Christianity 201

February 28, 2014

Having the Understanding to Know God

NIV Jer. 9:23 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,
24 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.

I chose today’s scripture passage first, and then scanned the internet to see who had done a good job of presenting this passage. That led me to a sermon notes blog by New Zealand’s Sam Hight. What follows is the first 60% of the article, you’ll want to click through to read the entire piece.

Boast in the Lord

I want to break this passage down into manageable bits to start, just to make sure that we understand the general idea of what is being said.

So first, we have three things which we are not to boast in: wisdom, might, and riches. Second, we are told the thing which we should boast in: our understanding and knowledge of the LORD. Third, that particular understanding and knowledge of the LORD is given some more detail to help us get the message properly.

That seems pretty straight forward… But is it? Well, maybe it is, but we should take a careful look, just in case we miss something.

One of the biggest problems among Christians today, is that the words of the Bible are not considered carefully enough. People who say that they care a great deal about God don’t take the time to really read what he has said to us in the Bible.

It’s too easy to walk away with just a general impression of what is written. An impression which is more in line with your preconceived ideas which you have brought to the text. If we really want to learn from God we must be willing to have our ideas shaped by scripture, and not just look to support what we already believe with a vague interpretation of a verse which seems to support our view.
As the saying goes, “the devil is in the detail.”

So, some questions to get us thinking deeper about this passage:

  1. How is this boasting supposed to work in practice? What does it look like? Do we walk around yelling “I know God, I know God”? Do we wear a T-shirt or a wristband which proclaims our allegiance? Is that boasting correctly?
  2. How often should we be boasting? Can we boast all the time or are there certain occasions which suit boasting best?
  3. What are these things that God practices: “steadfast love”, “justice”, and “righteousness”?
  4. How does God practice these things? Does it mean that he needs to keep trying until he gets it correct? That sort of practice? Well obviously not, because God is perfect and unchanging… so what then?

That’s a lot of questions, and we could ask more if we wanted. So maybe it isn’t as simple as we might have first thought… It just highlights that we have to take the time to read and think carefully.

Let’s take a look at BOASTING

In my preparation, the more I considered this passage, the more I realised that I didn’t know what it actually meant to boast in knowing and understanding God.
Prior to reading this scripture, my understanding of boasting was that boasting is always a bad thing. But what we find here is that boasting is not always a bad thing because we can boast in God and it’s considered a good thing! It seems that boasting itself is neither good nor bad, but what you boast in is what makes it good or bad.

So what exactly is boasting?
Psalm 34:1-3 gives us a quick picture of boasting the right way. Let’s read it:

1 I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2  My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
3  Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together!

I really enjoy that last line: “let us exalt his name together!”

So boasting about something is when you communicate that that something is important, and in doing so you are usually outspoken about that thing. You stand up at every opportunity and make a big deal of it. For example, you might buy something new, a new car perhaps, and you are very proud of your new car and you take every opportunity to speak of how great a car it is. It’s so fast, it has a really loud stereo, what a fantastic safety rating, you got it at the lowest price, and so on. People might start to get sick of hearing about it from you because you go on and on and on and on and on; and you keep saying it in such a way that you show to them that you think your car is better than theirs!
Boasting about a new car like this would be a bad sort of boasting.

Now, I want to make a distinction here, because it’s not always bad to talk about your new car. It is bad if you talk about it like it is more important than it really is, and it is bad to talk about it to the point that people are annoyed with you. You have to watch people’s reactions to what you say, and if it clearly annoys them in the way I’ve described then you need to stop. It’s just polite in most situations anyway. You also have to check yourself – to see whether you are making an idol out of your car, your new phone, or whatever it may be.

