For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vain glory of life, is not of the father, but is of the world, 1 John 2:16.
Most of your modern translations have "pride of life" as the third aspect of temptation, and that is a good translation, but this is one of those cases where the older English usage might be better. Pride is one thing. We all know that we should humble ourselves before God. So we see "pride of life," nod, and move on. But "vain glory of life" gives us the chance to understand this passage in a deeper way.
The context of this passage is loving the world rather than God and the
futility of such action. Verse 17 compares the temporal nature of the world and its desires with the follower of God who abides forever. So that leads us to compare the vain glory of life with the eternal glory promised by God.
People can win glory and honor in this world. People work very hard for status, prestige, and power. They are held up as models for us all. We marvel at what they have accomplished, whether it be in business, politics or sports. But does that glory last?
If the election for President George H.W. Bush’s second term had been held in March of 1991, he would have won in a landslide. He was riding high after having presided over the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and leading us to victory in the Gulf War. Less than two years later he lost the vote. No one cared about his accomplishments only 20 months previously. Instead it was
about "the economy, stupid."
Every year, the professional sports leagues crown champions who are
lauded to high heaven for their skill, teamwork, and dedication to their craft.
Six months later, that is all past and they start the new season 0-0 just like
the cellar dwellers of the previous year. Championship winning coaches are
sometimes fired just a few years after winning it all, because they couldn't
keep hold of that "vain glory". Even the players are not allowed to rest on
their laurels but the sportswriters wonder if they can maintain that level of
greatness for any length of time.
"Vain" means empty or worthless. That pretty well describes all the glory we can achieve here in this life: empty. It doesn't last. Compare that with the
glory we can receive from God. Eternal glory, that never fades, greater than
anything we can imagine. Rom. 8:18 speaks of the eternal glory worth far more than the persecutions we may suffer. In other places we read of crowns, shining garments, and thrones right next to God's own throne. Search for glory" in the New Testament. What we are promised if we love God and follow Him is so much greater than the best anyone could achieve here.
As we struggle for success in our chosen fields and careers, let us remember where the real glory lies and love God rather than the vain glory of this world. It is far better to be an unnoticed nobody in this life and reign with the Father in the next, than to achieve glory that would make Alexander's pale in comparison, yet have our Lord say "I know ye not."
Thus says Jehovah, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he has understanding, and knows me, that I am Jehovah who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, says Jehovah, Jeremiah 9:23-24.