To Boast Or Not To Boast

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

2 Corinthians 10:7-15 | December 19 - Sunday Evening,

Sunday Evening,
December 19
To Boast Or Not To Boast | 2 Corinthians 10:7-15
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

It’s one of the most remarkable, amazing, and tragic stories from the Old Testament. You may recall the good king Hezekiah, and though we remember him as one of Judah’s righteous kings, yet perhaps you may recall that the ending of his days did not end so well. We read in 2 Chronicles, or in Isaiah, that he was facing the assault of Sennacherib, the king who had marched throughout the near eastern world, conquered kingdom after kingdom, and there he was on the footstep of Jerusalem, and yet Hezekiah prayed and the Lord came and sent a plague among the enemy and spared Judah.

And then we read next that Hezekiah, though he came within inches of death, yet he prayed that the Lord would spare his life and so the Lord made the hands of the clock turn back and gave him more years to his life. The Lord had dealt so kindly and graciously to Hezekiah.

But then toward the end of his days, we read that some envoys from Babylon came and he received them. Nothing wrong with receiving foreign dignitaries. But what he did next was troublesome. He made a point to show the envoys from Babylon all of the riches in his storehouses, everything across his kingdom, all of his sacred utensils, all of the precious metals, all of his silver and gold. It was a way for him to show to these traveling emissaries, “Look at all the splendor that I have.”

The sin, and there were many, at least one of them was Hezekiah’s failure to boast in the right things. Because there he had these pagans from the east, and he had an opportunity to boast. Perhaps he would have boasted before them of how he had saved his people from the Assyrians. Or maybe he would rejoice before them and he would say, “Let me tell you all that my God did for me when I prayed and He has given me now length of days,” but instead he boasted in all that he had, in all of his possessions, in his riches, in his earthly wealth and strength.

And it displeased the Lord. And more than that, it was a foreshadowing of things to come. Because in a matter of time, the Babylonians would be the big kid on the block and they would come in and having known the great wealth of God’s people in Judah, having seen it with their own eyes, having heard the first-hand reports, they would go and loot all of the treasures that Hezekiah had so boastfully displayed before the Babylonians.

It is a human instinct that none of us will get rid of, that we were made to boast. And the Bible doesn’t tell us that you cannot boast. Rather, the Bible tells us to boast in the right way of the right things.

And that’s what we read about here in 2 Corinthians chapter 10. There’s a definite theme for these chapters. In 10, 11, and 12 the theme is boasting. The word “boast” or its derivative occurs 22 times in 2 Corinthians 10, 11, and 12. So here we have the introduction of what will be the major theme throughout these chapters.

Follow along as I begin at verse 7:

“Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we. For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed. I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters. For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present. Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.”

“But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence. “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.”

You can clearly hear the frequency of the word “boast” or “boasting,” and yet the argument that Paul gives us is somewhat complicated and can appear to us at first convoluted. The difficulty is we’re hearing Paul’s take on things. Now he’s an inspired apostle and so we can trust his take on things, but we don’t know everything that has gone before. This is sort of like when you have, they do this in movies all the time, you need to get some sort of background information on what’s happening and you have somebody pick up the phone and then you just get one side of the conversation but they’re saying just enough that you can sort of guess what the other person was saying on the phone.

So we have to try to piece together what’s going on here to which Paul is responding. As we go through verse by verse, we’ll get a sense for it, but here’s the big picture. It seems that a rival group of teachers, maybe even missionaries we might call them, came to Corinth making extravagant claims for themselves. We read that they came in and they were commending themselves. Paul, on the other hand, does not commend himself, at least not in the way that the world does. These men who came in were boasters. Paul, on the other hand, thinks he has nothing to boast about, at least not what the Corinthians would consider worth boasting about.

So there was a group at Corinth, it seems, who preferred these rival teachers who came in rather that the Apostle Paul, even though they had gotten the Gospel from Paul and his associates.

