There is an innate pull in each of us to pursue trophies. We want to put forth the effort in order to add the glorious hardware to our shelf of accomplishments and accolades. Trophies have a way of saying “look, I’m quite impressive” – without technically having to say it. That way, you get to proclaim it, but without the weird social dynamics of having to actually say it out loud.
Others get impressed. You get the pats on the back.
When I was a coach for my son’s flag football team a few years back. We began practicing twice a week. We had deep aspirations and goals. We were going to work hard, earn our reward and revel in the glory come then end of the season. So we set out. We did the drills. We repeated them. We got the uniforms, the swagger and the confidence.
The only thing we didn’t get after 9 games, was a win…
So the end of the year pizza party comes. You know the drill. We ate. We collected the tickets and cashed them in for the cheap prices at the counter. We gathered these 7-8 year old ‘little men’ around at the end of the party. And I pulled out a box.
What’s in the box? What do you get a team that didn’t win at all? Not one game?
Now, I know the other coaches or those of you who are the couch coaches may look at this scenario and scream. Wait! You can’t reward with trophies those that didn’t “earn” it?!! The culture in which we live mandates: “if I improve, I advance – If I advance, then I win”
It’s fascinating to me that the Apostle Paul had earned a lot of religious trophies – a lot of accolades to add to his religious shelf. He goes through them and list them for us in Philippians 3:3-9. *read it and then join me on the other side
We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort, 4 though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!
5 I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. 6 I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.
7 I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. 8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.
Paul had all the religious trophies of his day – and one day – he realized that his shelf was actually empty. His trophies didn’t matter, didn’t earn him anything. He spent all his effort trying to earn God’s attention, approval and acceptance and it wasn’t good enough.
But the crazy thing: God’s love was already directed at him. Not based on performance or practice. But simply because of Jesus.
The Cross – is the real trophy.
The one that screams “you’re worth it” to any and all who will take God up on his offer to trade shelves. Pick his ONE trophy – his Son. You and I can’t earn enough trophies to gain or earn God’s love. But we are invited to receive His love by accepting His trophy he wants to give us. I guess you can sum up Philippians 3:2-10 with:
Depend only on you = you lose.
Depend only on Jesus = YOU win.
Meanwhile, back at the pizza party: I began pulling out the trophies from the box and handing them to each kid. Their name was engraved on it. You should have seen their eyes! Filled with wonder, awe and excitement. Their smiles kept growing. You could see joy busting out all over them. They knew they didn’t “earn” these, but they were being told that day: You’re worth these – simply because coach says so. Coach says: “you’re worth it, to me” – even though the scoreboard was saying something different.
So let me ask you:
Are you filled with religious fire to try and “earn” your trophy from God? Friend: how good is good enough? Can your accomplishments and accolades stack up high enough before a perfect and holy God? What scale are you using?
Or are you able to be filled with wonder and awe as He hands you one, even when your efforts aren’t enough? He declares through Jesus that you were worth pursing even though you couldn’t “earn” it. That’s grace.
Friends, it’s by grace and grace alone. That’s the secret Paul learned and that he preached.
It’s all about Jesus.