Boasting in All Humility
See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 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. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. – Galatians 6:11-18
I’ve had a conversation lately with a thoughtful friend about pride. His contention is that pride is behind every sin. Whenever we choose to depart from God’s ways, it is because we think we know better than God. That, he says, is pride. I haven’t fully accepted his idea, but we’ve had some edifying conversations. And he has a point…to a point. But there is also the matter of fear, selfishness, greed, and or any of the other deadly sins. Sloth, for example, seems different from pride. But pride is one of the fundamental or foundational sins. And there are few situations in which pride is anything but sinful.
Enter Paul. He makes the point of boasting only in the cross of Jesus. And on a human level he could boast of many things; even godly or spiritual things. When he wrote to the church in Philippi, dealing with the same issue there, he wrote:
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. – Philippians 3:4-6
Paul makes the point here not to boast or even to tell the people he could boast if he wanted to. He simply says he will boast only in the cross of Jesus. This is no boast in the ordinary sense of the word. For the cross of Jesus is an emblem of shame and defeat. For someone to embrace the message of Jesus’ death is to admit to needing a Suffering Servant Savior, bloodied, abused, shamed, and forsaken, in order to be redeemed. This is hardly bragging territory.
So boasting in Jesus’ cross is no boast in human terms. But it is boasting from the perspective of God. And insofar as we do this we are also honoring God, and our bloodied, abused, shamed, and forsaken Suffering Servant Savior. But there is a major twist here. For Jesus is not only bloodied, abused, shamed, and forsaken. He is also risen, exalted, and reigning at the right hand of God. Jesus is worthy of our boasting because he not only died for us, but has been raised to life and given the name above every name.
Still Pau’s boast is not in Jesus’ resurrection, but in his cross. His suffering and death brought us salvation, and Paul realizes that anything else is worthless in comparison. Paul is actually boasting in his humility. But not about his humility. He is boasting about his Savior. And that’s a worthy boast for us all.