By: Rick Thomas
How satisfied are you? Describe your level of contentment. The LORD Jesus came to give us peace with God. Do you have it? There is a rest for the people of God. How restful are you?
When you think about peace and rest, what are some of the ways you seek to acquire it? How have you sought to bring yourself to the satisfied life? This is where Paul helps us. He says,
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)
There is a juxtaposition of thought in these two verses that unlocks the door to the satisfied life. This juxtaposition could be summed up in two competing character traits that, if understood and applied biblically, could change your life.
Vainglory or vain conceit is an empty conceit that is from the Greek word kenosis, which means to empty oneself and doxa means glory, so “kenodoxia” means empty glory.
Humility is a gentle, deferential, and modest characteristic. It’s a quality or state of not thinking you are better than others. It’s not feeling the need to prove your worth or to derive your worth from people or things.
The choice you make will not only set the trajectory for your life, but it will determine the quality of your life and relationships.
The path to vainglory
Vainglory is empty conceit. The idea is not that the person has glory, but the person does not have glory and longs to have some. The self-centeredness of a vainglory person is not because they have something to boast about, but because they desire to be something they are not.
It is insecurity in search of something to make them feel good about themselves. It’s the empty feeling that I don’t matter; I am a wisp of smoke that is here today and gone tomorrow and there is nothing to anchor my life to so I can say, “I am somebody.”
The vainglory person is under the control of the person or the thing they believe they need. It’s a desperate desire for someone or something to say they matter. Nearly anything can fill the empty glory-seeking person.
Here are a few vainglorious pursuits: personal gifting, wealth, things, beauty, reputation, intelligence, relationships, physicality, vocation, marriage, children, accolades, or any other thing that supplants God’s glory in your life.
In the beginning, we were supposed to reflect the glory of God in all creation, but when sin entered the world, the glory was no longer reflected through us, thus, the LORD needed to solve the problem with sin so we could reclaim our role as God’s chief creation that reflects who He is.
We were created to stand in and enjoy His presence, but we turned away from God and the glory that only He possesses. We have no glory of our own, so to reject God is to become empty, dissatisfied, and frustrated, coupled to a desire to fill the void with something other than God.
Sin is the culprit, which places the vainglory person in a conundrum. To be free is to acknowledge sin. To acknowledge sin, is counter-intuitive to the person who wants others to think well of them.
A desire for vainglory has led many of us down a long dark path of shallow living, hoping to fill our empty hearts with something that can only be filled by the LORD.
One of the most effective ways to know if you’re a vainglorious pursuer is by how you respond when other people are unkind or disappointing to you.
The vainglory person is dependent on others to make them feel good because to feel good outside of God is what the vainglory person is trying to accomplish. This is not only a setup for disappointment, but it’s a recipe for ongoing relational dependency.
You cannot “need” someone and “love” someone at the same time. The rule of thumb is two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Either loving others is occupying your mental space or loving yourself is at the top of your mind. Your “love” is either moving you toward others or moving you toward yourself.
When we are hurt, put down, slandered, or offended in some way, we become angry because we now have an opponent who is in the way of us feeling better about ourselves. Imagine Jesus operating this way (Isaiah 53:2-3).
This type of attitude would have rendered the Gospel powerless and ineffective. It will also render it ineffective in your life if you “need” others to think well and speak well of you.
Your friend becomes your enemy when he interrupts your personal pursuit for perceived wholeness through your high self-esteem that is fed by your self-groomed and self-promoted reputation that is dependent on other people accepting you.
To be rejected is the kryptonite of the hungry and desperate heart that longs to feel better about themselves through means outside of Christ. This is a worship disorder of the highest order.
Here are a few characteristics of the vainglory person that may help you assess yourself. Highlight the ones that recur in your life and while you’re doing this, talk to a close friend or your small group who can serve you through this process.
|Brags||Seeks independence||Difficult to work under someone||Needs to be better than others|
|Viewing yourself in terms of accomplishment||Cutting oneself down||Blames themselves for what is not their fault||Monopolizing the conversation|
|Doesn’t learn from trials and afflictions||Rigid, stubborn or headstrong||Doesn’t depend on others||Easily upset|
|Devastated by criticism||Doesn’t listen well||Sarcastic||Needs to be praised and coaxed often|
|Jealous or Envious||Volunteers for the up front positions||Covetousness||Fear of others|
|Deceitful||Defensive||Trivializing and rationalizing faults||Justifying sin|
|Judging others by self-made standards (raising or lowering God’s standards)||Rarely asking for forgiveness from God or others||Unbelief||Lack of biblical praying|
|Lack of service to other people||Lack of deeds of love||Touchiness||Irritableness|
|Lack of close friends (tends to alienate other people)||Rarely concerned about the concern of others||Voices preferences when not asked (and does it without compassion)||Unapproachableness|
The path to humility
Humility is a gentle, deferential, and modest spirit. It’s a quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people. It’s not feeling the need to prove your worth or to derive your worth from other people or other things.
