As I was growing up in Jamaica, my parents raised my sister and me to be “good people.” In our home, good meant obeying our parents, telling the truth, being successful in school and work, and going to church . . . at least Easter and Christmas. I imagine this definition of being a good person is familiar to many people, regardless of culture. In fact, the apostle Paul, in Philippians 3, used his culture’s definition of being good to make a greater point.
Paul, being a devout first-century Jew, followed the letter of the moral law in his culture. He was born into the “right” family, had the “right” education, and practiced the “right” religion. He was the real deal in terms of being a good person according to Jewish custom. In verse 4, Paul writes that he could boast in all of his goodness if he wanted to. But, as good as he was, Paul told his readers (and us) that there is something more than being good. He knew that being good, while good, was not the same as pleasing God.
Pleasing God, Paul writes in verses 7–8, involves knowing Jesus. Paul considered his own goodness as “garbage” when compared to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.” We are good—and we please God—when our hope and faith are in Christ alone, not in our goodness.
Dear God, as I seek to live a good life, help me remember that knowing Jesus is the way to ultimate goodness.
Our Daily Bread welcomes writer Karen Wolfe! Meet Karen and all our authors at odb.org/all-authors.
We are good—and we please God—when our hope and faith are in Christ alone, not in our goodness.
It can be easy to miss the phenomenal change of perspective Paul states in today’s passage. His claims of righteousness were not empty boasts; he had followed God-given laws meticulously—literally to the letter. For Paul to say that all of that was worthless signifies change at a fundamental level. He changed from outward performance—doing (vv. 4–7)—to knowing Christ and what He had done (v. 8).
For more on knowing Christ read, The Mind of Christ at discoveryseries.org/q0209. J.R. Hudberg