Okay, so we know what boasting is, and we’ve seen some good boasting and some bad; but what about these three things that we are told not to boast in? Wisdom seems like a good thing. The Bible constantly tells us that it is a good thing, especially in the book of Proverbs. But we are not to see it as something to constantly speak about or to deliberately remind people about in ourselves. We’re not to tell people that we are wise. The same goes for might and riches. They are not bad things, a lot of good can be done for God and for his people using wisdom, might, and wealth, but we shouldn’t make them our focus when talking about ourselves and we shouldn’t be deliberately drawing attention to ourselves through them. Why? Because doing so glorifies our self. It shows a lack of humility. If we boast about our wisdom, our might, and our riches (or our new car), we are effectively boasting about our self, and raising our own importance above God and that is very wrong.

The better way, if you absolutely must talk about these things, and sometimes we must, especially when educating the next generation to come, is to speak of them as blessings from God. Or wait until someone notices them and then use the opportunity to glorify the Giver of wisdom, the Giver of might, the Giver of wealth.

I really want you to get this: It is not wrong to be wise, to be mighty, to be wealthy… but it is wrong to be using those aspects of yourself to make yourself to be seen as more important than you really are… to be making an idol out of your giftings. It can be a fine line between being honest about your God-given abilities and making too much of yourself in a not so humble way; but you should never define yourself primarily by your wisdom, your wealth, or your great achievements.

It might help to remember that, in any case at all, the person who understands, and knows God, is always in a far better position than the person who is wise, mighty, and rich.

When we talk about ourselves, the things that we boast about the most are what we become known for. What do you think you are known for?

Clearly, every person on the planet who is honouring God wants to be known for their faith in him, but let’s tease this out a little more by presenting the different options of what a person can actually boast in and be known for.

A person can be known in the way that secular society and non-Christians want to be known

Society would have you believe that it is foolish to believe in Jesus Christ, and that it is better to be known for being rich and smart. In fact, even a lot of religious people think it’s foolish to believe in Jesus Christ, and they put their “wisdom” above him and over his word. They say that man evolved from a common ancestor to apes and that the Bible is just being metaphorical or poetic when it talks about six days of Creation and Jesus performing miracles. Their wisdom is more reliable than the Bible to them, and this becomes their boast.

But know that their judgement will come. Jeremiah and the other prophets speak of the judgement which will come on those who boast about their false wisdom and who claim to be religious and follow God.

That’s awfully negative, but it is truth, and we shouldn’t shy away from the truth in shame. But that negative is not for the people of God. We have a positive boast and a positive eternity to look forward to.

How else can a person be known? What about as someone who call them self a Christian but makes the wrong things their focus?

Do you want to be known as someone who boasts about the false prosperity gospel of health, wealth and happiness, someone who ignores the obvious truth that we must suffer? 2 Timothy 2 says to share in the suffering as a good soldier of Christ. And Jesus said in Matthew 19 that only with difficulty will a rich person enter the Kingdom of Heaven. “God, make us poor if that will help us enter in!” You won’t hear them saying that!

Do you want to be known for boasting in the latest false revival of false spirituality? You know the ones, where miracles are reported left, right, and center, but nobody can really pin down an actual case. These things are really just people making things happen in their imaginations – many times they genuinely believe, but they’ve had the wool pulled over their eyes. Years ago, and to my shame, I used to be a part of a church where people went up the front for prayer and to feel what they thought was the Spirit and to fall over. God has given us a powerful psyche and we can use it for good or for bad – don’t use it to fool yourself into believing something that is stupid when you look back on it. I thank God that he showed me the error of my ways, and the greatness of his glory – you can’t resist God’s Spirit but you can resist a guy yelling in a mic and pushing you.

It’s sad, but you probably couldn’t count the number of leaders in the last few years who have been at the center of so-called “revivals” and who have lasted a short while before being caught having affairs, stealing money, or falsifying miracles. But let’s move on from that to a far better boast…

A person could instead be known for their love and commitment to God through their boasting of him and his great works:

Let me outline how I think we are meant to boast about the LORD:

[continue reading here]

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