Most of us don’t like to be around braggarts. Their subtle and often not so subtle references to their achievements, their status, their latest and greatest purchase, the size of their portfolio, their brilliance (and that of their extremely gifted children) can cause us to inwardly cringe, look for the closest exit, or excuse ourselves to “use the facilities”. Yet, most of us, if we are honest, are aware of our own tendencies to “toot our own horn.” As followers of Christ, we hopefully recognize that all we have is a gift from God (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? I Cor. 4:7 ) and that all of us are not nearly as bright and shiny on the inside as the image we often project. God, in and by his grace, saves “wretches” like you and me and then begins the slow and challenging process of making us more like Jesus through his Spirit which is at work in us. He started the work and he will finish it and the truly humble believer grasps how totally dependent we are on him to reform and reshape our hearts. In light of this reality, a “boasting believer” sounds like an oxymoron. Yet, there is one thing that Scriptures tell us is actually good to brag about… something of which we can boast without sinning. This truth is found buried in the writings of that old and often sad prophet Jeremiah and we’ll read his inspired thoughts a bit later but, before we do, I’d like to do some digging into the reasons that cause us to boast.
Why do we brag? Why do we insist that others know we are superior to them in some way, shape or form? Why do we find it so hard to listen yet words of our own achievements and wisdom seem to flow effortlessly off our tongues? I think the main reason we brag is to assure ourselves that, in the midst of this broken world of 6.6 billion people, we are significant…we are important…we are worth something. This need to feel significant is accentuated in our modern world because we are taught by the most learned in our culture that we have no real intrinsic worth. If I am here as the result of the merely random connections of certain chemicals and I will soon die and those chemicals will breakdown and return to the ground, then it is extremely difficult for modern man to build a case for any intrinsic value resident in the human species. Yet, built into us is a longing to be significant and to “count” for something so we desperately seek out something that will at least give our transitory and ultimately random life the temporary illusion of being significant or valuable.
In this Sisyphusian work of seeking to establish our worth, some of us throw ourselves into academic studies attempting to demonstrate that my brain is bigger than yours and therefore, even though both our brains will be chemical mush in 100 years, I am of greater worth than you. We make sure others know of our academic achievements: the prestigious schools we attended, the important letters that follow our name, the various exclusive organizations of other large brained humans to which we belong. We enjoy correcting other smaller brained humans, especially in the company of others, to show how truly erudite we are. We study and learn not out of genuine curiosity or an inherent desire to figure something out…no, we study so that others know how “studied” we really are! There is much boasting of our intellectual capacities in this broken world.
Others of us, who may not have been randomly selected to have big brains, may have won the genetic lottery in some area of our physical structure. We practice throwing, hitting, kicking, whacking a ball for endless hours so that we are able to beat other lesser physically gifted ball handling humans. We may have more efficient lungs and muscle fibers so we focus on feats requiring endurance enabling us to evidence our worth through blue ribbons and shiny trophies. We may have more dexterous hands, so we practice scales and fast, extremely difficult fine motor skill movements in order to prove our worth through our musical achievements. We may have been given lightning quick reflexes and great physical coordination which enable us to fly extremely fast and complex machines, earn spectacular scores in “Whack a Mole”, or crush our online video game rivals. We make sure that everyone around us knows that we are far superior to other less adroit and nimble humans. We may have been given physical structures of particular body parts that our culture desires at this particular time in history so we accentuate those structures and we look for opportunities to showcase how superior our physical form is to other less culturally attractive human beings. There is much boasting about physical capacities in our broken world.
Others of us, who may not have been favored genetically, may have been born into circumstances that are extremely financially favorable or simply been at the right place at the right time with the right idea that generated significant financial rewards. So, we seek our worth in our net worth. Making sure others know the size of our salary, our home, our vacation getaways in Aruba and Aspen, our yachts, our cars, our planes and all our bling. We drop names of other influential industry “players” with whom we associate. We mention taking exotic vacations, buying exotic cars, eating in exclusive clubs and restaurants inaccessible to other less financially well endowed humans. There is much boasting about financial capacities in our world.
Yet, in the end, all of this type of boasting is vaporous (Ecc. 1:2) and doesn’t really establish our worth or value…because we know that none of it will really last. Our learning will become dated, our physical prowess will diminish with age, our money may grow but we will realize that it cannot really buy anything that gives life meaning. So boasting in all or any of these areas is actually a fool’s errand.
Let’s listen to wise Jeremiah as he gives us a word from the Lord, “This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the strong man boast in his strength, let not the rich man boast in his riches…”
It is not wrong for a follower of Christ to enjoy and even celebrate the intellectual, physical, and financial blessings that we have been given. (I Tim 6:17). We are to think of ourselves in a sober way (Romans 12:3) and that means an accurate assessment of ourselves – not pretending that certain gifts of intellect, body or resources don’t exist. Jeremiah does not deny that there are those who are wise, strong and rich. However, when we attempt to establish our worth based on these gifts we will quickly begin to “boast” in both overt and covert ways and this is not the place where God wants us to be as followers of Christ.
Yet, there is something that Jeremiah says is OK to boast about and that is the relationship with have with our God. “Let him who boasts, boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who exercises loving kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth. For in these I delight.” What truly makes us significant, valuable and gives us worth in a world of 6.6 billion human beings is our relationship with the Lord! He has created us and formed us for himself. We will continue to grow in our relationship with him throughout eternity when all the intellectual, physical and financial achievements of our lives here will seem so miniscule, insignificant, and forgettable.
Do I “understand” and “know” my Lord? To “understand” the Infinite is obviously an infinite process but it can begin now. The focus of the word “understand” is on our intellectual grasp of the true nature of God as revealed in his Word. The word “know” in the Hebrew mind connotes the deepest levels of personal intimacy and closeness (it is a common euphemism in the OT for sexual intercourse). So, do I have an increasing grasp of the character and greatness of our Lord and am I relationally moving closer to him? If I am moving in that direction, it is something of which I can be proud…and even boast! If not, then it may be time for me to take another look at my priorities. How does the effort I put forth to grow in my understanding and intimacy with Jesus compare to that which I put forth to grow my intellect, physical skill set, or net worth? Am I as disciplined in my study of the Word as I was in my academic pursuits? How does the effort I put forth in order to understand God compare to that which I put into practicing an instrument, hitting a ball, or focusing on my physical form? How does the amount of time I spend focusing on business or finances compare with the time I set aside to really get to know God and relate to him?
As I pondered the Lord’s words through Jeremiah, I realized how much I still “boast” in things other than God. How much I need to seek my significance in the only thing that really makes me significant – my relationship to God. How my pursuit of understanding and knowing God so often pales in comparison to my pursuit of intellectual, athletic and financial concerns.
And, as I feel the conviction of Jeremiah’s words weigh heavily on my heart, my eyes are drawn back to the text and I remember that my God is also a God who “exercises loving kindness” even with proud and boastful people like me and that makes me want to get to know Him even more!
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 loving kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.