When Paul advised the Philippians that they should “rejoice in the Lord” he wasn’t telling them to be 24/7 “happy in Jesus” smile machines. I don’t know about you, but people who walk around with a forced “Praise Jesus” smile bother me! I want to throw the Book at them and say, “Jesus wept! What do you think about that?”
For sure, Jesus provides deep inner peace and courage in the midst of troubling times. But it’s just a little discouraging to be around some Christians who put on a happy face and deny the reality of the pain and hurt that life inevitably dishes out. So I’m glad that Paul wasn’t asking us to join the forces of these Pollyanna deniers of life as it really is. What he was saying is that we need to stop rejoicing in ourselves and start living to rejoice in the Lord, which is a far more challenging issue given the fact that we instinctively like to rejoice in who we are and what we have done.
What I find fascinating—and somewhat convicting—is that Paul was addressing Christians who were rejoicing in themselves because they thought they were better than most other Christians. They were keepers of the Levitical law. These Judaizers obviously hadn’t read Hebrews, where we are told that Jesus fulfilled all the law, putting an end to the need for jumping through all the Levitical hoops. Nevertheless, they were really proud of themselves for their back-slapping good lives. Which is a really good word for all of us rule-keepers who tend to become proud of how spit-polished we are compared to others. Beware: the better you are, the worse you may become!
So, to drive his point home, Paul made a list of his bragging rights. They may not seem all that cool to you, but in his day they were worthy of lots of applause. In fact, there wasn’t a Judaizer who could out-class Paul. Then, after listing his accomplishments, he made a surprising statement. He said that all that stuff was like “dung” (Philippians 3:8 The Message) compared to the surpassing value of knowing Jesus! Paul knew that you can’t be taken with yourself and with Jesus at the same time. So he chose Jesus as the one to rejoice in, while his list of “bragging rights” went up in smoke. Paul knew that the focus of his attention would either be himself or Jesus and that you can’t have it both ways. He chose Jesus.
So let’s get started on being a lot more enthused with Jesus than we are with ourselves. Make a list of the things that make you feel too cool about yourself—including your religious accomplishments—and rip it up! Start living to rejoice in Jesus, whose unfailing love, mercy, and grace poured out on your life is far better than anything you could even begin to bring to the table.
- What types of things make you feel proud? Your accomplishments? Your possessions? Your experiences?
- Do you think you need to be a 24/7 “smile machine” for Jesus? How does Paul’s perspective in Philippians 3:1-21 help you? Does it change your understanding of what it means to rejoice in Jesus and His accomplishments rather than your own?
- Read what God has to say about our bragging rights in Jeremiah 9:24. Is there something about Him that you can boast about today?
- Ask the Lord to rip up the pride of your heart and replace it with a greater appreciation for His accomplishments in your life!