So the problem was not yet affecting the whole church, but if it went unchecked it could mean the undermining of Paul’s authority in Corinth and ultimately the unraveling of the Gospel work that had been laid there.

Paul is put into the awkward position of having to, let’s put it quote/unquote “boast” so that the church won’t be led astray by a group of boasters who think that Paul has nothing to boast about because Paul doesn’t really want to boast in the first place. So it’s awkward, it’s difficult. Here are these men, they’re full of themselves. They have all of these credentials. They commend themselves and some people are really led astray by that, so what does Paul do? Does he play their game? Well, not quite, and yet he needs to respond somehow otherwise they’re in danger of running away and undermining the Gospel work.

The conclusion that we’ll come to in verse 17, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” This comes from Jeremiah 9:23 and 24 as we already heard in our service. Now when you hear this word, “boast,” don’t think only about bragging, that these men were coming in and just saying, “Look how good we are and we know the Lord and nah nah nah, you don’t.”

Rather think more expansively than that. When you hear in this passage “boast,” think what defines a person? What are your credentials? What do you have to show for yourself?

Perhaps you think of the word “glory.” What’s your glory? Or maybe to use a more contemporary word, what’s your identity? What is it deep inside you that makes you feel like when you walk into a room of strangers, you can hold your head up high? Or what is it that though you pretend you don’t really have but you desperately want so that you can hold your head up high?

See, some people boast and they really believe it, and then oftentimes the people who are the most braggadocios, they don’t really believe it about themselves, which is why they have to so overcompensate.

What is it that really gives you your sense of identity? What makes you you?

Now there’s a lot of things that we could say. Our family and things we do and hobbies and our vocation, and many ways we might introduce ourselves to a stranger. It’s not that finding some value in those things is wrong, but we’re talking about ultimately, what is your ultimate glory, your boast?

Is it your shape? Your popularity? Your position? Your prosperity? Your skin color? Your credentials? Your position? Your title?

When Paul here alludes to Jeremiah, he is leading us to think comprehensively about our identity. Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, let him who boasts in this – that he understands and knows Me.

Now notice, it does not say, “Let not the wise man boast because he has no wisdom. Let not the rich man boast because he has no riches.” That’s not the way to undercut boasting. It’s a fact of life. There are smart people, there are rich people, there are athletic people, there are beautiful people, there are influential people, there are powerful people. It does no good to pretend that, “No, no, no. I’m not any of those things.”

Somebody gives you a compliment. What do you do with that compliment? Well, many of us, we just immediately, mmm, stiff-arm, how dare you say something nice. You know what the humble thing often is? Thank you. Thank you.

So God is not asking us to pretend that we don’t have anything or there’s nothing good about us. That’s not the sort of absence of boasting about which Jeremiah speaks, or that Paul enjoins. Rather, notice what Jeremiah says: “If you’re wise, if you’re rich, if you’re powerful, here’s what you boast in. Not those things.” May be true, but your identity, your worth, your value, what makes you you is that you know the Lord. That’s what Jeremiah says.

Humility does not mean denying who you are, denying gifts that you have. The mighty are powerful, the rich are wealthy. Black people are black, white people are white. We don’t pretend that we don’t see those things. But where is your glory? What makes you special?

Some of you have those plates. We have one in our house. Oh, I think maybe we broke it. It says, “You are special,” and it would come out for birthdays.

What is it that gives you the “you are special” plate? What makes you worth something? What most fundamentally and most essentially makes you you?

The Bible says, “Boast in the Lord.”

We’ll see here in this passage, and we’ll move through it, five examples, two positive, three negative. Nothing fancy about our approach. We’re going to walk through quickly these verses and we’ll end up back where we started at verse 17.

So we have two positive examples, boast in this way, and three negative examples, don’t boast in this way.

Number one – boasting in the Lord means we praise God for the work that He does through us. We praise God for the work He does through us, verses 7 through 11.

