Is There a Good Kind of Boasting?

How can we live in such a way that our lives boast in the Lord?

Have you ever felt stuck between trying to be humble while also wanting to be confident? Perhaps someone tells you not to “push yourself forward” but then someone else tells you to “stand up for what is right.” What is the difference between the two? How is it possible for you yourself to stand up for what is right if you do not at the same time also (in some way or another) assert yourself?

Or, perhaps you are a preacher, and you have been told that preaching is God’s truth mediated through personality. Well, if that is at least one appropriate definition of preaching, then how can you both let God’s truth shine through your personality, and also at the same time get out of the way and let the text speak for itself? However hard you try to “let the text speak for itself,” if you are preaching, then that voice of the text will still come forward with your own personal voice, your accent, your mode of thinking and operating. How can you preach humbly, when the very act of preaching is to herald the truth?

Or maybe you have noticed the criticism of “celebrity pastors.” You don’t want to be one of those, and you don’t want to encourage anyone else to be a “celebrity pastor” either. And yet, at the same time, how is it possible publicly and boldly to advance God’s name if no one even knows your name (if you are the one doing the promotion of God’s name)? Where is the line between self-promotion (usually thought to be wrong) and you yourself promoting God (usually thought to be right)? Or, perhaps you wonder how it is possible for someone who is conscious of their own failings and sins to be at the same time confidently rejoicing in their status before God and in their eternal salvation?

I have thought about these questions a lot recently. I have become frustrated by the celebrity culture, and yet also equally frustrated by the lack of standing up for what is right, sharing the gospel and living lives with holy zeal. I believe the answer lies in grasping the biblical teaching about boasting. There is the wrong kind, of course, but also (most strangely and most biblically) there is a right kind. There is a kind of boasting that is biblical and healthy, humble and holy: good for society, the church, your family, your relationships; good for your marriage, for your parents, for your children; good for God’s glory.

What would this sort of boasting, of a positive boasting kind, look like in the present and the future? What would it look like, in a future sense also, actually to build a reliable, realistic and concretely practical mode of living and interacting with other human beings that was definitively boasting in the Lord?

Are we talking only about singing worship songs in church with particular vim and zest? Is this only about being particularly enthusiastic about preaching or leading Bible studies or doing church planting or the like—specific ministry activities—or is it something that encompasses the non-religious aspects of life too? And is this boasting inevitable, non-related to intelligence, or to put it a different way: Is the trajectory of boasting likely to be a little brainless, thoughtless, lacking in prudent wisdom and careful consideration? Can we really, with abandon and audacity, boast in the Lord at the same time as also giving careful weight to our viewpoints, not asserting beyond what the evidence dictates, being judicious in our assessments of potential risks, and generally having wisdom that also biblically is greatly praised—certainly the wisdom that has its foundation in the fear of the Lord?

First, think rightly. There is no point in generating enthusiasm for a particular activity if it is not surely grounded on a right and solid foundation in truth. We need to understand and know, internalize and have our minds and our hearts shaped with the truth, in order for us to be zealous about the truth. God’s people have before had zeal, but without knowledge. And it is essential that if boasting in the Lord is at least, in some way or other, a subset of zeal, that this kind of zeal is one that is genuinely, truly and profoundly, rooted and established in the truth of God, in his Word, and in what he says about any particular matter as it correlates to the truth of the world, his universe and his creation.

Second, do rightly. If thinking is important—thinking truly and accurately, carefully and profoundly, and in accordance with what is real and biblical—it is also important that we do not stay stuck in our minds. Right thinking leads to right action; otherwise, there is no right thinking. To think rightly about poverty will lead to action about poverty; otherwise, we have not thought rightly about poverty. Or to put it as Jesus put it, by their fruits you will know them (Matt. 7:20). A good tree produces good fruit. We need to live morally, to live with Christian holy charity, humble love, godliness and Christlikeness, and to take this character invested in us by God’s Spirit and apply it to the real issues of our day and our age, and genuinely and actively make a difference.

Third, speak rightly. Those who think will do, and those who are thinking and doing rightly, though, need also not undermine the power of speech. The word, the spoken word, the written word, has a life of its own. If the underpinning of the universe is logos, the Word of God, and if all that is, everything that exists, actually is held up and sustained by the word of his power, then we are wise to make sure that our words are impactful rationally and biblically, affectionally and passionately, and in a positive boasting sense. The words we choose with our children and our friends, with our parents and our spouse, with our colleagues at work and our boss, and with our employees—all these words can either build up or tear down. To positively boast is to apply these words with passionate care, and glorious attention to the precise nuance of what we write—yes, even what we write in the blogosphere, or in the comments sections of posts on Internet forums—and therefore not only be thinking and doing truth, but also speaking truth.

Fourth, love rightly. While in some sense love and its constituent thoughts and feelings, actions and interactions, could be summarized under one of the previous three points, if we take Scripture seriously, it deserves its own separate point and emphasis. Love is the greatest, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, and if we act or speak without love, then those actions and speeches mean I gain nothing, and I am nothing. We must pray for the love that God has for those around us, to sense it, reflect and embody it, yes also feel it, and be moved by that love—not in a soppy, sentimental way, but in a generous and kind, compassionate and Christlike (there is no better descriptor), humble love. Humility in love is an ingredient without which love becomes patriarchially or matriarchally dominant, loving the other for the sake of how wonderful is love for the person doing the loving; not for the person on the receiving end of the love. But Christian love frees, does not dominate or overlord; it is a genuine and open-handed, seamless and guileless, love for the other and for God most of all.

Fifth, sacrifice rightly. To truly have a passionate boasting in the Lord, engagement with the world around us requires that we actually engage with that world in the same way that Christ did, and in the way that he insisted was necessary for us to follow in his footsteps. To follow Jesus at all, and certainly to do so with positive boasting such that there is an impact on the world, simply requires Christ-like sacrifice, picking up our cross and following him. What this will mean in each of our situations will have its own particularities, and cannot be generalized beyond the principle: The man nursing his sick wife will have a different kind of self-sacrifice than the pastor facing persecution. Each, though, is following the same call, and in the self-sacrifice for the sake of redemption is having a profound, enormous story-worth-telling kind of impact on society, church and the world.

In short, and in summary, if you know Jesus, if you love him, don’t be quiet about it.

Adapted from Boasting: When We Boast Right, We Live Right, and We Bear Much Fruit to God’s Honor by Josh Moody. He is senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and founder and president of God Centered Life Ministries.