One (Possibly) Surprising Reason Boasting Is Evil

Setting the stage

James 4:13-16 stands out as a strange departure from what has been the focus of the previous two chapters. Notice what he wrote.

Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’ But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

Upon reading these few verses, we note that James is further developing the ideas related to the tongue. Having thoroughly addressed the evils of our tongue in the stories we tell ourselves and others, He shifts his attention to another problem with the tongue and the poor attitude it represents.

Boasting: Both encouraged and condemned?

The point is found in the last verse of the four. James condemned arrogant boasting. He provided the example of such boasting in something we all probably relate to: Planning for the future.

We are familiar with the danger of boasting. We probably learned some great lessons as children, warning us against it. Proverbs 27:1 says,

Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.

In 1 Corinthians 13:4, Paul wrote that “love does not boast”.

He also stated in 2 Corinthians 10:17, “Let one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (This itself is probably a reference to Jeremiah 9:23-24.)

Obviously, according to Paul, boasting is not sinful, if done properly. So why did James condemn it when the Scriptures also teach that it is not wrong? Just by asking the question the answer comes to mind. It comes down to a question of what we boast in.

Boasting and rejoicing are the same

Isn’t boasting simply expressing joy in something that pleases you? Generally speaking, we understand that boasting is wrong because it exhibits confidence, trust, and joy in ourselves instead of God. It is selfish. But at its root, it is about rejoicing.

Think about the book of James and what we have covered so far. Does this idea of boasting sound familiar? Didn’t he write earlier about where we place our joy?

James 1:9-10 is the place.

Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away.

And now, having over the last few chapters dealt with other ideas presented in that beginning section, he turns our attention back to this extremely important concept: Let us choose wisely where to find our joy. It’s all laid out for us in James 1:1-12.

Back in this post, I summarized that section in the following manner.

If you want to bring about joyous circumstances, you need to remember the value of the situation, choose to endure it, pray for wisdom, and be sure to rejoice in the things that are going to help you endure.

It turns out that this summary serves as a good outline for the rest of the book. In one way or another, everything that he wrote relates to something in that sentence. That is an exciting idea for me because I stumbled upon it without realizing it. And as I have gone through, I have begun to notice it. I think that it can still be tweaked a little, but it’s a nice reminder that James had a purpose in writing. It is also useful for ensuring that I stay on topic when I am tempted to wander from it. And it serves to reveal the subject of the verses in James 4:13-16.

Choose carefully what you boast about

Be sure to choose carefully what things you rejoice in. Specifically, we are told to rejoice in God’s will, not in our own plans. And relating to the rest of this book so far revealed, we can see that the reason boasting in our own plans is wrong goes beyond the usual explanation.

The “usual” explanation posits that boasting is wrong because it is evil. But we have already established the fact that boasting correctly is not evil, else Paul would never have stated that we should boast in the Lord. The reason boasting is wrong is because we tend to boast in our own power and strength. We tend to boast in our own intelligence and wisdom. All such boasting is sin. That is certainly the point James makes.

Tie that in with the rest of the book, however, and it sheds more light upon WHY such boasting is evil. It’s not because God is jealous of glory and demands it all for Himself. The reason it is evil, at least in part, is because it represents a faulty choice in life. It reveals an error in what we choose to rejoice in.

Don’t miss this important point: We choose what we rejoice in. Part of that decision is made for us by others, teaching us to find joy in various activities and ideas. Sometimes the choice is not obvious to us because it is habitual. But in every case, we can choose to find joy in whatever situations we face.

Do you agree with that idea? Can you really choose what you rejoice about?

You can find something good in almost any situation of life.

You determine your attitude

I remember a story about a man who was sent to an island to sell shoes for a manufacturer. In six months he came home a miserable failure, complaining that the people just do not buy shoes. “No one wears shoes there. I could not sell one pair!” The manager was not deterred from the market, however, and sent a bright young man who became the greatest salesman in the history of the company. But before the success, the manager who sent him was concerned that the man would fail, too. So, after a few days, the manager called and asked if he was ready to give up and come home. “Are you kidding?” he responded. “You need to send more shoes immediately. NO ONE wears shoes here! I’m going to make a mint!” And he did.