In our culture, to be humble is not a desired virtue because it is perceived as weakness. By and large our culture and even the Christian community sees strength as a major virtue for living the Christian life (2 Corinthians 4:7).
The biblical record is radically opposed to working within our own strength (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). It commends humility as a virtue that should be pursued at all costs. Humility is the divine mark of who Jesus was when He lived on earth.
If your life is made of bricks, then humility is the mortar that holds everything together. – Charlie Boyd
Humility is the prerequisite for God’s favor to be deployed in your life (James 4:6). Without humility, there is no platform for you to stand to experience God or to experience a satisfying relationship with another human being. Here are a few behaviors that can only happen if you are pursuing humility.
- To believe (transformationally) in God requires humility.
- To follow Christ requires humility.
- To repent requires humility.
- To confess your sins requires humility
- To prefer others more requires humility.
- To defer to others more requires humility.
- To love your enemies requires humility.
- To go the second mile with someone requires humility.
- To turn the other cheek requires humility.
- To confront someone requires humility.
When Jonathan Edwards thought about the proud heart, he used four distinct and descriptive words: competitiveness, scornfulness, willfulness, and self-consciousness—all component parts of the vainglorious mind. Humility is the antithesis of these vain characteristics.
Humility is the opposite of competitiveness. If you have joy-driven competitiveness, then you will be happy when your competitor wins because you appreciate the joy of what you do and can similarly appreciate when another person can do it just as well.
Humility is the opposite of scornfulness, which is putting others down. When you put others down, by thinking less of them or talking about what is wrong with them, you are being scornful.
Humility is the opposite of willfulness. It is the person who always thinks they are right, cannot admit they are wrong, and continuously presses their way over any other possible way. They do not know how to hold their views loosely.
Humility is the opposite of self-consciousness, which is pride turned inward. Insecurity can fuel feelings of inferiority as much as feelings of superiority. Humility is not self-consciousness, but self-forgetfulness.
If we were spiritually mature, we would not give consideration to what other people thought about us. We would not be looking at ourselves or our own interests all the time. We would not be concerned with how we look or how we are perceived in the sense that we need others to approve or accept us.
A call to action
The only way you can overcome yourself is by becoming someone else. You need another mind—a mind like Christ. When the mindset of Christ is burning in you, filling you, and consuming all your thoughts, then you will be cured.
If you can master Paul’s two verses (Philippians 2:3-4) through the enablement of the Spirit of God, you will be able to grow in humility. The more you mature in humility, the more you will be released from the need of other people or other things. Humility connects you to God, who is the only one capable of rightly ruling your life.
You cannot mature in humility by yourself because that is not how humility operates. You cannot become humble in a vacuum that is isolated from your community. For humility to grow and mature it needs an object in which to express itself.
- Vainglory needs other people; humility serves other people.
- Vainglory makes yourself the object; humility makes others the object.
- Vainglory fills the soul with dysfunction; humility fills the soul with God.
- Vainglory perpetuates independence; humility perpetuates community.
You will have an opportunity to grow your humility the next time someone disappoints you. If you need God more than you need people, then the problems people bring into your life will be swallowed up by the bigness of God in your life.
The mind of Christ looks like this
Think through the following ten statements with a friend or within your community group. Take your soul to task, asking the hard questions. What areas are you experiencing the grace of God in your life? What areas are you deficient? How do you need to change? If you can humbly discuss these things with others, then you’re well on your way to the satisfied life.
- A humble believer will be focusing on God and love Him supremely. (Philippians 1:21; 3:10).
- A humble believer will be overwhelmed at God’s goodness and therefore will overflow with thankfulness for all things (Romans 11:33-12:2).
- A humble believer will be communing with God and be dependent upon God in prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
- A humble believer will be serving others (Mark 10:45; Romans 12:3ff;Philippians 2:1-11).
- A humble believer will be experiencing God’s power by obeying God’s revealed will in all things (John 14:21; Philippians 4:13; Colossians 1:9-12).
- A humble believer will be learning from others (Acts 17:10-15).
- A humble believer will be encouraging others (Hebrews 10:24-25).
- A humble believer will be pursuing integrity in his life (1 Timothy 4:16).
- A humble believer will be denying himself (Luke 9:23f; 14:25-35).
- A humble believer will think rightly about himself while he is bowed low before God and others (Romans 12:3).