Most of us have read our Bible enough to know the story of the Apostle Paul . His Jewish name was Saul, he was a Pharisee, and he persecuted the church prior to becoming a Christian.
I’m not entirely sure how Paul was involved in this persecution. Did he ever kill anyone himself? I don’t know. What is known is that he was present at the killing of Steven, the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:58; 22:20) which means that Paul’s efforts at persecuting Christians involved murder at least as a co-conspirator. According to Paul’s own testimony, he seems to have advanced pretty high among the ranks of his Jewish comrades (Gal 1:13-14).
Like modern day Islamic terrorists, Paul’s persecution was motivated by a radical devotion to his ideology which was a mix of religion and politics. Paul held on to the national aspirations of the Jews, the hope for the kingdom being restored to Israel. Christians, on the other hand, proclaimed a message that claimed God’s kingdom was already at hand through the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, which was different from what most Jews seemed to be expecting. So this Jesus movement was viewed as a dangerous threat to the political and religious aspirations of Israel, making it necessary to stop by means of persecution.
So Paul was a radical who persecuted the church, using today what we call terrorism as his weapon of choice. That, of course, changed when Paul encountered the risen Jesus Christ which we can read about in Acts 9:1-31; 22:1-22; 26:9-24.
To understand how transformative this encounter with Christ was, we need to hear Paul’s own words. In Philippians, Paul list all of his Jewish accomplishments and then has this to say:
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ… (Phil 3:7-8).
All those accolades, accomplishments, merits, or whatever we call them, are regard by Paul as “garbage”. What we read as “garbage” or “rubbish” (NRSV) is actually referring to fecal matter in the Greek  which why the King James Bible opts for the word “dung” in v 8. So Paul in essence is saying that since the gospel of Jesus Christ is true, everything about his former life is futile waste or worthless in the grand scheme of things.
So what does this have to do with us…our ethnicities, nationalities, educational and career accomplishments, even our own tribal heritage within Christianity…all these things we take pride in, perhaps even believing our life is somewhat dependent on? I know many people who seem more interested in their ethnic heritage or standing up for their nationalistic interests. Others live for their educational and career accomplishments. Some of them are Christians and some of those Christians even believe their salvation depends on attending the right church. For Paul, not so…it was about Christ.
Maybe there’s some garbage we need to take out so that we may “gain Christ!”
1. This post is an adaptation of an article titled “Garbage” appearing in Connecting, 27 (2012), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.
2. Moisés Silva, Philippians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2 ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 157; the abrasive nature of this word may even be translated best with the rather crass term “crap” or even the more vulgar “s***”, see N.T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 2009), 149.