Let Him Who Boasts Boast in the Lord!
From Gospel Translations
By John Piper
Part of the series 1 Corinthians: The Present Power of Christ Crucified
1 Corinthians 1:31
Hatred as the Echo of Love
I hope you will agree with me this morning that in order to love deeply, there are things you must deeply hate. You could think of examples yourself. To love children deeply you must hate any mistreatment or neglect that destroys them. If you love clear-headed kindness and respect, you have to hate alcoholism and drug addiction. If you love freedom, you have to hate slavery and totalitarianism.
The reason I start with this observation is because I am about to tell you something God hates, and I know that the word hate by itself has a negative and unattractive ring to it. But I want you to realize from the very outset that God's hatred is the reflex of his love.
The only reason anybody should hate anything is because it replaces or ruins something beautiful and wonderful. Hatred should always stand in the service of love. If you hate anything, it should be because you love something more. So when I tell you that God hates something, I want you to hear that hatred as the echo of his love. He hates what he hates because it replaces or ruins something beautiful.
God Hates Human Pride
More than anything else in the world, God hates human pride.
- Proverbs 6:16–17 says, "There are six things which the Lord hates, seven which are an abomination to him . . . " and the first one mentioned is "haughty eyes."
- In Psalm 101:5 David speaks for God and says, "The man of haughty looks and arrogant heart I will not endure."
- Proverbs 16:5, "Every one who is arrogant is an abomination to the Lord."
- Isaiah 2:11, "The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the pride of men shall be humbled; and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day."
- Jeremiah 50:31, "Behold, I am against you, O proud one, says the Lord God of hosts; for your day has come, the time when I will punish you."
- Jesus said in Luke 16:15, "What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God."
- And in Acts 12:23 it says that an angel of the Lord struck Herod so that he was eaten with worms and died because when he received applause from the people, he did not give God the glory but took it for himself.
Pride as the Root Problem in the Corinthian Church
God hates human pride. And this is the root problem in the church at Corinth. Let's take a quick survey of the letters to Corinth to see if this is so, and also to see just what pride is. Ask these two questions as we go: is pride the root problem at Corinth, and what actually is pride?
Is Pride the Root Problem at Corinth?
- 1 Corinthians 1:29—"so that no human being might boast in the presence of God . . .
- 1 Corinthians 1:31—"Therefore, as it is written, 'Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.'"
- 1 Corinthians 3:7—"So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth."
- 1 Corinthians 3:21—"So let no one boast of men."
- 1 Corinthians 4:6 (at the end)—" . . . that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another." The end of verse 7—"If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?"
- 1 Corinthians 4:18—"Some are arrogant as though I were not coming to you."
- 1 Corinthians 5:2—"And you are arrogant!"
- 1 Corinthians 8:1—"Knowledge puffs up, love builds up."
- 1 Corinthians 13:4—"Love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude."
- 2 Corinthians 1:9—Hardship comes even up to the brink of death, "but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead."
- 2 Corinthians 3:5—"Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our sufficiency is from God."
- 2 Corinthians 4:7—"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us."
- 2 Corinthians 12:9—"I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ might rest upon me."
It is not hard to see that the root problem in the church at Corinth is pride. And it is not hard to see either what that pride is.
What Is Pride?
- It is boasting in self and not the Lord.
- It is taking credit ourselves for what God alone can do.
- It is relying on self and not God.
- It is feeling sufficiency in our own strength and not in God's.
- It is the disinclination to admit that we are mere earthen vessels so that another gets the glory.
- It is the unwillingness to admit weaknesses that may accent the power of Christ.
What God Loves That Makes Him Hate Pride
What's the beautiful thing that is replaced or ruined by pride? What does God love so much that he must hate pride with all his might? The answer is plain from all these texts.
- He loves the heart that boasts in the Lord.
- He loves the heart that gives him credit for what he alone can do.
- He loves the heart that relies on his power.
- He loves the heart that wants him to get the glory in all things and that wants the power of his Son to shine in our weakness.
And if you have caught on to the essence of Christian Hedonism, you will know that when God delights in this, he delights in the deepest, most satisfying human experience possible. Because:
- We were made to boast in God.
- We were made to give him credit for all good.
- We were made to rely on his power.
- We were made to magnify his glory and his all sufficiency in our weakness.
This is the source of all ultimate joy and satisfaction. If God were to delight in anything less than our boasting in him, he would be an idolater and he would be a killjoy. Pride diverts our capacity for exultation from the galaxies of God's glory to the gutters of our puny achievements. It is a decorated dead end street.
Therefore, God hates pride. And we should hate in ourselves what God hates in us, and wield the sword of the Spirit as best we can to slay this dragon in our souls.
Five Steps in Paul's Combat Against Pride
So what I want to do is take you with me through Paul's thought process in 1 Corinthians 1:18–31. It comes to a climax in verse 31 with the words, "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." So really what we are asking is, How does Paul guide a person from being proud and self-reliant into being a person who exults in God and not self?
May that happen for all of us this morning as we follow the Word of God.
I see at least five steps in Paul's thought in these verses. Let's look at them one at a time not necessarily in the order he wrote them but from the most basic premise to his final conclusion.
1. Recognize What We All Want to Boast In
The first step is the basic fact of experience that humans want something to boast in, but not God.
Verse 22: "For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom."
"Signs" are the display of power and "wisdom" is the display of intelligence. So the underlying point is: some people get their strokes through power and others get their strokes through intelligence. It might be your own power or intelligence, or it might belong to someone you can associate with (as was the case here in Corinth).
