The other day, I had my last exam of my semester. Unfortunately, I didn’t do as well as I had hoped and while I will still end up doing well in the class, it may break my streak of getting all A’s at Ohio State. It has bothered me for the last few days because I wanted to achieve that near perfect GPA.
Maybe you can relate to this feeling, even if it is not the same situation. Maybe you were just shy of achieving some award, coming first place in an athletic event, etc. Whether we want to admit it or not, we care deeply what the world thinks of us. It could even be for seemingly noble reasons. We may want to be the best parent, the nicest person, the most philanthropic, even the “best” Christian. But a lot of times, it can be for selfish reasons. We are doing it to put on an image for the world and to gain the approval of others.
In less than 6 months, after 6 years, 4 schools in 3 different states, I will finally graduate from college. Without doubt, this will be my greatest accomplishment. Honestly though, despite my great excitement, I feel uneasy about it. But it’s not for the reasons you may think. I am not particularly worried about being on my own and I most likely know what I will do after graduation and have a job secured. While I have had some fun times, I am not that sad to end the college life with limited responsibilities. It’s been enough time and I am ready to be a “real” adult. What I am worried about is my prideful heart. I hold in high esteem everything I have overcome. Shamefully, at times I have looked forward to graduation because I can’t wait for the applause from others. For the past couple years, I have been planning in my head exactly what I will say along with the perfect picture when I post on social media that I finally reached the finish line.
When I feel my pride washing in, Paul’s sweet words convict and capture my broken heart.
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, 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 is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from the basis of faith.” –Philippians 3:7-9
In Paul’s day, before he became a Christian, he was basically royalty in the eyes of most. He had all the acceptance in the world and had more room to brag than most of us ever will have (Phil 3: 4-6). However, after Christ radically saved him, he traded a life of comfort for persecution and unbelievable hardship.
A lot of us may pity Paul. Some of you may pity Christians in general. Our lives may look boring to you and you maybe cannot imagine living the life we are called to lead. Paul even says that, “If our hope in Christ is for this life alone, we are to be more than all men,” (1 Cor 15:19). But the amazing truth is that Christ really did rise from the dead. If that weren’t the case, I and especially Paul, wouldn’t have so much joy. Paul was continually thrown in prison and was exposed to death day after day, being flogged, beaten with rods, shipwrecked three times, and five times received forty lashes from a spikey whip, among other things (2 Cor 4:23-28).
True joy is found in knowing Christ. To have this joy we must forget our accomplishments and status. At the end of our lives, these things will have little significance. That 4.0 GPA in relation to knowing Christ? Garbage. That job with JP Morgan? Garbage. The 1,000 insta likes? Garbage. In Greek, garbage is literally translated to “dung.” Yes, “dung.” I should emphasize though, none of these things are necessarily bad or sinful to have or desire. However, if you look at the glory and power of Christ, these things pale in comparison.
Over the past 23 years, I have been incredibly fortunate. I grew up in Northern California in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. I have been able to travel a lot and have seen some pretty spectacular things. After high school, I went to a top-notch private school in North Carolina and will graduate from one of the best public universities in the country. I have achieved many athletic and academic accomplishments, and have been continually praised by family and friends for them and other things I have overcome. While I am incredibly thankful for all that has been given to me and am so lucky for everyone who has supported me, these things can often draw me away from Christ and prevent me from experiencing true joy and fulfillment. When I look back on all the good things in my life, they don’t even compare to some of the precious moments I have had with Jesus. Yet time and time again, I forget God’s truth and believe the lie that a high status and lofty achievements will give me the joy I am desperately seeking.
Paul got it, and I hope one day I will get it too. Next year, I hope that as I sit in the Ohio Stadium filled with thousands of accomplished Buckeyes, I will be thinking about and praising Jesus. That rather than mostly thinking about all that I have accomplished, I will be thinking about all the amazing things God has accomplished—in my life, but also on the cross. I want to remember that the most important thing that happened to me during college was that Christ saved me and redeemed my life.