No Room for Boasting

Is the church basically just a group of people who think that they are better than everybody else, because they hold themselves to a bunch of traditions and rules that they think makes them superior?

Perhaps unfortunately that is sometimes the way churchgoers actually feel, but the Bible itself does not describe Jesus’ church that way. In fact, the book of Romans takes pains to make it abundantly clear that the righteousness of the church is NOT about how good they are as people, but rather how kind God has been to pour His grace out on those who will put their faith in Him.

The book of Romans gives us principles such as these:

“There is none righteous, not even one… There is none who does good, There is not even one.”

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”

“Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.”

The point is that people in the church are not naturally “better people” than those outside. Rather, they are clothed with the goodness of Jesus. “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Church is all about Jesus, and His goodness.

These principles led Paul to say these words in 1 Corinthians 4: “To me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself… Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”

In other words, Paul was saying that the job of the church is not to figure out who is the best Christian and who is the most lousy, or to brag about how good we are. Instead, judgment belongs to God, and we rest in His promises for those who are faithful.

And yet, while the church is not obsessed with being “better than” other people or figuring out who is the holiest, it is still true that the church strives for moral excellence. In the fourth chapter of 1 Thessalonians, The church in Thessalonica is commended for walking as they should, with the instruction “that you excel still more.” Again in the same chapter they are complimented for the love that they have for one another, yet they are told, “but we urge you, brethren, to excel still more.”

And in an odd way, it is the very fact that the church is justified by faith rather than by works that enables the church to grow spiritually. Because of Christ’s sacrifice and the words of scripture, we can know that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13), and this frees us from negative thinking and constant fear of punishment or failure, so that we can walk down the path of holiness with confidence and joy. We can also be free from the pettiness of comparing ourselves to those around us. It has been said, “it is amazing how much can get done when no one cares who gets the credit.”

The church is not simply a place for “good people” who make all the right decisions in life. It is a place for broken people to find justification by faith, to rest in God’s promises, and to follow Him as well as they can on the pathway of righteousness.

Scriptures and Thoughts on “Humility”

What is humility?
Hebrew:
anawah – meekness, denoting the spirit produced under circumstances of suffering, oppression, and affliction. Sometimes translated “poor,” “humble,” or “lowly”.

Greek:
tapeinophrosune – the state of gratitude where one understands the reception of gifts are by the grace of God—and as such—undeserved by human accomplishment.

Consider that God is referred to as having “anawah” in (2 Samuel 22:36) “And Thou givest to me the shield of Thy salvation, And Thy lowliness maketh me great. [YLT]”

And Jesus is described as humbling Himself in places like (Philippians 2): He “emptied Himself” and “humbled Himself” by becoming a man and dying on the cross.

Likewise in (Matthew 11:29-30) “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

In the case of God condescending to our level, or of us realizing our spiritual poverty, there is a downward movement.

(Romans 12:3) reinforces this: “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”

Likewise (Romans 12:16) “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”

(Philippians 2:13) likewise illustrates using position: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”

How does humility differ from self-loathing?

Remember that God is said in some sense to be “humble” and Jesus is said to have “humbled” Himself. God and Jesus surely do not think little of themselves or loathe themselves. Rather, they are willing to do what is “beneath them” for the sake of those they love.

It has been said that humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

(1 Corinthians 4”:3-4) “to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.” Paul did not base his commendableness on what others thought of him, or even what he though of himself. He just left that judgment to God and did his best.

In (Luke 18:13) the tax collector will not even lift his eyes to heaven, but he is yet bold enough to ask God for mercy and to walk away justified. That his, he does not refuse God’s forgiveness thinking he is too worthless to receive it.

David said “I am a worm and not a man.” Is that a healthy state of mind?

It is sometimes appropriate to be bitterly downcast by the realization of sin.

(James 4:9-10)“Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”

However, it would seem that there is such a thing as an unhealthy level of grief over sin. (2 Corinthians 2) “For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.”

A prolonging of excessive feelings of guilt goes beyond the proper duration goes beyond humility and turns into a self-loathing.

(Psalm 30:5) “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning.”

 How would I know if I was or was not humble?

There is such a thing as a false humility
(Colossians 2:18-23) warns about men who “delight in self-abasement,” but whoa re really “inflated without cause by his fleshly mind…” they have “the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”

In (Luke 18:12) the Pharisee brags about fasting and giving… acts that would perhaps be humble if he did not do them so that he could brag.

“Boasting” is done by those who are not humble.

(Proverbs 27:2) “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips.”

