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A Midweek Devotional - Self-Righteousness

We often hear, or speak of, the Christian’s struggle with hypocrisy. We recognize it in others yet rarely acknowledge it in ourselves. The hypocrite speaks of one thing but does another. He proclaims one set of beliefs but his actions indicate another. He has one set of expectations when it comes to other people, yet he lives by a different standard. Some hypocrites enter into their hypocrisy knowingly, with evil intent. For most, however, it is very subtle and (mostly) unintended. In Philippians 3, the apostle Paul doesn’t expressly deal with hypocrisy, but he does graciously engage us in the struggle by pointing to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, August 5th

Larger Portion of Scripture - Philippians 3

Focused Passage for Reflection - Philippians 3:1-11

Reflecting on the Text:

What is harder for you? To lose a prized possession? Or to let go of a cherished source of identity and pride? Many of us struggle to even recognize those identity markers, or at least to call them such. We each have our sources of righteousness. Are you the kind of person who is always 15 minutes early for an appointment? Or, are you always the first person to find a Bible passage during your group study? What is that thing for you which bolsters your identity and “confirms” your righteousness?

We all have them, even if we don’t describe them in this way. In Philippians 3 Paul engages with a group who had their particular brand of self-righteousness. When he spoke out about the mutilators of the flesh, he was speaking of those who would add to the gospel of Jesus Christ by also requiring circumcision to affirm their righteousness. It was a particularly sinister form of hypocritical behavior because it explicitly demanded that a “work” be added to the finished work of Jesus. In trying to prove their righteousness in this way they actually did the opposite, proving their lack of dependence upon Jesus. But identity markers are hard to let go of…so they held on.

Paul engaged in the fight by at first seemingly attempting to “one-up” them. He essentially said, “You think you have reason to boast in your works? I have more!” So he offered his spiritual resume and an impressive one at that. He had everything that a self-righteous person could possibly need to build an identity for himself. But then he did one more thing. He let go of it.

In verses 7 and 8 he counted those identity markers as loss compared to the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” It may be hard to let go of those sources of pride, but knowing Jesus is better. This knowing refers to intimate, personal knowledge. It refers to the union, where Paul as an individual fades away and his union with Christ takes center stage. Paul says this knowing Jesus is better because He is our testimony and our hope.

In the beginning, I asked if it was harder to give up a prized possession or a cherished sense of identity and pride. In Philippians 3, Paul seems to turn the question upside down. When we give up our cherished sense of identity and pride in our self-righteousness, we gain a new prized possession. We gain a righteousness that is NOT our own. We gain the righteousness of Jesus and the blessing of a relationship in Him. We gain resurrection. We gain eternal life.

Questions for personal reflection:

  • Where are you tempted to find identity in personal sources of righteousness?

  • Are those sources of personal righteousness life-giving for you?

  • What might it take for you to let go of them and simply place your worth in Jesus?

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