Lesson Six – If I Must Boast

If I Must Boast


There is a principle for reading the Corinthian letters we do not want to ignore.  Under the heading of exegesis we need to follow the style of the writer.  One part of Paul’s style in I and II Corinthians is his use of the word “boasting.”  Please review of Part II, Lessons Two and Three.   These lessons provide the historical and literary background – the exegesis.  The aim of this lesson is to examine Paul’s special use of “boasting” from the hermeneutical standpoint.  We are looking for principles for our Christian lives as we function in the body of Christ.  We have all done some boasting at one time or another.  The question is, “Was it good or was it evil boasting?”

Boasting was used repeatedly in the first four chapters of I Corinthians and then sparingly through the remainder of I Corinthians.  See I Cor. 1:29, 31; 3:21; 4:6, 7, 18, 19; 5:6; 9:15, 16; 13:4.  (NIV).  Frequent use of this word was incorporated into the text throughout II Corinthians.  See II Cor. 1:12, 14; 5:12; 7:14; 8:24; 9:2, 4; II Cor. 10:8, 13-17; 11:10, 12, 16, 18, 21, 30; 12:1, 5, 9.  When we see a word “pop up” this many times, we will want to pay attention.  The Greek word kauchaomai has been translated boast, boasting, glory, and glorying in both good and evil ways in these letters.

Paul often made and strengthened his points around this word.  He, so to speak, hung the content of what he wanted to say on the word boasting in several thoughts.  It became a literary tool; that is, it became more powerful because of its repetition and implementation.  Boasting may be referred to as a technical word.


My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.  What I mean is this:  One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’  I Cor. 1:11, 12

Ego boasting is the culprit in most cases of division.  It was happening in the church in Corinth.  We will first examine Paul’s use of boasting in the beginning four chapters of I Corinthians to see how he used “boasting” to work on the problem of division in Achaia.  This will help us appreciate the last four chapters of II Corinthians where he revealed the problem behind the problem.  One should not attempt to study the Corinthian letters without a thorough search of these last four chapters for historical data.

I Cor. 1:31.  “Therefore, as it is written:  ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’”  Paul picked this scripture off the end of one of Jeremiah’s messages to Israel.  He quoted it a second time in II Cor. 10:17 before he said, “For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”  The occasion for Jeremiah’s prophecy was God’s sending Israel into captivity.  They had rejected God’s wisdom for administrating His kingdom in Israel.

This is what the Lord says:  ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom – Or the strong man boast of his strength – Or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this:  that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord.  Jer. 9:23, 24 

We need to identify the context of a block (thought or paragraph) of scripture before we try to determine what it means.  Exegetical work was done in Part I for the overall reading of the letters; however, we will want to do detailed work as we read each thought.  Paul’s concern here is about the members of the church in Corinth.  They were in the process of developing the clergy type rule.  The principle for us is that mankind should not boast about his wisdom over God’s wisdom.  The organization of the Lord’s church was set in action by the apostles according to the wisdom of God (Tit. 1:5-9).  Israel believed they had more wisdom than God when they ask Him to replace Himself as their king (I Sam. 8:19-22).  They were proven to be wrong.

The “elders in every church” type of leadership has been abandoned in what is called the Christian churches around the world (Acts 14:23; I Tim. 3:1-7).  Christians will not divide when we use the wisdom of God because “we cannot do anything against truth, but only for the truth.”  II Cor. 13:8.  Division is the result of the implementation of the wisdom of men where divine truth is required.

I Cor. 3:19-20.  “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.  “As it is written: ‘He catches the wise their craftiness’; and again, ‘The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.’  So then no more boasting about men!”  There are some things Christians can boast about as we shall see later, but when, by the wisdom of God a thing has been ordained, we best “back off.”  We are just not smart enough to do anything better than the way God has told us to do it.

The problem in Corinth, and perhaps throughout Achaia, was the beginning of division among Christian brothers and sisters.  Alas, this was happening in spite of Jesus’ prayer and the Apostle Paul’s clear condemnation of the use of men’s wisdom (John 17:20-23; Gal. 1:6-10).  They were dividing around the teachers and preachers who had taught them the word of God (I Cor. 1:10).  What has happened since the first century tells us Paul’s letters did not cure the problem.  Division in what is called the “Christian community” is with us today in every imaginable fashion – and some unimaginable.

