April 27, 2016

Love & Bragging

by Eric Davis
INDIO, CA - APRIL 13: DJ Moby performs onstage during day 2 of the 2013 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club on April 13, 2013 in Indio, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Coachella)

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It was early on in our church planting endeavors. Our sapling church was hardly standing. Many had come and even more had gone. It was a painful time for me. But not always for righteous reasons. I ached that the sapling was so small, numerically. I sorrowed over so few staying. Church-planting and ministry friends would ask the dreaded question: “So how is the church plant going?” “Uh, fine. Sort of.” Which lead into the next, more-dreaded question: “How many people are attending now?” “Uh, well, at one point we had, like, 50ish.”

As I look back on those days, I have to ask myself, “Why were those such dreaded questions?” For me, there was really one reason: I wanted to brag. I craved crowing over numbers and ministry results. I wanted to boast in “what the Lord was doing” and “how humbled I was that the Lord had brought so many.” But I didn’t want to boast in the Lord. I wanted a triple-digit number to brag about to our supporters. I wanted to boast in me. I wanted the spotlight.

“Love does not brag” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Among other things, the Corinthians were boasting about the supposed supernatural spiritual experiences that they were having, hence Paul’s correction. “Brag.” The word has the idea of self-glorification, boasting, and a superficial self-applauder. It speaks of someone who vaunts, displays, and praises self.

Why is love antithetical to bragging? Bragging is an expression of self-worship (over and above God) and self-love (over and above others). All love and glory is channelled to self.

Bragging wants attention. It’s an extreme self-worshiper. It will hijack whatever means at its disposal—work, skills, giftedness, ministry—to applaud itself. And if it does not get attention, it will do things like become jealous, angry, resentful, and suspicious of chestthumpgorilla-resized-600others. A bragger sees its best friends as those who are most involved in boasting about it. But bragging need not only be external boasting. It could be internal as well; silently boasting to oneself.

When my two-year-old crows, “Look how pwitty my Mickey Mouse diaper is!” and my four-year-old boasts, “I skied all da way down wivout falling!”, it’s cute. But, when a twenty-two and forty-four-year old crow and boast, it’s not so cute anymore.

Bragging shows itself in many ways. It hopes and longs for others to applaud its deeds, abilities, hard work, knowledge, and success.

If bragging about good things in life does not lift itself high enough onto the winner’s platform, braggers will brag about bad things. We will even go so far as to brag about sufferings with the hope that others will take up our cause.

storytopper

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Bragging talks a lot about itself, and asks few questions of others. It’s not interested in others. It loves what it talks about.

Bragging does things like story-topping. It one-ups everyone else’s story. While they are listening to someone else talk, the bragger is anxiously setting the stage to wow the crowd with their show. Story-toppers are braggers.

The story-topper always had more business success and the more harrowing outdoor adventure; it gained more credentials, climbed the harder route, read those books already, already implemented the better parenting technique, knows more about whatever topic, experienced the crazier experience, and suffered the harder trial.

Crow Christians

ace7814792c7e121df7766a208d65c33Up here in the Tetons there are these crow-like birds that people call crows, but they are not. They are more like jet-black hyenas with wings and a 10,000 decibel caw-scream-squawk. When you roll into a Yellowstone picnic area, they gather around and squawk at you. And if you go on a hike and leave your closed cooler in the back of your truck, beware. One time I returned to the cooler opened, bagged sandwiches removed and eaten, candy bars demolished, but apples passed over. When I returned to my truck, there they were, bragging in front of me for their victorious plundering, despite the absence of opposable thumbs. I’m not claiming the gift of caw-scream-squak interpretation, but I could almost hear them saying, “We owned you, human! We owned you, human!” They are my favorite thing in Yellowstone. It’s amazing and worth visiting the National Park for them alone. But if you watch, it’s almost as if they are caw-screaming so that you know how talented they are at caw-screaming. They are loud, but nothing is really happening. They are amazed at themselves. They are bragging.

