KEY THOT: Paul was at the peak of his career and achievement when he met Christ: he was on the way to the top of his society. He was from the pedigree tribe of Benjamin, “a Hebrew of Hebrews”; he was a Pharisee and a son of a Pharisee; he was zealous for God and persecuted Jesus' disciples as heretics; he was blameless under the law; he was a member of the highest religious/political elite in Jewish society, the Sanhedrin. But his meeting with Christ on the road to Damascus changed everything: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” He was like the merchant in Jesus’ parable (Mt 13:45-46) who was searching for fine pearls. One day this merchant found the “pearl of great price” and sold all that he had (including his fine pearl collection) in order to buy this pearl of greatest price. It is not a "sacrifice" to lose something of lesser value to gain something of infinite value--it is wisdom.
After Paul was converted to Christ, he viewed his life's accumulated medals as “loss” and “rubbish” (literally dung) in comparison to knowing Christ. So when he gave up his medals, he was not making “sacrifices” but simply throwing away things that were worthless to him---like dung. When we clear the garbage in our home, we don't refer to our act of house-cleaning as “sacrifices”. We are only too happy to rid our homes of the foul-smelling rubbish and dung so that there may be room for the fresh and fragrant things that God is waiting to move into our homes. Unfortunately, there are still some who are clinging on to this rotting garbage and even parading in their home for others to see--and smell. No wonder visitors are repelled by the rotting odour filling their homes. Instead of the fragrance of Christ, they exude the odour of worldly achievements.
So, Paul considers all his worldly achievements as loss in order to “gain Christ and to be found in Him”. And he was willing to pay the price of rejection by his peers and community, of losing his social, political and financial status, of being a “nobody” in the world's estimation in order to be “somebody” in God’s estimation. In fact, had Paul not given up his earthly medals, he would probably remain unknown in history--like the rest of the 71 members of the Sanhedrin. No one remembers who they were.
But because he gave up his junk medals in order to gain his real Medal of Honour, he became a name known for all posterity. His letters have inspired millions down the ages in the last 2,000 years. No other person’s letters are as well read and analyzed as Paul’s in the last two milleniums. Jim Elliot who was killed with his four missionary friends by a jungle tribe they were reaching out to in Ecuador on 8 January 1956 wrote this: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
Father, You have given us the Pearl of Great Price in Your Son. No sacrifice we make in this world can ever come close to the value of gaining Christ. May You help us be willing to lose everything in order to gain Christ. Amen.