How Boasting Can Be an Act of Humility

By Joey Fernandez

          Growing up in the '80s, I remember watching episodes of the TV series entitled "Cosmos". It was written and hosted by the famed astronomer Carl Sagan. I found out only recently through Wikipedia that this show was "the most widely watched series in the history of American public television. It has been seen by at least 500 million people across 60 different countries. Sagan was not just an astronomer, he was also a planetary scientist, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, science popularizer, and science communicator 


who published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and authored more than 20 books". As the foremost science communicator of the 20th century, Apple Computers, in 1994, tried to ride on his fame and codenamed their new PowerMac 7100 the "Carl Sagan". Although it was just internal and not its official name, Apple engineers might have wanted to convey the superiority of their computer.

          I felt sad for Sagan when I read that when he was asked about his religious beliefs, he answered that "the idea of a creator God of the Universe was difficult to prove or disprove..." Up to his death, he remained an agnostic.

          Like most Christians, I look at some influential personalities and could not help but feel that they can do so much for God's kingdom if only they knew Him. But then, the Lord answers with passages like this:

1 Corinthians 1:26-31 NASB

[26] For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; [27] but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, [28] and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, [29] so that no man may boast before God. [30] But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, [31] so that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD."

          When Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian church, somehow he knew that its members were greatly influenced by the city's prosperity and its status as an entertainment hub in the region. This was probably what caused them to develop many serious problems that Paul had to address. They were divided (1 Cor 1:10-12). They were living ungodly lives. They were so unrighteous to the point that they defraud even their brethren (1 Cor 6:8-9). They allowed their bodies to be masters over them (1 Cor 6:12-20), and Paul had to address many serious issues regarding marriage and sex (1 Cor 6:9–10). As Christians, the Corinthians were rejoicing in their salvation, at the same time enjoying the pleasures of the world.

          Paul did not mince his words. In 1 Cor 4:6-7, he used strong words against the Corinthians. He called them arrogant and boastful. He threw direct questions at them that was meant to strongly rebuke them. He said: “[7] For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?"

          Paul was not impressed by their wisdom and he made it clear that God was not the least bit impressed as well. He knew that it only resulted in pride (1 Cor 8:1b). God's grace cancels out any human trait that may lead to a desire to boast. It seemed like Paul reached the end of his patience, which is why he warned them of his coming and gave them an easy but embarrassing choice: for him to come to them with a rod or with love.

          The key idea in 1 Cor 1:26-31 is God's wisdom. The word “wise” or “wisdom” is repeated 9 times in vv. 18-25 and again mentioned 3 times in vv. 26-31, for a total of 12 times in a short passage entitled "The Wisdom of God". It gives a stark contrast between God's wisdom and man's wisdom. It is even amusing to find how Paul had to add v. 25 which said: "the foolishness of God is wiser than men." This, of course, does not imply that there is foolishness in God. God's supply of wisdom is pure and limitless and even if He granted wisdom to all who needed it, His wisdom will not diminish even a bit. What Paul wanted to say was that IF God had any foolishness in Him, it will still be wiser than man's greatest wisdom.

          The passage teaches that the Lord grants His wisdom to those whom He called so that no man may boast before God, and so that we may instead boast in Him. Instead of revealing it to the wise, mighty, and noble, God revealed His wisdom to the foolish, weak, and ordinary. This should cause the Corinthians to rejoice because Paul reminded them in v. 26 that only a few of them were wise, mighty, and noble – traits admired by society. God chose the opposites of these traits to cancel out what the corrupt world looks up to. This was a clear message to show the world that no one can ever achieve salvation by his own wisdom, might, or achievements. By God's work alone, Christ became our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. It was not earned but given to ensure that no one will be able to boast before man and before God. Only God is glorified in this scenario and so Paul offers a biblically sound alternative when he commanded: "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD."

          Do you feel unworthy? Sometimes what holds you back is the idea that you lack the education, skills, training or experience. Many times, we like to look at what the world considers important: social status, good looks, impressive speech. You might say, "I can't approach him to share the gospel. He seems too smart, too busy, and too prominent to listen to me. When he hears how I deliver some English words and sentences, he just might send me away."

          I pray that we will all be encouraged by this passage. God can use anyone despite ones' looks, communication skills, training, or status. If you feel that you lack any of these, then do not rely on what you have. Rely only on what you have received. Paul reminded the Corinthians of what they have in Christ, and these are the same gifts that we have with us today: "Christ became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption" (v. 30). Look not to yourself. Look to the Lord instead. Paul's reminder to the Corinthians and the Christians today remains the same: "Consider your calling brethren,… Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord."

          In other words, GLORIFY THE LORD.