It is hard to imagine, but try slowly dismantling your resume. What personal achievements have some importance in your life? Include health, education, weight, fitness, general attractiveness and unique abilities. If you were to boast, what might you boast about? Now, toss these out one at a time. Do some hurt more than others? What is left when the achievements are gone?
Some people don’t have to imagine. They have lost jobs to a shrinking economy, lost abilities to a body and brain that are less and less competent, or lost children, who were once their pride and joy but are now living in ways that no longer enhance a parent’s reputation. Yet—all those who live long enough will suffer losses. You will watch your resume gradually go up in smoke as no one remembers your vocational contributions, no one cares where you went to school, your physical appearance will win no prizes, and the world is gradually forgetting you.
In other words, let’s enter into the Apostle Paul’s dismantling of his own resume.
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Phil 3:4-8)
In ancient Israel, horses, chariots and secret pacts with foreign powers were things that people would trust in rather than trust in the Lord. From Roman times to the present, we cling to achievements that can enhance our individual reputations because we can cash them in for power, sex, love, respect, money, or just some fleeting self-worth. Paul knew that achievements can so easily become our confidence, and he wanted none of it.
If we were asked to identify the primary hazards of daily life, we would first consider the ever-present possibilities for pain and failure. But Paul disagrees. Pain and failure have their challenges, but they are not the biggest threat. It is our successes that pose the greatest danger. Our human tendency is to find something that we have done that can prop up our identity. For that, we don’t need an endless resume, though we might prefer one. We will usually settle for one achievement that is a bit more impressive than someone else’s.
Paul invites us to burn those resumes now rather than have them burned later—to burn those achievements that we account as our righteousness. Only then can we know something—someone—of surpassing worth and what we receive in him will survive the refiner’s fire.