backwards boasting

backwards boasting

The biggest problem in my life and ministry is me. And one of my biggest problem among many is my gravitation toward self-defense or self-justification. I have an inner defense attorney from the firm of Flesh & Associates who is always there challenging the case in my favor. Well, not exactly for my favor. I am grateful for the Spirits work in me in this area, but I still have a long way to go.

When was the last time you defended yourself? Why did you feel the need to do it? Often times one is feels the need to defend themselves when confronted or attempting to protect an opinion or reputation.

Ironically, in 2 Corinthians 10-11, Paul is in the middle of defending himself and his ministry. Why does Paul feel the need to defend himself? What could be such a big deal that he feels the need to protect his reputation? Well, some in Corinth are discrediting him as an apostle. They say he is tough on paper, but in person he appears weak and doesn’t speak quite like the pros. Paul not only defends his ministry, but in doing so he defends the gospel message. It’s a big deal because he is protecting the reputation of Christ.

To defend himself Paul does a little boasting (v.1). Doesn’t that sound backward for Paul? Shouldn’t he turn the other cheek or be more humble? Instead Paul sees it is necessary to exercise “a little foolishness.”

Why is boasting foolish? It is foolish because no one likes listening to a boaster. Boasters are so full of themselves (show Packer shirt). If we do like people who boast, how much does God like it?

  • “Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches,” (Jeremiah 9:23)
  • “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” (Proverbs 27:1)
  • “Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give.” (Proverbs 25:14)
  • “These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.” (Jude 1:16)
  • “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” …For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:11-12, 14b)

God doesn’t like boasters. So why is Paul stooping to that level? Now to be fair, boasting was anathema to Paul too, but he engages in it to show the church just how foolish it is and how foolish his opponents are. Here are three justified boasts of Paul.

1.  As a father of the Bride, he is jealous for the church’s purity (vs.2-4).

What is the responsibility of the father of the bride? One of the most emotional moments for me when I married Sarah was the moment when the doors in the back of the church opened and my wife dressed in a white dressed walked down between our friends and family who were standing all looking at her. I was speechless. As so was her father. He was walking his daughter to me. For 27 years, he had been teaching her, giving her counsel and presented her to me as a pure bride.

How does Paul take his responsibility seriously as father of the church at Corinth? Paul, knew just how vulnerable the church was (vs.2-4). Like a faithful father he has boasted in his daughter and wants to keep the her pure and protect her from other lovers (deceivers) and present her not to just any man but the Son of Man, the Blessed Bride Groom.

Paul was properly jealous about this. He had paternal jealously handed down from another Father. It is said that “Human jealousy is a vice, but to share divine jealousy is a virtue.” Our God is a jealous God. He is jealous for the truth. He doesn’t like people adding or subtracting things from the message of Jesus, the work of the Spirit, or the Gospel. If God and Paul are jealous for these things, so must we.

2.  As a faithful apostle, he compares himself to the super-apostles (vs. 5-15).

Here Paul takes the opportunity to boast in his authority. Remember, it is not his own authority, but an authority given to him from Jesus. And some were challenging his authority. Paul sarcastically refers to them as Super-apostles (v.5) because they made themselves bigger than Paul. We don’t know much about these super-apostles other than that they were skilled speakers and were paid well for their skills. I am sure they also had capes and sidekicks too.

How does Paul compare himself to the super-apostles? (v.6) First, he admits he is not a skilled speak. He doesn’t wow the crowds like the Greco-Roman speakers who were suave, spoke with a swagger, yet were synthetic. Second, he admits he excels in knowledge. In other words he says the main criteria you need to be a good preacher is a knowledge of God. This knowledge made him a powerful and persuasive preacher.

Third, Paul explains that he came to Corinth free of charge (vs.7-11). Paul didn’t take speakers fees like the skilled speakers or professional philosophers. Not that this is wrong, but it can be a temptation. Paul instead says he received support from Philippi and other churches in Macedonia so he didn’t have to burden to the church in Corinth. People misinterpreted this as if Paul was not charging for his services as a self-admission that he was a low caliber speaker and his message wasn’t worth much. That he gave away the gospel because no one would pay to he it, when he gave it freely as proof he loved them.

Paul will switch his tone from sarcastic to serious as he now calls these super-apostles false prophets, deceitful workers (vs.12-15). Why would he use such harsh terms? These super-apostles are changing Jesus, the Spirits work and the gospel message for their profit. That gives Paul grounds to boast. What Paul boasts in is the faithful, self-sacrificing efforts made on behalf of the gospel ministry in Corinth to the degree that his example serves to expose false apostles as what they really are, ministers of Satan.

