June 3, 2009
A Reason to Boast
by Katherine Britton, Crosswalk.com News & Culture Editor
This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the Lord.
The “self-help” and “self-improvement” sections of local bookstores are entirely too easy to mock and deprecate. With titles such as “Maybe Life’s Just Not That Into You”, “Excuses Be Gone!”, “The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist” and “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking”, America’s self-help culture can’t be denied. If not all-powerful business executives, we at least want to appear sufficiently competent and – well, self-sufficient. These self-help sections just serve to underscore our compulsion to “be all you can be.” Especially if someone else will notice.
Think about the quintessential American dream for a moment – the rising career, the house with a backyard, and 2.3 kids enrolled in ballet and basketball. It’s what we want to report in our Christmas cards to family and friends. It dates back to the old “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality that isn’t all bad. Still, like the self-help shelves, the dream often boils down to a prideful heart.
Contrast this cultural stereotype with Paul’s continued exhortations throughout his letters. We grow accustomed to hearing some of the apostle’s key themes – “dying to self,” “dead in sin,” “servant leadership.” I’m guilty on more than one occasion of mentally putting my Bible on the self-help shelf, looking at it as a manual to better myself. Biblical virtues such as compassion and perseverance, so necessary to the community of faith, can be made one more tool in my “self-made” toolbox. Paul’s theology becomes my means of achieving the “good Christian life.”
How does this happen? I think the answer, at least in my life, is fairly simple. Like those self-help books, like Christmas cards sent out to distant relatives, I begin focusing on the “what” instead of the “who.” The late theologian Carl Henry, after he had already written his great theological works, was once asked the “secret” maintaining humility. He said simply, “How can anyone be arrogant when he stands beside the cross?” Our lessons in self-confidence can only seem significant when we lose perspective on the greatness of Christ’s sacrifice.
In Jeremiah, the Lord gives only one legitimate example of boasting – and that is centered around his glory. “Let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth,” he says. That strips all our self-help lessons of their value. No wisdom, no strength, no anything is worth proclaiming except what finds its root in God’s own character and our relationship with him. And if we boast in that, the emphasis doesn’t rest on our created sufficiency. It points back to the mercy of a God who loves people – even those obsessed with self-help shelves.
The praise song “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” demonstrates this truth in just a couple verses:
I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no powers, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Competency can quickly morph into self-sufficiency, followed by pride. Before we know it, we’re “boasting” through our actions and attitudes if not our words. Let’s forget the “what” and get back to the “who.”