In the UK we had a TV programme where the contents of a person’s home were totally destroyed? Everything was shredded, pulped and thrown in the garbage truck. The audience cringed in morbid horror, hoping it would never happen to them.
What would you balk at if everything had to go? Could you put your book collection, your CDs, your car in the shredder along with everything else?
Now take the idea one stage further: what about your good looks (!) or your intellect? Or your pay packet?
Part of the reason we’re reluctant to lose these things is because we’re genuinely grateful for whatever measure of health, wisdom and prosperity we have. Gratitude is a good and proper response, and we should never stop thanking God for all he’s given us.
But there’s a fine line between gratitude to God for what we have, and pride in the things we have which others don’t. On a macro scale, we feel compassion for those in the world who genuinely appear to have little. On a micro scale, it’s easy for us to feel pleased with ourselves if we have that little bit more than our immediate neighbours. Isn’t there a secret pleasure in feeling slightly superior to someone else?
Jeremiah doesn’t let us get away with this:
"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)
His words are a good barometer for measuring our attitude: is it gratitude, pride, or a bit of both?
Wisdom, strength and riches are all good things given by God – and while we don’t have them in equal measure, those who have any of these undoubtedly know their benefit. But really, they are value-free gifts from God. Because of this, they’re nothing to be particularly proud of.
Let this sink in for a minute. It doesn’t matter how much we earn, or how intellectually superior we are, or how muscular, fit or pretty we are. This is God speaking, and he says that we should boast of nothing except our knowledge of him and the things he values.
God gives us a checklist to make sure that we really know him and haven’t just recast him in our own image. He tells us that wealth, wisdom and strength are not His first priorities – yet as their Creator, his rightful boasting could easily put our paltry bragging into perspective. Instead, his priorities are quite different.
Kindness is God’s covenant love persisting in grace towards us, even when we throw it back in his face.
Justice is his righteous rightful hatred and punishment of sin and evil.
Righteousness is his eternally-existing perfect nature that will characterise the new heaven and earth after the final judgment of sin.
Jesus shows us what these look like, in grace and truth.
How much would our conversation change if we stopped talking about the model of our mobile phone, the depth of our suntan, the size of our bonus or the engine in our company car? God is interested in our growth in knowing and understanding him, and our reflection of his character in our attitudes and behaviour. This is boast-transforming stuff.
God wants us to be people who love our family, our friends, our colleagues, our bosses, even our enemies. And who persist in loving them even when they lose their love for us.
He wants us to be people who don’t just believe in fair play, but who stick their necks out in the pursuit of justice, standing up for those who are bullied at work, taking time to help underdogs in society, speaking up for Christian values in the way our businesses are run. People who know themselves to fall foul of his perfect justice, but who also know the extent of his gracious kindness to us, and who accordingly seek to do much for others.
He wants us to be people whose lives know and reflect his righteousness, which he reveals to us in his Son Jesus Christ.
God wants his loving-kindness, justice and righteousness to be what we boast about in our lives, regardless of the values our world pushes on us.
Take a boast-check. What do you most value? How much do you boast about it?