How Well Can You Count? – Philippians 3:4-8

Kevin A. Pierpont
Higgins Lake Baptist Church
11/28/04

Did you know that many people live under the illusion that good people go to heaven? Some assume that if you can just live a good enough life then God will let you into heaven someday. Andy Stanley has written a book with the title, How Good is Good Enough? that refutes this basic idea.

Charles Spurgeon used to share an illustration pointing out the fallacy of this kind of thinking.

A ship on her way to Australia met with a very terrible storm and sprang a leak. As evils seldom come alone, a little while after another tempest assailed her. There happened to be a gentleman of the most nervous temperament aboard, whose garrulous tongue and important air began to alarm all the passengers. When the storm came on, the captain, who knew what mischief might be done by a suspicious and talkative individual, managed to get near him, intending to quiet him. The gentleman, addressing the captain, said in a tone of alarm, “What an awful storm! I am afraid we shall go to the bottom, for I hear the leak is very bad.”

“Well,” said the captain, “as you seem to know it and perhaps the others do not, you had better not mention it to anyone, lest you should frighten the passengers or dispirit my men. Perhaps as it is a very bad case, you would lend us your valuable help, and then we may possibly get through it. Would you have the goodness to stand here and hold hard on this rope? Do not leave it, but pull as hard as ever you can till I tell you to let it go.”

So our friend clenched his teeth, and put his feet firmly down, and kept on holding this rope with all his might, till he earnestly wished for a substitute. The storm abated, the ship was safe, and our friend was released from his rope-holding. He expected a deputation would bring him the thanks of all the passengers, but they were evidently unconscious of his merits, and even the captain did not seem very grateful.

So our hero, in a roundabout style, hinted that such valuable services as his, having saved the vessel, ought to be rewarded at least with some few words of acknowledgment. He was shocked to hear the captain say, “What? You think you saved the vessel? Why, I gave you that rope to hold to keep you busy, that you might not be in such a feverish state of alarm.”

This becomes a picture of how much self-righteous men contribute to their own salvation apart from Christ. They think they can certainly save themselves, and there they stand holding the rope with their clenched teeth and their feet tightly fixed, while they are really doing no more than our friend, who was similarly fooled. If ever you get to heaven, you will find that everything you did toward your own salvation, apart from the Lord Jesus, was about as useful as holding the rope; that, in fact, the safety of the soul lies somewhere else and not in you; and that what is wanted with you is just to get out of the way and let Christ come in and magnify his grace. 1

As we continue our study in the book of Philippians this morning we are going to see that no matter how good you try to be, it’s never enough. It’s Christ alone who is sufficient to save us from our sins and to secure for us eternal life.

Let’s look together at Philippians 3:4-8.

Philippians 3:4  though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5  circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6  concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. 7  But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.  8  Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ

If you ask my youngest son, Josiah how old he is, he will usually raise both of his index fingers and reply, “two”. Once in awhile he’ll only put up one finger. I guess he has some work to do when it comes to counting.

This morning we’re going to be looking at an example from the life of Paul that demonstrates that he knew how to count when it came to issues that really matter. When it came to his relationship with Christ, he knew what to count as loss and what to count as gain. Paul knew that confidence in the flesh counts as loss but confidence in Christ counts as gain.

Confidence in the Flesh Counts as Loss

First let’s understand that confidence in the flesh counts as loss. In our study last week we saw that true Christians have no confidence in the flesh. Paul goes on in verses 4-6 to show how if anyone thinks he could have confidence in the flesh he would have definitely qualified. Look again at verse 4.

though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so:

It’s as if Paul is saying, if you think you might have reason to have confidence in the flesh, then I have even better reason to think that way. Paul goes on to list his impressive credentials. The first ones he shares have nothing really to do with his own effort but were just things he inherited by birth. He was circumcised the eighth day. He wasn’t someone who converted to Judaism later in life—no, he was born into a Jewish family who followed the instruction given in the law which we find in Leviticus 12:3 to circumcise on the eighth day.

Paul also points out that he was of the stock of Israel. He could follow his family tree all the way back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Then Paul mentions that he is from the tribe of Benjamin. Warren Wiersbe points out…

The Judaizers would understand Paul’s reference to the tribe of Benjamin, because Benjamin and Joseph were Jacob’s favorite sons. They were born to Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife. Israel’s first king came from Benjamin, and this little tribe was faithful to David during the rebellion under Absalom. Paul’s human heritage was something to be proud of! When measured by this standard, he passed with flying colors. 2

In our country we have some people who can trace their lineage back to the Mayflower. Those who can make the claim that their ancestors arrived on the Mayflower are often proud of their heritage. Paul had an ancestral line that many Jews would have been proud of which to be associated.

Paul then mentions that he was a Hebrew of Hebrews. He May have been referring to having both a Jewish mother and father. He wasn’t of mixed ancestry but was clearly Jewish.

These credentials that Paul lists first are all things over which he had no control. They were simply his by birth. They were a result of the family in which he was born, but Paul goes on to list some impressive fleshly credentials that he personally achieved.

