On Gain, Loss and Counting Well

May 21, 2017
Philippians 3:1-11
Abraham Hong


A sad old man with big black eyeglasses and brown suspenders sat down and opened a scrapbook titled “My Adventure Book.” And on the first page, he put back a picture of Paradise Falls, a land lost in time. The name of the old man was Carl. And the scrapbook belonged to his wife. Her name was Ellie.

Carl and Ellie were childhood friends. And Ellie wanted to be an explorer when she got big. Her dream was to travel to South America (It’s like America, but south!). And her hope was to live right next to Paradise Falls. So Ellie made a scrapbook. And in it she saved several blank pages for all the adventures she would have once she gets there. She titled that part of her scrapbook “Stuff I’m Going To Do.”

But Ellie never got to fill those pages with anything. She never got a chance to go to Paradise Falls. She was gone. And so when he came to the page titled “Stuff I’m Going To Do,” Carl just couldn’t deal with the sense of loss and regret and sorrow for Ellie. She didn’t fulfilled her childhood dream. She didn’t get what she wanted. And so in the eyes of the world, Ellie’s life was sadly wasted and bitterly worthless. Carl decided to close the scrapbook and just put it away.

Paul could have felt the same about his life.

Paul was at the end of everything. He was in chains in Rome. He was a world away from home. And he faced imminent death. All seemed lost and worthless. Ever since he repented of his sins and believed in Jesus, he had a hard life. He suffered through many beatings and lashings. He was shipwrecked three times and was even adrift at sea for a night and a day. He experienced dangers from all kinds of people and went through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, above all these things, he endured great anxiety each and every day for all the churches of God in the world. Paul suffered greatly. And now there he was in Rome at the end of his entire life.

But Paul was good at counting. Things that the world would count as gain, he counted as loss. And things that the world would count as loss, he counted as gain. He could have easily looked at himself and felt a sense of loss and regret and sadness. He could have felt sorry for himself. He could have gone out wimpering over a seemingly worthless and wasted life.

Just look at what Paul had. He had the holy sign of circumcision that marked him as one of God’s people. He was of Israel and thus special and chosen. He was even of the tribe of Benjamin, one of only two tribes within Israel who pledged allegiance to King David. And he was a Hebrew of Hebrews, a pure-blooded Jew.

But more than that, just look at what Paul did. He was an obedient and religious pharisee, a man of morals and integrity and zeal so that no human being could find fault with him. He was blameless in the eyes of the world. He was righteous in the eyes of the law. He was everything that a man ought to be. He was the exact type of person that deserved to go to heaven.

In other words, brothers and sisters, Paul had a scrapbook for his life too. And in it he did his best to fill it with righteousness. What did he want to do? He wanted so deperately to be right with God. It was his dream to fulfill the law and earn a paradise with God. So Paul spent his life accumulating assets, bolstering his resume, building up spiritual profit and gain, so that he could be of worth, so that he could be worthy of heaven.

But none of that gave Paul any confidence. He discovered that all of his work and effort and obedience and love was worthless. It was not gain. It was loss. His math and the way that he counted things changed. He had two columns before him. The left column was his loss column. It was for all of the bad things that he did in his life. And the right column was his gain column. It was for all of the good things that he did in his life. He spent his whole life trying to fill the right column with his righteousness. But he discovered that the way to be saved, the way to go to heaven, and the way to be right with God is to repent of his sins and believe in the righteousness of Christ that is credited to him by grace. So he did a crazy thing that would have any CPA flip out. He took all of his righteousness in the right column… and moved it all over to the left. He relabeled all of his assets as liabilities. He took all of his gain and counted and credited and considered it all as loss. That is repentance and faith. That is exactly what Zacchaeus did when he lost all of his money that day. That is exactly what the thief on the cross did when he asked Jesus to remember him.

As Carl stared sadly at the page title “Stuff I’m Going To Do,” he began to put the book away and let the remaining blank pages pass through his hand. But to his astonishment, it turned out that the rest of the pages were not blank.

Carl found that the pages were filled with pictures of him and Ellie together. Married. Smiling and happy. There was a picture of a birthday, and another one of them in a park feeding pigeons, and another one of them at the kitchen table having coffee, and another of them on top of a hill having a picnic.

Yes, it’s true that Ellie never got to do what she wanted to do when she was little. And yes, it would have amounted to a sad and unfulfilled life. But Ellie found a better adventure. And she filled the rest of her scrapbook with Carl.

Brothers and sisters, we join with Paul and the numerous saints of old who stopped filling their books with the scraps of their hopes and dreams and righteousness and worth, and by faith filled their books with the righteousness of Christ, with the power of his resurrection, with the sharing of his sufferings, and with the surpassing worth of knowing him. Like Paul, we count all things as rubbish in order to gain Christ and be found in him. Like Moses, who considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, we count all things as rubbish. Like Abraham, who left his homeland and looked forward to a new city designed and built by God, we count all things as rubbish. Like many before us who were afflicted in every way, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, we count all things as rubbish. Why? Because, by faith, we know that we are not crushed, not driven to despair, not forsaken, not destroyed. Because, by faith, we acknowledge that we are strangers and exiles on this earth. Because, by faith, we gain Christ and are found in him. And our scrapbooks are never the same.

Brothers and sisters, let us count well. People tend to think that asians are good at math. But when it comes to matters of Christ, I’m afraid that us asians - and all human beings - struggle to count well. We are very good at regret. We seek confidence in our resumes. We are afraid of loss. We love our own righteousness.

Brothers and sisters, know that the world counts differently than us. Esau calculated that a full stomach was a greater gain than the blessings of God. Saul figured that being his own king was better than bowing down to the ultimate king. And all the dogs and evildoers and mutilaters of the flesh put more confidence in working for their salvation on their own rather than working out their salvation from Jesus. Know that the world counts differently than we do. And don’t count like them.

Brothers and sisters, be warned that some things in life that you think are gain are really loss. In the game Settlers of Catan, you might revel in the fact that you are the king of sheep or brick. You might have confidence in your trading skills or how long your road is. But assets can quickly turn into liabilities. All it takes is someone to roll a seven and put a thief on your land. And the next thing you know, you’re no sheep king or brick king. Brothers and sisters, consider true spiritual gain and loss. The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Brothers and sisters, know what is true gain and what is true loss.

It is not easy to count well. But if you struggle to count well, then look at how Jesus counts things. Though Jesus was in the form of God, he did not… count… equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Our Savior Jesus did everything that he did because you are of surpassing worth. You are his gain.

And finally, and in closing, let us rejoice. Yes, we are travelers who dream about the new heavens and the new earth (It’s like heaven and earth, but new!). Yes, we are assured of the hope that we will live in Paradise. Yes, we have new scrapbooks of the adventure of faith. And in them, we have saved several blank pages for all the stuff we’re going to do after Jesus comes back. When that day comes, all loss and regret and sorrow and sadness will be gone forever. And when that day comes, you will see with your very own eyes what surpassing worth really looks like.