The Good Boast
Topic: Humility Passage: 2 Corinthians 11:16–11:33, 2 Corinthians 10:17–10:18, Romans 5:2
Grace Community Church
May 16, 2021
The Good Boast
Let’s turn together to 2 Cor. 11. For our visitors we are in a series called Messy Grace and for the next two weeks we’re going to talk about boasting because chapters 10-12 talk a lot about boasting.
Much of – most of - 2 Cor. is a warning to the Corinthian believers about certain teachers who have infiltrated the church presenting themselves as super-apostles of Jesus Christ. Paul warns them that, far from being super apostles, these men are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as servants of Christ but in reality servants of Satan.
It’s clear these men are really, really bad but the problem is, they look really, really good. They’re slick marketers. They’ve branded themselves the “super apostles” and boast that where Paul is weak and timid and a lousy public speaker, they are strong, wise, and great public speakers. They are good at boasting about themselves.
Paul knows the only way he can hope to win the hearts of the Corinthians back is to outboast them. Paul doesn’t want to boast; in fact, he hates it, but verse 12 tells us why he has to do it:
12 And what I am doing (boasting) I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do.
Paul wants to undermine their boast that their ministry is the same as his when the truth is they don’t serve Christ at all. Their boast is a false boast. So beginning in vs. 22 through to 12:10 Paul boasts about himself and his ministry in what has become known as “The Fool’s Speech”. Let’s pray and then we’re gonna pick up in vs 16 through the end of the chapter.
16 I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. 17 What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. 18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast.19 For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. 21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!
But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I.
Paul boasts about his identity. He’s got all the right birth credentials.
23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—
You can feel how hard it is for Paul to brag that he is a better servant of Christ then someone else. This conversation has gone from foolishness to insanity. True servants of Christ don’t want to boast about being better than other people. They don’t see themselves that way.
23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, 33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.
These verses give us a rare window into all that Paul suffered for Christ. No where else does he share so explicitly how much he suffered. The book of Acts doesn’t tell half the story.
No one can match what he suffered. He worked far harder than them, he was imprisoned more often, he was beaten so many times he lost count, often near death. To be beaten close to death once would be a big deal, but Paul says it happened to him often. Five times he was whipped 39 times. Three times beaten with rods (like being beaten with a baseball bat). He was stoned and left for dead – oh, but only once.
Then he goes on to describe the intense dangers he endured for the sake of Christ. Shipwrecked three times, once drifting on the open sea for day and night. Danger everywhere. Danger from rushing rivers that had to be crossed. Danger from people. There was no place he was safe, wherever he went, city, wilderness, and sea, there was danger. Even in the church there was danger from false brothers who would betray him any chance they could.
Then there was strain of hardship: hunger, thirst, sleepless nights, cold and exposure. On top of all this, there was a daily, constant pressure of anxiety he carried for how the churches he planted were doing. When they hurt, he hurt. When they were weak, he felt weak. When one of them was led into sin, he felt anger not towards the sinner but towards the one who led them into sin.
Finally he shares the humiliating story of having to be let down from a wall in a basket. He continues in chapter 12 and we’ll pick that up next week.
But what Paul has done is he’s turned boasting on its head: he’s not boasting about his strengths, he’s boasting about his weakness. He says that in verse 31,
30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
What does Paul mean by “weakness”? He’s not talking about physical or mental weakness. A Navy Seal would have cracked under what Paul endured. It would take incredible physical and mental strength to endure all that and keep going!
Paul’s talking about a different kind of weakness: the weakness of shame. The weakness of humiliation.
Today if someone had the resume Paul had they could travel the country giving their testimony but in
that culture and by their values these things spoke shame. Wherever the false apostles went, they were admired and honored. Wherever Paul went, he was spurned and hated. The false apostles traveled first class, Paul traveled coach. Their resume said “success” his resume seemed to say, “failure”. This is the weakness of humiliation and shame. And Paul is boasting in it.
He’s turned the boasting of the false apostles on its head. They were good at boasting in their strength and wisdom, Paul says, “hey I can boast too!” and then he boasts in his weakness and foolishness. They boast in their exaltation, Paul boasts in his humiliation. They boast in their riches, Paul boasts in his poverty. Paul’s boasting is the mirror image of their boasting, and we have to wonder why?
And maybe some of you are wondering, how does all this this talk about boasting apply to my life? I’ve heard more about boasting in this message than in the rest of my life put together. What’s boasting got to do with me?
I think it has a lot to do with all of us. Boasting is deeply attached to our identity. And not all boasting is bad. In the way that there is bad cholesterol and good cholesterol, there is bad boasting and good boasting. There is boasting that hollows out our identity and boasting that fills up our identity.
