SHOULD WE BOAST? IT ALL DEPENDS

Should we boast? My inclination is to say “no.” There are numerous warnings against pride and calls for humility for the people of God in the Bible. Pride is generally ugly and boasting is usually irritating.

That’s why a lot of people, if they don’t already know it, will be surprised to learn that the Bible actually tells us to boast.

In I Corinthians 1:31 the Apostle Paul paraphrases Jeremiah 9:24, “Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord’.” Before this quotation Paul reminds his readers that when they became Christians they were not in the upper class. In the second part of verse 26 he writes, “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” But in spite of that, and because they had no reason to boast, God chose them. But now that they are in Christ, if they are going to boast, they should boast in the Lord.

To get a better grasp of what is being said, I think it is helpful to review the context and fuller statement of Jeremiah from which Paul borrows. Jeremiah 9:23 tells us the LORD says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches.” It reminds me of what Paul told the Corinthians they were lacking when they became Christians.

But then in Jeremiah 9:24 Jeremiah continues, “but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.” That sounds like the reasoning Paul gave for God choosing the Corinthians.

So we know what we aren’t to boast about (and not everything that we are not to boast about is listed in Jeremiah 9:23), and what we are to boast about: God, who He is, and that we know him. But I don’t think that means we are to be smug about it, but that our boasting is to be humble and not self-serving.

As Christians we do know God, but we don’t know or understand everything about him. To act and talk like we do is not the kind of boasting the Bible calls for.

Last week I was working on a Bible study I am teaching and in my preparation came across a quote by Frederick Dale Bruner I had underlined when I first read the book in 2013. In the book THE HOLY SPIRIT: Shy Member of the Trinity Bruner notes there is an attitude that “is confident that, in at least some divine matters, it has the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Hence, it is prepared to cast into the outer darkness all who do not agree with it” (p. 67). I’m confident that is not what God, Jeremiah, or Paul meant when suggesting we boast in the Lord.

Have you ever been confident that you had the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about God? I have, and I was wrong.

Should we boast? Yes; but if we boast we should do so with and in a spirit of humility.

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DON’T DO THIS!

The writers of the New Testament Gospels don’t often give us an introduction to Jesus’ parables, but Luke gives one that grabs my attention and hopefully yours as well. In introducing what is called The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector Luke tells us to whom it is addressed: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable” (Luke 18:9). I’m somewhat convicted by the description of those to whom Jesus is speaking. When it comes to being confident of one’s own righteousness and therefore looking down on everyone else, perhaps we should hear the warning “Don’t do this!”

In the parable that follows this introduction Jesus gives examples of spiritual pride and spiritual humility represented by a Pharisee and a tax collector. In his prayer the Pharisee thanks God that he is not like other people and gives God a couple of examples of his righteous living. The tax collector, on the other hand, humbly asks for God’s mercy because he knows he is a sinner.

Spiritual pride is evidenced by presumption before God, a harsh fault-finding spirit towards others—especially those deemed less spiritual, and a desire to be noticed. It reminds me of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount when He talked about focusing on the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye while ignoring the plank in your own (Matthew 7:1-5).

Spiritual poverty is the opposite; it is not presumptuous before God, does not look down on others picking at their shortcomings, and isn’t jockeying to be seen by others. The “sinful woman” who anointed Jesus in Luke 7:24-50 is an example of spiritual poverty. (If you have time grab your Bible and read the account.)

Jesus concludes the parable affirming that the tax collector went home justified before God rather than the self-righteous Pharisee. He then adds an observation in the second part of Luke 18:14 all of us might spend some time contemplating: “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Who does the humbling of those who exalt themselves and the exalting of those who humble themselves?

I hope none of us are confident of our own righteousness and that we do not look down on everyone else. (The two do go together!) As a matter of fact, I would say “Don’t do this!”

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IF YOU’RE GONNA BOAST

Most of us learned when we were young that we shouldn’t boast because bragging isn’t polite and doesn’t make us look good. As a matter of fact, we now know it turns others off because when people around us boast it turns us off. But you may be surprised to learn that God approves of a certain line of boasting.

In Jeremiah 9:23 and 24 the Bible tells us “This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD.” God says if you are gonna boast, boast about Me and that you know and understand Me.

It seems obvious to me that one of the ways Christians boast about God is through worship. For example, of the many places in the book of Psalms that invite worship, Psalm 89:15 affirms to God, “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you.” David gives us an example of acclaiming the LORD when he praised the LORD in the presence of the people in I Chronicles 29:11, “Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours.  Yours, LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.” Part of what we do when we gather for worship is boast to one another about God through our singing and testimony.

Now when we boast that we have the understanding to know God there are a couple of things we must avoid.  One is that we never suggest that we completely and perfectly understand and know God. I love the story of the little boy who was intently drawing a picture in his Sunday school class.  His teacher asked him, “Johnny, what are you drawing?” To which he replied, ” A picture of God.” She then noted, “Johnny, that’s silly; nobody knows what God looks like.”  Without looking up he declared, “When I’m finished here they will.”  Sometimes we come across like Johnny; as though we understand and know God better than we really do.

The other thing I think we must not do in boasting about our understanding and knowledge of God is to intimate that we know God but but others have no clue. Too many Christians, especially leaders and long time believers who have a lot of Bible knowledge come across as though they have a handle on God and those who disagree with them on something just don’t get it. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t have convictions about what we believe, I’m cautioning us to watch our attitude and how we come across to others when we boast about the LORD.

I hope if you are going to boast, you will boast about the LORD. Can you do it without overdoing it?

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