It’s Who You Know
It’s Who You Know
Main Idea: Our glory is not what we possess but who we know.
- Our Glory Is Not What We Have (9:23).
- Our Glory Is Knowing God (9:24).
When you know someone who knows God more than you, you have two options: you can repent, or you can let them drive you crazy.
It was just after my senior year in college. I had been preaching for a few years, and at some point in the journey, things changed. I’m not sure when. My first sermons were filled with a sense of desperation. I was trying to find my way and begging God to throw light on each step. I wanted his direction. I also wanted him to save me from being bad at my calling; I wanted his strength and power. At the same time I had a deep, genuine love for lost people.
The scaffolding was still there, but it was a structure without residence. My preaching was light with no heat. And I was comfortable with coddling sin as long as I had moderate success in ministry. That’s horrible to admit, but I think that’s the most concise way to say it.
That Monday morning my façade began to crack. I was invited to speak at a camp. I would do some sessions, and my friend who invited me would do the main, night sessions. We were sitting at breakfast when he told me, quite plainly, that the reason I did not have God’s presence was because I was not through with sin. I was seeking God for his presence, his power, and his blessing, but I was not seeking him just to know him. I wanted his blessings; I did not want him. No doubt I had been taught that before, but it was as if I had never heard those words: knowing God. This produced a tension in my heart that I still feel every day: Am I doing what I am doing both because I know God and so that I can know God more? Life is intimacy with God (John 17:3).
It is impossible to overstate the importance of these two verses in Jeremiah. They help us understand what Jesus later unpacks in the Sermon on the Mount. Jeremiah gives us one of the most concise statements in the whole Bible about knowing God.
Jeremiah has completed his sermon from the steps of the temple (7:1–8:3). God is calling people to repent from sin.
This leads to a horrific prophecy of judgment (8:4–9:26). But a flower is growing out of this cemetery; here is one of the most poetic statements of knowing God in all of Scripture.
The passage tells us how to boast.
Our Glory Is Not What We Have
This is what the Lord says:
The wise person should not boast in his wisdom;
the strong should not boast in his strength;
the wealthy should not boast in his wealth.
This is insanely practical. Those are the very things we want to boast in. When we hear the term boast, we equate it with bragging. The obnoxious person who wants you to know how wise he is may pepper the conversation with words intended to make him look smarter than he is. The person who wants you to know how strong and powerful he is must attach his name to certain individuals, goals achieved, or specific accomplishments. The person who wants you to know how wealthy he is will always wear his labels on the outside as marketing, not for his brand but for the social strata to which the brand attaches him. These are pretty obvious ways to display wisdom, power, and wealth. But be careful here. Jesus made clear that possession of these things in itself is not sin. Some of the most purehearted people I know have power, wealth, and strength. Jesus makes clear in the Beatitudes that Christianity is below the surface.
Besides, those of us who have been churched for a while have manufactured more subtle ways to brag. For example, I don’t want to brag about being smart, but I take a smug satisfaction in thinking I am smarter than other people, even when I’m not. This form of “boasting” is far worse because, in a weird way, we deceive ourselves by thinking we are more spiritual because we keep our thoughts of superiority to ourselves! This is a hypocrite’s win-win: we get points for being better than someone else and bonus points for having the humility not to bring it up. The spiritually sensitive person might get tripped up wondering what is the best thing to do in each situation, but that’s not the point at all. The point is not what we are to say or not say, do or not do. This type of thinking will create a little idol carved from our own insecurities. Jesus sees the heart. He knows when I am sincere. This is the real point. We want a heart that longs for his presence.
Our Glory Is Knowing God
This is our true boasting:
But the one who boasts should boast in this:
that he understands and knows me—
that I am the Lord, showing faithful love,
justice, and righteousness on the earth,
for I delight in these things.
This is the Lord’s declaration.
Our true boasting is that we know God. If the antidote to idolatry is intimacy, what exactly does it mean to know God? Well, there is something specific in mind. First, that God shows faithful love. This is God’s kind faithfulness that is specifically directed toward those with whom he has a covenant relationship.
Second, that he is a God of justice. What is perfectly clear from the context is that they did not know God was a God of justice. They were living in presumptuous sin (Prov 19:13), assuming that God was never going to notice that their hearts had turned away from him, even while they were religious practitioners. They were in the temple, but the temple was not in them.
Finally, they should boast to know that he is a God of righteousness. The implication is that those who follow him should also be righteous. This triad of character is interrelated. God’s love motivates his justice and expresses itself in righteousness.
The idea behind boasting is not what we would consider bragging. Bragging is rooted in insecurity. The words of a braggart are flimsy stilts propping up a fragile ego. The braggart’s words are thin.
Boasting in the Lord is more akin to glorying in something. Like when I see my college alma mater, it makes me proud that I graduated from there. The idea of boasting has a trajectory throughout Scripture. Paul quotes this passage in 1 Corinthians 1:28-31 when he writes,
God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one may boast in his presence. It is from him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became wisdom from God for us—our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption—in order that, as it is written: Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.
This is the New Testament equivalent of the same idea. We boast in the Lord because we have to. When he brings something significant out of something that was insignificant, all the glory goes to him. Those who boast in the Lord are not more intellectual than others, but they are wiser. They understand that absolutely nothing comes from ourselves. It all comes from God.
Again in Galatians 6:14 Paul writes,
But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world.
