“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
What would you be willing to do to get the thing you want most? That kind of question appears in many different contexts. But, its focus nearly every time is aimed at discovering the lengths to which someone is willing to go to achieve some highly desired end. And most often, the kinds of things that are imagined for the person to do fall outside and even well beyond the borders of what was previously considered morally acceptable. But, the goal is sufficiently desirable that violating previously held moral and ethical boundaries is seen as a worthy price to pay. Consider the basic plot of a story like the Taken trilogy. A man’s daughter is kidnapped and he makes clear to her kidnappers that he will stop at literally nothing to get her back safely. The ends in this case justify the means deemed necessary to reach them.
In this section of the letter, Paul declares that attaining the goal of the resurrection from the dead is sufficiently valuable that he is committed to achieving it by whatever means are necessary. And yet, the means Paul has in mind here are not the same as the world often does. The world aims to cross ethical boundaries in order to gain “it all.” Paul made clear in what preceded this that he had already reached that goal. He was aiming for something even higher. The means that may be necessary to guarantee reaching this higher goal involve a willingness to give up all of that. What Paul meant by declaring his intention to achieve the resurrection of the dead by any means necessary was that he was willing to not only give up all his achievements, but also to face sufferings and persecutions of various kinds. It was not an easy road, but the prize was worth the price.
The truth is, the values of the kingdom are not the same as the values of this world. The things that are most desirable in the kingdom are often the opposite of the things the world sees as most desirable. The world desires wealth. The kingdom elevates sacrifice. The world longs for privilege and status. The kingdom celebrates service and humility. The world wants power. The kingdom wants the empowerment of others. If you have the things the world declares as desirable and you are trying to do life in the kingdom, you will need to be prepared for the King to come to you and ask you to either give them up entirely, or else use them for His glory in a way that runs hard against the grain of what the world expects.
But here’s the thing: It will be worth it. The fruits that the world can offer us may taste incredibly sweet in the here and now, but when this season ends, they will rot. Their value is temporary at best. The fruits the kingdom offers, on the other hand, take longer for their flavors come to full ripeness. Sometimes when we taste them in this life they are bitter. But, when this season comes to an end, they will just be at the beginning of their maturity. As we enter the second season, when the fruits of this world are all gone for good, the fruits of the kingdom will be available to enjoy to their fullest for the rest of eternity. And the mature person understands that when you have the choice between value that is temporary and value that is eternal, you always choose the value that is eternal, even if it appears a losing bet in the moment.
For Paul, all of his worldly fruits–which were among the sweetest available at his time and in his cultural context–he counted as rubbish he would gladly see gone if it meant he could enjoy the fruits of the kingdom–the resurrection from the dead. What worldly fruits are you willing to give up in order to enjoy that which does not fade away or wear out? The trade-off may not always seem worthwhile in the moment, but it will in the end, and that life will be sweet.