In Which God Is Glorified Amidst Our Shame, If We Choose His Glory Over Ours
As we finish this module, the most important lesson to remember is that wisdom and virtue are essential — but impossible! No matter how much we try or mature, we will never quite be able to fulfill everything God (or society, or even ourselves) expects of us. By God’s grace we may continue to improve, but we will never be perfect.
Western culture rarely admits the resulting sense of shame, but we still suffer its effects. The ultimate question is whether we will be “real” enough to submit our shame to the cross of Christ, so that He can heal us for His glory — or will we pridefully cling to our own glory, and remain simple, mockers, and fools?
Read Habakkuk 2. Whom does God shame? Who gets the glory?
The pursuit of virtue is a long and difficult road, and it is easy to become discouraged. [C.1] That is why Paul begins his wrap-up, as we begin ours, with a reminder to rejoice:
As G.K. Chesterton said, “Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian,” The joy of the Lord is our “secret weapon” (cf. Nehemiah 8:10) in defending against those — including ourselves! — who use religious shame against us:
2Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!
Though Paul himself was anything but weak-willed:
4though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, [of] the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
Here Paul recounts many of the things we also try to find our glory in:
- religious upbringing
- education and status
- religious zeal
- professional achievement
- legalistic morality
An impressive list [C.2]. Are we tempted to envy his ability to achieve those things?
If so, don’t bother, as he considers them a waste of time:
7But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ
To be blunt, he considers them “crap.” Why? Because they were all based on glorifying himself using the law, instead of relying on a relationship with Christ:
This is one of the grand paradoxes of Christianity: that the only secure path to self-esteem and personal holiness lies in admitting our unworthiness and incompetence, and crying out to God — in faith — for Him to grant us His righteousness.
Now, instead of idolizing the Law, Paul’s sole desire is:
He is in the midst of a great and terrible quest, to know:
- The power of His resurrection
- The fellowship of His sufferings, and
- Conformity with His death
Many of us sincerely desire to know Christ and His power, but are we equally eager to follow Him into suffering and death? [C.3]
Paul does this gladly, for the hope of the resurrection:
11if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
We might think this is easy for Paul, since he has already reached a place of spiritual perfection — but that’s not what he says:
12Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing [I do], forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Despite what you may have heard, a mature Christian is not one with a complete understanding of biblical truth or perfect conformity with Christ’s character. Rather, it is someone who is committed to spending the rest of their earthly life in pursuit of those things, and has learned how to continually lay aside anything that gets in his or her way.
The immature Christian thinks maturity is all about following rules and learning truths. As such, they are alternately filled with pride (when they succeed) or shame (when they fail). In the end, though, they are no better off than Paul was before he met Christ.
The mature Christian realizes rules and truth can be useful — as we’ll study in the next module — but are only the means, not the end. Ultimately, the only end worth pursuing is Christ Himself — and the closer we get to Him, the more we realize how far we fall short (cf. 1 Timothy 1:15). But rather than filling us with shame at our own sinfulness, this realization fills us with awe at Christ’s transcendent glory. Because we are no longer pursuing our own righteousness to salvage our own reputation, but pursuing Christ’s righteousness to magnify His!
This may be hard for some of you to swallow. [C.4] Fortunately, it is not necessary for us to agree about everything:
The important thing is to submit to God’s authority, and live out everything we do understand:
Following in the footsteps of those who reflect the “name” of Christ better than we do:
For many leaders — even religious ones — cling to their flesh and hide their shame, rather than glorying in the cross of Christ:
18For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, [that they are] the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19whose end [is] destruction, whose god [is their] belly, and [whose] glory [is] in their shame–who set their mind on earthly things.
This is ultimately the choice we face. Will we fight for our own glory in order to hide our shame, or will we surrender our shame at the foot of the cross so that Christ can glorify Himself in us?
20For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
- How have our studies of virtues encouraged and/or discouraged you?
- Which of the items on Paul’s list of “glories” (verses 5-6) have you taken pride in — or at least wished you could?
- What might “the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings” and “conformity to His death” (verse 10) look like in your life?
- How has this study impacted your understanding of Christian maturity?
- Repentance: What hidden shame must you surrender to the cross of Christ? How?
- Action: Find a Christ-like example (living or dead) you can follow in your ongoing pursuit of virtue.
- Worship: Reflect on our heavenly citizenship, and the glorious transformation that awaits our bodies.
- Blue Letter Bible. “Philippians 3 – New King James Version.” Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2009. 14 Jan 2009. < http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?t=NKJV&b=Phl&c=3 >