange with the negative value of excrement to motivate the same kind of value judgment in your own life. When you see even the best of who you are apart from Christ, you are not only ready to give it up, but you cannot wait to flush it away. When you give up “righteousness of my own that comes from the Law” (verse 9) which seems great but actually stinks, you “gain Christ” (verse 8). That is, you gain a “righteousness that comes from God and depends on faith” (verse 9). Paul underscores the extra nos and mere passive nature of this righteousness by combining the active “gain Christ” with the passive “be found in Him” in the same phrase that bridges verses 8 and 9.

When you see even the best of who you are apart from Christ, you are not only ready to give it up, but you cannot wait to flush it away.

The hinge of this pericope turns on verse 12. Here Paul makes the shift from a static value judgment and a moment of exchange to a dynamic reorientation which leads to an on-going process. In the marketplace, once you have found a bargain and made an exchange, the deal is done. What you paid is no longer yours and you have now attained that which you purchased. Paul’s goal in getting rid of his own self-righteousness was to gain Christ and attain unity with Christ both in His suffering and in His resurrection life (I take Paul to mean a renewal that includes but is not limited to a future resurrection, a dying and rising that is already taking place now, ahead of time).

If this were only a static exchange, then the obtaining, attaining, and holding onto would already be accomplished. From Christ’s side it is. Christ Jesus has already made me His own (verse 12), but Paul has not yet made this knowing and sharing in Christ’s suffering and resurrection his own in the complete (or perfect) sense that it will one day be. Paul now moves from a dichotomy of Revulsion/Desire (or Feces/Surpassing Worth) to a dichotomy of Before/Behind.

You can see what is in front of you. If you move forward, you will get closer to what is ahead. In contrast, that which is behind is no longer visible and is getting farther away as you move on. This dynamic progress takes us from a single moment of exchange to an ongoing journey. Jesus has made me His own. Now I am looking ahead, pressing forward, moving toward the destination/goal/prize/upward call which makes Jesus my own. That second part is not done yet. But moving toward this kind of full, complete, and perfect relationship with Jesus gives me a new orientation: I do not look backwards. That would be foolish. In fact, I even forget what was behind (I think Paul probably means his own confident self-righteousness which comes from the law) and strive forward toward the goal or destination or prize that is ahead (which, from Paul’s language of completion or perfection, I do not think will be reached until the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come).

But moving toward this kind of full, complete, and perfect relationship with Jesus gives me a new orientation: I do not look backwards.

The dichotomy of Near/Far plays out in both the static and dynamic sections of this text. In the Commerce section, the thing I used to hold Near and dear (righteousness from the law) I now see as excrement and want it Far from me, with the result that the righteousness from God through faith is now Near to me in Christ. However, I have not yet completely and perfectly grabbed hold of that yet. So, in the dynamic Journey or Race section, I get father and father away from the past, the things behind, as I get nearer and nearer to my destination, goal, or prize. Covering this distance is a process. It takes effort and does not happen all at once. Being oriented toward the goal (not just Ahead but Up. Indeed, Heavenward) keeps us focused on the right things and moving in the right direction.

Preaching on this text means coming to grips with these two different ways of talking in Paul; one static, one dynamic. You could preach a Paradox Maintained structure and invite your hearers to hold onto the seemingly opposing truths: (A) Jesus has already taken hold of them and this is a done deal, and (B) the process of joining Jesus in the power of His suffering and resurrection will not be complete until the New Creation.

Since Paul uses two primary domains to talk about our relationship with Christ, you could also use a modified Metaphorical Movement structure, with two Source Domains (Commercial Exchange and Journey/Race) to get different perspectives on the same Target Domain (Obtaining Righteousness from God in Christ).

Whatever sermon structure you use, you will probably want to lead your hearers through two basic experiences: (1) The logic of exchange which includes revulsion at my own righteousness and a desire for the righteousness that comes from God by faith (what a bargain!), and (2) the logic of journey which keeps your eyes on the prize and your feet moving forward regardless of what lies behind (do not give up!).

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Philippians 3:(4b–7) 8–14.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Philippians 3:(4b–7) 8–14.