This passage challenges all who take money and serve the name of Jesus. I must ask myself the question, do I consider the financial gain before you consider the glory of the Name? This is a real temptation. Remember, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (cf. 8:9).

3.  As a follower of Christ, he has counted the cost and carries his cross (16-33)

Paul boasts to prove a point to boasters, “Look, isn’t boasting really foolish?” If Paul must be forced to boast, it will not be in the things that are impressive from a human standpoint. Rather, he will boast in those things that put him in such a vulnerable situation that he has to depend utterly upon God. He takes great lengths to share all that happened to him for the sake of the name of Christ (vs.16-33).

Paul answers the question, When is foolish boasting acceptable? “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (10:17; cf. Jer. 9:23-24). Nothing, absolutely nothing trumps the Lord. It doesn’t matter what I say about myself, it’s what I say about God. It’s the essence of backward boasting. I am nothing. God is everything. When the foolish boasting is in favor of Jesus and the gospel message it is sometimes acceptable.

How might this chapter be applicable to your life and ministry? Can you embrace your weaknesses? Will you boast in your weaknesses? The answer to that question has everything to do with the authenticity of the gospel and the church and its mission.

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raising Cain: the call for repentance

Raising Cain is an expression given to someone who causes havoc. We get the phrase from the Genesis 4, where we get a glimpse into the first family and the children they raised. The children of Adam and Eve were far from perfect. This is a tale of two brothers. Woven into this story are incredible lessons for parents, children, and everyday followers of God.

What’s in a name? [Genesis 4:1-2]

Biblical names have meanings. The biblical meanings of names are significant and often shape the life of the one who bears the names. Let’s meet our two brothers: The first brother is Cain. His name means ‘acquire, get, possess’. The second brother is Abel. His name means ‘vapor or breath’.  As we will see in the story their names have a predetermining affect on their futures.

What is the purpose of your work? [4:3-5]

In Genesis 1-2, during the days of created God set an example for man to live by—6-days a week man works the land God creates and the seventh day man worships the God who created the land which they work [1:26-28]. Both the brothers are hard workers. Cain works the land and Abel ranches the animals. They are generous workers. From an early age both brothers learn the value of giving God a portion of their labors for praise and worship. Work is a means of worship because work involves sacrifice. This is a great lesson for all laborers.

Your mission while working is to give God your best in time, effort, aspirations, career, and money. Come to God with something in your hands to worship God from rewards of your reaping. Both brothers recognize their work and rewards of their work come from God. Both brothers bring gifts of their labors to God. Cain brings the first fruits of his land and Abel brings the firstborn of his flock. Both brothers come with something in their hand, but also something in their heart.

God questions what you bring for worship [4:6-7a]

In Genesis 3:9-13, God questions Cain’s parents over their actions in the Garden; He does the same here with Cain. God loves to ask questions. Man seeks to avoid questions. Man’s motto is, “Don’t ask; don’t tell.” God asks, “Why are you angry? It’s all over your face. I see your heart. Will you do what is right and repent?”

Cain comes to God with full hands but a jealous heart of unbelief [cf. 1 John 3:12; Hebrew 11:4]. He looks at his bowl of Cheerios and then at his brother’s box of Omaha Steaks and thinks, “Wow, my offering is pretty lame,” and jealous grew in his heart over Abel. Was it that Abel’s offering was better? No. The mass of the offering in your hands does not matter a bit, but the manner of your heart before God does matter.

Do you compare your worship with others? When in church are you looking around at what others bring? Are you jealous because someone else has your is growing in their relationship with God more than you, better life [job, girl or guy] than you, appears more success than you? Are you obsessed with other people around you, rather than the only One whose opinion matters? Abel comes to God with a love for God in his heart. His offering is regarded because his heart is to please God. Cain’s offering looked religious, but his heart is not dependent upon God. Some Christians are a lot like Cain, even worse because they come to God with nothing in their hands. He at least comes with something in his hand, even though what he had in his heart was wicked and twisted.