Many of us Christians, pastors, and spiritual celebrities, especially in my younger generation, are like those crows. We perch ourselves on the high roosts of Christendom, take our position, and caw for praise. The older, more seasoned generation of pastors see it, discern, and mourn it. Sometimes they necessarily address it, but we are too sozzled in our cawing to listen. We brag about our spirituality and ministry. Examples abound.

enhanced-buzz-8587-1370480321-1With the social-gospel type, braggers love thinking that they are loving and love to be known as loving. But “love does not brag,” even to self, and even about love. Others brag by loving to take a stand on whatever social issue happens to be en vogue at the time. Sure, they care about the issue. But they simultaneously love to be known as taking that fashionable stand. They craft a clever statement for which they stand, pepper it with some drama, hurl it into social-media world, get a thousand retweets and likes, and nearly explode the internet with irony. Others love to be known as humble (e.g. AKA the tweet, “I am so humbled that [insert some numerical display of my ministry glory].”).

(@yelyahwilliams) When you walk into a bookstore and your face is everywhere and you look a lot better in the pic than you do right now…#haha #crazylife

We’ll brag by one-upping others. When someone speaks pointedly to an issue, braggers do things like make sure everyone knows that they have addressed the issue long before. Social media has afforded us more opportunities to brag. Out of the Tweet/Facebook/Instagram spills that which fills the heart. We are proud pastors, boasting bloggers, and cawing Christians; and we are about to drown Christendom in irony.

“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips” (Prov. 27:2).

ax

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Bragging is often blind to bragging in self, but not in others. Everyone else sees our bragging, and it’s painfully awkward. Notwithstanding his 2012 Olympic performance, the world cringed a bit when Usain Bolt proclaimed, “I’m now a legend. I am the greatest athlete to live.”

Braggers loathe other braggers bragging about others. They even scorn encouragement about others in their presence. It’s a threat to their glory.

Braggers love themselves, but hate other braggers. Other braggers are a threat to them. There shall be only one king, and they’re it.

The last thing that makes sense is for a human—something which can’t go a few days without food and water, gets sick, smells, uses the restroom, sins, can do nothing to get itself to heaven, deserves hell, has to spend 1/3 of its life sleeping, and then be buried in the ground—to brag. Hence God’s necessary rebukes:

“Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it, or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it? As if a rod should wield him who lifts it, or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood! Therefore the Lord God of hosts will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors, and under his glory a burning will be kindled, like the burning of fire” (Isa. 10:15-16).

The Image of God and Hatred of Bragging

Bragging is that thing which makes us all nauseous. Even other braggers loathe others bragging. There is this interesting, effortless response that even the unregenerate have to bragging. They hate it. Why? Because every human is made by an unspeakably glorious God, who has hard-wired us to know that. Regardless of religious/spiritual persuasion, we have a built-in repulsion towards bragging which evidences that we were made to give worship and applause to something much greater than a human. We are made to know that this God is far, far greater, wiser, more glorious, and powerful than we are, and that there is only one Being worthy of the glory of bragging. Every moment, then, of cringing at a bragger is an apologetic. And, to be sure, bragging itself is not a sin. Bragging becomes sin when something unworthy of bragging becomes the object of bragging.

“Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils; for why should he be esteemed?” (Isa. 2:22).

“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!”  (Ps. 115:1).

And let’s not forget what happened to Nebuchadnezzar, one of history’s most notorious braggers (cf. Dan. 4:30-37).

God alone is deserving of glory and praise.

rugged-crossSo, the bragger changes, not only when he stops worshiping self, but when he starts worshiping God through Christ; the one deserving of all bragging. We must take our eyes off self and lift them, high, high up to the throne of the sovereign Lord. And repentance comes when we realize the unspeakable truth, that the only One worthy of all bragging stepped off his throne, came to earth, not to be bragged over (as he deserves) but beaten and crucified. On the cross, Jesus came under God’s righteous wrath due braggers like me so that we might be welcomed into God’s family. The fruit of repentance, then, is when we channel our bragging to that which and Whom rescues us from ourselves:

“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal. 6:14-15).

Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
  • Tim Bates

    Thanks again for another challenging post, Eric.
    Such bragging and pride is detrimental to learning. I find myself saying, “yea, I’ve heard that before” or “yea, I already knew that” as a point of pride. It’s very dismissive. What’s hilarious is that I’ll have this attitude even though I may have just learned it (whatever knowledge it may be) like 2 days prior!

    It’s like I think everyone but me still has more to learn!

  • Elldee

    OUCH!!! Reading this was NOT the way to start my day! Seriously, though, it is something I need to hear. I have recently become aware of my propensity toward bragging. Whether it is about myself, my adult children, or even the great bargains I score when clothes shopping, the undertone is that my life and my experiences are the best and top anything anyone else does. A lot of that stems from insecurity and trying to prove myself just as good as the next person. But that doesn’t excuse the behavior or make it right when God’s word is clear on the issue.
    One of my pet peeves is other braggers and one-uppers, and I take sanctimonious glee in mentally criticizing them for bragging–or, worse, complaining about their bragging to someone else (gossip). And this another ‘ouch’ moment as I realize why they bother me so much is not because of the bragging but because it diminishes my own bragging.

  • Phil Hutchins

    Not to brag, but… I already knew this…
    (Actually, thanks for helping me see myself).

  • Great post. This is all around us and I’ve admittedly caught myself “story topping” only to then be convicted but not going deeper with how to deal with the issue at hand. Thank you for this much needed post!

  • fundamentals

    Guilty as charged.

  • Terry Moore

    Ouch, Hit me to the core! Thanks so much for the post. Needed to hear this. Will re-read periodically as the sin of pride is something that constantly creeps in.

  • Sam

    I wrote a similar article many years ago… Wait, never mind. Great reminder, thanks!!

    • Eric Davis

      Touche!

  • Angie Kroeker

    Wow, here is a weakness I am deep into. I find myself often thinking about how great I am and hoping that others will notice and praise me. Thank you for this heart searching post that cut deep. This was a necessary pain.

  • Ray Adams

    Very helpful. A pain that heals. Thank you.

  • John Gresh

    Shamed faced & convicted when I read my sin published to the world for all to see. Humility for me starts with acknowledging who He is & who I am. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit is my heart moved before the mouth is engaged. Again Matthew 23:12 comes home to roost – “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
    John Gresh johngresh@live.com

  • tovlogos

    Wow, heartfelt post, brother. There is no way to feel these things without the conviction
    and the indwelling of the Lord Jesus. He never fails to inspire us who seek the conform to His image.
    One of the things that’s wonderful about being a child of God is there is no guilt when our bad habits
    are revealed to us. Instead there is rejoicing that we are positionally privileged to receive His blessings.
    If I am plagued with too much guilt, it’s like denying the reality of the flesh in a curse world.
    But, sin no more, is the key.

    • Eric Davis

      That’s what keeps the cross continually and increasingly amazing, brother.

  • Vinod Anand S

    Convicting. Thanks for the post Eric.

    • Eric Davis

      Thanks for stopping by, Vinod.

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  • Dave O

    There is simply not enough room to remember all the humblebragging and false humility that goes on day after day. When it is displayed wholesale by Christians it does not represent Christ whatsoever and is shameful for the damage it does to his name. Pride is krypton to the Spirit of humility we were granted and given and bragging is simply one of its sad byproducts. It is always the case that those who brag the most have the biggest struggles with their egos and pride.

    • Eric Davis

      Agreed, Dave. It’s something I need to still grow in.

  • Ira Pistos

    It was self glorifying pride that was shattered the first time I was crushed by God who I claimed to worship.
    I deserved to be left wrecked in the ruins of what I thought had been my own glory.
    Instead He raised me up and carried me through in brutally stark contrast to my helplessness and ineptitude.

    And still, to this day I need to catch and divert this in myself. In fact I recently deleted a post that I realized was attention seeking. This is always timely, thanks for writing this one Eric.

    • Eric Davis

      Thanks for sharing that, Ira.

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