mp3 audio: 2013-09-22 Jeremiah 9:23-24 – Hight
We’re going to look at the book of Jeremiah today. Jeremiah is one of the larger books of prophecy in the Old Testament.
The Old Testament prophets can be scary to read, mainly because they are hard to understand; but when you understand what they are saying it can be scary too! But for a different reason. The Old Testament prophets are human messengers from God and very often they bring warning of coming judgement from God, and instructions for the people to turn from their wicked ways or face that judgement.
Even though they are not easy to understand, there is a lot of value in reading the prophets. The main value, I think, is in hearing the descriptions of God from men who were VERY close to God. They knew him well, because God spoke directly to them. And what they had to say then reveals God very clearly. Which is one of our main purposes in life, to know God, and to know him more each day that passes.
Unfortunately, our natural state as humans is to try to run from God, to do our own thing, to justify our bad behaviour, and to make an image of God in our minds which is not the same as the real thing. Even though we should seek to know God as he has revealed himself in the Bible, we usually use our energy on selfish acts and don’t leave enough energy to seek to know him more. This goes for nonbelievers and, unfortunately, for believers too.
Jeremiah speaks to this issue in today’s passage, which I’ll read and then we’ll pray before continuing.
Jeremiah 9:23-24 (ESV)
23 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,
24 but let him who boasts boast in this,
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the LORD who practises steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.
For in these things I delight, declares 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:
- 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?
- How often should we be boasting? Can we boast all the time or are there certain occasions which suit boasting best?
- What are these things that God practises: “steadfast love”, “justice”, and “righteousness”?
- How does God practise these things? Does it mean that he needs to keep trying until he gets it correct? That sort of practise? 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 centre, 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 centre 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:
First – How Often?
We are to speak as often as we can, but only as often as is natural to do so. Not so often that people get annoyed at us speaking all the time about “God this” and “God that”… People will often be annoyed if we speak about God anyway, but we want them annoyed for a different reason – not because we blab on and on, but because the nature of God offends them.
I also don’t want to excuse anyone from talking about God. If it is never a particularly natural thing for you to speak about him, and you tend to annoy people because you are awkward, then you need to practice until you can speak more naturally. A good way to do that is to practice talking with other believers who are more forgiving before giving it a go with the less forgiving non-believers.
We need to prepare ourselves so that we can boast properly at every opportunity!
Second – What to say when we boast?
This passage gives it to us: speak of the character of God and what he has done in the earth. Specifically:
His steadfast love, which is his mercy and care for all people but especially his people who he has rescued out of their sin. This means that we share how God sticks with us through thick and thin, that he will never leave or forsake us.
We can speak of his justice, which is his fair delivering of reward or blessing and of punishment, both in this life and the life to come. A great example of this is to speak of eternal justice. When a crime goes unsolved, a vicious rape or murder even, we can always be confident that God will catch up with the one who did it and punish them appropriately. But his justice should scare us all too – because every crime against a perfect and holy God, no matter how small, is really quite big – and worthy of hell. But thank God for Jesus who saves us from hell!
And we can also speak of his righteousness, which is his perfect sinlessness in all deeds which he performs, and his sinlessness when he interacts with humanity. Even when events seem bad to us, God’s sovereign decree and control of all things does not make him unrighteous. God is always good and always in the right, no matter the situation.
These three points in which we can boast about God deserve more consideration than we have time for this morning, but I will add one more very important thing for now. Jesus, being the exact image of the father, he demonstrated these three things perfectly when he was on earth, and now he continues to demonstrate them on his throne in heaven. Jesus is our role model for doing these things ourselves at a human level, which makes him our boast.
A specific example of how we are to boast like this from the New Testament is the apostle Paul telling us that our boast should be in Jesus, that is, we are to speak of him, his, life and deeds, and bring his message to those around us. Galatians 6:14-15 says:
14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
Speaking of the saving work of Jesus in ourselves – being born again – that is “right” boasting!
It’s interesting that Paul talks about the new creation immediately after boasting. Jeremiah also talks about the new creation immediately after his passage, but he speaks in terms of being circumcised in their hearts and not just their flesh, so that being born again/a new creation is the same as becoming circumcised in the heart. There is something big in that.
Nobody can effectively boast about God unless they are born again. Salvation is essential to understanding and knowing God. So make it your main goal to seek salvation above all else, and then everything else will follow on from that.
The main boast in salvation is that it is God himself who causes us to be born again, by his Spirit – we can’t make ourselves into a new creation – that is why boasting of your salvation is how to boast rightly, because it glorifies God as he should be glorified.
Let’s finish with this:
Did you know that you can boast about God without even trying to speak? You can just copy Jesus and his apostles from the New Testament and make your life a life of worship, completely devoted to him. Have you heard that actions speak louder than words? Use both actions and words, but boast by your entire life and in making every choice lead you to proclaim that God is worth following. Always do what God would want you to do. Don’t boast about the latest video game by playing it all the time, or the latest soap opera or sitcom on TV by watching it religiously. Make your boast that you have trusted in Jesus to take the punishment for your sin, and that you continue to trust him to give you the strength to turn from the things that you know are wrong. Make your boast that you are born again by the power of God, and that you will spend eternity enjoying his steadfast, eternal love. Make your boast that you would rather use your energy to seek God than to seek selfish fulfilment.
One final thing to be aware of, is that when you boast of the things which God is, and which he has done, you are pleasing to him. He delights in you speaking of him and glorifying his name through your words and actions. And seeking to please God is really the only response to being saved by him. We can’t earn what he has given us, but we can show our gratitude in a life of properly boastful worship.
Pray with me now, before we sing again:
LORD, may we be known for our lives committed to you and to your message of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Let our words and actions follow in your footsteps, and may they boast of your holy influence in our lives.
May our lives glorify you in this way.
Be with us always, because we are in constant need of your grace.
In Jesus mighty name,
mp3 audio: 2013-09-22 Jeremiah 9:23-24 – Hight