By Daniel Bobinski
Note: In March of 2020 I decided to use this space to focus on God’s greatest command. If you’re connecting with this series for the first time and would like to read the earlier columns on this topic, I encourage you to visit Christian Living’s website to read the whole series. Visit https://www.christianlivingmag.com/columns/
Let me start this installment in the series by referencing Proverbs 27:2 – “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips.”
It’s not a direct correlation, but keep that principle in the back of your mind as we step into our next “don’t” verb in our examination of godly love: Love does not boast.
The Greek word used here is the verb perpereuomai (per-per-yoo’-om-ahee), derived from perperos, which means braggart. To not perpereuomai means to not boast about one’s self or embellish one’s abilities.
Have you ever been around a person who always seems to inflate his or her knowledge or skill levels? Have you ever been such a person yourself?
As always, we must look at Jesus as our example, for God is love, and Jesus is the personification of God. Here was a guy who could call down legions of angels if He wanted, but He never went around bragging about it. He turned water into wine and fed 5,000 men and their families with just five loaves and two fishes, but He didn’t say He could also feed 50,000 with the same five loaves – even though He knew he could do it.
Jesus did not boast.
I recall someone I worked with decades ago. He’d attended an Ivy League university and graduated near the top of his class – and he wasn’t timid about reminding you of that fact. In fact, whenever I talked with him, he was always pointing out how he did things better than others.
After he came to a position of saving faith, he developed a passion for studying the Bible and discussing various doctrines, but he never really lost his “cockiness.” The man’s brother, also a Christian, finally had a talk with him – saying that he needed to practice more humility. About two months later, several of us were gathered at the man’s apartment, and out of the blue he told us he was “getting pretty good at the humility thing.”
The rest of us looked at each other and then looked back at him until he finally realized what he’d said, and we all had a good laugh. Ahh, humanity.
Why People Boast
Professionals who work in mental health tell us that boasting often stems from insecurities, a lack of self-esteem, or a lack of feeling valued. Puffing up one’s own deeds or knowledge or qualifications is an attempt to gain such approval or admiration.
To address this, it’s helpful for us Christians to understand our position in Christ:
- We are IN Him and he is IN us.
- He is love and He loves us, valuing us more than we can know.
- Because His Spirit is in us, His love is within us, ready to be given to others.
When I was attending a Bible study as a new believer, the topic of “self-esteem” came up. Oftentimes we teach that self-esteem comes from self – which is why it’s called self-esteem. As we grow up, we develop self-esteem by setting out to accomplish things and seeing the projects through.
There’s certainly truth to that. But beyond that is the overarching truth that we have Christ’s love within us, and having a relationship with Christ means we must receive and accept that love. To me, the scariest verse in the Bible is Jesus saying, “Away from me, I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21-23).
For a more explicit understanding that we are loved and valued, we must deeply understand that Jesus values us so much that He died on the cross for us. It’s from that understanding that we can feel secure and valued – and it’s not so much “self” esteem that we need, but rather “Jesus” esteem.
My friend from the Ivy League school had the right idea (humility), but his growth came from receiving and owning the truth that he was secure in Christ and valued beyond measure. With that, he stopped puffing up his sense of importance.
The Opposite of Boasting
By way of review, we’re in the section of 1 Corinthians 13 in which Paul tells us things we shouldn’t do if we’re going to live a life of love. And because nature abhors a vacuum, it’s not enough to just not do something. It’s better if we identify a godly opposite that we can strive for.
In the case of “Not Boasting,” an alternative behavior many people chose is “Be Humble.”
A common definition of humility is lowering our sense of importance. But that doesn’t mean we’re worthless. Quite the contrary. We must guard against false humility. Humility for a Christian is gaining that quiet confidence that we are valued beyond measure, and therefore have no need to seek approval from others.
Allow me to close with a story I heard about a Christian opera singer. As tradition goes, people brought her flowers after her performances. She used to refuse them, stating she gave all credit to God for her singing gift. But when she found out she was offending her fans and it was coming across as a false humility, she chose a different response. Instead, she graciously thanked people for the flowers, and later she took them to her dressing room where she “gave” the flowers to God, thanking Him for loving her so much and blessing her with her singing voice.
I believe receiving and “owning” the fact that God values us immensely goes a long way to reducing our need to have others be impressed with what we can do.