December 18, 2017

The Christian’s Bragging Right

Randy Fox

The boaster’s goal is to leave his listener with a favorable impression about himself. He recalls his achievements, drops names, and may even engage in belittling others. He may speak loudly in the hope that he will have as wide an audience as possible. We can all understand the Bible’s condemnation of bragging. It is not just repugnant to the Christians, but even the world tires of it. However, there is a form of boasting that the Word of God not only commends, but commands us to participate in. There is indeed a legitimate bragging right for the believer.

The New Testament word translated “boasting” is καυχομαι. Καυχομαι is translated as “boasting” (Rom 2:27, 23; James 4:16), “glorying” (1 Cor 1:29, 31), and “rejoicing” (Phil 3:3; James 1:9). This word occurs 50 times in the New Testament. It is interesting to note that 39 of those occurrences are found in 1 & 2 Corinthians. Apparently the church was so “puffed up” with knowledge that it needed the greatest amount of instruction on the matters of boasting.

This word for “boast” must be kept distinct from another New Testament word, αλαζων (or αλαζονεια), which is translated “boaster” or “boastings.” This word occurs only four times in the NT (Rom 1:30; 2 Tim 3:2; James 4:1; 1 John 2:16). While this word shares the idea of boasting with καυχομαι, αλαζων emphasizes the kind of bragging that always exaggerates the truth. The man doing this type of bragging knows that he is lying. Καυχομαι, in contrast, is much more factual. This type of boasting does not purposely present falsehoods. Rather this boaster, while he may be telling the truth, has a misplaced confidence in himself. He is not exaggerating the facts of his accomplishments, but rather he exaggerates the significance of them. He has overestimated the importance of his own achievements and he wants others to give him the praise for what he has done. It is a miscalculation of confidence. Both these words for boasting and confidence can appear alongside each other (Phil 3:3; James 4:16).

There are certain subjects of boasting which are forbidden. For example, a man is not to boast about keeping the law (Rom 2:23). This person has grossly miscalculated the value of his superficial obedience. This kind of boasting will blind a person to the fact that the law actually condemns him. This boasting is so dangerous it can keep someone from true salvation. Yet how often the unbelieving world rebuffs its need for salvation with the boast about keeping the law. We are warned against boasting about our tolerance of evil. Allowing evil to remain in a church assembly (often labeled “love” or “not being legalistic”) and the resulting inaction are condemned in the Word of God as a misguided boasting (1 Cor 5:12). The needless divisions that result in good men unnecessarily take sides receives the warning “let no one boast in men” (1 Cor 3:21, 22). There is also the overconfident boasting of the man who maps out his future and arrogantly assumes that he is in control (James 4:16). He is reminded that “all such rejoicing is evil.”

It is important to note, however, that the activity of boasting is not unilaterally condemned. There is a boasting that is mandatory for the believer. “The one who glories, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:31; 2 Cor 10:17). So it is not necessary to stop the activity of boasting, but rather change the subject of it. An unbeliever will talk about his works, his religion, his experiences, but he really is unable to “glory in the Lord.” The apostle Paul knew that kind of boasting which he retrospectively labels “confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3, 4). He had a list of items he formerly “gloried in” (circumcised the eight day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, etc.). But after Paul’s conversion he has a new subject in which he boasts: the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:3). Paul is “proud of” the Lord Jesus Christ and that is why he is constantly talking about Him. This is the characteristic that distinguishes us as Christians. Christians not only believe in Him, but we “brag” about Him. The wrong kind of boaster wants everybody to know what a great person he is, but the right kind of boasting wants other people to know how wonderful Jesus Christ is!

This truth of “glorying in the Lord” left its mark on John Bowring, a 19th-century Englishman who learned over 100 languages in his lifetime, served two terms in the House of Commons, and became the governor of Hong Kong. He was a prolific writer as well as a poet and hymn writer, and was knighted by Queen Victoria for service to his country. Yet with all these accomplishments he understood that there is really nothing to glory in but the Lord Jesus Christ. Bowring’s tombstone was inscribed with the words “In the Cross of Christ I Glory”—the title to a hymn that Bowring wrote. Perhaps the grave is the best reminder to the living that we have nothing in which to glory. None of our achievements will matter then. Truly the Lord Jesus Christ is the only subject worthy of our boasting!

Randy Fox is pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Corona, California.

(Originally published in FrontLine • January/February 2003. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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