"Thus says the Lord: 'Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.'" Jeremiah 9.23-24
A member of our church has mentioned a few times to me that there are two words for pride in Korean, and in English it seems like there is only one. There is a good pride and a bad pride, and they are quite different things. I’m not an expert on understanding the differences in Korean, but we can consider what the Bible has to say about it. Biblically, it actually seems like pride is always a negative thing. It includes a self-exulting, self-reliant attitude and also assumes a rejection of God. The Hebrew word has this idea of being raised up. Throughout the Old Testament, the word pride is always negative. However, in the New Testament, there are different words for pride but that doesn’t make its way into our translations. So there is good pride, which is glorying in or boasting in something (which is right to boast in) and there is bad pride (probably what corresponds to pride in the Old Testament). The good pride can be seen in 2 Corinthians 7.4: ‘I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.’ It was not wrong for Paul to have great pride in the Corinthians. They were like his children that he brought up in the faith. You should notice how this pride is not exhibiting a self-reliant, self-exulting attitude. It is not excluding that which is true, good, and beautiful. On the opposite side, you can see one example of bad pride in 1 John 2.16, ‘For all that is in the world-- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life-- is not from the Father but is from the world.’ In Greek, we actually have a handful of words for negative pride, and this is one of them. Within the context, John is talking about a pride of life, or it seems some sort of self-reliance as opposed to reliance on God. It is a pride that excludes goodness and God’s order for the world.
It is helpful for us then to consider where we have areas of sinful pride in our lives versus having good pride. They are categorically different things. One is driven and centered on the self, and the other is derived from a proper understanding of the world as God’s creation. In a recent CT article, Andrew Wilson identified areas of wrong pride and boasting within the church this way, ‘It gets into the church, too. Our tradition is growing, while yours is shrinking. Our leaders have courage, while yours only capitulate. Not only do such sentiments encourage division; they reveal that our source of security and hope of victory is fundamentally misplaced.’ The issue with wrong pride and boasting is that we are placing our hope of victory and source of security in someone other than and to the exclusion of our Lord. Within our Minnesotan culture, we easily fall into this trap. Wouldn’t it be ideal to live fully self-sufficiently, financially independent, or energy independent? This sort of attitude reveals the pride we have in ourselves and in our ability to make it on our own. Somehow we even think we can be spiritually independent as though our regular, involved participation in a local body of Christ is optional. American, western ideals are not Christian ideals however.
Instead, we should be thinking this way: in chapter 9 of Jeremiah, he preaches to the people not to boast in their might (being able to withstand enemy oppression) or riches (being able to buy your way out of things) but that we know Yahweh who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. Out of context, the verse is innocuous enough. Ok sure, boast in the Lord, but the context of Jeremiah, we must remember, is that the Babylonians are coming. The destruction of Jerusalem and all of their personal property is certain. And this is ultimately the work of God because he is bringing judgment on the city. Even though God is bringing judgment and destruction to Jerusalem, it is good and right to boast in him. Why? Because he practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness. God will bring a final victory and restoration. Though Israel had rejected God, Jeremiah proclaimed that there was hope for those who listened to God’s word. They were to move to Babylon and establish themselves in that foreign land and leave the pride of their possessions behind to be burned. What they were to have is trust in God’s plan and not in their own. We also are called to live a life of faith remembering that God is working in the world. We do not always know how he is working, but he is at work globally and on an individual level. Remember how Paul said to the Philippians, ‘And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.’
One final way we could talk about these ideas is by saying that boasting means that we find our identity in Christ. For those who are in Christ, we don’t find our primary identity in our family, in our work, in who we choose to be, in how we choose to live. Instead, we are not our own master, and it is really a life of freedom. When we find our identity in Christ, when we are able to find our greatest boast in our loving God, we live in great peace, much greater than the world has to offer. May we find this great rest in finding our boast in God alone.