The concept of boasting is found frequently in both the Old and the New Testaments. The object of boasting determines its nature. If it is God or the commendable qualities of others, then boasting can be described as proper; if it is wrongly applied to oneself, then it is improper. The Hebrew word mahalal [l'l}h;m] is sometimes translated "boast." The basic meaning of the word is "to praise, " as in the English word "hallelujah, " which means "praise Jehovah." The Greek word kauchaomai [kaucavomai] ("to vaunt oneself") is used in the New Testament. Like its Hebrew counterpart, it is used in both a good and a bad sense.
Proper Boasting In Psalm 44:8 the sons of Korah confess, "In God we make our boast all day long." There is no higher or more appropriate form of boasting than this. The Hebrew word mahalel [l'l}h;m] also conveys the idea of chanting loud praises. Some scholars have suggested that the loudness of the praise was intended to drive away evil spirits, but that is unlikely. The hampering of Satan, however, may be a byproduct of praise since Satan cannot accomplish his purposes where God is exalted. It should also be pointed out that included in praising God is the joy that we experience in doing so.
Boasting about God is one of humankind's most profitable activities. Jesus told the woman at the well that the Father seeks our worship ( John 4:23 ). Both anthropologists and psychologists tell us that human beings invariably imitate what they worship, so the end result of boasting in God is the sincere aspiration to be like him ( 2 Cor 4:18 ).
The Scriptures encourage us to engage in proper boasting or praise of other human beings: "Let another praise you, and not your own mouth" ( Prov 27:2 ); "a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised" ( Prov 31:30 ). Paul boasts in the churches when he can ( 2 Cor 7:14 ), and our Lord himself commends six of the seven churches to whom he speaks in the Book of Revelation. Proper boasting in others is a source of encouragement in the body of Christ. In addition to boasting in others, Paul also boasts in hope of the glory of God ( Rom 5:2 ), sufferings ( Rom 5:3 ), God ( Rom 5:11 ), the Lord (Christ) ( 1 Cor 1:31 ; Php 3:3 ), his infirmities ( 2 Cor 12:9 ), and the cross ( Ga 6:14 ). These uses of kauchaomai [kaucavomai] basically convey the idea of "rejoicing" or "glorifying" as the word is translated in most versions.
Improper Boasting The wrong way to boast is to boast in ourselves. After saying that we have received everything from God, Paul poses the question, "Why do you boast as though you did not?" ( 1 Co 4:7 ), clearly implying that any time we boast in ourselves we are taking praise that belongs to God alone. Paul also mentions the fact that we should not boast in other people ( 1 Co 3:21 ), in the sense of putting them above Christ. We should also not boast in appearances rather than what is in the heart ( 2 Cor 5:12 ). We are warned not to boast beyond proper limits ( 2 Cor 10:13 ). We must refrain from presenting an exaggerated description of ourselves. In the great passage on grace as the means of salvation Paul describes salvation as not being "by works." Because it is God's gift, "no one can boast" ( Eph 2:9 ). Therefore, we are not to boast as if we were self-sufficient. James reminds us that all arrogant boasting is evil (4:16).
Boasting in oneself is an expression of pride. Those who sin express arrogance by implying that they can successfully violate the laws of Almighty God. Paul describes the arrogant and boastful as "God-haters" ( Rom 1:30 ). Humility is defined as the absence of arrogance and boasting and is characterized by submission to God's will. The absence of self-exaltation and the attitude of humility place one in a position of being blessed by God ( Isa 66:2 ).
In his discussion on the sinfulness of the human race Paul concludes that boasting is excluded on the principle of faith ( Rom 3:27 ). The entire scope of biblical teaching about boasting is best summarized in a statement made by Jeremiah and later quoted by Paul: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord" ( Jer 9:24 ; 1 Cor 1:31 ).
Alan N. Winkler
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