It might be a World Series ball team in your city that you boast about, or it might be your alma mater, or the company you work for, or a friend, or even a religion, or a church. Pride can boast in itself directly or it can boast in itself indirectly by association. So two absolutely incompetent ballplayers may brag about the ball team in their city as though they had anything to do with making the team good.
I think God created man with a deep desire to boast in something great, but sin came into the world and made every one of us hate to boast in God. So we seek for displays of power and displays of intelligence and we make these our gods. It might be the power of a tractor pull, or a rocket booster, or a motorcycle, or biceps that look like grapefruits, or (if you are a woman) the power of a shapely figure. Or it might be an A-average in school, or an advanced degree, or a published article, or a merit scholarship, or investment savvy, or the ability to win at Trivial Pursuit.
The Greeks craved eloquent displays of intelligence and the Jews wanted amazing displays of power. One man says, Show me something great with your mind, and another says, Show me something great with your body. But no one ever says (apart from the Spirit; 1 Corinthians 12:3), Show me God. Sin has blinded us.
2. Affirm God's Superiority Over All Else
So the second step in Paul's thought is to affirm what everyone denies, namely, the superiority of God over all the power and wisdom of the world.
Verse 25: "The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."
In other words it is a great tragedy when your quest for power and wisdom stops short of God. Because God is a treasure of power and a treasure of wisdom infinitely greater than any of the things that excite you in this world.
Paul wants to stamp this truth on us so deeply that he risks some dangerous language about God, doesn't he? He says that when God is as foolish as he can be, he is still smarter than all the wisdom of men. And when God is as weak as he can be, he is still stronger than all the power that man can unleash.
When God stoops to hold a child on his lap, he also holds the subatomic particles of that child's flesh in existence by the power of his thought. And when he stooped to let himself be mocked and beaten and crucified and stabbed, he destroyed the power of Satan over his people, he covered the sins of millions of sinners, and he vindicated the glory of his name.
How foolish for us to seek wisdom and power in the world and not in God when the weakness of God is stronger than any power in the world and the foolishness of God is wiser than any wisdom in the world!
3. Describe How God Deals with Human Pride
So the third step in Paul's thought is to describe how God deals with man's love for human intelligence and power. It is stated in verse 19 and in verse 21.
- Verse 19: "For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.'"
- Verse 21: "For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe."
He Blockades the Way of Self-Reliance and Pride
Here's the way I would put this in my own words: In his wisdom God decided to blockade all the roads that men are building to heaven by their own power and intelligence, and to put in their place one narrow gate and one hard road, namely, the Calvary road and the gate of the cross.
There are two ways that God destroys the wisdom of the wise and frustrates the cleverness of the clever.
- He blockades their self-reliant quest for God—that's what the first half of verse 21 means: "In the wisdom of God the world did not know God through wisdom."
- He preaches Christ crucified as the only way to God. This destroys the wisdom of the wise and frustrates the cleverness of the clever because it is so humiliating to cast yourself on the accomplishments of a bloody redeemer.
Look at verse 30: "He [God] is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption."
He Opens Only One Way to Glory: the Cross
You can easily see why the cross is the end of the line for human pride. Picture a well-respected American businessman, a banker, lawyer, doctor, well dressed, well groomed, being taken out the gate of the city to the garbage dump and being stood in front of a post with a naked man hanging by the nails driven through his wrists, covered with blood, gasping for his last breaths, and being told, "This, sir, is wisdom and righteousness and holiness and redemption. Will you kneel down here and cast yourself on him for mercy?"
In other words God has chosen a way of salvation that devastates human pride. "That! You want me to bow down before that! You think I need that! Don't you see how I am dressed! Have you seen the car I drive! Don't you know where I work! Don't you know how much money I make! And you think I need that heap of bloody flesh! What do you think I am, a dog? A worm?"
"We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (verse 23). "The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing" (verse 18).
So in his wisdom God cuts off the way of pride and frustrates man's reliance on human power and human wisdom. And then he opens a way to glory and to God that proud man cannot stand, namely, the way of the cross.
Why? Is it because he hates man? No. It is because he hates pride. When God blockades the road of pride, he blockades the road to destruction. And when he routes you onto the Calvary Road of brokenness and humility and faith, he routes you to glory and to God—and in the presence of God is fullness of joy and at his right hand are pleasures for evermore (Psalm 16:11).
4. Explains God's General Choice of People
Therefore the fourth step in Paul's thought here is a kind of warning: there are not many powerful or shrewd people who respond to the saving word of the cross.
Verse 20: "Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?"
Verse 26–28: "Consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are."
In other words not only has God blockaded the pathways of pride and opened the way of the cross, but he is also opening the hearts of many foolish and weak and low and despised people along with a few upper class people, in order to put to shame those who boast in power and wisdom and class and achievement.
Why? This brings us to our last step.
5. Declares the Purpose of God in Acting Thusly
It is stated negatively in verse 29 and positively in verse 31.
- Verse 29: "So that no human being might boast in the presence of God."
- Verse 31: "Therefore, as it is written, 'Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.'"
The purpose of God in the creation of man and the salvation of sinners is that we might boast in HIM. This is God's will for you this morning. God is speaking in these words very clearly. And what he is saying is this: turn this very moment from all boasting in your self. Don't seek your pleasure any more in your own wisdom, or your own strength, or your own looks, or your own achievements. Look to Christ crucified and see what becomes of it all.
Paul said in Galatians 6:14, "Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."
So I call you to come to Christ and die this morning—and to live. And the promise of God is this: there is no greater life, no greater joy than to boast in him!