A trip to Orlando provided much adventure in the form of finding our way around. On one expedition for pizza my wife and I drove over ten miles looking for a pizzeria less than two miles from where we staying. Another trip was for ice cream. Having seen an ice cream parlor on our pizza excursion I knew generally where to go. When we first found the place it was too late to turn into the driveway. I turned around up the road and as we approached the ice cream parlor I proclaimed “told you I would get you some ice cream”. In that moment it became apparent to both of us that we were also passing the turn into the plaza. Embarrassment and humor struck me simultaneously. So much for bragging on my navigation skills.
In some situations bragging rights are legal tender. Have you ever been in a silly competition with the prize of bragging rights? For example “if my team wins you have to admit we are better”, or “whoever wins this race can boast they are the fastest”. Growing up it was not uncommon to hear such wagers. In fact as an adult it is not unusual to be involved in such bantering. People like to brag. Bumper stickers declaring honor roll students, travel destinations, or personal feats such as marathons are common sites. Pride in personal achievement can be healthy. Displaying pride in a student or child’s accomplishment can encourage good habits and behavior. The problem is when healthy pride turns into judgmental boasting.
The apostle Paul did some bragging in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33New International Version (NIV); 16 I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 17 In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. 18 Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. 19 You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20 In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. 21 To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!
Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.
The Corinthians loved and were fascinated with external accomplishments. Paul’s opponents were quick to criticize him for his lack of rhetorical eloquence, his decision to not receive monetary compensation from the church in Corinth, and other differences between him and others calling themselves apostles. Paul could easily have countered their claims starting with the fact that he was the one that planted the Corinthian church. Instead Paul does not boast “the way the world does” (v. 18). If his audience was expecting great stories of church plantings and missionary exploits, they would have been shocked and disappointed. What Paul does boast about is his countless trials and afflictions he endured in his service to Christ. This is where Paul’s bragging has uniqueness and strategic genius.
Quoting James D. Hernando from the Global University study text ‘Corinthian Correspondence’:
Paul’s incomparable boast was that he was unrivaled in his imitation of Christ’s sufferings in obedience to God’s will. This demanded nothing less than dying to self (Romans 6:6; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:3-9). Yet his opponents’ prideful self-promotion stood in stark contrast to the cruciform life—the path Jesus took in the way to the Cross.
By boasting of his sufferings for Christ’s sake, Paul has accommodated his opponents’ love of comparison and citing of apostolic credentials. However, he has also put forward a criterion they cannot begin to meet: a life of self-denial and suffering in obedience to his apostolic calling.
There are dangers associated with comparison that include pride, selfishness, and an unloving attitude. A person can avoid the potentially corrupting pride of power. One key is to follow Christ’s example of humility (Philippians 2:1-11). We are instructed in Romans 12:3 to not think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but rather with sober judgment by remembering all power is from God and is His to remove.
Boasting is wrong if it is rooted in excessive pride and in elevating one’s own accomplishments, talents, and so forth apart from God. However, Christians can rightfully boast of what God has done through them if the motivation is to exalt Him.
Rev. Burt Schwab