(1 Corinthians 1:26-29) “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.”

(Jeremiah 9:23-24) “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the LORD.”

(Matthew 6:2) “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”

Even the term “arrogant” comes from the verb “arrogate,” to make an unjustified claim, to attribute a certain success to one’s own merits.

(Luke 14:8-11) do not assume that you are going to receive the highest honor, as though you deserved it. Do not take the highest seat for yourself at the banquet.

 How can someone be proud of their accomplishments without sacrificing their humility?

God is not against the bestowing of honors:

(Romans 13:7) “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”
(1 Timothy 5:17) “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.”

 Remember though, (James 1:17) every good thing comes from God, (Acts 17:28) only in Him do we even have our being. (1 Corinthians 15:10) Even our hard work is attributable to God.

 Does the Bible say that Jesus was the humblest man? If so, what does that mean?

(Philippians 2) does hold Him up as an example of humility for us to follow.

(James 4:10) says humble yourself and God will life you up. Jesus was willing to be made so low, and was then rewarded. He was given the name above every name (Philippians 2:9).

(John 13:15) “I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.” Jesus condescended to the point of being our servant. None of us can condescend so far because none of us start so high.
(Mark 9:35) the one who wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.

 What does it mean that “God opposes the proud, but He gives grace to the humble?” How does that work?

This phrase is in (James 4). The context indicates that prideful individuals are full of plagued by conflicts and murders. The context indicates that those who humbles themselves and weep over there sins find grace from God. The phrase may simply indicate that those who are humble are the only ones able to receive what God offers.

(Proverbs 16:18) famously says pride goes before a fall. Could this simply be a natural consequence of the way the world is structured?

(Proverbs 11:12) “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”

(Proverbs 29:23) “Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor.”

(1 Peter 5:6) “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”

(Luke 5:4-5) “When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered and said, ‘Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.’”

If Peter did not accept fishing advice from the carpenter’s son, but insisted he knew better as a professional fisherman, he would not have been blessed in this way.

What does it mean to be poor in spirit?

Remember that the Hebrew word for humble can also be translated as poor.

Humility can be a recognition of our personal spiritual poverty, a recognition that the source outside of us (James 1:17)

Accept God’s charity: (Ephesians 2:8) “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God”

 How can I work on being humble?

Humility is commanded in scripture.
(Ephesians 4:2) (Philippians 2:3) (Colossians 3:12) (1 Peter 3:8) (1 Peter 5:6) (James 3:13) (James 4:10)

Make a point of being humble during personal prayer.
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) The story of the two men praying in (Luke 18), the instructions to humble ourselves in (James 4) all deal with confession and with prayer.

Since (Romans 13:7) says to give honor where it is due, we can be humble by acknowledging the help we have received from others and from God in each of our own accomplishments. Practice acknowledging the contributions of others.

What are You Thankful For?

This is the time of year when millions of Americans place a special focus on thankfulness.  Perhaps this is a favorite celebration for many because its focus has the potential to be so enriching for us emotionally and spiritually.  Indeed, even secular psychologists acknowledge what the Bible also indicates, that pausing each day to think about what we are grateful for has a positive effect on our wellbeing.

1 Corinthians 4:7 is a powerful verse on thankfulness because it reveals that not only is thankfulness healthy, it is also the only sensible response to the good things in our lives.

“For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

What good thing do you have that God has not given you?  James 1:17 tells us that “every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

If it is good, God gave it to you.  Thankfulness, therefore, makes sense.  Alternatively, boasting about having something that someone else gave you out of their own charity seems rather silly.

But what is particularly thought provoking about the context of our verse in 1 Corinthians 4, is that Paul is not actually talking about physical possessions.  I encourage you to read 1 Corinthians 3:18 – 4:7 some time for context.  You will find that the Corinthians were being tempted to boast about their own spiritual wisdom, and their own connections to well know spiritual leaders.  They were perceiving themselves as exceptional Christians.

It was in response to this pride that the Corinthians were warned: “For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

The implication is this: we are not only indebted to God for our possessions, but also for our knowledge of the truth, and our relationships with the “Pauls, Apollos’S and Cephas’s” that first taught us about Christ.

In fact, the Bible indicates that we are indebted to God for our very righteousness itself: He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)  Also consider Romans 3:21-26 for more scriptural support.

What do we have, that was not given us by God?

Houses?  Cars?  Pantries full of food?
Relationships with other Christians?
Righteousness?

Eternal life?

We have nothing to boast about except the cross. (Galatians 6:14)  And yet, we have more to be thankful for this season than anyone else.

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