The Christian’s Supreme Boast
May 11, 1997
“Tell them, Pastor Ray, tell them that nothing matters except Christ. The young people need to know this before it’s too late.” So said my friend Jim Johnsen on my first visit with him in the hospital a few weeks ago.
“Nothing matters except Christ.” We all know it’s true. Why does it take sickness or tragedy for us to believe it? We spend our days and weeks and years chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. When we finally reach it, we find the pot is empty because someone stole the gold before we got there.
“Nothing matters except Christ.” It takes a lifetime for most of us to learn that lesson. We learn it, then we forget it, only to relearn it, and forget it again. Most of us are still in the learning process this morning. Elizabeth Eliot said that growth in the Christian life is the process of destroying our idols one by one. That’s painful because we look to our idols to give us meaning and significance. We hate the idea of giving them up because we fear we’d be nothing without them.
But God says they must go. Listen to the word of the Lord from Isaiah 42:8, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” When Aaron allowed the people to make a golden calf, Moses ordered that the calf be melted down, and the residue mixed with water, which he made the people of Israel drink (Exodus 32:19-20). Talk about your mixed drinks! The Bible says that God’s anger burned against the Israelites because of their idolatry. It is a divine object lesson teaching us that God will not share his glory with anyone or anything.
This morning we bring our series on God’s attributes to a close. If we have learned anything, I hope it is that our God is great and is worthy of all our praise and of our complete and undivided loyalty. There is no one like him in all the universe! Or to use the words of Charles Spurgeon: “There is nothing small in God.”
For our final message we turn to the prophet Jeremiah who spoke to a nation that had turned away from God. He prophesied to people who were trusting in themselves instead of in the living God who made them. They were boasting in everything except the one thing that really mattered.
Three Ways to Waste Your Life
Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches.
These are very unnatural words because all of us by nature boast in these things. Wisdom in and of itself is a good thing, and so is strength, and nearly everyone works to amass riches. None of these things are evil in themselves, but all of them may lead us in the wrong direction if they become a ground for boasting.
Several years ago Richard Foster wrote a book about the temptations leaders face. The title of the book told the whole story: Money, Sex and Power. People love money because it gives them happiness (or so they think). They love sex because it gives them fulfillment (or so they think). They love power because it sets them apart from others (or so they think). But it is all illusory.
Can Money Buy Happiness?
Recently Forbes magazine published an article with the intriguing title “Can Money Buy Happiness?” (April 21, 1997, pp. 394-396). If anyone should know the answer, it ought to be the people who wrote for Forbes, which is one of the leading business journals in America. If you’ve been to an airport recently, you’ve seen the ads that call Forbes a “capitalist tool.” You might expect that the author would conclude that money can indeed buy happiness. But the opposite is true. Daniel Seligman says that money is like a martini—it raises the spirits but only for a little while. It goes on to say that the very wealthy are actually not much happier than the poor, and often are less happy. The article quotes billionaire Warren Buffet who says that no one really changes his character by becoming super-rich. Whatever you were like before is what you’ll be like after you get your money. “If you were a jerk before, you’ll be a bigger jerk with a billion dollars.”
What does it mean? We live in a world where most people desperately want more money. We go through life working, planning, scheming and dreaming to build our net worth only to say when we make it to the top of the heap, “Is that all there is?”
But the Bible warns us about the deceitfulness of money. The wisest man who ever lived (outside of Jesus Christ) was also one of the richest men. Yet listen to what Solomon says in Proverbs 23:4-5: “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.” We’ve all heard those stories about people who win the lottery and then blow all their money in a few weeks or months. Or about people who win huge legal settlements and then squander it all.
Who’s Harvey Chase?
Sooner or later your money will be gone. The same is true of your fame. Not long ago I happened to watch a rerun of that lawyer show Matlock starring Andy Griffith. This particular episode featured Milton Berle playing an old comedian named Harvey Chase. The story line revolved around the fact that Harvey was being passed over in favor of the younger, hipper comedians. He explained it this way to Ben Matlock: “There are five stages in a comedian’s career: “Who’s Harvey Chase?” “Get me Harvey Chase.” “Get me a young Harvey Chase.” “Get me a Harvey Chase lookalike.” “Who’s Harvey Chase?”
How true it is. I’m reminded of a verse of the hymn “O God Our Help in Ages Past,” that goes this way: “Time, like an ever-rolling stream bears, all its years away, they fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.”
We’re born, we live, we die. That’s it, folks. It’s the same story for all of us. Last week a horse named Silver Charm won the Kentucky Derby in something of an upset. His owner, Robert Lewis, was quoted as saying, “When I die, put on my tombstone ‘Winner of the 123rd Kentucky Derby.’” Big deal. You’re still dead. And how many people are even going to stop and read the inscription? Maybe they’ll have a cemetery walk and get a local pastor to re-enact the race. But that’s about it.
