I don’t know about you, but I’m fairly aware of more than a few of my own accomplishments. I don’t want to sound proud or haughty, but I did win the 3rd grade spelling bee. The winning word was “highlighted”, which I spelled correctly. Amid the cheers of my classmates (except for Toby, who immediately lost), I was handed a giant Nestle Crunch bar, which I ate that afternoon in great celebration. Sickness naturally followed, since it was such a jumbo sized candy bar, but I didn’t care. I won! They had even announced it on the school’s PA system. Today, every time I eat a Nestle Crunch bar, I revel in my own victory, a distant elementary school memory which I can still taste.
There is nothing better than accomplishing that which others only dream of.
Imagine if I had boasted about this today on, say, my resume. Or if I had insisted on putting up the winner’s certificate in my office so that people knew that were dealing with a consummate spelling professional. What if I had “3rd grade spelling bee champ” printed on my business cards? And what if, for the sake of irony, I insisted on spelling the word “spelling” wrong on said business cards? Would people notice?
That seems to be the goal of our accomplishments: that people notice. We want to be distinguished. We want to be safe in the accolades of others. We imagine a security blanket made up of diplomas, awards, recognitions, and Nestle Crunch wrappers. Oh, it feels so good to be better than some people!
The Apostle Paul had every right to think the same thing. Whereas I won the 3rd grade spelling bee, Paul could boast about his position as a zealous persecutor of the church who observed the law like a professional. He had the family lineage that put him in a good place even before his birth. 8 days later, things got even “better”, as far as religious standing went. He considered himself to be blameless, which means that no one had anything on him that would threaten his confidence. He was like me, standing in front of the student body at Douglas Elementary, proudly holding up a Nestle Crunch bar. “H-I-G-H-L-I-G-H-T-E-D”.
After giving us a brief bio in Philippians 3:4-6, Paul suddenly changes direction and puts all of his accomplishments and standings in a new light. In 3:7, he writes “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Paul is cancelling his own structure. All that work, all that birthright, all that victory — down the drain!
It must take quite a victory to trump his own. Enter Jesus Christ. His victory is apparent — we refer to this as “Christus Victor”, meaning that Jesus is victorious over sin, makes atonement for us, and gives us His victory over death. Paul is saying that, in light of everything Christ has done, what I have done is pretty much nothing.
This truth should bring us to our knees.
How often do we surf on our own capabilities, talents, and triumphs? I know I do. There’s nothing wrong with accomplishing great things. In fact, the best approach is to do something great for the glory of God, which means that we give it our best, operate in our strengths, develop our God-given talents, and then point to Christus Victor, the one who has redeemed us from the pit and whose accomplishment on the cross means eternal life for me, which will go on long after my parchments and attainments have disintegrated.
So… here’s what to do:
Listen, I’m a pretty good speller. But I don’t go around telling everyone how awesome I am, partly because I’m afraid they’ll ask me to spell a big word like “hippopotamus or “necessary”. The big reason? If the Apostle Paul models something for us in this passage, it is the fact that we don’t boast about us. We boast about Christ. If I truly understand what He has done, I won’t go around boasting about what little I’ve done. Your security isn’t in what you’ve accomplished, so stop acting like it does. Join me in counting gains as losses as we live each day in the victory of Christ.
And now, may the taste of a Nestle Crunch bar, the sight of a highlighter, and the taste of your own small victories be a strong reminder of what Christ has done, in love, for you.