Boastings and Swellings
by Harold Fite

The tongue is a small organ, but it contributes mightily to the function of the human body. It plays its part in taking in and swallowing food. It is the primary organ of taste and the principle organ of articulate speech. It is like the rudder of a ship; like a bridle in the horses’ mouths (Jas. 3:3, 4). It has power to influence our whole course and destiny. “So the tongue is a little member and boasteth great things” (Jas. 3:5).  

Whatever the tongue articulates, begins in the heart: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12:34). Boasting stems from a heart filled with pride and self-confidence. One who is proud “thinks more highly of himself than he ought to think.” He has a bloated concept of his own importance; he wraps himself in self-glory and vaunting. His boasting is but the revelation of his heart.  

The boastful person is loud, boisterous, ostentatious, pompous, arrogant and a braggart. “Boast” is rendered “glory” in the ASV (2 Cor. 10:15; 11:10; Eph. 2:9). One who boasts speaks in “great swelling words” (a puffin). His speech is extravagant and arrogant. He is a self-boasting person. Socially we would call him a bore, a windjammer. “Folks with a lot of brass are seldom polished.”

Swellings were one of many sins Paul did not want to find in Corinth (2 Cor. 12:20). Peter identifies false teachers as those who utter great swelling words of vanity, to entice others to sin (2 Pet. 2:18). Jude warns about “murmurers, complainers, walking after their lusts (and their mouth speaketh great swelling words), showing respect of persons for the sake of advantage” (Jude 16). The Edomites boasted of their seemingly impregnable fortification: “who shall bring me down to the ground?”  The Lord responded, “I will bring thee down” (Obad. 3, 4). The pride of his heart had deceived him. “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).       

Men boast to elevate self. Theudas boasted himself to be somebody (Acts 5:36). The Pharisee boasted “that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11, 12). Self-glory is vainglory, and “is not of the Father, but of the world” (1 John 2:16). Self-boasting is the opposite of love.  Love “vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up” (1 Cor. 13:4). Love is not a braggart, nor does it have an inflated appraisal of its own importance. “For if a man thinks himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself” (Gal. 6:3).  

We are to do nothing through vainglory (Phil. 2:3), nor desire it (Gal. 5:26). Such arrogant boasting is empty, of no value. “The man who bragged that he was self-made, loved to worship his creator.”

Men boast to obtain favor for their own profit. False teachers spoke great swelling words “for the sake of advantage.” They desired to seduce others to follow them in their ungodly ways (Jude 16). “For when they speak great swellings words of vanity, they allure through the lust of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error” (2 Pet. 2:18). They use the sinful desires of the flesh to capture those who had escaped from those things. We need to beware of those who would make merchandise of us.

Men boast of tomorrow. “Come now, ye that say, today or tomorrow we will go into this city, and spend a year there, and trade, and get gain” (Jas. 4:13). “You rejoice in your boasting: all such rejoicing is evil” (v. 16). “For that you ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (v. 15). We can make plans for the future, but we don’t have the ability to bring them to fruition. Things can happen beyond our control, which can affect our plans. We live and move within the providence of God. We don’t know what shall be on the morrow. “Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth” (Prov. 27:1).

Faith in Christ excludes boasting of self. The Jews made boast of the law while breaking it (Rom. 2:23). They sought glory before God, but relied upon self. They relied on their works for righteousness and justification. We are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ (Rom. 3:24). “Where then is the glorying? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay: but by the law of faith” (v. 27). We are saved by the grace of God. “Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:9). Faith implies the surrender of all self-glorying. We rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3:3). Our glorying is in the Lord (2 Cor. 10:17). When we have done all of those things that are commanded, we can say we are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do (Luke 17:10).  

Did Paul sin when he boasted of not taking financial support from the Corinthians? Did he contradict his teaching when he boasted of his sufferings for Christ? He said, “I robbed other churches, taking wages of them that I might minister unto you. . . . I was not a burden on any man . .. no man shall stop me of this boasting in the regions of Achaia” (2 Cor. 11:8-10). In speaking of the things he suffered as an apostle, he said, “Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also” (v. 18). He thought it foolish and didn’t feel comfortable, but he was compelled to do it. He had to do it to authenticate his apostleship. This glorying (boasting) doesn’t come from a self-glorying of a self-established man. Boasting is not for his cause. He was forced to boast because of the cause of Christ. Yet he boasted of his weakness, not of his strength. Paul recognized Christ was working through him. His glorying was through Christ Jesus (Rom. 15:17). By the grace of God he became an apostle. He could say, “I labored more abundantly than they all; yet, not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). Paul’s boasting was in the Lord: “But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (2 Cor. 10:17). Paul would never boast of self for the sake of self. “But far be it from me to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).

We may boast of God’s power, wisdom, his perfection, his redemptive work, etc., but not to “toot our own horn.” “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5).  


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