Let’s start with verse 7: “Look at what is before your eyes.” It’s a command – Look, look in front of you. “Blepete,” it’s a great Greek word. Look. Open your eyes. It means, “Corinthians, what do you see?” Some in Corinth, remember, had accused Paul of walking according to the flesh. Saw that this morning. Of being a phony apostle, of not having legitimate credentials. They questioned his standing as a minister of the Gospel. We can read between the lines – they were questioning whether he was really of Christ. Probably not that they questioned whether he was a Christian, but they questioned whether he really had the power of Christ.

Chapter 13, verse 3, says “Since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me.” That’s what they probably meant, of Christ. Do you really have the power of Christ speaking in you? That’s their charge.

Now what does Paul do? Hmm, how do I, how do I defend myself without boasting about myself? Well, very shrewdly, wisely, Paul says, “Corinthians, okay, you question whether I am of Christ. Well, look about you, open your eyes.” What he means is look in the mirror. “You are Christians, aren’t you? There’s a church in Corinth, isn’t there? So you’re wondering whether I’m a legitimate apostle. You’re wondering if Christ really speaks through me. Well, let me just ask you this: Are you a Christian?” And he anticipates that they should answer, “Well, yes, we are. Yes, we see a church. Yes, we see God’s people.” Well, then they ought to conclude, “How did we become Christians? We heard the Gospel through this man Paul. We’re questioning whether he’s of Christ, but how did we become in Christ except that Christ was speaking through Paul? In other words, if I’m a good-for-nothing, if I’m a phone, if I’m too weak for good, if they’re more special than I am, then how is there a church? How did you…”

Now we understand you can’t always just say, “Well, look, there’s some sort of success here.” It’s possible that people preach Christ out of selfish reasons and preach Him falsely, or that people prove to make shipwreck of their faith. And yet, in our desire to correct sometimes an over-reliance on numbers or the danger of the success syndrome, we must not overreact and refuse to ever look at the fruit of our ministry. Paul does this often. He says, “You are my letters of recommendation. You don’t think Christ is in me, but you’re in Christ. How did that happen?” That’s his argument.

And it’s worth thinking about your own life. What sort of fruit do you see? Depending, you have different stages of life and you may be very busy raising kids and those are going to be the, that’s the fruit you’re looking for right now, or you may not have children or you may be a teenager or you may not have the strength and the vigor that you once did, and yet all of us as we have breath have some opportunity to minister to others.

Can you look over the last two years? Have you led anyone to Christ? Have you discipled anyone? Have you raised children? Have you prayed with people? Have you taught people the Bible? Have you been a source of Gospel encouragement? Are there people whose prayers have been answered through you?

We don’t boast in ourselves, but we boast in what the Lord has done through us. We don’t live, as one author put it, we don’t live for the resume virtues, we live for the funeral eulogy. You’ve got things you put on a resume. Okay, things you’ve done, the accomplishments and the positions you’ve had and your education and maybe you’re class rank and your sales figures, the sort of things that you put when you’re trying to get a job, and yet when it comes to the funeral eulogy, whether it’s for a Christian or not, those are rarely the things that are focused upon, and if it is, it seems rather sad.

But then you focus upon the work that Christ did to transform a life, what Christ has done in us. I hope that when I die there are people who can say “I worship Jesus because of what the Lord did through him,” and I hope you pray the same for yourself, that there will be people who say, “I know the Bible better, I saw more of Christ, I came to church because of what Christ did through them.”

Paul says to the Corinthians, “Would you open your eyes? You’re putting me in a corner, but would you just look in the mirror and see. You’re my fruitfulness.”

And he responds to two specific complaints in what follows. You see in verse 8 there’s a complaint that the severe letter was too severe. So verse 8 he’s speaking again with some irony, and you have to assume that he’s responding to some of their complaints about him. He says even if I boast a little too much of our authority, because one of the things they didn’t like about Paul is his letters were very strong. They were weighty. They felt severe. So some of them believed that Paul was flaunting his authority.