What are the consequences of keeping a jealous heart? [4:7b-9]

If Cain does not get a handle on his jealousy it will handle him. God warns Cain, “Your sin will drive you insane.” Sin is powerful enough to drive one to insanity and death. Cain must have learned the desire for power and prestige from his mommy [cf. desire; Genesis 3:16b]. Do you notice the pride in Eve’s statement, “I have made a man” [4:1]? She didn’t make man, God did. Eve is trying to rule over her roost and her redemption, but Cain is not the promised Redeemer Seed [cf. 3:15].

The consequences of keeping jealousy in your heart will cause it to grow and spiral out of control. First, if you internalize jealousy you will be depressed. Second, if you externalize jealousy you will get violent [i.e. Cain]. Third, if you deal with jealousy through repent you will rule over it with self-control. If you are convicted of a jealous heart, repent, before it gets worse. And worse it did get for Cain. Cain invites his brother to the farm, kills him in broad daylight, and buries his bloody body under the ground. This is a premeditated murder. Jealousy led to insanity. Insanity led to Abel’s mortality.

God as Counselor and Judge [4:9-12]

Echoing God’s question in the Garden [3:9], God asks Cain, “Where is your brother, Abel?” [v.9]. And like his parents, He covers with a lie, “I don’t know! Am I Abel’s babysitter?” This should have been an opportunity for immediate repentance and restoration. Instead, God has to step in as the law enforcer, CSI agent, prosecutor, and Judge. Therefore, since Cain alienates himself from God, God alienates him from good farmland. Cain dishonors the dirt, and the dirt dishonors Cain [cf. 3:17].

What happens when you repent? [4:13-26]

I believe, Cain responds to God’s curse with a repentant heart, “My sin is greater than I can bear” [v.13]. The curse cracks the hard shell of Cain’s heart. He realizes and wakes up to the consequences of his sin. He knows he will have to move away [East of Nod = “wandering” alienation from God], be a fugitive, believes someone will track him down and kill him too.

It is not a popular opinion, but I believe Cain repents because God blesses him through protection [15-16, tattoo], gives him a family [17a], gives him a refuge city [17b], gives him another brother [25a], promises a Redeemer Seed [25b-26a], and brings a revival [26]. God is a good God—a gracious God. God gives Cain good gifts despite his sin.

In Genesis 4, you see Cain’s worst day. Lame Lamech gives you a look into where Cain’s sin could lead without repentance [vs.19-24]. I am glad that the Bible is an honest book describing the gruesome details of people’s lives. I could not image God putting my worst days in the Bible as an example for others to read and remember. God gives these examples to learn about His grace, so that in your worst day you can also have your best because God’s restoration follows repentance.

The story of Cain and Abel does not make sense until you put yourself into the shoes of Cain. You are Cain. You have killed your brother, Jesus. You come to God with empty worship and an unrepentant jealous heart. Jesus’ death offers you life and hope. Jesus’ death and blood cries out so that you would believe in your brother and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ [Hebrews 12:24].

Questions for Reflections and Application:

What are some of the lessons in this story for parents? Children? Or everyday followers of God?

What is the overall effect of sin’s mastery as this story is played out?

What do you think Genesis 4 is meant to instill in you? How does it impact you?

jealousy

Jealousy is as old as Cain and Abel (cf. Genesis 4). Man has often displayed jealous behavior to get what he wants, when he wants it; usually in spite of a person or situation. Jealousy is a strong response that can be used for extreme harm or extraordinary good. The letter of James (4:5) touch’s on the topic of jealousy with reference to a certain Old Testament quotation. What is jealousy? Is jealousy godly? Is the jealousy of God in the OT the same or different as that seen of God when mentioned in the New Testament?

James 4:5 says, “Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that He has made to dwell in us”?” James 4:5 specifically states he is quoting Scripture, but when scanning the OT, one observes there is no passage that it directly quotes. However, there are many OT texts that it could be alluding or echoing.

The God of the Bible is a jealous God. Theologically speaking, the theme of God’s jealous love for His people is tied to the exclusiveness of his claims like the exclusiveness of a spouse’s claims in marriage. This claim is ratcheted up because God is not only the metaphorical husband of His people but also their God. He alone is God. Since He is personal, God is jealous when His followers commit adultery because of the betrayal of idolatry. God longs for His follower’s faithfulness with a jealous longing.

Teaching God’s Jealous Character from Exodus 20:5 & 34:14.