Attitude has a lot to do with what we find in a given situation.

Make the choice to glory in the right things

So, do you choose to glory and rejoice in the things you accomplish and/or plan to accomplish? I get it. It’s a lot of fun to plan things and set operations in order. But what is far better is rejoicing in God’s will for your life. What if God does not want you to accomplish what you seek to accomplish? Would you continue to rejoice in it?

What if while you rejoice in your plans and ideas you miss what God’s word says about them?

When you plan for the future, consider this: You plan what you want to accomplish. You want to accomplish what you value in life. You value in life your basic needs, whether real or imagined. Do you notice the pattern? It’s been shown so many times before in this book. Assessing the pathway you will take, i.e., making plans for the future (whether the immediate future or two years from now), must be measured by the application of information. We must look at information regarding our needs, to determine what they are. We must look at information regarding our options in fulfilling our needs, to know which way to choose. We must decide to use godly wisdom, and know what it is. And we must place value on that wisdom of God so that we will remember to access it and use it in the decision-making.

Therefore, the things you choose to rejoice in will determine your pathway in life.

Your pathway in life will determine your eternal destiny.

Implications of the choice

This line of reasoning ought to paint a vivid picture for us of just how terribly misguided it is to rejoice and boast in our own ideas and plans.

Furthermore, this line of reasoning about life should cause us to appreciate the value of learning God’s word.

Be careful what you plan. You do not know what tomorrow will bring. Be sure that your plans match God’s will, and strive for what is truly important.

I don’t want to suggest that pursuing business ventures is sinful. James is not making that point. He stated that we must remember to say, “If the Lord wills…” It’s not a formulaic saying he wants; it’s an attitude of life that he seeks. When you make your plans for pursuing business, ask yourself why you are doing it. Ask what you are seeking and valuing. Ask whether your activity will be sinful, neutral, or godly. Ask how God’s will relates to your decisions, and finally, how God will ultimately fulfill any part of His will in you by your behavior.

A worldly, self-seeking person will never ask such questions. A faithful child of God would not (intentionally) dare avoid them, because he is not seeking possessions and meaningless activities. With all of his heart, he is seeking the more abundant life that Jesus promised. That path is provided through understanding and applying God’s word in every circumstance of life.

What I’m NOT suggesting

I need to address another part of this, however, because I know human nature. There are many people who look at God’s word as a list of things to accomplish so they can be saved. Certainly, anyone who denies that God has conditions for salvation understands neither grace nor faith, but looking at the Bible as a list of activities that must be accomplished to reach heaven will cause terrible harm to you, especially if you understand what James is saying in this book! Can you imagine what a burden it would be if you thought that in order to go to heaven you must analyze every single decision and activity in your life and match it to a passage of the Bible? What a horrific existence that would be! That is FAR from “life” that Jesus promised. Pursuing such a life would put you in a mental institution, drooling upon your shirt.

Surely we must avoid sin, and we must search it out to get rid of it in life. I’m not suggesting sin is OK to keep around in life.

But we also must understand that James is talking about spiritual GROWTH, not immediate perfection. If you have been saved from sin, you are then to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:18). That includes getting rid of sin, but it also includes learning to add spiritual fruit. It means putting on the attributes of God, over a period of time. The more you grow, the more joy you will have in life. So it is not a matter of earning salvation. It is really based on a question, “How much do you want to get out of life?” Some people are satisfied to be a spiritual pauper. I think that is a seriously misguided idea, and possibly will lead to destruction. (Think of the parable of the talents.)

Pauper? You can be so much more!

I’m not satisfied with being a spiritual pauper. I want to have all that God will provide me. One man stated that he wanted to suck all the marrow out of life. That’s what I want. I assume you want it too. To LIVE. To BECOME.

Much of that will be determined by what we choose to rejoice in.

What are you boasting in today?

See you tomorrow!


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