My all-time favorite comic strip is Dilbert, and my favorite character is a guy named Wally. Wally is only good at two things: drinking coffee and getting out of doing work. We’ve probably all met a Wally or two in our time.
One day during a coffee break Wally is giving his co-worker Asok important life advice. He says, “Asok, the key to success is not caring what others think about you. Coincidentally, that is also the key to being totally useless. The important thing is that other people can’t tell which way you’re hoping it goes.”
To borrow from Wally’s wisdom, the key to an empty, useless life is boasting. And the key to a meaningful and confident life is boasting. The important thing is what direction our boasts go in.
The Greek word for boast means to glory in. The literal meaning is to hold the head up high. Boasting is deeply connected to our identity and is meant to enable us to hold our head up high and live with confidence. But there’s good boasting and there’s bad boasting.
When we boast in ourselves we’re trying to inflate our identity (that is, who we are) in the eyes of others, thinking that will inflate our own sense of identity. If people think we’re important, maybe we’ll feel important and that (we think) will enable us to hold our head up high.
Most of us are socially adept enough not to boast openly. So we try to drop subtle boasts into the conversation. We “humble brag” because we want people to be impressed with us but we don’t want people to know we want them to be impressed with us because then we would look proud.
Not long ago I was humbled to receive several emails asking if I’d allow my name to be included in the Who’s Who in America book. That’s a humble brag, by the way, but it’s true, I really was asked. The only requirement on my part was that I purchase a copy of the Who’s Who book, which naturally I’d want to do anyway if I was in it.
So I looked into it. The real Who’s Who book doesn’t charge you to be in it, because you’re a real who’s who. Turns out this was an imitation Who’s Who book for people who aren’t real who’s but are dumb enough to pay for a book with the names of other people dumb enough to pay for it.
Boasting in ourselves is me selling you my Who’s Who book, and you selling me your Who’s Who book. It might make us feel important but it means nothing.
That’s what the false apostles are doing. In chapter 10 Paul says they are commending themselves and measuring and comparing themselves by each other. Just a circular round and round of self-commendation and boasting, “I’m a who’s who!” that in the end means nothing. Paul writes,
“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. 2 Cor. 10:17-18
The reality of who we are – and that’s what boasting is, it’s an attempt to puff up who we are in the eyes of other people – the reality isn’t determined by what we say. It’s determined by what God says. So Paul says, by all means boast, but boast in the Lord!
I said earlier that Paul hates to boast but that’s not completely true. He hated boasting about himself, but he loved to, and often did, boast in the Lord.
We boast in the hope of the glory of God. Rom. 5:2
Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Rom. 5:11
Boasting in ourselves is the bad boast, boasting in the Lord is the good boast! Boasting in the Lord is healthy because it’s what we were created to do. Boasting in the Lord is what adds meaning and strength and confidence to our lives. When we boast in the Lord we’re attaching our identity to His greatness and that gives us real confidence to hold our heads up high!
1 Cor. 1 gives us a kind of “who’s who” from God’s perspective and at first it doesn’t seem like a compliment to us. Because Paul says God has chosen the foolish things and the weak things of the world to confound the wise and the strong. Those who are wise and strong and “who’s who” by the world’s standards are actually foolish and weak and nothing by God’s standards. And those who are foolish and weak and unimpressive by the world’s standards are the very ones God has chosen to put in His “who’s who” book of life.
God did it this way so that all the glory goes to Him, not us. No one will boast before God, but we will be able to boast in God.
If we’re honest, there’s an impulse in all of us to boast in ourselves. Maybe we humble brag. Maybe we just talk about ourselves a lot. Maybe we name drop. Maybe we think about our image all the time. Maybe we always want to be the center of attention. Maybe we do good things but with strings attached – we do it to get the credit and the praise.
Let’s recognize that these attempts to find our identity in self-inflation will actually hollow out our true identity and leave us feeling empty. We pay for our copy of the Who’s Who book and realize it means nothing.
Let’s ask God to help us attach our identity to God. To Christ. To what God has done and what God is doing, giving Him the credit and the praise for anything good in our lives. Giving God the glory. That’s the good boast!
That’s what we were created to do. We were created to be reflectors of God’s glory, not projectors of our own glory. God’s goodness, God’s grace, God’s plan, God’s power becomes our glory. This doesn’t shrink us, it enlarges us. Boasting in the Lord doesn’t make us less confident, or live life less fully, it lifts up our head in confidence because we know God loves us, has chosen us, has saved us. We know that no matter what we face in life, we are more than conquerors because God is able. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
We lose ourselves in Christ, only to find ourselves the way God created us to be.
That’s the good boast! And the key to a meaningful and confident life.
More in Messy Grace: Second Corinthians
June 13, 2021Examine Yourselves Part Two
June 6, 2021Examine Yourselves Part One
May 29, 2021Minimizing Mess, Maximizing Grace in Relationships