Nothing Else Counts
Nothing counts but Christ. Everything else pales in comparison. The knowledge of God revealed in Christ, and communion with Him by the Holy Spirit, satisfy the soul here, and will never pass away. All that counts in the courts above is humble obedience and devotion of heart to His interests here below: “if anyone serve me, him shall the Father honour” (John 12: 26). How feebly have we learned the thoughts of God as to Christ, the One of whom He could say “This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight” (Matt. 3: 17). For God, Christ is the exclusive centre, the only object and the end of all. The divine purpose is “that all may honour the Son, even as they honour the Father” (John 5: 23).
Real faith enters into God’s thoughts about His Son. Christ is to be for faith what He is for God. Kept humble in His presence, it thinks and feels and judges according to God. Christ becomes its one object. Divine faith always judges things as they affect the honour and interests of Christ. It lifts the soul above the influences and motives which would naturally govern us, and gives us a new and divine test by which to try everything. An ambitious man is governed by his desire for power, and an avaricious man by his love of money, but a true Christian is captivated by Christ. Thus Paul could write “I count all things to be loss on account of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, on account of whom I have suffered the loss of all, and count them to be filth, that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3: 8). Earlier in the same epistle he declares that “Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether by life or death. For for me to live [is] Christ, and to die gain” (Phil. 1: 20, 21).
When he wrote those words, Paul had been a prisoner of Rome for some time. Personal liberty is always sweet, and it was sweeter for the apostle because of the opportunities it afforded to “announce among the nations the glad tidings of the unsearchable riches of the Christ” (Eph. 3: 8). Now, day after day, confined by the prison walls, he can only hear about it, think about it and dwell upon it—in memory, in interest and in longing. The chain which binds him to the soldier who keeps him forbids the activities in which he once so joyously participated and for which his heart is still fresh. He is about to appear before Nero, and his imprisonment seems likely to end only in death. Against this background he opens up his heart to his beloved Philippians. One word sums up its longings, its hopes and its expectations—Christ. He hears of some who, taking advantage of his absence from the work, are preaching Christ out of envy and strife, supposing to add affliction to his bonds. At once his soul refers all to Christ. He measures it, not by his own reputation, but by the interests of Christ. Had they been false teachers of the law, he would have wished that they “cut themselves off” (Gal. 5: 12) but it is Christ they are preaching, and the savour of His name is reaching souls. Hence not a word of reproach or indignation falls from the apostle’s lips: “at any rate, in every way, whether in pretext or in truth, Christ is announced; and in this I rejoice, yea also I will rejoice” (Phil. 1: 18).
As to his fate, how will Paul decide? “What I shall choose I cannot tell” (Phil. 1: 22). Blessed choice, though difficult to make when either way it is Christ! If it be death, Christ will be magnified in his body, and he will depart and be with Christ which “[is] very much better” (v23). If he is to remain in the flesh, Christ will still be magnified in his body since “for me to live [is] Christ” (v21). For Paul, with the needs of the saints on the one hand, and the joy of being with Christ on the other, nothing counted but Christ. Eventually the decision is come to, though not in the court of the emperor, but in the prison: “I know that I shall remain and abide along with you all, for your progress and joy in faith” (v25). The most powerful man in Rome was not Caesar, but a lowly prisoner who had placed all in the hands of Christ.
Time passes and Paul is again in prison. All in Asia have now deserted Paul, despite how much they owed to him. The energy of his faith and the devotedness of his heart is seemingly too much for their lukewarm profession to bear. Thus, he writes that “at my first defence no man stood with me, but all deserted me” (2 Tim. 4: 16). Yet there is no regret that he had not departed to be with Christ in the earlier imprisonment. Despite his suffering, he is not “ashamed”, for he knows whom he has believed and is “persuaded that he is able to keep for that day the deposit” he has “entrusted to him” (2 Tim. 1: 12). Saints may fail in faithfulness, but Christ never. Thus “the Lord stood with [me] … and I was delivered out of the Lion’s mouth” (2 Tim. 4: 17). And yet despite the respite, we can detect that he knows his days in this world are numbered, and that his service is all but complete: “I have combatted the good combat, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (v7). He can spy the victory crown in the hands of the One who had sustained him all through the trials of a long life of service—the scourging, the stoning, the ship-wrecks and more (2 Cor. 11: 23–28). And yet the crown is not for his labours, but because his heart longed for the public vindication of Christ (see 2 Tim. 4: 8). At the judgment seat of Christ, the noble descent of Paul as a Hebrew of Hebrews and his righteousness according to the law (see Phil. 3: 5, 6) will count for nothing. What matters is the knowledge of Christ gained in a pathway of testing and sorrow, and the service of Christ to others, both evangelical and pastoral. Such things count according to God’s estimate of the worth of Christ, for “if any man serve me, him shall the Father honour” (John 12: 26). In those courts above, where Christ is everything, nothing counts but Christ!