A few years ago, my son Theo got a summer job selling a particular brand of cutlery. One day, after he received his training, he came home…and you guessed it—his parents were going to be his first customers! In the first few sentences of his sales pitch, he said, “Dad, we can throw away all your kitchen knives after you buy this set!” I was shocked, as I could hardly remember him ever saying anything before with such confidence and with a dose of pride. As I continued listening to his persuasive talk, it became apparent that he fully bought into the idea that his employer made the best kind of knives in the entire world.
“Boasting is a sin”—all Christians would say this, right? Indeed, it is not right to be boastful, as it has its root in pride. The Bible is full of passages on the sinfulness of pride and boasting (for example, Judges 7:2; 1 Samuel 2:3; Psalms 49:6; Proverbs 27:1; and many more). Yet, the Greek verb καυχάομαι, “to boast,” and its cognates appear sixty-three times in the New Testament. Most notably, thirty-nine usages are found in the Corinthian correspondence, with almost half employed in defense of Paul’s apostolic authority and ministry. Was Paul boastful?
The practice of self-praise or glory was common among popular teachers and philosophers of the Greco-Roman honor and shame culture. They spoke with pride of their accomplishment and status to advance their arguments or position and win over adherents. However, Paul strongly opposed those who boasted about themselves, believers and nonbelievers alike (1 Corinthians 1:28–29; 3:21–23). Yet, on one occasion in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul said that he was forced to boast (2 Corinthians 11:16 and following; 12:1). Why?
His opponents were trying to discredit Paul and his ministry and, by extension, discredit the Christ who sent him. So, Paul defended himself by recounting his heritage (2 Corinthians 11:22; compare Philippians 3:3–7), suffering in ministries (2 Corinthians 11:23–33), and even supernatural experiences (2 Corinthians 12:1–6; compare 1 Corinthians 14:18–19) to show that he was better than these pretenders of faith (2 Corinthians 11:2–4, 11). A careful reading of these texts will show that when Paul boasted, we do not come away seeing Paul’s loftiness. Instead, we are drawn to a passionate Paul who loved his flock; more significantly, we see Christ who sustained him.
Similarly, Paul’s choice of word in Romans 5:2–3, “And we boast in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in the sufferings…” is significant. One commentator tries to render the term as “joyfully confident of.” It may work in Romans 5:2 but would need a little stretching in 5:3, for how can one be joyfully confident of his or her sufferings? Perhaps my son’s experience as a salesman would help illustrate this.
Theo presented his products with confidence and pride, not in himself, but in the company that made them. He had faith in that company and said it with joy and glory, again not in himself but in the prestigious cutlery manufacturer. Likewise, Paul and those with him were “joyfully confident with a sense of pride” of their hope in the glory of God. They looked forward to God’s generous sharing of his magnificent glory with those who did not deserve it! So much so that they could endure suffering with confidence, with a sense of pride, in the great God whom they trusted because this suffering ultimately would lead to hope for God’s coming glory.
Therefore, Christians today should not boast or brag about themselves. Instead, our boasting should direct others’ attention to God through our lives. When we are blessed, praise God! He is the one who blesses us, not because we deserve to receive these blessings. When we suffer, we can endure not because we are more spiritual or capable but only because He is the one who enables us to go through life’s trials. As we boast in our Maker, we invite others to experience His faithfulness in every season—whether good or bad.
About the Contributors
Before joining DTS in 2008, Dr. Chia taught at Chung Yuan Christian University and served as an adjunct professor with several seminaries in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the United States. Through his experience as a lead pastor and interactions with the Chinese Christian community in Asia and North America, Dr. Chia has developed a passion for seminarians by inspiring them to study God’s Word in the original languages and by equipping them to be responsible interpreters of God’s word and servant-leaders to His church. Dr. Chia encourages Chinese seminarians to work together on the task of improving Chinese translations of the Bible. He and his wife have one son.