I think money is good if it’s used for good purposes. And I think that winning the Kentucky Derby is a notable achievement. It’s much more important than listening to Jerry Springer on the Channel 5 newscast. But when it’s all said and done, it’s just a horse race. The Super Bowl is just a football game. And the money you make will be left behind when you die.
The Great Leveler
Death is the great leveler. Whatever you make, you leave behind. That includes your fame, your wealth, your achievements, your titles, your conquests. The Bible reminds us that “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart” (Job 1:21). We leave the world the same way we enter it—weak, naked, and powerless. In between we puff ourselves up with wisdom, power and riches. But in the end, like a child’s toys, they go back on the shelf, and we exit this world.
None of this should discourage you, unless you happen to think that money, wisdom and power is what life is all about. Or maybe we should throw in sex for good measure. None of it satisfies because we were made for something better.
Money is good if used righteously.
Sex is good within the bounds of a committed marriage relationship.
Power is good if used for good purposes.
Wisdom is good but not if it makes us feel superior to others.
We were made for something better than all that. We were made to know God. And it is to that subject we now turn.
The Only Pursuit That Really Matters
A. Knowing God
“But let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me.”
The French philosopher Pascal was right. There truly is a “God-shaped” vacuum inside the human heart. Until you know God, you’ve not even begun to discover the reason for your own existence. Last weekend in Grand Rapids, I heard R. C. Sproul explain it this way. He said that apart from God there is no reason for human significance and no grounds for self-worth. Consider the alternative. If you don’t believe in God, then you don’t have any reason for being here. You must believe that you are simply the product of impersonal time plus chance. And when you die, you must believe that you simply cease to exist and vanish into eternal nothingness. In short, if you leave God out, what you are left with is this: You didn’t come from anywhere and you aren’t going anywhere after you die. This is the humanist dilemma. They say, “You come from nothing and you’re going to nothing, but in between you have great significance.” It doesn’t make sense at all.
That’s why people are struggling today. They’re truly “looking for love in all the wrong places.” You’ll never find what you’re looking for until you know God. Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Life doesn’t begin at 40, life begins at Calvary—when you come face to face with Jesus Christ.
B. Knowing God’s Character
“That I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.
Here is the privilege God has given us. Not just to know him, but to know his character. There is kindness, which means God’s commitment to be gracious to his children. There is justice, which means God’s commitment to treating people fairly. There is righteousness, which means God’s commitment to the truth.
This is how we know that we know God: When we share those same commitments to kindness, justice and righteousness. When you know God, you’ll not only know him, you’ll start to act like him. This week one of the high school students walked through our kitchen and said, “Did you know your son Mark looks just like you?” My first thought was, “That’s his problem, not mine.” But it never surprises me when someone says my boys look or act like me. They’re supposed to, because they’ve been living around me all these years.
That’s not an altogether positive compliment since I’m far from a perfect father. But this much is true. Like father, like son also applies in the spiritual realm. God delights when his children look and act like him. These three character qualities—kindness, justice, and righteousness—are the birthmarks of the family of God.
Jeremiah is telling us that nothing matters in life but knowing God and until we know him, we haven’t even begun to live. And when we know him, we’ll begin to look and act like him and then everyone around us will know that we are the children of God.
Boasting in the Lord
Jeremiah 9:23-24 is quoted twice in the New Testament. Paul uses the final phrase of verse 24 to cap off his argument in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. Let’s pick up the story beginning in verse 26 of 1 Corinthians 1.
A. Whom God Chooses 26-27
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
These verses present us with a shocking truth: The gospel runs contrary to the basic assumptions of humanity. We want to think well of ourselves and we want a religion that strengthens our self-image. To which God replies, “Without my Son all your self-image is nothing more than a pile of filthy rags.” The first step to salvation is humbling yourself before God and admitting your total failure. Without that humbling the cross of Christ will never capture your heart.
When God picks people for his family, whom does he choose? The answer is unsettling: Not many …
Noble birth—Family Background
Years ago I heard a story about Queen Victoria, who was said to be a born-again Christian. Once while attending a prayer meeting, she rose to give her testimony and said, “I would like to thank God for the letter “M.” Then she quoted this verse, “not many were of noble birth.” “If the letter M were removed from “many” it would be “any” and I would be excluded. But the letter M includes me.” I’m not sure if the story is genuine but it demonstrates an important point. God doesn’t normally populate his church with the high and mighty but with the ordinary working people of society. Thank God there are exceptions or else no rich people would ever be saved!
B. Why God Does What He Does 28-29
He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
The church at Corinth must have included many people in these categories. Former idolaters, common merchants, converted slaves, Jewish believers, former temple prostitutes, and middle-class families of every variety. Clearly, this was not a “power church” of the high and mighty but a gathering of God’s people taken largely from the middle and lower segments of society with a few wealthy and powerful people sprinkled into the mix.
The Lord often does the same thing today. In so doing, he confounds the wise and the strong and the mighty by turning their worldly values upside down. Sometimes I hear it said that we should pray that so-and-so would come to Christ because he could do the church so much good. That’s poppycock. It’s worldly and unbiblical. God doesn’t need the rich—and neither do we. He doesn’t need the strong or the well-connected or the power brokers—and neither do we.
