Let Him Who Boasts Boast of This

Jeremiah 9:12-24 reminds us not to boast in our opinions or knowledge but only in the Lord.

Boasting, or bragging, is almost universally accepted as one of mankind’s worst sins. Very few people like to be around others who are constantly talking about themselves and telling others about all their past accomplishments or about all the amazing things they plan to do in the future.

And yet, even though we don’t like boastful people, the word “boastful” might be one of the best descriptors of our society, second only to “deceitful” which we learned about last week. Americans in particular have a reputation for being arrogant, which in some cases may be undeserved, but more likely has a basis in truth.

From the person who preaches American exceptionalism to the one who buys a bigger house than he needs or a newer car to impress his neighbors, there are many boastful people in our society.

So there’s a bad kind of boasting, obviously, but there’s also a good kind. Paul, quoting Jeremiah 9:24, says in 1 Corinthians 1:31 “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” This is the best kind of boasting, in fact, it’s the only kind of boasting we should do, which we’ll look at more at the end of the article. But first let’s understand the context of Paul’s quote from Jeremiah 9.

Stubborn Hearts

What precedes the command in Jeremiah 9:24 to boast in the Lord is a description of God’s people with a heart problem. Judah prefers to listen to their own wisdom instead of God’s (v 12), and as a result they have forsaken God’s law (v 13). Jeremiah summarizes their problem in verse 14:

[They] have walked after the stubbornness of their heart and after the Baals, as their fathers taught them.

Breaking God’s law is bad enough, but at the root of their disobedience is a stubborn heart that says, “I’m right and everyone who disagrees with me, including God, is wrong.” They are filled with boastful pride and they refuse to accept that they are wrong.

But where has this gotten them?

As we read in previous chapters, it led them to commit adultery, worship idols, slander their neighbors, lie, prostitute themselves, be treacherous, practice racism, commit murder, and even sacrifice their children.

This is where walking after the stubbornness of their heart has gotten Judah and it brings God’s wrath upon them. In verses 15-16 God says he will give them bitter food to eat and poisoned water to drink. He will scatter them among the nations and then finish them off with the sword.

Their stubborn, boastful hearts have only led to suffering and misery.

Called to Lament

So what does God tell the people to do? Of course, they should repent but they won’t (Jeremiah 6:16-21), so God tells them to lament, to mourn and grieve. Jeremiah 9:17–18 says:

Consider and call for the mourning women, that they may come; and send for the wailing women, that they may come! Let them make haste and take up a wailing for us, that our eyes may shed tears and our eyelids flow with water.

God says call for the professional mourners. Let them wail and shed tears. In the Middle East, and China, when someone died you could hire women to come and wail at the funeral and I think you still can. Although it may seem insincere to us, it was done as a way to show honor to the deceased person.

But mourning is probably the last thing someone who doesn’t realize they are near spiritual death will want to do, or have done for them. Those that don’t see themselves as all that bad, or all that sinful, will want to justify their actions, not lament over them.

Jeremiah 9:20 says, “Now hear the word of the Lord, O you women, and let your ear receive the word of His mouth; teach your daughters wailing, and everyone her neighbor a dirge.” Everyone was being called to lament, even the neighbors, because they refused to repent and judgment was coming.

Lamenting was to be done by everyone, and if you’re a Christian, this is also your calling. Romans 12:5 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Our calling is to feel genuine joy and sadness for others. We are to weep, shed real tears, with others who weep over the awful consequences of sin.

Instead, Christians, who are very aware of the sinfulness of the world, are pretty good at hating sin, but we aren’t very good at weeping over sin. This is likely because we are not that aware of our sinfulness. Like proud Pharisees we have boastful hearts and voices that thank God we’re not like the swindlers, the adulterers, or even like those dishonest tax collectors (Luke 18:11).

We get angry when we catch someone lying or breaking one of God’s commandments, but how often do we literally weep? And why are we more likely to become angry instead of shed tears? It’s because anger comes from stubborn, boastful hearts, but tears come from humble hearts.

Francis Schaeffer, who I think ranks up there with C.S. Lewis in his ability to clearly articulate the state of western culture, said this in his book Death in the City:

With love we must face squarely the fact that our culture really is under the judgment of God.… We must proclaim the message with tears and give it with love.… It will not do to say these things coldly. Jeremiah cried, and we must cry for the poor lost world, for we are all of one kind.… I must have tears for my kind.

And what is “our kind”? Our kind is stubborn and deceitful, and spiritually dead without Christ. This truth should lead us not to self-righteous anger but to humble lament.

