Teaching series from 2 Corinthians

Right and Wrong Boasting

2 Corinthians 10:12-18

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Read the passage. The obvious theme addresses "boasting." Paul uses the word five times here, and he uses it at least 32 times in this letter.

Why so much emphasis on boasting? Probably because the false apostles were doing a lot of it and Paul feels the need to instruct the Corinthian Christians on right and wrong boasting.

Kauchaomai means to exult about something relating to you. There are some things about which God says boasting is forbidden. But there are other things about which it is good and important to boast. To put it differently, it's okay to boast as long as you "boast in the Lord."

This is the issue we will be studying. We'll come back to this passage after we look at some other passages on this subject . . .

Your standing with God

Read Rom. 3:27. Here we see a kind of boasting which Paul says should be excluded: boasting in your good works for God as being any part of the basis of his acceptance (vs 28). WRONG: "My good works qualify me for his acceptance."

This is what religion is all about--not just doing good works, but relying on them to earn (usually along with God's mercy) right standing with God. Whether it is ISLAM'S 5 Pillars or PHARISAISM'S 600+ Laws or CATHOLICISM'S Sacraments, the idea is the same: God grants his mercy to those who work hard enough to please him. Yet the Bible completely rejects this approach to God.

Why? Because God's perfect righteousness exposes us in our human righteousness as woefully inadequate. Read Isa. 64:6. Boasting about your righteousness before God is like boasting about how clean your pus-filled bandages are! This is offensive to God in the extreme!

This is why God's acceptance has to be a gift of charity. Read Eph. 2:8,9 (charis = grace). This is why there will be many "sinners" in heaven (THIEF ON CROSS; JEFFREY DAHMER??), but no one there saying "I got what I deserved."

What about you? Have you forsaken all boasting in your own works, and personally put your trust only in Christ's work for you?

But once we have been justified by faith, we should boast about our security in Christ. Read Rom. 5:1,2. The word "exult" (NASB)/"rejoice" (NIV) is the same word translated "boast" in Rom. 3:27. Paul says we should boast in the fact that our standing with God is absolutely safe. RIGHT: "I am confident in God's acceptance because of Christ's work for me."

We never need worry about Him rejecting us ("peace with God"). We are welcome into his presence at any time (not just when we're doing well morally) ("introduction"), and we are guaranteed eternal life ("hope in the glory of God"). Especially when we blow it, we should say "But God still loves me and accepts me just as much as when I am on my best behavior--because his acceptance isn't based in any way on what I do for him, but only on what Christ has done for me." This is "boasting in the Lord."

Some people say this kind of boasting is unspiritual and leads to presumption. They say the fear of possibly losing God's acceptance is what keeps us humble and motivated to serve him. This may sound spiritual, but it is actually a form of wrong boasting because it is a way of saying that our good works play a part when God says they don't. The Bible says it is the only solid foundation for a growing relationship with God. God's grace is what motivates us to serve him out of love rather than fear (1 Jn. 4:18).

Your definition of success

We turn now to the issue of how we define success. Our answer to this question will dramatically affect the direction of our lives. God doesn't leave us in the dark--he speaks very clearly to this issue in his Word . . .

WRONG: Read Jer. 9:23.

  • "Wisdom" refers here to education, academic performance, degrees, etc.
  • "Might" refers to human power over others--physical, political, etc.
  • "Riches" refers to material wealth, whether earned or inherited.

Wow! If we add physical beauty and sex-appeal, God rejects what American culture defines as success! He turns the AMERICAN DREAM into the AMERICAN DISASTER! Why shouldn't we boast in these things? Because in and of themselves, they do not signify a truly important and significant life. Jesus said you can be materially wealthy yet spiritually bankrupt (Mark 8:36; Lk. 12:15,21). He said most of the wise and intelligent of his day were deaf to his message (Matt. 11:25). He told the most politically powerful person of his day that he was fundamentally out of sync with God's kingdom (Jn. 18:36,37; 19:10,11).

In fact, these very things, though not wrong in themselves, often draw people away from the sole Source of true significance. Those who are well-educated, politically powerful, or materially wealthy have the illusion of significance and importance, and therefore usually see little need for spiritual wisdom, power and wealth.

That's why relatively few people from these circles become radical followers of Christ. Paul echoes this passage in 1 Cor. 1:26-31. (Remember, he isn't guilty of "sour grapes." He had these things, but forsook them all for something else . . . )

RIGHT: How does God define success? Read Jer. 9:24. God's definition of success is spiritual.

  • "I know the Lord" - (see STANDING WITH GOD)
  • "I understand God's revealed will" - who the true God is, and what his purpose is--as revealed through his Word.

Today, many American Christians lament the fact that we have little political clout. They are feverishly mobilizing to gain more of this kind of power so we can "take this country back." But this is mis-directed concern. Christians have rarely had political power, and have often been corrupted by it. Our greatest impact on society comes not from organizing ourselves into political blocks, but by being salt and light (EXPLAIN)--which requires no political power at all.

But just knowing the correct definition of success isn't enough . . .

Your criteria for spiritual success

WRONG: "I am more righteous, knowledgeable, gifted, or fruitful than certain other Christians."

This is what Paul's opponents were saying. But note Paul's response (read 2 Cor. 10:12). Why are they "without understanding?"

  • "I am more righteous than X." Who cares? They may be starting from a lot further back than you, had a lot less time and help than you, etc."
  • "I am more gifted in this area than Y." So what? God sovereignty gifts each of us uniquely--and these gifts are absolutely no expression of our innate greatness.

NOTE: This kind of boasting is a double-edged sword. It may give you a temporary boost when you compare your strong areas to others' weaknesses--but when the reverse happens, it can destroy you.

This is why what Paul says in Gal. 6:3-5 (read) is important. But notice that along with rebuking wrong boasting in this area, Paul speaks of right boasting. The issue is not: "How are you doing compared to others?" but rather: "How are you doing with what God has given you to do?"

RIGHT: "I am cooperating with God in fulfilling his purpose for my life."

Some Christians say that any boasting (celebrate; exult) in what God is accomplishing through us is prideful and carnal. But this is clearly untrue--unless we want to call Paul prideful and carnal! We should "boast in the Lord" by gratefully acknowledging to ourselves (and, at times, to others) the progress he has made in our lives. Here are some examples of such biblical boasts of spiritual success:

  • "God is transforming my character." See 2 Cor. 1:12. Paul knew that God was the One empowering him to gain this kind of integrity, and he knew he still had lots of room for more progress. But that didn't stop him from reflecting on this transformation of his character.
  • "God has called me to significant service for him." See 1 Cor. 15:9,10. Paul had no illusions about his unworthiness to be an apostle. But he gloried in God's gracious calling, and in his faithful and diligent response to that call.
  • "God is bearing fruit through my ministry." See Rom. 15:17,18. Paul knew full well that it was God's resources that enabled him to have a ministry in cross-cultural missions. But he also knew that he was a full partner in this ministry--and he gloried in the results (thousands of Gentile converts).
  • "God has given us a great church!!" Sometimes I hear people at Xenos say that it's wrong for us to have this perspective. At last week's Servant Team retreat, as we celebrated what God has given us and looked forward to what he is entrusting to us, some said this was prideful. It could be prideful--if we take full credit, or if we refuse to be learn from others--but it isn't necessarily prideful at all. Is it more spiritual to say, "We just have an ordinary church--nothing special?" I don't think so! We should acknowledge what is true, sincerely thank God for it, and go forward with the humble confidence that God is doing a great thing through this church!