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Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:4, “love does not brag.” Paul uses the word perpereuomai, which is from perperos, “braggart.” It is the only time that this Greek word is used in the entire New Testament. It means “to boast one’s self in a display of self-promotion.” The usual word for “boast” is kaucheomai, which is compounded from aucheo, “to boast” and euchomai, “to pray.”
Paul’s unusual use of the word perpereuomai suggests that he was thinking primarily of the nuance of self-promotion. The word was not used in the Septuagint, so we have no Hebrew equivalent for it. The usual Hebrew word for boast and boastful is halal, “praise,” and most of the time, this word speaks of praising God (halalu-Yah), rather than men. But the word is also used of men who praise themselves.
Psalm 34:2 says,
2 My soul shall make its boast [halal] in the Lord; the humble shall hear it and rejoice.
But Psalm 5:5 adds,
5 The boastful [halal] shall not stand before Thine eyes; Thou dost hate all who do iniquity.
In this parallelism, the boastful are equated with “all who do iniquity.” In Psalm 75:4 the boastful are equated with “the wicked.”
People brag in order to draw attention to themselves and to make themselves appear to be important. Bragging is selfish and is motivated by pride, while love is humble and builds up others.
The sports world is full of bragging. We have come to expect sports figures say, “I am the greatest,” or “No one can beat me.” We seem to give them the right to brag—until they are proven wrong, which always happens in the end. Yet the damage is done, because those who admire such boasters tend to emulate them, seeing nothing wrong with such self-promotion.
Grace, the Antidote to Boasting
In the religious world, bragging is less blatant than what we see in the sports world. But because self-promotion and bragging is a characteristic of the mortal soul, God must remove it by His Spirit. Religious people merely hide it under a fig leaf and hope no one notices it.
The law of grace is rooted in the law of Jubilee, which cancels all debt (sin) and sets men free whether they deserve it or not. The law of Jubilee does not work against the law which demands payment of restitution to one’s victims, nor does it protect men from being enslaved if they are unable to pay what they owe. The Jubilee simply limits the time of their enslavement to a maximum of 49 years.
The Jubilee is a law of Time and is therefore time-based. Men are enslaved UNTIL the year of Jubilee. Yet regardless of how much debt a man still owes, it is cancelled the moment the shofar blows to signal the Jubilee, and every man then is set free to return to his family and his God-given inheritance.
This is the grace of God, for such freedom has nothing to do with a man’s works, nor even his own will. The Jubilee is a law of God alone, and God’s will supersedes man’s will.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8, 9,
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast [kauchaomai].
Christians tend to read Paul’s statement in reverse, as if he had said, “By faith you have been saved through grace.” This is incorrect. Grace is the overriding law that saves us; faith is the evidence that God’s grace is working now in a person. Faith comes by hearing God’s voice (Romans 10:17), so faith is a response to God’s voice. Faith is evidence that God has healed someone’s ears, so that they are able to hear His voice. But such healing, which allows faith, comes by grace. Therefore, grace comes only by the will of God, not by the will of man.
Faith certainly involves man’s will, but it is a response to God’s will. When we fail to understand this, we tend to boast about our faith, as if it were something that we accomplished. But faith “is the gift of God.” Hence, faith is not inherent, nor does it spring naturally from the will of man. But some people say, “my faith saved me,” treating faith as an accomplishment of man’s will—that is, a work of man, rather than of God. Hence, because people focus upon faith without understanding its dependence upon grace, they often boast without realizing it.
So Paul says of Abraham in Romans 4:2,
2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God.
Abraham heard the voice of God, and his response proved that he had faith. His faith was shown by the fact that he believed that what God had promised, He was able to perform (Romans 4:21). Our faith too is evidenced by our response—in particular, to God’s New Covenant vow, which He made, not only to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but to the whole world (Deuteronomy 29:12, 13, 14, 15). The question is whether or not we believe that He is able to “perform.” Was this just wishful thinking on God’s part, or is God actually able to do this?
Most people’s faith is small, for it is limited. They believe that God is able to save them, but not the whole world. Yet Jesus Himself said that if He were to be lifted up on the cross, He would draw all men to Himself (John 12:32, 33). Can He, indeed, do this? Or does His success rest upon the will of men and man’s ability to evangelize the world?
To give praise to God, rather than man, we must understand that grace is the root of salvation and that faith is the visible tree. No tree lives apart from its root. Likewise, the sovereignty of God precedes the authority of man. Authority is authorized by a higher power, so man’s authority itself is a gift and remains subject to the sovereignty of God.
The Example of Gideon
When God called Gideon to deliver Israel from the Midianite captivity, 32,000 Israelites responded to the call to arms (Judges 7:3). God then pared down the army to 10,000 and later to a mere 300 men (Judges 7:7). God’s reasoning is given in Judges 7:2,
2 And the Lord said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, lest Israel become boastful, saying, “My own power has delivered [yasha] me.”
Deliverance is salvation. The Hebrew word used here is yasha, which is the root of yeshua (Jesus). In other words, the lesson is that Jesus is our Deliverer, and we ought not to think that our own strength (or faith) has delivered us. All of the stories of deliverance in the Scriptures are designed to teach us that deliverance comes by God alone and by His grace.
Any time men take credit for their deliverance (salvation), they boast in themselves, rather than making their boast in God.
Boasting in God
1 Corinthians 1:31 quotes Psalm 34:2 saying, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” Again, in 1 Corinthians 3:21, Paul says, “So then let no one boast in men.” In fact, Paul engaged in reverse boasting, for he said in 2 Corinthians 11:30, “If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.”
In other words, instead of saying, “I am the greatest,” he said in 1 Corinthians 15:9,
9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
Again, in Ephesians 3:8 Paul referred to himself as “the very least of all saints.”
Instead of competing with other believers to be the greatest, we ought to compete to be the least. I would like to see the churches set up a contest to see who is the least and who can love the most. Instead, however, the competition rages on, with churches railing against each other, each trying to set forth its doctrinal statement as the Final Truth in order to steal sheep and build one’s own flock.
We ought to be servants who assist them, rather than masters trying to beat them into subjection. But the heart of a servant requires humility and love. Boasting springs from selfish pride. So let us make our boast in God, showing the world the marvels of His love and grace, remembering that the world may be impressed with a God of Power, but lives are changed only by a God of Love.