The Grim Reaper

Without Christ the future is grim indeed. For Judah and the Israelites, God’s judgment ruins the food and water supplies, sends them into exile, and destroys the land (Jeremiah 9:15-19). All of these things are a type of death which Jeremiah further describes in verses 21-22:

For death has come up through our windows; it has entered our palaces to cut off the children from the streets, the young men from the town squares. Speak, “Thus says the Lord, ‘The corpses of men will fall like dung on the open field, and like the sheaf after the reaper, but no one will gather them.’ ”

It says in Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death,” and there is a reason death is sometimes called “the grim reaper.” A reaper is someone who uses a scythe to cut grain. With one fluid motion the reaper mows down the grain into a straight swath. Now imagine that same scythe being used to mow down people which are not gathered up, but left to rot. That’s a description of the grim reaper and Jeremiah says it’s the fate that awaits those with sinful, boastful hearts.

Improper Boasting

With all this warning of judgment, the stage is set for us to return to God’s words about boasting in verse 23:

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.

“Wise” men love to boast about their wisdom, but it starts out when we’re very young. With claims like “My dad is stronger than your dad,” or, “I got an ‘A+’ on my art project, what did you get?” we learn to be boastful at a very young age.

As adults our boasting usually becomes more subtle, but it’s still there. We say things like, “That was a great sermon, I sure hope so-and-so was listening.” Or, “Isn’t it awful how much those politicians lie? I just don’t understand how others can be so easily fooled.” The boasting is subtle but still present.

Ask the typical person in church about some of the controversial issues of our time and you’re not likely to hear a humble answer. Instead you’re more likely to hear “wise men” say dogmatically, “The election was stolen.” Or, “Covid-19 was planned by the democrats to cost Trump the election.” Or, “Republicans are good, democrats are bad.”

Now, the point I’m making isn’t that these statements are all false (although it’s my opinion that they are). The point is that they are usually said in very dogmatic, all knowing, boastful ways. It’s as if the person saying them has some sort of omniscient knowledge equal to that of God.

But having knowledge isn’t a reason to boast. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that “we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.” What kind of knowledge did they have? If you read ahead to verse 4 you’ll see they had true knowledge about there being no such thing as idols and that there is only one God.

So their problem wasn’t that they were necessarily misinformed — it was that they were arrogant about it.

They had a false pride and a lack of love toward their Christian brothers who weren’t as “informed” as they were. They had patronizing attitudes that when expressed probably sounded something like, “Oh, you poor person, don’t you know the truth about meat offered to idols?”

They didn’t have love and that was the problem. They had proud, boastful hearts, which are not justified even when they have the truth.

Boasting about what the Bible clearly says is truth is bad enough, but boasting about something we see on the news, or hear on the radio, or watch in a video on the Internet is even worse. It’s worse because the foundation for secular truth is much shakier than Scripture.

Yet, Christians spend far too much time angrily pointing out the sinfulness of the world instead of compassionately weeping over it. Again, this most likely not a result of “righteous indignation,” instead coming from a self-justifying and proud heart.

The meaning of Jeremiah 9:23 is that while we might be tempted to boast of our wisdom (even of true biblical things), remember we don’t know everything — only God does. If we’re tempted to boast about how strong we are, remember how weak we are compared to God. Or, if we’re tempted to boast about our wealth, remember that compared to God, we are utterly impoverished.

So we may feel smart, strong, or rich, but the truth is we have nothing to boast about.

Boast of This

It seems it’s in our nature to boast about something. So, if we are not to boast about ourselves, then what?

Jeremiah 9:24 says:

“Let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord.

In other words, boast of God, himself. Don’t boast about how much you understand or know about God, boast in God himself. Some say, “I read the Bible everyday.” Or, “I have such a peace this week.” Those things may be true, but don’t boast about them.

Instead, boast about God, and who He is. Boast about his lovingkindness, his justice and righteousness. Delight in these things!

I find it interesting when someone says “God is good all the time,” and then they proceed to tell about how God has blessed them. Rarely do I hear someone say “God is good all the time,” and then proceed to tell about their pain and suffering.

But God is good even when he administers righteous justice, even when punishes the wicked, and even when he purifies his people with fiery trials.

So, boast in the Lord. Boast that he is good all of the time, in the good times and the bad.

Boast in Christ.

Christ is worthy of boasting in a way that cannot be said about any other person. When we boast in Christ we don’t have to worry about exaggerating because He is infinitely deserving of our boasting.

Boast in the cross.

Paul says in Galatians 6:14, “May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

Boast in Christ and boast in the cross. Don’t boast in what you know, or what you think you might know; boast in who God is and what he’s done. Boast in Christ who humbly became a man, lived a perfect life, and then volunteered to suffer the wrath of God on the cross for sinners like us.