In What Do You Boast?

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In modern American vernacular, boasting is synonymous with bragging or behaving with conceit.  It’s not a term that people use to express their beliefs or convey truth claims.  However, apparently in biblical times, to boast meant something different; more along the lines of expressing truth claims, making assertions, or communicating something in which you identify.

I recently read the passage from Saint Paul in 2 Corinthians about the thorn is his flesh that he repeatedly begged the Lord to remove.  The Lord responded: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  St. Paul reacts: Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10.

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There’s something deeply reassuring and comforting about the idea that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. God doesn’t expect or demand us to be strong because we’re not.  Boasting, or fully laying claim, to our human weakness allows the power of Christ to flourish in us.  How awesome.

As the Lord so often does, this concept of boasting appeared again the same day, as I came across an article my sister forwarded to me. It mentioned James 4:7 which lead me to a verse I’d quoted in a previous post. In the ESV translation, this verse is introduced under the heading “Boasting About Tomorrow”:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. James 4: 13-17.

The context of this verse is important. Earlier in this passage, James tells the followers of Christ that “faith without works is dead” and also warned them about the dangers of worldliness.  So, here the concept of boasting is applied to people whose assertions and truth claims focus on themselves and their human abilities and aspirations.  Putting faith in yourself or in the worldly guarantee of tomorrow’s plans, rather than in God, is evil.

Seeing the repeated references to boasting throughout these Bible passages caused me to stop and think about the lesson we’re supposed to learn. To boast in the Lord congers up a feeling of enthusiasm and joy.  Boasting also has the powerful meaning of making truth claims and asserting your belief in Christ.  It’s an important thing to ponder: In what do I boast?  Just like we cannot serve two masters – God and money, likewise, we can’t ultimately boast in God and also in ourselves, our abilities, our worldly desires, or anything else.

As Christians, there’s a quintessential passage that directs us in what we should boast (i.e. claim, assert, declare): But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Galatians 14: 14.

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