When would a man give up something of great value to himself? When he finds a superior replacement. Today we speak of upgrades: a devise to wear on the belt that has ten more functions than just a phone; a newer, classier automobile; or replacing veteran teammates with faster, more powerful ones. Eventually just about everything needs replacement.
In His shortest parable, Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven in terms of “upgrading” to something superior: The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field (Matt. 13:44). The cost of obtaining what is superior is letting go of what is inferior. It was with this understanding that the apostle Paul affirmed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Phil.3:8). In terms of success in his day, Saul of Tarsus was the poster boy. He had reached what every young man would dream of – prestige and position, with lion-sized passion to match. But these are the things Paul would brush aside like street litter if hanging on to them would in anyway obstruct his experience with Jesus Christ. The word he used to describe it is huperecho (to have over) which here is translated “excellent,” and in other places, “better,” surpassing,” “higher,” and “supreme.”
The excellency of the knowledge of Christ can be measured two ways; by its quality and outcome, and by contrast to what is inferior. Paul’s statement could be paraphrased: What value is there in anything absent the knowledge of Jesus Christ? At a time when Jesus outlined the cost of following Him (i.e. letting go of the inferior) many decided that was too great a cost and no longer walked with Him. When Jesus asked the twelve if they too would leave, Peter responded To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68). Paul echoes Peter here – there is no better option. This is superior – by far the best.