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Good advice for boasters



Are you a boaster? 

Bet I'm a bigger one...


I've been thinking about the early chapters of 1 Corinthians recently.

Here's some of the things they boasted in. 

Chapter 1:31 alludes to Jeremiah 9:23.  There the spotlight is on wisdom, strength and riches.  

This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD.  (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

Wisdom, strength, riches - do they tell you who you are?  Is that where you turn for an ego boost?  Well really- Forget that stuff.  That's small-time boasting.  That's like being proud of your long bushy nasal hair.  "Hey guys, check out my new perm!"  You're being ridiculous. Stop it.

But it's not just our own wisdom and strength we  boast in.  The Corinthians demonstrated the perennial temptation to boast in our connection to the world's wisdom and strength.  They got a big ego trip from keeping up with the intellectual elites, the opinion formers, the celebrity power players.  It's not even that they were these big players, but they got a kick out of knowing their celebrity gossip, following their diets, repeating the arguments of the columnists at dinner parties, adopting the attitudes and management techniques of the movers and shakers.  Yeah, they were in with the people that really matter in the world.  Paul says, that's puny, God's made that look pathetic at the cross (1 Cor 1:18-20).   It's like pointing to smoking rubble and saying 'Lookey!'

Then there's the most subtle yet most rampant kind of boasting in Christian circles - to boast in Christian labels and leaders (1 Cor 1:12).  I know where I stand because I'm emergent or neo-reformed or whatever.  I'm ok because I line up with Stott or Carson or Driscoll or Piper or whoever.   And Paul says - forget those guys, they're just slaves (1 Cor 3:5).   Slaves might boast about knowing their famous masters, but who ever boasted about knowing a slave?  They're farmers. (1 Cor 3:8).  Whoever heard about celebrity farmers.  They're builders (1 Cor 3:10-15) - and you're not the ones to do the survey of their building.  God is. 

Do not boast in Christian cliques, and parties, theologies and  leaders.  Was Calvin crucified for you?  Were you baptised  into Barth? (1 Cor 1:13).

And anyway, it's all yours!  (1 Cor 3:21-23)  You don't belong to Christian leaders, they belong to you - all of them belong to all of you.  Anything Christ-exalting said by the Arminian, the Pentecostal, the Catholic, the Emergent, the Orthodox, even the Anglican - it's yours.  Cheer up, you're inheriting the whole universe and Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Martin, Thomas, and Karl are thrown in.

Stop all this boasting in you, in your worldly connections, in your Christian connections - stop that.

But don't stop boasting.  No, no, no.  By all means keep on boasting.  Paul commands it:

"Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." (1 Cor 1:31)

Boasters of the world take heed.  Do not put a lid on your boasting.  Boast with gusto, with verve, with unstoppable audacity.  Boast big-mouthed and full-throated.  Boast until you're blue in the face. 

Just don't boast in you.  Boast in Jesus.

Notice how the very next thing Paul does is describe his evangelistic ministry.

When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.  (1 Cor 2:1-5)

Here is what it looks like to switch your boasting from self to Christ.  It looks like a trembling, humble evangelist, no techniques, but bold as brass for Jesus and dead certain of His foolish message.  In other words it makes for missionaries unsure of themselves but certain of Christ.  And that's what the world needs.

So, boasters of the world, for goodness sakes let's stop boasting in ourselves.  But don't stop boasting.  Use the decades of practice we've accrued and turn it to good.

We used to rabbit on about our own achievements, now let's rabbit on about Christ's.  We used to name drop Christian leaders, now let's name drop Christ.   We used to slip impressive facts about ourselves into conversation, now let's slip in impressive facts about Jesus.  We used to think of ourselves in relation to worldly power and wisdom, now let's regard ourselves according to the cross.  We used to gain identity from theological labels, now let's claim the LORD as our banner. 


6 thoughts on “Good advice for boasters

  1. Gav

    Have been guilty as charged Glen:( Hopefully not too much in the future:)

    Didnt Paul "boast" about the churches he had planted? (2 Cr 9:2 for example) How does that gel with no one should boast in man?

  2. glenscriv

    Hi Gav,

    I think in 2 Cor 9 he's saying "I talked you up to my mates. I kept telling them what great servants you guys are. Don't let me down."

