“Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises loving kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord.”
- Jeremiah 9:23-24
WHAT IS PRAISE?
We were made to praise. We were designed to be captivated by God and delighted to be in relationship with Him. The Bible assumes that as we get to know Him and make space in our hearts for Him, that we will be enamored by Him. As that happens, praises will naturally swell up inside of us and pour out back to Him.
It is kind of like an explosion that breaks out with a great propulsion of matter and energy. In the same way, our hearts are meant to be filled to the point of bursting for our great God and King. That is what praise is, it is the natural explosion of our affections back on to God when we know Him rightly. When we have a true and good understanding of who God is, praise cannot contain itself. It will swell up in us and it will break out from us.
SO... WHAT WENT WRONG?
As you look around, it doesn’t seem like we live in a very praise-filled world. In fact, it certainly seems we are living out of alignment with our original design. Instead of a world erupting with the explosion of energetic praise, we live on a depressed little rock, floating mindlessly in a cold and blind universe. What happened?
The Bible tells us that the original man and woman turned away from God. This move of rebellion introduced sin, which became the kryptonite of praise. And after sin wreaked havoc on God’s good world, humans stopped being filled with that same energy and excitement for Him. Instead, we have all turned inward on ourselves. In many ways, humanity has imploded.
Instead of being awed into celebratory wonder for God, humans have crumbled and collapsed under the damaging and dehumanizing weight of self-love and pride. The Bible labels this disordered affection "boasting".
Instead of praise, boasting is now the new normal for creatures infected by sin.
WHAT’S THE CONNECTION BETWEEN BOASTING AND PRAISE?
It should be noted, that the Old Testament uses the exact same Hebrew word (Hallel) from which we get “hallelujah” to describe both praise and boasting. That’s right, in the verse above, the same word that describes healthy affection for God, is now being translated as sin. The only difference between these two translations is found in their grammatical structure. For instance, when hallel is active and focused outward onto God, that is called praise. But, when hallel is passive and focused on ourselves, that is called boasting.
Let me unpack it this way, boasting is the sinful habit all humans have that propels us to give ourselves the praise, instead of God. This is the equivalent of cosmic larceny. It is taking the very praise that is due to God alone and greedily pouring it out onto ourselves. It is making ourselves both the source of the praise and also it's object. It is putting ourselves in the place of God and declaring that we are the ones who are worthy of our worship.
THE SPIRITUAL DANGER OF BOASTING
Beyond the obvious danger of infuriating a holy God with our pitiful self-praise, there is a practical danger to boasting. When you boast you cannot know God. Plain and simple. And when you do not know God, you cannot experience His lovingkindness toward you, His justice, or His righteousness and joy. In effect, to live a boast-filled life is to live a God-less life.
To boast is to eat the vilest poison and to refuse the only antidote. It is to cut yourself off from knowing God and experiencing the blessing of His life-giving presence. It is to offend the very surgeon who is cutting out the cancer. And while it may be socially acceptable to talk ourselves up, it is spiritually equivalent to throwing ourselves off a thousand-foot cliff.
OUR SPIRITUAL INABILITY TO PRAISE
In fact, Jeremiah 9:23-24 is calling us to an impossible task. It seems easy to say “have a right view of God and a healthy view of self and everything will be ok”, but the problem is we don't! For if we had a right view of God we would only praise Him. And if we had a right view of ourselves we would never dare boast.
But, because of sin, our view of God is far too low and our view of self remains far too high.
Our private and secret thoughts demonstrate that we are not worthy of praise, but we still long for it. Our mental foibles showcase our lack of wisdom, yet we are still impressed with ourselves and want others to be also. Our strength is or will be crushed by age and our importance will fade when the next generation forgets us. But this is how pernicious sin is. Even in the face of that, it begs us to cling to the lie that we are important and should be remembered.
Without God’s help, we cannot rightly praise. But,
CHRIST CAN REORIENT OUR PRAISE!
This is why God had to send Christ. God was not content to simply destroy us for our boasting, even though our sinful self-love deserved it. Instead, God decided to send His one and only Son to rescue us and restore us.
Why? Because God’s plan was to glorify Himself in our salvation! God’s plan was for the planets to look on in wonder when objects of wrath like us were forgiven! God’s plan was for the angels to burst out in praise when the Spirit motivates our praise. God’s plan was to set aside a people for Himself, give us His Spirit, and restore us back to creatures of praise who would surround His throne and endlessly sing His praises.
Look at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.
"For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 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, 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, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
- 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
I am not sure if you caught it, but Paul is quoting from Jeremiah here. He is unpacking how Christ makes the truth of Jeremiah possible. Paul teaches us that Christ chose the foolish things of this world, who could do nothing but boast in themselves, and He has so healed them that now they can begin praising God! The remedy is not "obey God and then He will accept you". The remedy is that God has accepted you on the basis of Christ's perfect sacrifice and now you can learn how to obey.
Do not revert back to your old self-loving ways. Do not turn in on yourself, but turn your praises back to God! By the Spirit, adopt a high view of God and a healthy view of self so that you will no longer be tempted to grab at the credit or share in His glory. This, as Jeremiah explains will lead you to experience the loving-kindness of God, His perfect justice, His righteousness, and the joy of simply knowing Him.
Grace and peace to you!