I Cor. 4:6-8.  “Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written.’  Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.  For who makes you different from anyone else?  What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”

The Corinthians had been enlightened about “God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.”  I Cor. 2:7.  The church had been endowed with numerous useful gifts from the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12:11).  All of this happened because Jesus ordained Paul to be His apostle – the one sent (II Cor. 12:11-13).

The division came when some men in the church began to boast about their self-competence.  Paul said, “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.  He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”  II Cor. 3:5, 6.  The principle is; we can boast about the source of our competence but not our own.

Christians are informed people.  We can know about the wisdom of God; however, the problem starts when we boast about our knowledge about the spirit of mankind that came from God – our present self (I Cor. 8:1, 2).  We cannot understand ourselves when we suppress the truth about God (Rom. 1:18-20).

I Cor. 5:6.  “Your boasting is not good.”  The church was boasting about a level of immorality “that does not occur even among pagans:  A man has his father’s wife.  And you are proud!”  I Cor. 5:1, 2.  Evidently, Paul believed this would shock the church into taking the responsibility for the discipline of their church family.  Just before his death, He told Timothy, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.”  II Tim. 3:1.  Even Paul may not have understood how utterly terrible things would digress; jokes about his kids, her kids and our kids; young boys raped by their Bible school teachers.  But now, may God help us!  Same sex marriage ordained by governments and some groups of people who profess to be the church Jesus built (Rom. 1:32).  “And you are proud!”  This boasting is not only sinful, it is evil.  It is willful sin because it is a flagrant denial of the scriptures all Bible readers can understand.  Who can read I Corinthians 5:1-7; 6:9-11 and fail to understand the content of these divine scriptures?

I Cor. 9:15.  “I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast.”  Paul chose not to exercise his right to accept material support from the Corinthian church.  He did receive support from other sources and he did qualify to be classified as “Moses’ ox.”  See I Cor. 9:6-10; II Cor. 11:7-11; 12:14-18.  He was not boasting because he preached without support.  As he said, “I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach.  Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”  I Cor. 9:16.  His boasting was proper because of his motive for not taking support.  He was willing to suffer for a cause.  The principle of life God wants to write on our hearts and minds is this:  Christians are proud to suffer for a cause; however, we lose our reward of developing like Christ when we suffer for applause (Matt. 6:1; Col. 1:27; II Cor. 1:7).

I Cor. 13:4.  “Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast (Gr. perpereuomai – braggart), it is not proud (Gr. phusioo – to inflate).”  NIV.  Jesus gave us both grace and truth (John 1:17, 18).  This truth reveals God, Himself.  God is love (I John 4:8).  “But if anyone obeys His word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.”  I John 2:5.  Wisdom from above is the discipline of applying truth to our experiences (Jas. 3:17, 18).  God’s forgiveness is the grace that stimulates love in us for God and forgiveness for others (Luke 7:48).  Christians are sinners who have been born again so we can develop love in our “self.”  We are clothed “with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”  Rom. 13:14. We have peace with God (Rom. 5:1).  We can walk with God by the presence of His Spirit (Gal. 5:16).  Christians boast about the wisdom of God that gave us the graces of “righteousness, holiness and redemption” in Christ (I Cor. 1:30, 31).

Paul continued to build on the word boasting in II Corinthians.  He addressed several other spiritual weaknesses, even willful sin and the claim there is no resurrection of the dead in I Corinthians.  However, we need to keep the division problem in mind as we read both recorded letters.  Even more, we want to think about what caused the division.  Unless we understand the cause of a behavioral problem by our study of the scriptures, we may not be in a position to achieve the solution to the same type situation in our own life experiences.

II Cor. 1:12. “Now this is our boast:  Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God.”  See Part V, Lesson Two.  The testimony of a clean conscience is a healthy boast all Christians can and must make.  It is not because we do everything right.  It is because “we walk in the light” by faith and the blood of Jesus cleanses our conscience from the guilt of our sins of weakness and ignorance (I John 1:7).

Walking by faith in Jesus as our atoning sacrifice does not mean Christians can tolerate a guilty conscience.  We cannot.  Even people in the world do not sleep well when they feel guilty.  The purity of a Christian’s conscience is why it was necessary for Jesus to be sacrificed for our sins.  The blood of bulls and goats could not remove the guilt of our sins (Heb. 9:8, 9, 11-14).  Jesus did not die for a person who has decided to practice sin (Heb. 10:26, 27; I John 3:7-10).  The Holy Spirit was not given for Christians’ fellowship until after the new covenant was consummated (John 7:37-39; Matt. 26:28; Heb. 8:10-12).  Christians boast that we are sons and daughters of God and the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirits to our identity (Rom. 8:16; Gal. 4:6).  What a powerful identity!

