For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)
Reviewing the characteristics of love as laid out in 1 Corinthians 13, I realised that I had overlooked one of the attributes ‘love … does not boast’.
Looking at the sequencing, this attribute should have been considered after ‘love … does not envy’ and before ‘love … is not proud’. I cannot offer any reason as to why I overlooked this attribute, but I am confident that God can still use what needs to be said.
Considering the dictionary definition of boasting we read that it is: ‘Talking with excessive pride and self-satisfaction about one’s own achievements, possessions or abilities’. Comparable words are – brag, crow, swagger, gloat. No matter how we package it, boasting is not a thing that we should be developing in ourselves or in our spouse.
Within marriage boasting would place the focus on one partner and what they have done, rather than on what God is doing through and in them. Another way of looking at it is the boastful person wants to be the centre of attention in the marriage. One commentator states that boasting reveals insecurity and immaturity in the person.
The verses quoted above from Ephesians 2, give us insight into what boasting is about. The focus of boasting is oneself and the reason for boasting is our works – things we have done or achieved. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2 that our works are meaningless, as our salvation and gifts are from God.
If boasting wants to make us the focus, it is like saying ‘Look at me. Look at what I have done. Look at my abilities’. By doing so, it is seeking to be at the centre.
There are several passages in the Bible where Paul appears to be boasting. So is this confusing the issue? On examining a few texts we can see that Paul’s focus is different, as is revealed in the following verses:
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 2 Corinthians 11:30 (NIV)
But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV).
In these verses Paul reminds his readers that he would only boast about his weaknesses, as these revealed God’s strength. In other words, he was prepared to give the credit for his abilities to God, recognising that God alone had empowered him.
As we saw earlier boasting focuses on self, achievements, possessions or abilities. What God wants in marriage is that we recognise the source of our salvation and the gifts he has given to both us and our spouse. This is put succinctly in Jeremiah 9:
This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord. Jeremiah 9:23-24 (NIV)
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