The year was 1979. It was late spring and I was a sophomore in high school. Our lettermen jackets had had come in. Six of us sophomores had lettered for the varsity. I still remember how it felt to walk in the cafeteria and have an imaginary hush fall over the crowd. For a moment, we were big men on campus, for exactly 10 seconds. And then everyone started eating again. But, oh the glory of the moment!
Sadly, I have basked in the glory of that moment for years. It is one of my favorite memories of all time. Definitely top 50 kind of stuff. Pride is a funny thing. It makes us feel good about some of the silliest things. Put a maroon and gray lettermen jacket on the back of 16-year-old kid and that what you get: silly pride. Nothing changed in my heart but everything changed in my mind when I slipped that on. Now, I was somebody! Wasn’t I?
Spiritual pride is like that. Depending on which Christian sub-culture you live in, the criteria for being somebody changes. Some cliques value discipline. Some think that spiritual gifts are the supreme measure. Some think that good works and self-righteousness is the key. Some think unless you are healthy and wealthy you are nobody. Some groups measure your worth by your zeal or by your supposed yieldedness to God or success in the spiritual disciplines. The thing that makes them silly is that we measure our worth in our cliques by who has the most of them or who is the best at the activity. But, the best among you may still be lettering on a 3-wins–7-loss team (and that is average at best). And we compare ourselves with others and we put on our groups letterman jacket and pretend to be somebody.
Paul did a little of that over in Philippians 3
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
The peculiar thing about Paul’s list is that I am sure it is a great list. But as a gentile believer I don’t really connect with how great he was. Or how great he thinks he was. His list of boasting in the flesh is kind of life- “who cares?” Isn’t that the way the different groups look at each other? We wear our jackets of self-righteousness in front of a different clique and they say, “Who cares?” They don’t even value what we have accomplished.
Newsflash: except for the righteousness imputed by Jesus’ death on the cross into your life, God doesn’t care a lick about your self-righteous accomplishments either. He has his own lettermen club. They have their own jackets. And they are proud about different things than the self-righteous. We will talk about entry into God’s lettermen’s club in another post. In the mean time be proud about the right things! And stop being proud about things that make you (and me) look silly.