Now Paul in one sense doesn’t admit to the charge, but he twists it and he owns it in a different way. He says, “Okay. You think that I write with too much authority. Well, you’re right. I do have authority. But I do it to build you up, not to tear you down.”

Just because we see in so many places authority being abused, we must not think that authority is something bad. The Lord Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”

This is the difference between authority used for God’s ends and authority used for man’s end. Does it build up? Or does it destroy? They didn’t like Paul speaking and writing with authority. It shows that not every accusation of an abuse of authority is true. It wasn’t here with Paul. But he warns against the wrong kind of authority.

He says, “You think that I’m too authoritarian. Well, I will boast in loving you enough to say the hard things. I don’t want to destroy you. I want to build you up.”

And then they charge him, you can see in verse 9 and 10, with inconsistency. “Well, he’s frightening in his letters. You open up the letter and the mail comes and it says Apostle Paul in the top and everyone, oh, no, Paul. A Paul letter. Okay, buckle up, guys. This is going to be tough.” They don’t like his letters. They’re scared of him and his letters, and then he comes and he’s rather weak. He’s inconsistent.

Paul reassures them this is not the case. Verse 11: “Understand what we say by letter when absent we do when present.” As we saw this morning, his desire is to be gentle and meek, and he will speak boldly if he has to. Here he says, “I’m not inconsistent. I write with authority and when I come, if I have to, the very things that I wrote about I will do in your midst. But ultimately, it’s the Lord in me and you see it in your own lives because you’re the fruit of my Gospel ministry.”

So here’s one right way to boast – you boast in what the Lord has done through you. And that doesn’t mean you just use it as, we all know people who can do the kind of humble brag or just, “oh, praise be to God” and then they talk about themselves ad nauseam. That’s not what Paul is doing. He genuinely is saying, “If you must know what I have to commend myself, it’s you. It’s you and what God did through me to transform you.”

Second. Here’s a negative example, verse 12: Boasting in the Lord means we do not boast based on comparisons. He says that plainly, “not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves.” Good boasting means the Lord is at work through me. Here’s bad boasting: Commending yourself and comparing yourself.

I picture in my mind this group of teachers or missionaries who had come to Corinth. They’re making a big show. Okay, everyone, who has letters of recommendation? And all the hands go up except Paul. Who has great visions? Well, Paul’s going to talk about one reluctantly later in chapter 12, and when he does so, he doesn’t even mention himself by name because he doesn’t want to play the same game they’re playing.

All right, who has made a lot of money through their teaching? Because obviously that’s an indication of how gifted you are as a teacher.

They come in and they want to commend themselves, and the quickest way to do it is by comparison. Paul says, “I’m not going to do that.”

Now again, there’s some irony here. He’s saying, “Oh, I couldn’t dare compare myself to you spiritual giants.” Paul’s not impressed by the things that impress the world. They only look good because they’ve learned to compare themselves against others. Like a man who sees out of one eye bragging about his vision because all of his friends are blind. It’s a comparison.

I could tell you that I have, this is true, I have a shoebox with all of the medals that I’ve gotten from different races I’ve run. And you know what? Most of them are participant. Whoooo. But they’re very big. They get bigger all the time. Sometime I just wear them around the house and see if the kids notice. But from time to time, I have gotten some second, third place. I can’t remember if I, I think if I, I would have remembered if I got a first. I don’t think. But I’ve got some second, some third. But what I don’t want you to know that it’s in my age group when there are four people. Or two people. I’ll take it. Second place with two people. You don’t need to know. Just ask, “How’d it go, Pastor?” “Second place. Got a big fat medal and a ribbon.”

