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Pride and Perfection October 5, 2014

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Philippians 3:4b-14

Proper 22

October 5, 2014

 

Focus:  God is our source of life and strength.

Function:  That the hearers humble themselves to the point of serving.

Structure: This is the problem…this is the response of the gospel…these are the implications.

 

Pride and Perfection

 

Let’s begin with a question.  I want you to take a few moments to think of some of the things in your life that you’re proud of.

Perhaps you take pride in your achievements, your job, your home, the things you’ve worked hard for.  And maybe that pride isn’t about stuff.  You’re proud of what you’ve made of yourself.  Maybe that hard work is what you’ve poured into raising a family.  You’re proud of who your little ones have become.  You’re proud to say you’re a Lutheran or a Christian.  You’re proud of any number of things.  Tuck those in the back of your mind for a few minutes.

It’s in our upbringing, it’s in the way we were raised.  There’s a special place in our heart for our own independence, our own ability to stand on our own two feet.  We’ve been taught that if you want something, you have to go and get it for yourself.  We’ve been taught that we can’t count on others to help us, we have to be able to fend for ourselves.

These ideas are so deeply rooted in our society.  They’re deeply connected to who we are.  They’re deeply connected to our dreams and our desires.  This could never be clearer than looking at our stories.  Who among us doesn’t love a feel good story about someone who didn’t have a chance, who was down and out, but then picked themselves up by the bootstraps and fought and clawed their way to a better place?  How many of our books, songs, and movies have that for a theme?  That’s part of the superhero craze.  We look up to them, we enjoy the stories, in part because it speaks to our heartfelt need for independence.  They’re doing what we wish we could do.  No matter how many times they get knocked down, they always get back up again.  They always keep fighting.

That’s where our text begins with the Apostle Paul.  As we turn to Philippians chapter three, we find Paul talking about his ability to do it on his own.

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

 

Here we find the great Apostle Paul rattling off his greatness.  Listing the ways in which he could be proud.  Eighth day circumcision means he’s followed the law from the beginning.  From that point in his life, he was part of God’s covenant, part of God’s people.

More than that, he came from the tribe of Benjamin.  The twelve tribes of Israel consisted of Jacob’s twelve sons.  By his favorite wife, Jacob had Joseph and Benjamin.  Because one of his sons Levi was given a different role as priest, he didn’t get a tribe.  So one more had to be added to keep the number at twelve.  To do that, Joseph’s descendants were split in two.  His two sons Ephraim and Manasseh both got tribes.  Thus, Benjamin was the favorite remaining child to have his own tribe.  And that’s where Paul comes from.

And as for keeping the law, of course!  Paul was a Pharisee.  These men were so strict about keeping God’s law they even made up more laws to follow.  And Paul was so ardent about his faith, he was willing to persecute those he thought were mocking God’s name.  Blameless, Paul would call himself.

This is his checklist; here he lists his worthiness before God.  If anyone can get in own his own merit, on his own two feet, it’s Paul.  But listen to what he has to say about his pride, about his keeping of the law, about the things he’s accomplished for himself:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

 

“Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”  All of this stuff, all of my pride, all of my boasting amounts to nothing.  Apart from Christ, I am nothing.  I have nothing.  I can achieve nothing.

When I looked up the word “pride” on dictionary.com, there was only one antonym listed, only one opposite.  Humility.  And that’s what this whole letter is about.  That’s what Paul’s entire letter to the church in Philippi focuses on as its theme.  Pride vs. humility.

Pride, historically, has been considered one of man’s worst traits.  And since we’re already on the internet, what would this sermon be without a reference to Wikipedia?  In its entry on the seven deadly sins, here’s what it has to say:

In almost every list, pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris (Greek), is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others. It is identified as believing that one is essentially better than others, failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, and excessive admiration of the personal self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God).”

 

Paul certainly saw it this way.  In his writings, Paul makes pride and boasting the same.  He makes pride and self-centeredness the same.  And this idea of pride being a negative trait actually has its roots in God’s Word.  The words “pride” and “proud” show up 87 times in the Bible.  Only six of those are positive.  The rest talk about us separating ourselves from God, of pride being our downfall, or of God’s pending destruction of the prideful.

Only six times is pride used in a good way.  And they’re the same.  Just like Paul says about boasting, the only good that comes from pride is when it’s rooted in Christ.  He’s proud that the gospel has created faith in the people of Philippi.  He’s proud that the Spirit has used him to communicate Christ’s love.

For several millennia in both church and world history, pride was considered a vice, the downfall of man.  It was seen as us separating ourselves from God.  But in America today, you hear the word just about anywhere you go.  We’re proud of our accomplishments, we’re proud of our athletes, we’re proud of our grades, we’re proud of just about everything.  And as the one song says, we’re even proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.

We like being able to say we did it ourselves.  We’ve done this great thing.  We’re independent.  We don’t need anyone’s help.  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Everything we’ve done amounts to nothing.  If you work hard and amass a bunch of stuff, Solomon will make you depressed, because he’ll tell you in Ecclesiastes that’s it all meaningless and you can’t take it with you.  And that’s life, apart from Christ.

We’re sinners, we’ve broken the law.  We’ve failed to achieve perfection in our lives.  But that’s where Christ comes in.  He’s the ultimate example of what Paul is trying to say.  In fact, just a chapter earlier, Paul uses Christ as the ultimate example.  He was perfect.  He could stand on His own two feet.  He could be proud of His own accomplishments.  He could have looked out for only Himself.  But He did just the opposite.  He gave of Himself, He sacrificed of Himself, He lowered Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Christ humbled Himself and became a servant, our servant.  To show us the way.

Another powerful illustration of the vast difference between pride and humility is marriage.  If you focus only on yourself, if you continue to live your life taking care of #1, marriage will be a painful and angry place.  That’s not how it was designed.  If instead, you put your spouse first, their needs before your own.  If instead, you both cast off your pride and serve the other, making yourself into a servant, sure, you’ll still have bumps along the way as sinners, but you will also be blessed to experience the bliss of life together.  And you might just be blessed enough to catch a glimpse of our relationship with God.

These things are why Paul concludes our text today by saying “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  The bad of our past is gone.  Forgotten.  Forgiven.  And now instead, we can look around us and see what God sees.  We can look around us and see people, people whom He loves.  Every person matters.

So maybe it’s time to strike pride and proud from our vocabulary.  Maybe it’s time to stop wanting to live on our own and stand on our own.  Maybe it’s time to realize that we can’t do this ourselves.  Maybe it’s time to realize that Christ has already done it for us.   Maybe it’s time to open our eyes and see Him standing at our side, giving us the strength to go another day.  Maybe it’s time to stop focusing on ourselves and start focusing on each other, as Christ did for us.

 

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