From the decalogue and the Law we see teachings of a jealous God (Exodus 20). God is jealous within a concrete context of covenant infidelity (Exodus 34). James describes a jealous God who has not changed in His demand of absolute devotion to Himself by obedience to His commandments. The Hebrew word for jealous [קַנָּא] is used only of God with the focus on punishing those who hate Him (Ex 20:5; 34:14; Dt. 4:24; 5:9; 6:15) and demanding exclusive service (Ex 34:14).

The second Commandment expands and explains the first commandment. It deals with the heart, rather than the object of worship. This commandment becomes the gauge that measures the spiritual vitality of God’s people. God desires worship above all else. Commands against idols and pagan gods appear throughout the OT. Although James is so practical in structure, the doctrine of God is vital to the teaching of the letter. Throughout James’ letter there is an emphasis on a monotheistic God who is One (cf. 2:19). Within the doctrine of God is the doctrine of His character. James emphasizes His jealousy. God is jealous because He desires His people to adhere to the law and likewise abstain from being worldly. God’s jealousy is seen in the Law and through James’ command to His people to obey Him exclusively through their faithfulness and denial of worldly pleasures.

Analogy of Worldly Friendship from Deuteronomy 6:14-15.

The character of a jealous God who desires faithfulness in His people continues throughout the OT Torah. God is jealous for His people and desires them to worship Him exclusively. In the Septuagint [LXX] the word for jealousy is ζηλωτής–where we get our English word ‘zealous,’ or better translated ‘envy’. Within James 4:4-5, a discussion exists of worldly attitudes rooted in fights and quarrels among believers. These attitudes were from envy and selfish ambition in the pursuit of worldly pleasures (cf. James 4:2a, ζηλοῦτε). These selfish motives led to worldly lifestyles (cf. James 3:14-16). Selfish living is the antithesis of a faithful relationship with God. Selfish ambition is considered rebellion and adultery against God (Deut. 6:14-15).

The call to reject pagan idolatry in the OT was primarily against the cultic worship and gods of other nations like Babylon and Assyria. However, the idolatry in the NT brings friendship with the world to the level of being an enemy of God. Worldly living is against that which God teaches and expects of His people. One either loves God or loves the world. Loving the world to James means not only that you don’t love God, it means you are His enemy

The idea of friendship in OT and NT culture was not the shallow depiction that we see in today’s culture. God intended friendship to encourage spiritual unity and accountability against idolatry and worldliness. With a deeper understanding of friendship it becomes clear that—as James says—love for God and love for the world are mutually exclusive (cf. Luke 16:13; 1 John 2:15-16; Matthew 6:24). To be friends with the world is to be God’s enemy. Love for the world or other gods is treason toward God. God is a jealous God and does not tolerate compromising relationships, especially with the gods and idols of this world.

Analogy of Adultery from Ezekiel 16:38, 42.

Ezekiel continues the theme of the Law by echoing that God is jealous for His own honor. Ezekiel compares the rebellion of his day to that of the Exile during Moses’ day (cf. 20:1-26). Ezekiel pleads for God’s grace and restoration in the light of His jealous dealings throughout time (20:42-44). Ezekiel also touches on the adultery of his people and the jealousy of a God who desires their faithfulness (16:38, 42). God keeps His covenantal wedding vows and expects His bride—the nation of Israel—to uphold them too.

Ezekiel continues in the vein of James by relating God’s jealousy to that of an adulterous relationship. It is very likely James is thinking of the OT view that God—the jealous lover—is married to His people and His bride is adulterous and unfaithful. The reference to women in Ezekiel adheres to God’s people being His bride. James’ readers are the church, which is the Bride of Christ. Jesus also used this marriage analogy to call His followers to faithfulness.

In a godly marriage, there is a healthy form of jealousy which a husband should have for his wife. If he found out that she was having affections for another man he would rightly be jealous of her love. If he did not, one would question the husband’s love for his bride. James and the OT reinforce this analogy. God loves His people though they have committed spiritual adultery. God is gracious to restore them if they repent and turn back to Him.

James 4:5 demonstrates in the NT that God desires total allegiance as He did in the OT. God is a righteously jealous Husband who tolerates no rivals. We cannot be friends with the world without provoking the jealousy of God. We cannot claim to be the bride of Christ and then run to the worldly “man next door” for comfort. James supports the OT texts that command His people to turn from all spiritual adultery and be exclusively devoted to God. Living for self and seeking pleasure apart from God is to commit spiritual adultery. To James, active faith is tested by the world and God expects His followers to be faithful to Him alone.

To view a more technical paper with sources see JEALOUSLY intertextuality paper [James 4.5]