He was a Pharisee. In our day we cringe at the word, Pharisee. We equate it with the word, hypocrite. Yet in Paul’s day it was far different. John MacArthur says…

To be a Pharisee was to be a member of an elite, influential, and highly respected group of men who fastidiously lived to know, interpret, guard, and obey the Law.3

Paul also mentions the zeal he had. He was enthusiastic and devoted to his cause. There was no question about his passion. He was so zealous that he persecuted the church. We see this in Acts 8:3 where it says,

As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

He was so passionate about his Judaism that he went above and beyond to oppose Christianity.

The final credential that Paul mentions is his righteousness in the law. He was blameless. He was very careful to follow the Mosaic law.

Outwardly he appeared blameless in his dedication to the law. If salvation depended on being religious and sincere and having a good upbringing, Paul clearly was qualified.

But Paul is quick to point out in verse 7 that the qualities that seemed to put him in such good standing he counted as loss for Christ. All the things he had previously been counting on to put him in good standing with God he now counted as loss. Confidence in the flesh counts as loss.

If you were to sit down and figure out your net worth, you would make a list of your liabilities and your assets. Paul understood that all of the things he previously counted as gain were counted as loss for Christ. The things that he had done in the flesh didn’t count. They didn’t matter. What did matter was his standing with Christ.

I wonder what kinds of things you may be counting on in the flesh to gain standing with God?

We were able to enjoy some time with our families on Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving. While we were gathered with my family my Dad mentioned the fact that his Dad was in ministry, how he’s in the ministry and how each of his sons and son-in-law are in ministry. Now imagine for a moment if one of my children thinks, “wow, my great-grandfather, grandpa, uncles and Dad are all pastors. I must be okay.” Do you think they’re going to impress God with their background? Of course not! None of that counts! You may have had the Godliest grandmother in the world but you can’t inherit eternal life from her. Growing up your family may have been in church every Sunday but that does not save you.

Maybe you take pride in your church membership or the fact that you’ve been baptized. Maybe you’re faithful in attending church and reading your Bible and praying. Maybe you give generously. Maybe you could look at your life like Paul did and say, I have a pretty impressive background and I’ve lived a model life. You may be able to say things like that about your life but you need to understand like Paul did that confidence in the flesh counts as loss. Placing your confidence in anything other than Jesus Christ is loss. But, placing your confidence in Christ counts as gain.

Confidence in Christ Counts as Gain

Look at verse 8 again with me.

8  Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ

Paul makes it very clear that his background counts as loss and he goes even further in verse eight to say he counts allthings loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord.

Understand that knowledge of Christ is not simply just knowing about Him but knowing Him in a real, personal and intimate way.

I want you to look at John 17:3 for a moment.

“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

Knowing Christ is how we inherit eternal life. Knowing Christ is the only way to Heaven. Any work we attempt in the flesh counts as loss—it’s worthless for gaining eternal life. It’s only through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that we are right with God and live with Him eternally. Faith alone in Christ is gain. We cannot work to earn our salvation. Paul was a model Jew but it wasn’t until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus that he was right with God.

His own efforts were worthless and futile. He says I count them as rubbish. Rubbish can refer to scraps thrown to the dogs or even dung. Paul was counting all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord. Knowing Christ as Lord far surpasses any human efforts or achievements.

How well can you count this morning? Are you counting confidence in the flesh as loss and confidence in Christ as gain?

I’m so glad that salvation doesn’t depend on our efforts but only on faith in Christ. It doesn’t matter how bad your past is or what you have done, there is level ground at the foot of the cross. Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone. You don’t have to worry about whether or not you are good enough to please God. None of us are good enough. All of us fall far short of God’s standards. The good news is that Jesus Christ accomplished for us on the cross what we cannot accomplish on our own. Salvation is available to the vilest of sinners by simply placing faith in Jesus Christ alone.

What a comfort it is to know that our salvation isn’t dependent on our efforts but only on what Jesus Christ has done for us.

Where is your confidence this morning? Have you placed your confidence in Jesus Christ or are you futilely placing your confidence in the flesh? Joining a church won’t save you. Having a Godly family won’t save you. Baptism won’t save you. Being a moral person won’t save you. Knowing Jesus as your Lord is the only way of salvation. Do you know Him today? I don’t mean do you just know about Him but do you know Him as your Lord this morning? Have you placed your faith in Him?

I hope you can count better this morning than little Josiah. Are you counting Christ as gain this today like Paul did? For those of us who do know Jesus Christ as Lord, let’s never forget what gain knowing Him is and how worthless everything else is in comparison to knowing Him. What a privilege we have as followers of Christ.

One commentator says…

Although at regeneration a person receives Christ, this is only the beginning of his discovery of what riches this entails. In Christ all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (Col 2:3), but to search them out and appropriate them personally requires a lifetime. 4

If you have counted confidence in the flesh as loss this morning and confidence in Christ as gain, you are in a relationship where you can spend the rest of your life learning just how precious it is to gain Christ. Life lived from the perspective of Christ being gain and everything else being loss, is a wonderful place to be. I hope that all of us who know the Lord Jesus Christ this morning will grow in our love and appreciation of Him as we walk with Him and understand the greatness of the gain that is found in Him.


1 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Quotable Spurgeon, – Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, Inc, 1990

2 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. “An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire ‘BE’ series”–Jkt. (Php 3:7). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

3 MacArthur, J. F. (.). The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Philippians (electronic ed.) (Php 3:12).

4 Expositor’s Bible Commentary