In the context of Galatians 6 the boasting took place because of the ritual of circumcision. The Jews were boasting that they were pure because of the condition of the flesh. It was their national identity. Yet Paul says he will not glory in his national identity; he will only glory in the cross of Christ. His nationality and his religious heritage, as rich and pronounced as they were, were nothing compared to the glory of Christ.
Echoing the words of Jeremiah, James encourages us not to boast in wealth:
Let the brother of humble circumstances boast in his exaltation, but let the rich boast in his humiliation because he will pass away like a flower of the field. For the sun rises and, together with the scorching wind, dries up the grass; its flower falls off, and its beautiful appearance perishes. In the same way, the rich person will wither away while pursuing his activities. (Jas 1:9-11)
So the idea behind boasting is what you project, what you want people to perceive about you. This is your boast. Someone who has been close to God has a sense of perspective. They know exactly how small they are compared to God. No one brags in God’s presence. And if you know him—not know about him but really know him—then you have nothing to brag about but him. The sheer weight and majesty of God thwarts our sense of pride; it stunts our sense of greatness; it inhibits boasting. Yet the mind that senses his presence is shocked when his significance thrusts itself through our insignificance. Like a filthy broken window, the greatest thing about it is what comes through it. A filthy, unbroken window is useless. A filthy window, when broken, can exude the glorious light that makes life on our planet happen. The source of all light is magnified in the souls so porous in their brokenness that, instead of bragging, they dim their own light and let the real glory shine through them. The brokenness becomes a way to see the real light.
Again, the person who sees this is not smarter but does know more. If you know God, you have everything he wants you to know as well as the means to find all he wants you to have. Jesus said that this was eternal life! In John 17:3 he says,
This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent—Jesus Christ.
And then, in the same chapter, he goes on to make the shocking confession,
I have glorified you on the earth by completing the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, glorify me in your presence with that glory I had with you before the world existed. (vv. 4-5)
Jesus, although he was God, pushed pause on receiving all that was rightfully his. In his incarnation he demonstrated what had always been true: that his goal was to give glory to the Father. Why did Jesus, God’s Son, give all the glory to the Father? Why did he boast in the Father? The reason is because he knew the Father more than any other, and to know God is to exalt him, because to know God is to know more than other people. Those who know God are not daydreaming idealists; they are the biggest realists. They know that this life is dissipating and being subsumed in the kingdom. They know this. So they glory in the eternal, not the temporal—like mere wealth, power, or human wisdom.
And then those idols.
The following chapters are God’s take on the worship of idols. In the West we generally do not cast statues of metal and bow down to them. For those of us who go to church, the distance between us and pagan idol worshipers is even greater. But going to church does not displace idols and can even trap us into thinking that presence equals piety. We should of course be faithful to our local church, but the purpose of our presence in church is to lead us into God’s presence. It is interesting that the best way to understand how God wants us to relate to him is discovered in the ancient prophet Jeremiah. God is not satisfied with us until we are satisfied with his presence. God’s greatest desire for us is for him to be our greatest desire. He wants intimacy and nothing less.
We do too. We want something to be our object of affection, be it family, sports, a friendship, a work or academic goal, a social status, or a material thing. All of these things, ideals, and ambitions can hold a place in our hearts. Yet the great thing about them is that they ask little in return. I don’t have to be vulnerable with a new car. I can idolize it, then trade it in. I will only give it part of my heart. This is different from our relationship with God. To make him the object of my worship means I am all in. There is no middle ground to all of this. There is no halfway. Being “sort of intimate” is oxymoronic. We are either intimate or we are not.
This is important. In Jeremiah’s treatise the opposite of idolatry is intimacy. The cure for worshiping false gods is to know the one true God.
So there I was at camp, laid bare before God, knowing all of my faults, secrets, and insecurities. I was at a crossroads. That week I threw all of my sermons away. Trust me, even though it was difficult at the time, it was no loss for the kingdom. I was starting over. For the first time in my life, I was seeking God not for fame or blessing or prosperity or favor. I was seeking God just to know him. This was the defining moment of my life. It was a more emotional experience than even my salvation. I had a true sense of sin, and for the first time the way out was not an out. It was a he. A person. Jesus was not just my way maker; he was my way. It was out of darkness and into presence.
The ambient culture tells you to idolize fame. Idolize self. Idolize family. Idolize accomplishment. Idolize religion. Idolize ability. These are the shadows we chase. We are the child who, with the light directly behind him, keeps chasing the shadow that can never be held. This is because fame, glory, success, achievement, and love are all shadows of the great light. God is not calling you to reject them but to find the source of light that gives them meaning. Turn around and step into his presence. Glory is knowing him.
Reflect and Discuss
- What is the connection between this passage and Jeremiah’s temple sermon? How should we understand the two texts in light of each other?
- How does Jeremiah view boasting? Is all boasting unbiblical? Is there a type of boasting Christians should engage in?
- What does this passage teach us about “boasting” as Christians?
- The text teaches us that true boasting is that we know God. What are the three truths provided in this passage that assure us of this intimate kind of boasting?
- Is biblical boasting the same thing as bragging? If not, how can we distinguish the difference between the two?
- The idea of boasting has a trajectory throughout Scripture. Discuss what Scripture says about boasting from 1 Corinthians 1:28-31; Galatians 6:14; and James 1:9.
- How did Jesus demonstrate humility in the incarnation?
- What does Jeremiah say about the worship of false idols?
- What was the opposite of idolatry for Jeremiah?
- What was Jeremiah’s cure for worshiping false gods?