It’s a lot easier to get second place with two people. In fact, it’s much more difficult not to get second place with two people. If we compare ourselves with the right people, we can always have a reason to boast. You can always find someone less mature, less knowledgeable, less godly. We can always find ways to think more highly of ourselves. Not a day goes by, and this is true to the human heart, when most of us don’t at some point feel good, that proverbial walking into the room and holding our head up high. Why? Because you know that you give more. Or that you serve more. Or maybe that you’re grades are better. Or that you’ve traveled to more places. Or that you make more money. This boasting is so deadly because it takes away from the glory of God and ultimately you know who it hurts? It takes away your own peace. Because when you get in the comparison game, you find that you fail at it as often as you succeed at it.

If you’re going out into the world each day, in your heart “I gotta get a ribbon better than somebody else and until I can do that,” you know what you end up doing with your life? You have to constantly knock people down so that you can somehow get that ribbon, and then when you don’t, you end up losing all sorts of peace and you seek for your identity in other things because you lose the comparison game as often as you win it.

You know what all of us do with the comparison game? We gravitate toward the comparisons we can win. So the person who, we don’t get much more mature sometimes than teenagers or middle school or high school. The person who’s handsome or beautiful puts their worth in that and who cares about grades? And the person who isn’t the best athlete, those things don’t matter, but look at how good I am at music or scholastics, and we do this all throughout life. We find the things that we can win at.

I know people who write books and if they sell a lot of books, say, “Well, they might not be very good, they might not be all that deep, but look, the people that write all the deep books, nobody reads those.” And the people who write the deep books say, “Well, yeah, I could sell all these books, but that’s just a sell-out. At least I’m writing something that’s worthwhile.”

We always find a way to compare ourselves with somebody else. Paul says, “That’s not how I’m going to boast.” You don’t boast by playing the comparison game.

Third. So that was the first. Here’s the next negative, but third of the five overall. Boast in the Lord means we do not exaggerate our strengths or accomplishments. You see in verse 13: “We will not boast beyond limits.” Now what Paul is thinking about here is a geographic, a literal geographic boundary. Remember, he’s the apostle to the Gentiles. This area was part of his apostolic ministry. He was the first to reach them with the Gospel. He planted a church among them. Therefore, it was appropriate that he would take some pride in them. That he would boast about the Corinthians. They were God’s workmanship through Paul.

But what he says here is, “I’m only boasting in my area of influence. I’m not taking credit for anything else. I’m talking about the Lord’s work through me to you, Corinthians.” That’s what he means when he says, “We will boast only with regard to the area of influence.” Verse 14, “We are not overextending ourselves as though we did not reach you.” He says, “Of course I’m, in a spiritual way, of course I’m proud of you, Corinthians. You’re the ones that I preached the Gospel to and planted a church there.” There’s nothing wrong with Paul having some good Gospel, God-uplifting pride there. But he says, “I’m not taking credit for something else. I’m not overextending myself. I’m not pretending to be something I’m not.”

To this day, I shouldn’t admit this, but to this day when I get my picture taken, if we get around to having our Christmas photo taken sometime, it’s going to be more like a Groundhog’s Day letter this year, but I still instinctively find myself on my tiptoes. I’m just with my family. Who am I impressing? You’re getting the letter but somehow there’s still, I could be an inch taller. Why do we do that? Why do we extend ourselves? Braggarts, trying to be…

Sometimes we brag about the most ridiculous things. People will exaggerate what time they get up in the morning, what time they go to bed at night. How many places they’ve traveled. Where they’ve been. We find all of these ways, and Paul says, “I’m not overextending myself. I am just a straight shooter. I’m telling you I’m not putting some spin on it.”

It would be like if I pretended that I was a very exemplary eater because I told you I never use salad dressing. Now that’s true. I never use salad dressing. Wow, Pastor, you must be an example for all of us. Well, it’s easy. I don’t eat salad, unless I have to really because I’m trying to seem like a good pastor or something. So I don’t, we don’t need to pretend to be what we’re not.

Rounding up all the good numbers in life. We know how to do this. Money, round up. Attendance at church, round up. Time spent in prayer, round up. Bad numbers, round down. Weight, how fast we drive, how much we drink, those round down.

