Boasting in Christ: Introduction

boast-in-the-lordChrist will one day separate the sheep from the gloats. It’s a good thing too because Christians are often full of themselves. I know I speak from experience when I decry the arrogance and selfishness that many faithful followers of Christ still demonstrate. It’s far too often in my own heart. It was certainly a feature that characterized the whole Corinthian church, and that’s why Paul’s words of correction to them are just as relevant to us today. We are often so busy praising ourselves that we fail to realize the only one worthy of praise is Christ.

In the first nine verses of the prologue Paul sets up a number of major themes that are going to be picked up throughout his first letter to the Corinthians. He mentions his own calling to apostleship, noting particularly that it is Christ who appointed him and it is on His authority and behalf that Paul serves. He speaks of the unity that all believers have in Christ. The Corinthians are called “to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (v. 2). There is great unity in the body of Christ because there is one Lord. That unity, he will go on to argue, should cause us to put others above ourselves and end all the selfish bickering that drives a wedge between brothers and sisters. He talks too about their being blessed with every spiritual gift, “enriched in him,” and yet it is Christ Himself, he says, who will keep them “guiltless in the day of our Lord” (v. 8). All of this sets the tone for what Paul wants to discuss with the Corinthians, namely that their focus should be on Jesus.

Paul tells both the Corinthians and us today how to respond to this self-centeredness. It’s really a two-part process beginning with reflecting on who I was apart from Christ, and then thinking about what I believe about Christ. It begins with the principle of folly: shaming the wisdom of the world leads to transformation of the heart. I need a healthy dose of shame these days. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not that Christianity is all about shame – at least not as some people talk about it. There are some critics of the faith who accuse the church of dumping shame on people. I don’t doubt that such churches exist, but that  shaming is a defect in their character, not an inherent part of the faith.

Shame is real where sin abounds, but the gospel is the promise of the removal of shame. Our savior who went to the cross for sin “despised the shame” (Heb. 12:2). This is not a case where I need to carry around some shameful thoughts about myself; those are done and gone thanks to Christ. I am free from such shame. But I do need to be reminded of the shamefulness of worldly wisdom, of its futility, emptiness, and sinfulness. I need to be reminded of how the world’s wisdom is actually folly. I need to see the shaming of worldly wisdom that I might more consistently turn to Christ. Paul helps me do just that.

Paul begins by emphasizing that we need to remember who we were apart from Christ. The Corinthians have nothing to boast in. He urges them in verse 26, “Consider your calling brothers.” When the Corinthians think back on their life before Christ there isn’t much there to brag about. Paul writes:

Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. (v. 26)

They have no great legacy. Rather, Christ took what was “foolish,” “weak,” “low and despised,” and “even things that are not,” and called them to be in fellowship with Himself. There is no inherent worth in the Corinthians which compelled God to make them His children. Rather in their weakness and insignificance God saw an opportunity to shame the things of this world. Apart from Christ I have nothing worth bragging about. Paul will go on to say the same things of his own life.

Though the apostle has every reason to boast in human terms, he recognizes that he has nothing to boast in before God. He writes to the Philippians saying:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. (Philippians 3:7-9)

Paul uses strong language here to state just how little he has to boast about. In comparison to what he has received in relationship with Christ he considers all his former righteousness and worth “rubbish.” Conservative New Testament scholar Dan Wallace, of Dallas Theological Seminary, says its rare usage and emotional context leads him to believe that this word is the equivalent of a modern-day swear word (see “A Brief Word Study on Skubalon”). In other words, Paul is saying all his former worth and value is “sh*t” in comparison to the righteousness he has received from Christ. The strong language is meant to drive home the extreme divide there is between the two. Paul has nothing to boast in, he tells the same thing to the Corinthians. In his second letter to the Corinthians he tells them that he will boast in weaknesses “so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9b). He summarizes this theological perspective well when he writes to the Galatians saying, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14a). Like Paul we have nothing to boast in, only Jesus is worthy of our boasts.

We ought each to take time to consider who we are, who we were apart from Christ. Think of our sinful lifestyles, our rebelliousness, our disobedience. Think of what we have done, how we conducted ourselves. Think back to the sinful attitudes and desires that ruled you. Think even now of what your life is like when you attempt to live apart from Christ, when you enslave yourself again to sin (Rom. 6). Let the ugliness of that life, of those attitudes, of those words, sweep over you can be a reminder of how desperately you and I need Jesus. We have nothing to boast in apart from Christ.

All of this sets us up well to consider Paul’s second emphasis: consider Christ. Knowing my own inability and knowing who I am apart from Christ is the first step that prepares me even better to see and appreciate who Jesus really is. To the world Christ is foolishness, but to those who are being saved He is glorious, Paul tells us (1 Cor. 1:23-25). The world does not understand, cannot accept the idea of God becoming man, dying in our place to take our punishment, and being raised from the dead for our justification. To the world this is nonsense. These pieces are the elements of myth and fiction, of fairytale. Some of the Corinthians struggled with the concept of the resurrection, it is a hard aspect of our faith to swallow, and yet Paul says without it there is no hope. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (15:17). The gospel is not always easy to believe, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God (1:18)! This Christ, who has died and was raised, is, according to Paul, our “life,” our “wisdom,” our “righteousness,” our “sanctification,” and our “redemption” (1:30). I need this Christ! Each of those aspects deserves some unpacking to truly appreciate what Paul is saying, and in the coming weeks that is precisely what I want to do.

 

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