Like the rest of us, Paul had plenty of opportunities for boasting if he were inclined to seek them. He lists some of them in Philippians 3:5-6. Circumcised. Descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Devout follower of Jehovah God for his entire life. A spotless reputation for righteousness among all who knew him. Such things were, in fact, used by many Jewish Christians to distance themselves morally and spiritually from others, particularly Gentiles.
But Paul abandoned such things. The only cause for boasting in his life now, he said, was the fact that he had become a partaker of grace. Instead of bragging about how wonderful he was, knowing Jesus compelled him to confess how worthless and insignificant he was — or rather, how he had been before his conversion. The only worthwhile thing in his life since then, he said, was knowing Jesus. Not inconsequently, much of the boasting material he had was stolen from him. His countrymen made up stories about him, denouncing his faith and morality. In the end, he died because he refused to denounce his Lord. Everything significant in life, including life itself, was forfeit.
But he did not regret that exchange in the slightest. In fact, he said the things lost to him were “rubbish” (Philippians 3:8). Losing such things of the flesh was as much to be regretted as taking out the trash. He didn’t need them. He didn’t want them.
This is not a position that an egotist can successfully maintain. One who wishes to be acclaimed and glorified will take a very different tack — as some of his critics themselves did (Matthew 6:1-6). Only the one who humbles himself before God will be exalted by the One truly qualified to bestow the greatest of honors (James 4:10).
This is the reason, Paul said, that so many people with an abundance of “bragging rights” in this world reject Jesus. In fact, God designed His plan of salvation specifically to exclude those who denied their own inadequacy. Twice while writing to the arrogant Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:31; 2 Corinthians 10:17), Paul referenced Jeremiah 9:23, stating that a relationship with God is all that anyone should be proud of. If something of our own conception and planning is more a cause of boasting than what Jesus has done for us, we do not have the spirit of Christ.
So why do we hold onto our “bragging rights”?
Could it be that we secretly (or not so secretly) desire the praise of men — and therefore we practice our righteousness in such a way as to give everyone a proper view (Matthew 6:1)?
Could it be that we secretly (or not so secretly) value earthly things more than heavenly things — and so we hesitate to abandon our old life to be “born again” in Jesus (John 3:3-5)?
Could it be that we secretly (or not so secretly) doubt that our Savior is able to satisfy us — and so we pursue the things of the world that we truly love (1 John 2:15-16)?
Bottom line: Jesus is either enough or not enough. Which is He to you?