The wisdom of man can only create a religion that has a “form of godliness but denying its power.” II Tim. 3:5.  A religion developed by the wisdom of man “lacks any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”  Col. 2:23.  A religious institution or a “man developed church” does not have the power of fellowship with God.  Paul said, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”  I Cor. 2:4, 5.

II Cor. 1:14.  “You can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus.”  When Jesus comes back for us it will be nice to boast about someone we assisted in getting free from the power of sin and death (Rom. 5:21).

II Cor. 5:12.  “We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride (kauchaomai) in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than what is in the heart.”  This scripture is the key to understanding what is good and what is evil about boasting.   Paul is not talking about “keeping up appearances.”  The principle of measuring by the condition of the heart would solve many problems in and out of the church today.  Children are socialized into a world culture that screams at them on every turn to take pride in what is seen.  Rewards and trophies are awarded for the feats of the outer man – which is passing away (II Cor. 4:16-18).  Every person is born with a strong need for glory because we were created to be glorious children in God’s eternal kingdom.  What is unseen about a human being, that is to say, our “self,” needs a program to satisfy our God-given need for our glory.  Jesus offers the full program; His grace, the law of life and our resurrection with a new body (I Cor. 2:7; II Cor. 4:4-6, 13, 14).

II Cor. 7:14; 8:24 – 9:3.  Boasting about our hope for others to succeed encourages them to attain their healthy goals for their “self.”  Encouraging others is a principle of life and a special function for
a member of the body of Christ (Rom. 12:8).  It can be chosen by a Christian for his or her vocation – their calling for functioning in the body of Christ (Eph. 4:1).  The Pygmalion effect is powerful when one’s goals are the same as God’s purpose for mankind – conforming to the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29).

Please note II Cor. 10:1 – 13:14 is the final segment of thought in Paul last letter.  His tone is often menacingly toward those he refers to as “they” and sometimes chiding toward the “you” group.  They are the church members to which he addressed his letters.  Please see the chart in Part I, Lesson Three.

II Cor. 10:8.  “For even if I boast somewhat freely about my authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it.”  There is a time when Christians need to proclaim “whose children we are.”  Paul was an apostle with awesome powers.  He was Jesus Christ’s representative in Achaia.  Satan and his false apostles wanted him silenced (II Cor. 11:13, 14).

II Cor. 10:12-18.  Please read this scripture carefully.  Paul made use of the word boasting six times after he said, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves.  When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”  In the study of the first four chapters of I Corinthians we understood some members of the church were boasting.  This was the root cause of the division.  In this text, we understand how some members got themselves in a position to boast over other members of the church.  They developed their own measurements.  They were using their own level of competence as their standard for measurement.  Their standard was the wisdom of men.

Paul used boasting to make his points in his first recorded letter and he is using it again here to reveal the psychology behind “ego boasting.”  This is a common practice in the world.  In fact, it is the only way people in the world can boast.  They develop their own standard of measurement.  They measure themselves by themselves.  Christians have Jesus Christ for our standard of measurement.  He is the wisdom and righteousness of God.  In Him is life and his life is the light of mankind (John 1:3-5).

Why have those who desire to be Christians given the teaching of the Bible over to paid personnel and the administration of their groups (churches) over to men – and in most cases not men but a single man or woman?  We have a “Prince and Savior.”  Acts 5:31.  He has ordained, first apostles, but now elders to shepherd His flock (I Pet. 5:1-4).  How did “what is being called preachers” get in charge?  It is not because our Lord has changed His mind?

The truth that cannot be understood by the wisdom of man is God, Himself (I Cor. 1:21).  Religious division begins when we try to understand God and His will for us with the wisdom of men.  Secular Christian institutions, colleges and universities, are mostly about learning the “wisdom of men.”  Their curriculum and tests have been handed down from the previous “wisdom of men” generation.  This system has now dominated the teaching and administrating of what is being defined as the Christian churches.  They measure themselves by themselves.  They develop their own measurements for deciding who will get the teacher’s award of the year; what certificate will go to this or that student, etc.  Of course, this is the only way an institution can function.

