8 But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ 9 and be found in him. In Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own and that does not come from the Law but rather from the faithfulness of Christ. It is the righteousness of God that is based on faith. 10 The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death 11 so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead.
Philippians 3:8-11 CEB
You see that phrase in verse 9 where it says sewer trash? In Greek, that’s the word skubala. It’s an offensive word that can mean dung (KJV). NIV says trash. The CEB says sewer trash. The NRSV, ever the proper one, says rubbish. The Message says dog dung for some reason. What they are all afraid to say, but I’m not afraid to say is, is that the word is crap (are you so brave, Alex? I noticed you didn’t use that other word it could be translated as). Why is Paul using such strong language here? Let’s start at the end, and see if you can catch the scent.
Look at verse 11. The goal is the resurrection of the dead. A lot of times when we think of heaven, we think of a paradise that’s separate from this world that we’ll all float off to one day. But that belief doesn’t do justice to God’s plan. Scripture does seem to indicate that there is some sort of ethereal waiting area right after death, but the bulk of the eternal promise is the second resurrection. God wants to resurrect the dead—the dead people and the dead world. What Scripture teaches is that Jesus will destroy the works of the devil, and God will remake this beautiful but broken world into an indestructible paradise (read the last couple chapters of Revelation if you’re interested). He will right every wrong, wipe away every tear, free us from death, sin, tragedy, addiction, sickness, mental illness, and long DMV lines. That’s what Paul is working towards; that’s what he’s excited about.
To be a part of that, we need righteousness; we need to stand in a right relationship with God. How can we do that? Look at verse 10. We do that by 1. knowing Christ, 2. knowing the power of the resurrection, and 3. sharing in his sufferings/being conformed to his death. Let’s unpack that. You want to be a part of the new earth later? In the meantime, do you want to be a part of God putting this world back together?
Know Christ. Get to know him—prayer, Scripture, and other means of grace.
Know the power of the resurrection. We are all sinners saved by the cross, but if we are saved by the cross, we can be transformed by the resurrection. Sin and fear have no hold on us. We can become the people we are called to be.
Share in Christ’s death and suffering. We share in his victory in the resurrection, but we also are called to share in his self-denial and suffering in the cross. We celebrate triumphantly, but we serve sacrificially, and don’t retaliate when the world doesn’t like us.
That’s how we put this world back together, by being agents of change that imitate Jesus. Now look at verse 9. Righteousness comes because of our faith in what Christ did, and a righteous life come from imitating Jesus by his power (verse 10).
So back to skubala. In the verses before this, Paul describes all the ways that he was blameless according to the Pharisee’s way of understanding Scripture, but all of his blamelessness, all of his righteousness, did not cause him to know and follow Christ. Therefore, he sees it as garbage/dung/sewer trash. Now following God’s rules is not a bad thing (as long as you follow the right rules, kosher I’m looking at you), but if doing so puffs you up with pride rather than making you love Jesus more, it’s pointless. When he met Jesus, he had a new reason to live.
Do things in order. Get to know Christ. Experience his power. Live in a way that honors him (because of that power and love, not because you’re proud of yourself). This life is about what Christ has done, about living in response to that, and about pointing others to it.