Boasting – it’s an ugly trait. That tendency to speak about something – often ourselves – in ways that are extravagant, in ways that are full of pride.
Most of us naturally recoil from a boastful person. Yet another tale of how they excelled or saved the day is rarely what we want to hear. But take a glance on social media, and it’s not hard to find a litany of posts that have a boastful theme. “I’m so proud of what I have achieved this year… “; “My child has done X this week – they amaze me every day”; “I’ve done it – I’ve cut all the toxic people out of my life – if you’re still seeing this, know that you are blessed”. And below such statements come like after like from family and friends.
It’s worth noting that simply letting people know that something has happened is not necessarily boastful. Passing on information – encouraging people to rejoice as we rejoice – are admirable calls. Simple sharing is not what we are talking about here. It’s when we are puffing ourselves up – angling for people to respond with sentiments like “you’re amazing” that we find ourselves on dodgy ground.
Of course, some of us have mastered the far more subtle art of the humble boast. Those phrases that kind of make us look normal but at the same time make us look really good. I can see a few of those as I scroll down my own social media feeds.
The Bible warns us that boasting in ourselves is very far from what God desires. Partly he opposes it because it is laughable. It has echoes of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). There the people clubbed together to build themselves a name. They were so very proud of their incredible work and yet God had to “come down” to see it. Their work was not impressive in his eyes – it was small, puny, a sign their hearts were going astray.
Boasting is also dangerous – it can be idolatrous at its core. Rather than trusting in God, it nudges us and others to put our trust in our achievements, our efforts or our reputation. To see our work as the thing that should draw people’s gaze. But really, everything we do is an outworking of the Spirit’s power. In a similar vein, the Bible warns us not to boast about human leaders (1 Corinthians 3:21). They may be worthy of our respect, even wonderful in the way they conduct themselves, but they are still utterly dependent on the Lord. Their decisions, their ways, their plans, their progress is not theirs at all – it’s God’s. The only one with real power and strength to lead is him (Psalm 20:7).
The Bible also warns us that boasting is often lacking in integrity. Sometimes we do things well (and praise God for that!) but there are plenty of occasions when we don’t. To give an impression of ourselves that focuses on the good but quietly ignores the wayward is, at best, a partial view (Romans 2:23). Our boasts may well come back to bite us when our true selves are revealed (Isaiah 10:15).
So serious is this that we are alerted to the fact that boasting can often be a sign of a life going seriously astray (Jude 1:16). No wonder, then, that in many an Old Testament narrative, God makes sure that the leaders of his nation have absolutely nothing to boast about. Who can forget his words to Gideon – you have too many men for your fight today! (Judges 7:2).
Does that mean all forms of boasting are banned in God’s word? Not at all. Should we draw back from celebrating what the Lord is doing in and through us? No way.
If someone else praises us for our Christ-centred service or God-given gifts, we can absolutely rejoice in that. How wonderful that Paul was able to boast about the Thessalonian church in such effusive ways (2 Thessalonians 1:4).
It is right and proper that we encourage others to praise God for his work in and through us. And, if we have lost weight, run a marathon, passed a degree, or persevered through a tough time, why not give testimony for his wonderful ways?
And we absolutely don’t need to start running ourselves down in public – pretending we are far worse than we are – the ‘miserable worm’ persona that draws more on skewed self-image than on humility is still unhelpfully focused on self.
What’s needed is a change in the direction of our boasts, rather than a denial of all that is good. We boast not in ourselves but in the one who made us, sustains us and gives us the privilege of living for him.
In Scripture, we see people boasting that God is God – perfect in all his ways (Jeremiah 9:24). We find Christians boasting that they are saved by Christ, not works, gifted not earning their hope (Galatians 6:14). There are examples of leaders boasting about weakness because it is when they are weak that the Lord’s power and glory is most clearly seen (2 Corinthians 11:30). There are instances of believers boasting that their wisdom is Jesus – he is so very good (1 Corinthians 1:30).
We can boast that our hope is in Christ (Romans 5:2) In our service, we can glory in Christ (Romans 15:17). One day, when Jesus returns, we will be able to boast that our labouring was not in vain (Philippians 2:16).
But even here, there will be moments that we may choose not to boast. Even a Christ-centred boast that shows our utter dependency on him has limits (2 Corinthians 10:13). There is still the potential for others to see us rather than Jesus and, if that is happening, we may choose to stay quiet for a while. The idea is that we love those around us so well, desire their good so deeply, that we may hold back from saying anything that might nudge them to think of us more highly than they should (2 Corinthians 12:6).
Does all that sound complex? Might it be easier to say nothing at all? There is no need to be inert in the face of our call to use words wisely. Let’s simply ask ourselves these questions:
- am I pointing to Jesus?
- am I loving others well?
If yes, boast away! Doing so is a beautiful call.