    Boasting on behalf of someone else is fine. (Usually. The insufferable parent telling all in sundry that their boy's gonna don the baggy green some day is an exception, but I don't think Paul's being like that).

    In fact if you're talking others up, it's a pretty good sign you're not full of yourself. The person most reluctant to praise is usually the most proud person. Paul is effusive in his boasting on behalf of the Corinthians and in this sense it's the very opposite of glorying in himself.

    does that work?


  3. Gav

    Boasting can be defined as "show off"

    Above you referred to this text in 1 Cor 3:18-20, but a little further on Paul says NO boasting about MEN which you also referred to:

    "Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness"[a]; 20and again, "The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile."[b] 21So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, 22whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas[c] or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God."

    My question is it not just men that are your teachers or who you admire, but should it be all men? I mean its not good for the ego to have sunshine blown up your backside in front of people all the time which is different to genuine praise or encouragement of some one's gifts or talents isnt it?

    I've just had the last week being brain bashed into taking in all of what the bible says, not just some of it. So do I not understand the above text?

    So maybe when Paul boasts its not just about men, or individuals, its about the church. Not to mention he boasts, as you say, not for his own glory.

    On the other hand isnt it good to acknowledge somebody in public for good deeds?.......Oh I dont flamin know! I just getting myself frustrated!

  4. glenscriv

    Hi Gav,

    Two points:

    First, it will help if we define 'boast' as 'glory in' or 'rejoice in'. That's certainly closer to the Greek word and I think 'glory in' or 'rejoice in' captures the range of meaning a bit better than 'show off' - which in English almost always has negative associations.

    Once we've seen this we realize that boasting by itself is not a problem (whereas 'showing off' pretty much always is). And three things hopefully follow:

    1) We see that glorying in God / rejoicing in God is a wonderful thing. The greatest thing we can do in fact.

    2) We see that glorying in ourselves, our own powers and our connection to powerful and wise people - that's all ruled out by the gospel. If I look to these things for my identity, that's bad boasting.

    But this also means,

    3) We see that 'glorying in' or 'rejoicing in' the goodness of others can be a good thing. If I rejoice that God has created a servant heart in you or in your church I am very far from finding my own identity in that goodness. I am pointing entirely away from myself which is completely in line with the gospel.

    An example of 1) would be 1 Cor 1:31.

    An example of 2) would be 1 Cor 3:21

    An example of 3) would be 1 Cor 9:2

    Now secondly, we need to take make sure we're taking our words in context.

    You'll remember that when I argued for 6 24-hour periods of creation I wasn't basing my argument on the fact that 'yom' always means the same thing everywhere. Everyone knows 'yom' can mean different things in different contexts. My argument was that when 'yom' is used in the context of 'evening' 'morning' and a number THEN it always means 24-hour period. I then went to Ex 20 to say that later bits in the bible also provide the interpretative context.

    And it's just like that here. 'Boast' does not have one fixed meaning which we bring to every single use in the bible. That's not the way words work - not in the bible, not anywhere. Instead we view it in its context.

    In 1 Cor 3:21 the context is people saying 'I belong to Paul, I belong to Apollos...' It's people finding their identity in their connection to church leaders. Into *that* situation Paul says 'No more boasting about men'. In fact in the Greek the preposition used is not 'about'. Instead it's the preposition 'IN'. No more boasting IN men.

    It seems that in Greek 'boast' plus 'IN' is boasting of the kind I outlined in 1) or 2). To boast IN something is to find our identity in that thing. The preposition IN is there in 1 Cor 1:31 for good boasting in God. The preposition IN is there again in 1 Cor 3:21 for bad boasting in men. But the preposition IN is not there in places like 1 Cor 9:2.

    In English it would be the difference between:

    'I find glory IN such and such.'


    'I find it glorious that such and such.'

    Quite different I think you'll agree.

    So the example of 1 Cor 9:2 is Paul saying 'I think it's marvellous, wonderful, glorious that you guys are so servant hearted - I was singing your praises to the Macedonians just the other day...'

    All this is to say that context is all important. It's important when thinking about 'day', it's important when you think about 'boast.' To be honest it's vital in all language. I misread people on the blog all the time because I haven't taken context into account.

    But when you do read things in context you see that Paul's not contradicting himself, rather he's giving us a much richer account of boasting than we first thought when we simply read 'showing off' every time.


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