If It’s Not Jesus, It’s Skubalon
JANUARY 19, 2016
The other day I told God I was willing to be a tool in his hands. Instantly, an image of a plunger appeared in my mind. I snickered and wondered what, if anything, it meant.
I thought, Maybe that means my job is to keep the content flowing at Key Life. Ha!
Then I thought about what plungers dislodge. You know what I’m talking about. We teach from the Bible here at Key Life, so let’s use the Greek word the apostle Paul used for it in Philippians 3:8… skubalon. I’ll put it in a modern context to be clear.
If we used the word skubalon today, we’d say things like: “Skubalon happens,” “The skubalon hit the fan,” “I call bullskubalon,” “He doesn’t know jack skubalon,” “No skubalon, Sherlock,” “I don’t give a skubalon,” “Tough skubalon,” “I’m skubalon-faced,” “Skubalon on a shingle,” “Skubalon list,” “Short skubalon,” “Skubalon for brains,” “Shoot the skubalon,” “I’m up skubalon creek without a paddle,” and “I gotta get my skubalon together.”
Now, if me being a plunger in God’s hands means keeping the content flowing at Key Life, that would mean our content is skubalon. That’s just not true. We communicate the good news that we’re perfect in Jesus, and that’s the polar opposite of skubalon. Phillippians 3 makes that clear:
“…I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!–that I may gain Christ…”
That’s from the New English Translation. Other translations (ESV, NRSV, NKJV, NIV, NAB, REB, TEV, NJB, TNIV) translate skubalon as rubbish or garbage. But the NET version is more accurate. The others go even further in attempting to clean up Paul’s language. Religious people are always pulling punches in an effort to be respectable.
Philippians 3:8 is the only place in the New Testament that uses the word skubalon. (In other words, the New Testament is not full of it.) Paul used skubalon here with a unique and specific intent. He wanted his readers to be shocked and disgusted by the comparison he was making.
In Philippians 3, Paul listed all the religious stuff he did, what the NET version calls “human credentials.” It’s a long list. The people of Paul’s day were impressed, and Paul knew they would be. They looked at Paul’s achievements and said, “He is one righteous dude.” Then Paul dropped a bomb, “It’s all skubalon.” He didn’t call it rubbish or garbage. He said that, when compared to knowing Jesus’ righteousness, all his people-pleasing work was an offensive, steaming pile of… well… skubalon. Don’t take my word for it, read on in Phillipians 3:8-9:
“…I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness.”
Paul was a master communicator, and that’s why he used the word skubalon. He gave them his “righteousness” and then took it away by using a vulgarity to describe anything that’s not the free righteousness that Christ gives to us apart from works. It’s all grace by faith. You’ve heard, “If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap!” Well, if it’s not Jesus, it’s skubalon.
Beyond that, Paul called his efforts to please religious people “liabilities.” As someone who is desperate for validation and busts his butt to get it, I know exactly why. That proclivity keeps me selfishly focused on my effort and gets in the way of love. God wants us to be loving (Romans 13:8, Galatians 5:14), but being a people pleaser makes me a people hater. I work hard, don’t get the response I think I deserve, and then loathe those I’m trying to impress (as well as those not working as hard as I do). Our religious faithfulness is a liability. It makes us self-righteous. It’s worthless, no… it’s disgusting. And the world is sick of our skubalon.
Instead, we need to forget about ourselves and look to Jesus’ faithfulness. Receive his righteousness by faith, especially when we realize we’re full of skubalon. We’ll end up loving because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Then the world will know God sent us (John 13:34-35)… and stop gagging and running the other way.
I admit, it’s hard to let go of self-righteousness and trust that God gave us his. Sometimes our skubalon gets stuck in our pipes, clogs up the works, and stinks the place up. That’s when you need a plunger.
No need to thank me, I’m merely a tool in God’s hands.
P.S. If you think this was all a bit much, Dr. Paul Tripp smells what I’m stepping in ; )