This is not to say the secular institutions are not useful for secular education about religion and other subjects.  They are, and their moral standards create a wonderful environment for Bible study.  Although, we may refer to them as Christian organizations, they are not “in Christ.”  The church of God “in Christ” has been given the wisdom of God to preach and teach God’s word (I Thess. 2:13, 14).  All standards for Christian measurements have been written for us in His word.  It cannot be replaced by institutions developed by and for the wisdom of men.

Religious institutions are not the temple of God (I Cor. 3:16).  Religious institutions are not the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:12, 13).  Jesus is Lord of the citizens of God’s kingdom.  The citizens consist of born again faithful Christians who function in the body of Christ.  No one can enroll themselves or join the Christian family of God (Heb. 2:10-13).  There is no match for the magnificence of the church of God in Christ (Heb. 12:22-24, 28, 29).

II Cor. 10:17.  “But, ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’  For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”

II Cor. 11:10-12.  Boasting for a righteous cause is spiritually and mentally healthy.

II Cor. 11:16-18.  “In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.”  At this point, it is obvious Paul has been using the repetition of boasting as a literary tool.  Surely the church got the point of this scripture.  Fools boast about their own righteousness.  They hide, or deny, their unrighteousness and incompetence.   They join up with a group, or club, or church and decide what is holy and righteous by the wisdom of men.  They then boast about “God’s approval.”  I Cor. 11:18, 19.

II Cor. 11:21, 22.  Paul is not finished with his “foolish boasting” trick for “setting up” his opposition.  If indeed, it was Jews who Satan was using to undermine Paul’s apostleship, he challenged them to prove they were more Jewish than he.  These are the people who may have used the weakness of some of the church members to “get to” Paul – to discredit his skill as a speaker (II Cor. 10:10).  Of course, if all else should fail to “out boast” his opposition, Paul could always boast about a man being “caught up to the third heaven.”  Heb. 12:1-6.  Paul has now worked up the word boasting so he can present the principle for boasting that is the umbrella for all principles about boasting.

II Cor. 11:30.  “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”  When is the last time we heard someone boast about his or her weaknesses?    

II Cor. 12:5.    “I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.”

II Cor. 12:9, 10.  Jesus told Paul, perhaps while he was in the third heaven, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Thus Paul declared, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

And this is how Paul used the word boasting in the Corinthian letters.  In the end he used boasting to hook his opponents.  Which of the false apostles would step up to match this caliber of boasting?  Some might ask; “Is he out of his mind?”  He would answer, “If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.”  II Cor. 5:13.  This is the true spirit of measuring ourselves by Jesus Christ.  “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”  Rom. 11:32.   No one, including Satan will divide the church of God.  Division among the members will upset a congregation of the Lord’s church, but if it is the church Jesus built, it will not be split.  Some may go “out from us” but you just don’t split bodies and maintain life.  See I John 2:19.

Question for Discussion

  1. List some similarities between the situation Jeremiah addressed and what Paul was addressing to the church in Corinth.
  2. How do the wisdom of God and the wisdom of man become exclusive and mutually different in this lesson?
  3. How does truth become a stabilizing force where division threatens a church?
  4. What should we generally look for in trying to ascertain the central cause of division that is disturbing a church?
  5. Why might it be proper to preface a statement about the Christian community or church with the word “quote” or the words “what is called?”
  6. Why was Paul perturbed with some members about the subject of competence?
  7. Why might the statement, “a man has his father’s wife” not shock some people in religious circles in the USA today?
  8. List some cases where it is healthy for Christians to boast.
  9. Why is it especially important for a Christian to boast about his or her purity of conscience?
  10. Why is II Cor. 5:12 so “right on” the principle of what is right and what is wrong about boasting?
  11. How does boasting about people who have noble goals work for their benefit?
  12. Why was the topic of Paul’s authority a “hot subject?”
  13. How does the scripture in II Corinthians 10:12-18 get to the root of what is wrong with the use of the wisdom of men when the wisdom of God has already been revealed?
  14. Name one divine subject the wisdom of men cannot properly teach.
  15. What are the criteria upon which secular institutions can develop boastings?
  16. Why is the concept of people “measuring themselves by themselves” a non-subject with Christians?
  17. How did Paul set-up his opposition for his final usage of the word boasting?
  18. What is unique about Paul boasting about his weaknesses?

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