Boasting in Christ: Conclusion

boast-in-the-lordThe ego is a strange thing. I find myself happy to boast in the most absurd, juvenile, and pathetic things. When I was younger I boasted about urinating next to Mark Dever at a conference one time. I boast in having tattoos, playing drums (poorly), and in getting retweets. I have even boasted about reading a book on humility – obviously I hadn’t read it well. But Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians is intended to expose the lunacy of bragging in anything except Jesus Christ! We have nothing worth bragging about. Nothing! That’s a big word, it carries a lot of weight. Not even the small stuff is mine to praise, it all comes from God. When Paul asks, “What do you have that you did not receive,” he is using a rhetorical device to make us all own the obvious answer: nothing. He goes on, “If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it” (4:7). Stop acting like a bunch of arrogant, independent, fools, Paul says. All you have has come from God; you have nothing to brag about! Self-boasting is false, and will inevitably mislead ourselves and others.

My own likeness to the Corinthians is obvious when I examine their “boasts.” We have a tendency to make everything some sort of extension of ourselves. So when Paul writes in chapter one about their divisions, I can readily see how they make following a specific leader an extension of their own brilliance. They say, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ” (1:12). It’s not just that they follow different leaders, for the leaders themselves all follow the same Christ, but rather that following a specific leader gives you something to brag about. It was an attempt to reveal their own intelligence by pointing to how good their leader is. “I follow Paul, you know he used to be a Pharisee, right? But God has called him to be THE apostle to the Gentiles. That’s my leader.” Such sentiments reveal that it’s not really about Paul at all, it’s about the follower! Think of the person who so condescendingly responds, “Well, I just follow Christ.” The comment suggests that the others in fact don’t follow Christ. It’s all about the individual. Human beings have a tendency to make anything and everything an extension of our own self-worth. Even our boasting in religious things is ultimately about us.

I boast in my work. “Look at me! I am in charge of all these ministries. Aren’t I special?” “Hey, look at me; I had an article published at The Gospel Coalition. You should think I am impressive.” The truth of course, is I know I am not impressive. I need that affirmation because deep down I know it’s not true, but if I can get someone else to validate me it makes me believe it for a few moments. It’s shallow self-worship. It’s boasting in what I received as if it’s really mine. But I have nothing worth bragging about! All I have belongs to God, all I have is Christ! As the song so eloquently puts it:

Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone And live so all might see The strength to follow Your commands Could never come from me Oh Father, use my ransomed life In any way You choose And let my song forever be My only boast is You

(All I Have Is Christ by Sovereign Grace Music)

I need to remind myself of this message. Forgetting this truth doesn’t just harm me, but it harms my church.

That’s Paul’s larger point in his epistle to the Corinthians. Their self-focus, their self-worship, is creating division in the church. In chapter three he is going to go on to describe the seriousness of division. He speaks against the various ways we attack each other, noting that because we are God’s temple the destruction of anyone else is a particular offense against God himself. He writes:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy and you are that temple. (v. 16-17)

To bully, berate, or belittle the members of the church is to “destroy God’s temple.” This is a strong word against our cynicism and self-righteousness that often speaks ill of other church members. In our hearts we know it is wrong, but we engage in it anyways. It makes us feel better. And worse yet, we invite others to join us in it when we gossip to them. This kind of behavior breeds division and discontentment, and Paul uses strong language here to dissuade us from it. We are not merely attacking our brothers and sisters, we are assaulting God’s temple!

In contrast to my own ego is Paul’s humility. In chapter 2 he contrasts his model of ministry with the mentality of the Corinthians. Here is one who boasts in the Lord. He says:

And I, when I came to you, brothers,1 did not come proclaiming to you the testimony2 of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,  4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 )

Paul, the Pharisee of Pharisees, the well-educated religious leader of his day, says he did not come to the Corinthians with “lofty speech or wisdom.” He did not come in a demonstration of rhetorical and intellectual power. He determined in his mind that only one thing mattered: “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” What mattered to Paul was not how he was perceived, but that people heard the message of Jesus’ death for sinners. Paul exposes himself to the people of Corinth. He owns his weaknesses and fears. And it is in such honesty that he is able to show off the real power of God and the beauty of the gospel message.

So, we are forced to ask ourselves some serious questions as a result of this study of 1 Corinthians 1:30. Do I love myself more than Christ, more than truth, more than His church? Do I promote myself? Do I applaud myself? Do I condemn others because they aren’t like me? Am I willing to be exposed and vulnerable before others? Can I be humble and honest with the church and with the Lord?

The goal for Paul is that the Corinthians’ faith would not rest in men, but in the power of God. His ministry was aimed at avoiding the exact problem they have now arrived at: boasting in men, particularly in themselves. Again, while they claim their division is grounded in the differences between Apollos, Paul, Peter, and Christ, the truth is something more akin to their own selfishness. Their divisions are ultimately rooted in their own hearts. But whatever the root, Paul wanted to avoid it by pointing them to the power of God. “I did not come with lofty speech and wisdom,” he says, “but in weakness” “in order that your faith might rest not in men but in God.” Our own egotism will distort our faith, and it will distort the faith of others too. We will lead ourselves increasingly to believe in our own competency and lead others to believe in our power. But we are nothing and have nothing apart from Christ! In Him, however, we have everything. In Him we have life, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (and more). Let the one who boasts, then, boast in the Lord.

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