Do Not Boast
By Rev Tan Eng Boo
I am always fascinated by the woodpecker’s story by Corrie Ten Boon. Here is a tiny bird pecking away at a tree trunk and he thinks his beak is powerful enough to fell a tree.
During my nature walk and photography sessions, I have heard and seen woodpeckers pecking away. I have seen on many occasions a completed hole in a tree trunk where the woodpecker has built its nest and the chicks being fed by the parents. But are woodpeckers strong enough to fell a tree? I am sceptical about it. And I see a lesson we can learn from it, through biblical lenses.
Finite beings are no different from the woodpeckers. They are also boastful! They think they are almighty and powerful. They think they can do anything they want. Is that so? Pilate told Jesus:
“You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” (Jn. 19:10). What was Jesus’ response? “Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above….” (Jn. 19:11).
Boasting can come in many forms. One Sunday morning, I spoke to a group of children in church. I shared about how a boaster said that he was the champion shooter in the battalion, not knowing that I was the actual champion. As soon as I concluded my message, a little girl said, “Pastor are you not boasting, too?” It set me thinking about how I should be careful to portray myself.
You see, brethren, there are those who like to talk about their past glory. They like to compare and put themselves above others in their experience. But we are not to do things to outstrip others, or by showing that we are better. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).
What does the Bible Say About Boasting?
The prophet Jeremiah has this to say, “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” (Jer. 9:23). The three things which men most pride themselves in are shown in this verse. This is the folly of self-reliance. We think very highly of ourselves and embrace the idea that we can determine our own destiny, define our own self-worth, and make the perfect decision. How foolish can we be? James reminds us that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights….” (Jam. 1:17). Did you know that “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (John 3:27)?
“King David also acknowledges this fact when he prays after the people give offerings to build the temple, saying: “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you...O Lord our God, all this abundance...comes from your hand and is all your own” (1 Chronicles 29:14, 16). Realising that everything we are able to do or to give back is because God has generously given to us cultivates humility in our hearts” (Jessica Udall, Crossway.com)
No Need to Boast
We should not think highly of ourselves like the woodpecker. There are many limitations in our lives. We can do so little and if the Lord is gracious to bless us with wisdom, power and wealth as mentioned in Jeremiah 9:23, it is His doing. We should take these blessings and use it for His purpose and glory. C. H. Spurgeon says:
“You are not mature if you have a high esteem of yourself. He who boasts in himself is but a babe in Christ, if indeed he be in Christ at all. Young Christians may think much of themselves. Growing Christians think themselves nothing. Mature Christians know that they are less than nothing. The more holy we are, the more we mourn our infirmities, and the humbler is our estimate of ourselves.”
Be Humble Always
I quote the words of John Calvin who describes the importance of humility through the words of his heroes:
I have always been exceedingly delighted with the words of Chrysostom:
“The foundation of our philosophy is humility,”
and still more with those of Augustine:
“As the orator, when asked, What is the first precept in eloquence? answered, Delivery: What is the second? Delivery: What the third? Delivery: so, if you ask me in regard to the precepts of the Christian Religion, I will answer, first, second, and third, Humility.” (Institutes 2.2.11)
Jesus is our greatest example of humility. Learn from Him:
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:5-8 KJV).
How to be Humble?
We will have to work out humility in our lives. We have examples from the Bible for our illustration. It is up to us to take heed to the examples given and live it out with the help of the Holy Spirit. I have a key verse for my life in this matter: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30).
“Naught have I gotten but what I received;
Grace hath bestowed it since I have believed;
Boasting excluded, pride I abase;
I’m only a sinner, saved by grace!”
(From “Only a Sinner” hymn by James M. Gray)