Sometimes we exaggerate our importance simply by talking about ourselves as if everyone should be so interested in what we have to say and do.

Paul says, “I’m not going to boast in that way. I’m not exaggerating. I’m not talking at length about my accomplishments.”

Fourth. Boasting in the Lord means we do not take credit for the work we didn’t accomplish. Verses 15 and 16: “We do not boast beyond limit in the labor of others.”

Remember, these rival teachers had invaded Paul’s turf, tried to discredit him, and now only that, they tried to take credit for his work. They were boasting in the labors of others.

It would be like if I went to another church in town and I started a Bible study in someone’s home and I bad-mouthed the pastor in that church, and then I looked around at all the people that were there on a Sunday morning and I said, “Isn’t it amazing what I’ve been able to build in so short a time?” No, no, you didn’t do anything. You’re undermining the work here.

Paul says, “I’m not taking credit. That’s what the false teachers are doing. They’re coming in and they’re taking credit for you when you are my workmanship.”

It’s the husband taking credit for the meal and the clean house or if the husband’s the one doing the meal and the clean house, the wife taking credit for it. It’s the students taking credit for the group project when they were the ones who slacked off. Sometimes my children will tell me, “You know what? I don’t like group projects because it always means that one person does all the work.” I said, “Ah, there’s a valuable lesson in life there.” It often does mean that, and I suppose the good thing is if they don’t like it, maybe they’re the ones doing the work, maybe the ones I don’t hear from are the ones who aren’t doing any of the work and thank you to your students who are doing it.

There’s a missionary principle here. Paul is thinking about pioneering, church planting work, but although this is specific to Paul as a pioneer church planter going to places where the Gospel has not been known, there’s something here of a principle at work for all of us. We should not be out to invade other people’s groups or churches or Gospel ministry. We should not be trying to capture someone else’s accomplishments.

Paul wanted to settle things at Corinth so he could move on. His aim he says here in these verses was to preach, verse 16, in lands beyond you without boasting of work already done. He had no desire to go in to some place where the Gospel already was known and take credit for the work that had been done. His specific calling as a pioneering missionary was to go where Christ had not been known.

And even though that was specific to Paul as a missionary, yet the principle is the same for each of us. When we boast in the Lord, we do not take credit for the things we did not accomplish. We are happy to pass on the accolades to others. It’s one of the great principles of leadership, in whatever church, business, home: Good leaders own criticism and pass around accolades. Bad leaders pass around the criticism and own all of the praise. Everything that good comes in, they take it. All the bad things, that’s somebody else’s fault. No, the humble person, the mature Christian, is willing, not foolishly being the fall for every bad thing, but is willing to say, “You know what? I’ll take that criticism, and you know who’s responsible for all the good things? It’s not me. I could praise any number of people.”

Some of you have seen before or heard this as an illustration, but you can go and look it up some time. In 2009, I think it was, the NBA Hall of Fame class had David Robinson and Michael Jordan. I was born in Chicago, Chicago fan, Michael Jordan fan. But the contrast between those two acceptance speeches was striking. Whereas Michael Jordan in quintessential Jordan fashion took the opportunity to talk about everyone who had ever slighted him, everyone who had ever doubted him, everyone who had ever gotten in his way and used it as a motivation to prove to them that he was going to be the best, so he used his speech to settle scores and to put other people down and I think he even flew out somebody who had been chosen for the basketball team all years ago ahead of him just so he could sort of say, “Ha ha ha, now what do you have to say?” It was quintessential Jordan. And to be sure, it was part of what made him the best.

But you contrast that to David Robinson, player for the Spurs, Christian. All he wanted to do was pass around thanks to others. It was marked by humility, gratitude, pointing out to everyone, family and friends and people in the military and coaches and teammates, and everyone else that had made him and allowed him the greatness that was not really his but was owing to everyone else.

Godly humility boasts in what others have made us rather than what we have made ourselves.

