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Pearl of Great Price

Philippians 3:1-16

(Mat 13:45-46 NIV) "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. {46} When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Have you ever wondered just what Christ was driving at in that statement? Paul gives us an excellent example of it in this section of Philippians:

(Phil 3:1-16 NIV) Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. {2} Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. {3} For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh-- {4} though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: {5} circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; {6} as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. {7} But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. {8} What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ {9} and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. {10} I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, {11} and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. {12} Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. {13} Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, {14} I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. {15} All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. {16} Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

What Paul Gave Up

It’s interesting to see what Paul has had to surrender in order to be an Apostle of the Living Christ.


Have you ever wondered whether or not you were switched at birth – you really were born to a set of fabulously wealthy parents, and some other kid got all the money? Paul was the other kid.

·         He was “born right.” He had the right heritage as a Jew, in a prominent family who diligently carried out the law

·         He was “raised right.” His parents turned him into the strictest of Pharisees.

Track Record

But we all know that kids with good parents can go wrong. Not Paul!

  • He had diligently kept the ceremonial law all his life.
  • His belief came out in action – see how he persecuted the church, thinking it to be righteousness. He was a zealot about it.
The Law Itself

We sometimes think that the Old Testament Law is, as you might conclude here, “rubbish.” That’s not what Paul is saying. He assumes you understand the great worth of that law. He is sure that you know how holy and sacred it is, for indeed God did mighty works to bring it to the people of Israel. It is indeed a great thing, valued in our own day. How many of you would like to see the Ten Commandments posted on the wall of every court and classroom in America?

Therefore, consider how great a sacrifice Paul makes in Christ. All this must be put aside – for something infinitely better.

Paul is a man who was born with a spiritual “silver spoon in his mouth.” He gave up all that to obtain Christ. He did not give up rubbish; he gave it up as if it were rubbish, because Christ is so much superior to it.

What Paul Gained

We need to see what Paul traded for:

Righteousness through faith
  • As Paul points out,[1] righteousness through faith is a cardinal principle in the way God deals with men, and has been ever since the time of Abraham. So this is not something new and different, but rather a completion of what went before.
  • This righteousness is not only complete, but unlimited – for it comes from the infinite God.
  • This righteousness has one basis: the Atonement. Without the atonement of Christ, righteousness in man cannot be made complete and final. Therefore, it is something received, not earned.
The power of the resurrection

What does Paul mean by this? I submit these three things:

  • First, this is the power that God used to declare Jesus to be the Son of God.[2] Therefore, it is the power behind the central evidence of the faith.
  • As such, it changes our view of death. Without the resurrection, death is final. With the resurrection, death is but a door.
  • And it changes our view of life, too! If death is not the end, then our life here must be viewed as a “preliminary round” – qualification for the title.
Fellowship of his suffering

How does Paul (and how do we) join in the fellowship of his suffering? And why would we want to do so?

  • We do so when we are entitled to something but are not receiving it – and we accept that for Christ’s sake. Christ as King was entitled to a royal reception and received the Cross. Let us imitate him.
  • We do so when receive suffering and return blessing for cursing. This is in imitation of the one who said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
  • We do so because it is a mark of glory, a badge of honor. Satan does not assault the nobodies.
  • As we do, we must consider that our sufferings are, by and large, light. Most of us are not to die for the faith. It’s worth asking: are our sufferings really all that great?
  • Even if they are, as suffering flows, comfort overflows.[3]

To attain to the resurrection

It might seem on first reading that Paul is trying to work his way into the resurrection. The word translated here as “attain” means “to arrive at.” It is not a question of “earning” but “arriving.” You may not have paid for the ticket, but you have to ride the train to the end to get to the destination. There are two key concepts about this “attaining” that we must understand:

  • One view is that we are perfecting an instrument for God’s purposes. We should not be satisfied with our accomplishments, but keep on becoming what God wants us to be.
  • Another view, and simpler, is that we must persist to the end. It is no use saying, “I was a devout Christian once.” You must persist to the end, or you have abandoned the faith. Your actions will change with your abilities and experience, but you must press on to the end.

These views are complementary, not contradictory. So how do we “attain?”

Recognize that you haven’t

We need to recognize those two views above! First, we should be comfortable with the idea that “God isn’t finished with me yet.” He may yet have a task, or he may simply be shaping me for life eternal with him.

Next, we must recognize – in the words of that great theologian, Yogi Berra – “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Life is a marathon, and as most marathon runners will tell you, the real objective is to finish.

Look forward, not back

Christ talks about this in one of those cryptic phrases about putting your hand to the plow.[4] What Paul is getting to is this:

  • We have set our minds forward in Christ. So we no longer have the same objectives that we did before we were Christians.
  • Likewise, we no longer have the same view of the world. We see things the way Christ sees them.
  • And – to come to the practical side – we don’t dredge up the sins of the past and put them in front of us as a road block. We’re over that.
Press on

It’s called maturity. It’s the transition from the starter motor to the V-8. We need to look at ourselves in a different way than we did when we first became Christians.

  • This is a mature point of view. When I was a child, I was amazed at my father’s patience with things mechanical. How could he keep tinkering with them, for hours sometimes, before he got them right? Now I realize that he was looking at them in the mature way: I know this will work, it’s just a matter of patience. So it is with us; God will provide in all things – if we will press on.
  • As Paul notes, God enlightens the mature. This is not usually in a blinding flash of inspiration, but the slow dawning that says, “Ah – that’s what God was doing all along.”
  • We must live up to what we have already done. We are not going backward, nor in circles, but forward. That implies we know the good we have done, and now we want to improve upon it.

The kingdom, the power of the resurrection, the resurrection of the dead – these things are attained by giving up all in the world to obtain the pearl of great price, and then pressing on in maturity. The end of the race comes when you hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

[1] Romans 3:21-31

[2] Romans 1:4

[3] 2 Corinthians 1:5

[4] Luke 9:61-62

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