1Co 1 26-31 Boast in the Lord
It’s kind of a bad day to talk about boasting—although I suppose it would be worse if the Packers had somehow made it to the Super Bowl. Boasting has a bad connotation to it. It’s what fans do before a game in order to sweeten the victory if it happens to come their way. And it’s what really obnoxious fans do after their team wins and they feel like being especially bad winners. Yeah, I imagine that there will be a lot of boasting going on today—both before and after the game.
Of course, a good deal of game-day boasting is intended only in good fun. The bad kind of boasting is the stuff that belittles people, makes fun of them. It’s what people do when they want to make themselves look bigger and everyone else look smaller. It’s selfish and childish. And, as long as I’m preaching, I’ll just say it like it is: Boasting like that is sinful.
Which is why it might seem odd to have a sermon that encourages us to boast. Although it might not seem so odd if you can just remember to keep this boasting in its context: “Let him who boasts,” Paul says, “Boast in the Lord.” Boasting is always proper so long as we 1. Boast only in the Lord. And if we can limit our boasting to boasting in the Lord, then we can really let loose and even 2. Boast loudly in the Lord.
Of course, the trick is to stay well clear of the sinful kind of boasting and excel in the good kind. Easier said than done, right? It’s not so hard, though, if we follow Paul’s advice and think first about who we really are: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.”
Why do you think the Holy Spirit called you to the faith you are in? Because this is your family’s church, so faith must be in the blood? Then how would you explain the people in church with you who are new converts, who come from unchurched families? Is the faith in their blood? Then why wasn’t it in their parents’ blood? And what of the people in churched families who fall away?
No, it would seem that genetics don’t enter into it, which was exactly Paul’s point. Nor does it have to do with being a “good thinker” when it comes to spiritual things—that is, having a sort of philosophical mind. You may have noted before that among us there are those who have that kind of mind, but there also so many more among us who don’t. Look around you! Do you see anything (besides your faith itself) that you share with every person in this congregation?
God has a way of calling people to his faith that defies human explanation. He plans it that way. It helps him to make a point that we are too quick to forget. Paul continues, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” We are forever wanting to think highly of ourselves and our accomplishments. We want to boast in that selfish and childish way that so often happens on Super Bowl Sunday—only we go further than simply talking up our favorite teams. By nature we want to boast about ourselves—even in the spiritual arena.
And, oh, what a dangerous sport that is! Let me put it this way: How many of you were trash-talking the Lions’ opponents this season? How many of you were talking about Detroit’s team with the same reckless enthusiasm that you know the fans of the Rams and the Patriots were using all season? You see, the problem with boasting for a losing team is that it’s always going to come back at you when the teams are judged on the field. When you say that the Lions are going to crush the opposition and they come out tiptoeing like a pussycat, you can expect to be put to shame.
It’s the ultimate form of this kind of shame that the Lord is helping us to avoid by calling us in the way that he does. God doesn’t want us to face the shame of having taken the wrong side on the Final Day. The problem is, however, we’re all too happy to find something about ourselves that we think God should be well pleased with. If not our spiritual insight that we think is so much clearer than everybody else’s, then we think God should be impressed with our humility—you know, because we don’t think too highly of our spiritual insight like some other people do. But when we toot our own horns like that, no matter what we think is better about ourselves than the next person, we are waving a big, foam number-one hand for the wrong team.
“Let him who boasts boast in the Lord,” Paul says. He tells us about the right team to root for. This team has it all: “It is because of him [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” If we take pride in who we are, we’ll be rooting for the team that lacks the weapons needed on the field come Judgment Day. Because all have sinned, as the Bible says, we do not have the righteousness that God demands of us. On the final day we will be squaring off against the same standards of perfection that God held Adam and Eve up to in the Garden of Eden. We will be squaring ourselves up against the righteousness that God demanded of Israel, which they were never able to deliver. If we want to prepare ourselves for that day yet we still insist on rooting for ourselves and our own worth, we better prepare ourselves to fail!
How much different it is when our boasting is in the Lord alone! Jesus “has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” Remember who you are, Paul says, and boasting in yourself will cease! We are Christians! That means that our righteousness comes from Christ. That means that the only wisdom that really counts for us involves things that the world would call foolish—like water that declares us to be God’s children and bread and wine that conveys not only forgiveness but the very body and blood of Jesus. Ridiculous, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”
Consider your calling, Paul says, and you will boast in the right things. Some of us have a great deal of education. Some of us very little. Yet we were all convinced to throw our lot in with a man the Roman Empire executed as a criminal, a man rejected by his own people. Every one of us, young and old, base our hope for heaven on the same 2,000-year-old book, which tells us that some carpenter from Galilee got himself killed for claiming to be God—and he actually was.
Consider these things about your calling and you will boast in the Lord and not yourself. There is no good reason, humanly speaking, why you should believe this seemingly ludicrous story—and that’s exactly the way the Lord wants it! He loves to use exactly the kinds of things that people normally snub their noses at, “the despised things,” because it demonstrates to his people a very powerful truth: our faith, our spiritual life, is purely a matter of God’s power. God creates this faith in us and there is absolutely no good human reason to explain it. If you’re going to boast, boast about him, not yourself!
Now, let me tell you a little something about the word boast. Like I said at the beginning of the sermon, normally that word has a negative connotation because it usually refers to someone talking themselves up while at the same time putting others down. That’s not quite the case when our only boast is the Lord. Think about it: Who’s being talked up when we boast about the Lord? It’s certainly not us, is it? God helps to teach us that by choosing so many different people for his church—people of all nationalities, all income levels, all education levels, all over the world!
So what are we talking up when we boast about the Lord? The Lord, of course! And who is being “talked down”? That would be us, since we can take no credit for having the faith we have. It is all God’s doing. Can you think of another word that means talking the Lord up while talking ourselves down? Praise! God is praised when we think less of ourselves and talk loudly—yes, boastfully—about everything that the Lord has done in the lives of all of us!
So say it loud and say it proud, fellow Christians! The Lord is our God—and our Savior! Amen!