Certainly we rejoice whenever anyone is saved. And yes, when rich and powerful people are converted they can use their means to advance the kingdom of God. But they are saved the same way we are and God values them no more than he values the least person among us.
God never considers a church poor simply because it is made up of poor people. Dr. R. A. Torrey used to say that a church which has no poor people is mighty poor indeed. The Apostle Paul would agree.
He nullifies the mighty by using the weak instead. He nullifies the proud by using the humble. He nullifies the wise by using the simple. He nullifies the professional by using the blue collar worker. He nullifies the Ph.D. by using the high school drop out.
In fact, I’ve seen this happen so many times that I’ve come to believe that God sometimes uses unlikely and unqualified people just to prove that he can do it!
C. What God Wants From You 30-31
It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Verse 30 tells us what we already have in Jesus Christ:
Wisdom from God, which is manifested as …
Righteousness—A right standing before God.
Holiness—Power to live a brand-new life.
Redemption—Complete freedom from sin.
God wants you to understand what you already have in Jesus Christ. You have everything you need for this life and the life to come. Everything you lacked, God has now supplied. Nothing is left to your own devices.
I often think of that verse which says, “What do you have that you did not receive?” The answer for all of us is always the same: Nothing. All that we have was given to us by God as a gift. We may think that we have attained some great thing through our hard work or by our education or because of our great gifts.
But who gave you the mind you have? Who placed you in a particular family? Who blessed you with physical strength and intelligence? Who arranged the circumstances of life to make you what you are today?
Human wisdom says, “I did it all myself.” God’s wisdom says, “Without the Lord I am nothing and I have nothing.”
Here’s a very simple application. Boast about Jesus this week. Talk about him. Share with someone else what Jesus Christ has done for you. It will do your soul good, and it may lead someone else to eternal life.
God Made It Easy
I close my message—and this entire series—with this thought. God has made salvation simple so that simple people can be saved. He’s made it easy so that no one can say, “It’s too hard for me.” He’s made it ordinary so that all you have to do is believe what God has said.
He says that you are a sinner. Do you believe that?
He says that the wages of sin is death. Do you believe that?
He says that you can never do anything to save yourself. Do you believe that?
He says that Jesus Christ is your only hope. Do you believe that?
He says that he wants you to be saved. Do you believe that?
He says that Jesus Christ is his Son. Do you believe that?
He says that Jesus died for your sins. Do you believe that?
He says that Jesus rose from the dead. Do you believe that?
He says that Jesus Christ can save you right now. Do you believe that?
Before I go any farther, let me tell you something sweet. On Wednesday night someone came to see me and said, “Pastor Ray, this Sunday is Mother’s Day and my parents will be with me in the service. Please be sure and give the invitation because I want to know for sure that my parents are saved.”
Mother’s Day, 1997
I’m not going to mention that person’s name because it doesn’t really matter. What matters is his heart concern for his loved ones. Mom, Dad, there’s someone here praying for you this morning. More than anything else in the whole world, there’s someone here who wants you to go to heaven with them.
It’s Mother’s Day, 1997. I can’t imagine a better day than today to trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If you are ready, you can be saved right now. Let’s bow our heads and close our eyes just for a moment. I’m going to ask the Christians who are present to pray earnestly for the unsaved who may be here this morning. And if you would like to be saved, I want you to say a simple prayer to God in your heart. I’m not going to give you the exact words, but I will suggest some things you might say.
Why don’t you begin by asking God to guide you as you pray. Tell God that you know you are a sinner and that you need to be saved from your sins. Tell the Lord that he is your only hope. Tell him that you believe that Jesus really is the Son of God who died for your sins. Thank him for sending Jesus to die for you. Ask God to help you open your heart and life to Jesus as Savior and Lord. Now ask Jesus to come in and be your Savior. Tell him that from this moment forward, you want your life to be different. Ask the Lord to help you live a brand-new life. Tell him that you’re giving him every part of your life with nothing held back.
Now in the quietness of these moments, take some time to think about what has just happened. I want you to say in your heart, “I have just asked God to save me and I believe he has done it.” Then say, “I have asked Jesus to come into my heart and I believe he has done it.” Take a moment to thank God for what he has just done for you.
May God grant you faith to believe all that he has said and may you find peace in believing in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let Not the Wise His Wisdom Boast
by Charles Wesley
Based on Jeremiah 9:23-24
To the tune of “Jesus Shall Reign”
Let not the wise his wisdom boast,
The mighty glory in his might,
The rich in flattering riches trust,
Which take their everlasting flight.
The rush of numerous years bears down
The most gigantic strength of man;
And where is all his wisdom gone,
When dust he turns to dust again?
One only gift can justify
The boasting soul that knows his God;
When Jesus doth his blood apply,
I glory in his sprinkled blood.
The Lord my Righteousness I praise;
I triumph in the love divine,
The wisdom, wealth, and strength of grace,
In Christ to endless ages mine.