And then here’s the final point. Boasting in the Lord means we value the Lord’s opinion more than our own. Verse 18, “for it is not the one who commends himself who is approved but the one whom the Lord commends.”

This is very counter-cultural. Look at it again. It is not the one who commends himself who is approved. Just let that sink in. You may be utterly convinced you’re right and still be wrong. You may commend yourself. You may walk through life with absolute self-actualization, sky-high self-esteem, and yet if there’s one person in this universe who does not commend you, it counts for nothing and less than nothing. Our world tells us there’s nothing more important than you feel good about yourself, and that you’re proud of yourself, that you accomplish your goals, that you live true to your ideals, that you live by your truth.

You hear people say that, “Well, my truth is… ” What really matters is whether your truth actually is *the* truth, and what matters beyond that is whether you know the One who announced “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” What matters is what God thinks of you.

God is not like some teachers who say, “You know what? This semester why don’t, or on this assignment, why don’t you give yourself the grade you think you deserve.” I had teachers who sometimes did that. I can tell you, seminary students, I’m never going to grade your papers that way. I never liked it when teachers did that to me. Well, why don’t you give yourself the grade you think you deserve? I’m just tangled up. I think, well, I want to get an A and I kind of think I should get an A, but it’s going to be seen pretty … So I always gave myself an A-. It really wasn’t humility, it was just the sort of humility, well, I don’t want to seem like I’m very proud, so maybe I’ll just, or a low A, that’s what I think I deserve.

You read these studies after studies of American self-perceptions and the way that we perceive other people. We tend to think, ahh, they’re average to below average. The way we perceive ourselves, whoo, sky high. Almost everyone thinks they are well above average. It’s amazing how that works. There’s an average, and everyone’s above it. We are hardwired, culturally conditioned on top of that, to commend ourselves and Paul says, “Here’s what matters.”

Now he’s not saying mope around the world feeling miserable all the time. We’ve seen that. What he says is ultimately what matters is what God thinks of you.

How much more attention might we pay to our own souls if we truly believed this? How much happier might we be if we knew that the Lord’s commendation was the only one that really mattered? He’s the judge. He’s the one handing out the grades. He’s the one handing out the awards. He’s the only one who’s “like” or “follow” or “retweet” actually matters. And praise God, He hands out His awards not according to merit but according to grace.

Who are you? What makes you you? Why can you leave this place in just a few moments, hold your head up high, feeling good about yourself as you leave? Because you’re pretty? Because your house is clean? Because you study things or write things that no one else understands? Because you’re very nice? Because you have lots of children or grandchildren? Because you’ve learned to feel good at yourself, about yourself?

Or is ultimately the only reason, and the most satisfying and only eternally peaceful reason, that we know the Lord? Is that really what’s animating you? Is that really when you wake up that you can feel happy, humble, healthy, holy, because your boast… This is a lifetime project, and it takes the Spirit’s work for every single one of us, because we are hardwired to find reasons to boast in ourselves, comparing ourselves, and the devil loves that because there’s no freedom there and there’s no glory to God there.

Calvin says, “Let us therefore leaving off all other things, aim exclusively at this, that we may be approved by God, may be satisfied to have His approbation alone as it justly ought to be regarded by us as of more value than the applause of the whole world.”

What would you rather have? To stand in one of the great stadiums of the world, with hundred thousand people all round, cameras beaming all across, people live tweeting it, everyone seeing it, and all at once they stand to give you applause. Or to have God and God alone say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done. You are My child, My beloved one, My treasured possession.”

The only One worth impressing sits in heaven and He laughs at the nations that so furiously rage. We are all trying to be somebody. We are all trying to look impressive to someone. What’s your glory? What’s my glory? What is your boast? What makes you you?

Well, verse 17 tells us: Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.

Let’s pray. Father in heaven, all glory to You. Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name be glory. Help us, help me, to live this, to believe it deep down, and to find the freedom that only comes from boasting not in ourselves, not in comparison with others, but in Christ and Him crucified, and in His name we pray. Amen.