A Question about Boasting

Series: Question Box

by Rick Phillips July 22, 2001

Tonight’s Question Box is about boasting. The Bible in many places condemns boasting as both foolish and sinful. Why, then, are we told in other places to boast as Christians? Is there both a “bad pride” and a “good pride?” A “bad boasting” and a “good boasting?”

Boasting is one of mankind’s most common and most repugnant sins. If you think about it, there are few people you would least like to spend time with than those who constantly talk about themselves, who are always boasting about what they have done, can do, and will do. A braggart is not only insufferable but is generally considered a fool. Psalm 52:1 says that the boaster is a disgrace in the eyes of God.

Worldly society is probably more characterized by this than any other feature--it is boastful. Many of us have been socialized enough not to brag in obvious ways that are sure to alienate others. But ours is a whole way of life based upon self-glory and pride and vanity of spirit. It is not enough for us to have; we have to advertise what we have, and especially how much more we have than others. So the rich man buys a house much larger than he needs. Why? To boast in language everyone understands. The woman graced with beauty boasts in her manner of dress and in how she carries herself. This is why one of the most powerful motivators in the workplace is status. Former automobile mogul, Lee Iacocca, tells in his autobiography about a place he once worked where the real status symbol was a gold key to the executive bathroom. You, and everybody else, knew that you had really made it when you got this key. Many, many men and women came in early and stayed late, neglected their families on weekends, for the sake of a bathroom key in which they would be able to boast!

Prideful boasting is deeply embedded in our sin nature, which is why boasting is one of the sins so strongly demonstrated by children. Satan tempted Eve with the boast, “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). That is what pride and boasting are all about: our self-enthronement in the place of God. This was the motive behind the Tower of Babel; they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4). C. S. Lewis identifies boastful pride as the prime sin; he apply called it “the anti-God state of mind.”

From the Bible’s perspective, such boasting is pathetic and evil. We are so busy trumpeting our virtues and strengths, when in fact we are covered in shame because of sin and are daily shown to be weak, needy creatures. Indeed, the problem with pride is not that it seeks to bring us glory. We were created for glory, being made in the very image of God. Adam and Eve were glorious in the Garden. “They were naked,” Genesis says, “and felt no shame” (2:25). In itself, glory is good, appropriate, something we should rightly pursue. The problem with our self-glorying is the problem with all sin; it is a good thing made evil because it is used not for its right end but to seek a wrongful end. Our glory is intended to promote the glory of the One who created us; that is what Adam was to do and to be, the image-bearer of God’s glory. The problem with our pride and boasting is that it steals glory from God, to whom all boasting rightly is due.

This is how the Bible approaches boasting. Paul, rebuking the prideful factions at Corinth wrote, “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor. 4:7). You see his point. Even if you have something to boast about--perhaps you really are stronger or smarter or prettier--understand that these all came from God. You are merely their recipient and should have humble gratitude rather than self-serving pride. Likewise, there is nothing wrong with being satisfied in a job well done, and parents are not wrong to take pride in the virtues of their children, so long as all this ultimately finds its home in a humble thanksgiving that gives praise and glory to God. “Therefore,” Paul says, “as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord’” (1 Cor. 1:31).

This kind of statement is of concern to some Christians, because it seems to make God out to be some kind of braggart. The difference, when it comes to God, is that he is worth boasting about, in a way that cannot be said of any other. None of the things that make human boasting foolish and wrong apply when it comes to him. God is not stealing glory from one more glorious when he boasts or is boasted in. God is not making a pathetic and vain claim when he calls our attention to his glory. God is glorious, infinitely glorious. The angels rightly sing, “Glory to God in the highest!” Psalm 19 says that this is the purpose of all creation, to display this great and central reality, the glory of God: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (v. 1).

I recently saw some photos taken of the cosmos by the Hubble Telescope, and the fact impressed upon my heart was how glorious is the God who made such glory. But even a glimpse of the heavens pales compared to the glory of God’s redemptive work in Jesus Christ. When the cross of Christ, where the Son of God who became man in a wondrous display of glorious humility and voluntarily suffered the wrath of God for shameful sinners like us, when that cross is lifted before our eyes, even the glory of the heavens grows dim. Paul was speaking against his petty and boastful self-righteousness when he said, in Galatians 6:14, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Yet that may be expanded into a grand principle, for it is in the face of a Savior crucified for love of us that God reveals to us the light of the knowledge of his infinite glory (2 Cor. 4:6).

So understand that you were created to be a boaster, a creature made to boast in the glory of creation’s God. Sin, however, has not only covered us in shame but has turned our boasting pathetically towards ourselves, this is perhaps the grossest expression of our depraved hearts and minds. But God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, that we should boast once more, that we should boast in his cross, in the love of God that is so glorious that it can overcome even our guilt and shame without violence to God’s justice. We should boast in the fact that once more, despite our shame, we are brought to the knowledge of God. We now are called to boast--for even the rocks cry out in pride of a God like ours. According to the Scripture, the best way for us to glorify God is through our own humility, in which God delight, boasting only in him. As Jeremiah 9:23-24 tells us, “‘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.”

© 2019 Tenth Presbyterian Church.

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Tenth Presbyterian Church.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Rick Phillips. ©2019 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org