Thursday, July 17, 2008

On Boasting - Part 4

In my prior three posts on boasting (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), I have begun to talk through six different ways in which I see, as Christians, that we can easily boast. I do not exclude myself from those who boast in things other than in Christ, as I am learning and growing in this area as well. I am hoping that in bringing up what Jerry Bridges would call this "respectable sin" in the lives of Christians, that we can work on becoming less prideful in anything other than in Christ and more trusting of Him who has saved us.

Here is a list of the six areas of boasting that I have been covering:
  1. Boasting in our faith
  2. Boasting in our morality
  3. Boasting in correct doctrine
  4. Boasting in life circumstances (whether good or bad)
  5. Boasting in achievement
  6. Boasting in our independent spirit
The first four have been covered in my previous posts on boasting, and I will be covering the last two today.

Boasting in achievement
The Bibles does teach that there is generally a cause-and-effect relationship between how we work, and the reward that comes to us. In Proverbs 13:4, it says, "The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied." In the proverb regarding the ant, Solomon says, "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man" (Proverbs 6:10-11).

We are also exhorted in our ministry to work diligently. Paul tells Timothy, "
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved" (emphasis mine). Paul also tells us that he is diligent as well. In 1 Corinthians 9:27, he says, "...I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."

However, the Bible also tells us that all of our successes are directly under the sovereign control of God (1 Samuel 2:7, Haggai 1:5-6). Two people in the same job can both work diligently, but one is promoted over the other. Two students in the same class can both work diligently, but one excels and get good grades, while the other does not. Why is this the case? God, under His sovereignty, gives one person more opportunity, more intellectual ability, more comprehension than the other. Whatever the case may be, God says that
He is the one who causes one to succeed and the other to fail. It is He who gives the ability and opportunity to succeed. It is not our own doing.

Are we proud of our successes apart from giving glory to God for them? We can often see this pride in others, for instance, when someone lets everyone know how successful they are because of their own hard work. But the rest of us who do not brag in such a way can also be offensive to God when we talk about our own successes or the success of our children without any acknowledgement of the gracious blessing of God.

Jerry Bridges, in
Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate, says this about how we can work to aviod this sin when speaking of our children's accomplishments:
Like most families, my wife and I receive a lot of Christmas letters with family news from friends and acquaintances we have made over the years. Occasionally, one of the letters might say something like this: "Our son, John, graduated summa cum laude from [some prestigious university such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, or MIT]." Now, there is nothing wrong with communicating this good news to family and friends. But stated in the above fashion, the letter conveys the idea, "Isn't our son smart!" with no acknowledgement that his intellectual ability came from God.

If we want to avoid the subtle sin of pride in the achievements of our children, we might say something like this: "Our son, John, graduated summa cum laude from [fill in the prestigious university]. We deeply acknowledge that John's intellectual abilities come from God, and we are profoundly grateful to Him. We know that God does not choose to endow every child with the abilities He has given John. We have tried to instill this grateful attitude in John and to teach him that his academic abilities are a stewardship entrusted to him by God to be used to serve others and to glorify God."
Another aspect of boasting in achievement is the desire for recognition from man. If you find that you have this desire, two principles from Scripture may help:
  1. Luke 17:10 says, "So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'"
  2. Psalm 75:6-7 says, "For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgement, putting down one and lifting up another."
I deserve nothing, and all I do receive, including recognition, is only of His grace. Therefore, if I don't receive recognition, I will not fret. All is of grace.

Boasting in our independent spirit
This type of boasting may express itself in the following attitudes:
  1. A resistance to authority
  2. An unteachable attitude
These two attitudes often go hand-in-hand. We see them often in the youth of today. But these attitudes are not only prevalent in the youth, but in all of us in one degree or another.

The Bible is quite clear on the matter of submitting to those in authority, especially spiritual authority. Hebrews 13:17 says, "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you." Submission to the Scriptures in this area will allow us to be teachable people, able to respond readily to the challenges of being discipled by another.

Jerry Bridges speaks to this well,
I sometimes encounter this attitude [of resistance to authority] in teaching the Bible to other adults. Often, a response to something I am teaching is, "Well, I think thus and such." No appeal to Scripture is made; it is only the person's opinion. Yet in his or her mind, that opinion is authoritative. There is no willingness to grapple with the teaching of scripture.
Yet the Bible strongly teaches the value of a teachable attitude (Proverbs 2:1, 3:1, 4:1, 5:1, 7:1). Do you have someone in your life who has your best interests at heart and can speak to those and other similar issues with wise, biblical counsel? Are you submitting to those who are potentially more mature in the faith who can help you grow up to become a more mature Christian yourself, able to help others? Seeking out these mentors of the faith is a step in the right direction in battling this boastful sin.

The six areas of boastfulness that we have covered in this series are, I would imagine, subtle sins that each of us must deal with in our lives. Many of the boastful sins that I have mentioned may not have initially seemed like sins to you at all. In fact, that is why they are so subversive within the Christian community. Even if we do regard these as sins, we often see them in others before we see them in ourselves.

I would strongly exhort you to pray over the sin of boastfulness in your life. I have been doing so, and will continue to do so, working daily to humble myself before God, always remembering God's promise in Isaiah 66:2, "...But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word."
"...Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you." - 1 Peter 5:5-7


Jeff Fischer said...

I'm not sure I agree with Bridges on the graduation announcement. I thought his point was to help us avoid boasting, not avoid making others think we are. His suggested text, to me, is aimed at trying to convince the recipient that we are not boasting. Yet either we are or we are not. If announcing your child has graduated with honors is a cause of boasting for you, then you should simply not do it. Back filling the announcement with a lot of "God-talk" seems to me only to justify the sin, not rectify it.

Joel said...

I guess that one could boast in anything, even in stating that they are working extra hard not to boast. I agree with you that filling a statement with a lot of "God talk" does seem to justify the sin of boastfulness, but I took Jerry Bridges' statement more as rightly acknowledging God's hand in the success of our children, rather than not, and in the process, not teaching them to believe that their successes are all about them.

I understand the desire to proclaim your children's accomplishments to others, but in so doing, I believe that it often, subtly, teaches them that they are better than others because of something in them, and not something given to them by God.