BY Marcus Omdahl
When you think of someone being “spiritual” what images come to your mind? I think of someone calmly meditating in a serene place. Or I think of a monk who has taken a vow and attached himself to a local monastery. Or I think of a person making a pilgrimage to asacred place to recite a liturgy.
Interestingly, when the Bible talks about spirituality, it talks about it in social terms, not individualistic ones like those listed above. That’s why, when Paul talks about what a SPIRITUAL (a life full of, and keeping in step with God’s Spirit) he talks in relational terms. In Galatians 5:26 he says “Don’t be conceited, provoking one another and envying one another.” What does it mean to be conceited? Literally, it means, to be “empty of honor” or to be seeking after “glory in vain.” In relational terms, when someone is conceited, it means they are always seeking their own glory in the midst of their relationships. It means people are not an end – they are a means for glorifying themselves! Tim Keller sums up the heart of someone who is conceited when he writes, “Conceit is a deep insecurity, a perceived absence of honor and glory, leading to a need to prove our worth to ourselves and others. This in turn fixates our mind on comparing ourselves with others.”
Conceited people are always comparing, and Paul doesn’t think that is very spiritual, especially when talking about being full of God’s Spirit! When Paul writes, don’t be conceited, he is saying, “Don’t compare.” In Paul’s mind, SPIRITUAL people don’t compare. That’s it. Spiritual people don’t compare. They aren’t always trying to win and provoking those who are losing. They aren’t afraid of losing and being full of envy. They simply don’t compare…because they don’t need to.
What makes SPIRITUAL people able to do this – able to pull out of one of the most pervasive forces today? The gospel of Jesus. Why? Because the gospel of Jesus puts everyone on level ground. What the gospel says to the “winners” is, “You are nothing more than a miserable sinner that can lay no claim on anything that you have or anything that you are. You need God’s grace just like everyone else.” But the gospel also says something to the “losers”. The gospel says, “You may be losing, it doesn’t matter, because in Jesus you are a son and heir to the king. You have won! You have everything you could every want or dream of! You have all the glory that every human being was designed to have in the present and receive in the future. So, you don’t need to be conceited – you don’t need to seek glory in vain.” How freeing! Can you imagine the freedom that would come from not having to compare?
So, rather than thinking about spirituality as something that someone possesses in and of themselves, are you willing to consider that it might be more richly defined by the relationships you have with other people? In particular, what you are like with others and whether or not other people flourish by being around you?