January 20, 2013

Two Ways to Boast (Galatians 6:11-18)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: When Jesus Isn't Enough (Galatians) Topic: Galatians Scripture: Galatians 6:11–6:18

When Jesus Isn’t Enough (Galatians)

Two Ways to Boast

Galatians 6:11-18

(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)

Pastor Bryce Morgan

I. The Greatest of All Time

As we begin this morning, I want you to listen to the following quote and tell me if you recognize the speaker:

“In high school, I boasted weekly — if not daily — that one day I was going to be the heavyweight champion of the world. As part of my boxing training, I would run down Fourth Street in downtown Louisville, darting in and out of local shops, taking just enough time to tell them I was training for the Olympics and I was going to win a gold medal. And when I came back home, I was going to turn pro and become the world heavyweight champion in boxing. I never thought of the possibility of failing — only of the fame and glory I was going to get when I won. I could see it. I could almost feel it. When I proclaimed that I was the "Greatest of All Time," I believed in myself. And I still do.” (from the article, “I Am Still the Greatest”, at NPR.org)

I'm sure many you recognized the distinct voice of Muhammad Ali. That quote is from an interview he gave a few years ago. But if you know anything about Ali, that quote is also completely consistent with every single interview he's ever given. And what ties those interviews together is Ali's relentless boastfulness.

He certainly might be considered, by most, to be the greatest boxer of all time, but he is also one of the greatest boasters of all time. Did you know he released a spoken-word album in 1963 titled, you guessed it, “I am the Greatest”.

Now, when we compare ourselves to Muhammad, I don't think too many of us worry about being boastful. But let's keep this idea of boasting in mind as we turn to the final eight verses of Paul's letter to the Galatians: 6:11-18.

II. The Passage: “Except in the Cross” (6:11-18)

First look with me at just verse 11. Paul writes:

See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.

So why is Paul talking about the size of the letters he's making? Well, because he is emphasizing the fact that he has taken the pen from his scribe and is writing this last section himself. Listen to what Paul says at the end of another of his letters. This is II Thessalonians 3:17... I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.

So it appears that is was Paul's custom to dictate his letters to a scribe, but to then to include a final greeting in his own handwriting. But notice here in Galatians that this is more than just a mark of genuineness. Paul wants to personally write out one final message to the struggling Galatians. I think verse 11 would have, and should have, gotten their attention.

A. Flesh-Centered Boasting (vs. 12, 13)

So let's take a look at this final message from Paul. Look first at verses 12 and 13:

It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. [13] For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.

So once again Paul is confronting the cancer of false teaching that is beginning to infect this group of churches. As we've seen, it was a cancer that replaced the grace of God with the Law of Moses. Since they were trying to twist Christianity to fit Judaism, the are often called Judaizers.

But notice what Paul tells us about these teachers at the end of verse 13. These false teachers, these Judaizers were boasters. What were they boasting about? They were boasting about the flesh of the Galatians. But what exactly does that mean? It means they were bragging about how many Gentiles they had circumcised.

Look at what else we learn about these boasters. I see three things in these two verses:

First, these boasters were only interested in how they looked. As Paul put it in verse 12, they wanted “to make a good showing IN THE FLESH”. There's “flesh” again. They wanted to present themselves as successful Gentile converters. They were “trophy hunters” who wanted to put more notches on their belts. And why was this so important? Well...

Second, these boasters were only interested in being liked. The whole point of looking good is so that others will see you, right? So that others will be impressed with you. As “trophy hunters” among the Gentiles, they wanted to win the admiration of their fellows Jews. But Paul expresses this in the negative at the end of verse 12. These Judaizers were doing what they were doing in order to avoid persecution from their fellow Jews.

Even though Jesus promised his disciples that there commitment to Him would mean persecution from fellows Jews, and even members of their own families, these men wanted to find a way to straddle the fence and make everyone happy. But notice that....

Third, these boasters were only interested in external goodness. Look back at verse 13. I think what Paul is saying there is that these teachers were not truly interested in helping the Galatians walk in humble obedience to God through the Law; for in fact, they were not even doing this themselves. Their commitment to the Law was not about love for God and a desire for inward change. No, as we see from the end of v. 13, their commitment to the Law was about conforming outwardly to the Law and then boasting in persuading others to the same.

B. Cross-Centered Boasting (vs. 14-17)

But look at how Paul picks up this issue of boasting and turns it around in verse 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. [16] And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

If we had time to look at Philippians 3 and II Corinthians 11, we would see how Paul, if he wanted to do so, for argument's sake, how Paul could boast about all sorts of accomplishments in ministry, about his resume, about his Hebrew pedigree, and so on and so on. But Paul isn't interested in boasting in fleshly things.

Listen to how strongly he rejects this kind of boasting. Listen to several different translations of the opening words of verse 14: “But God forbid that I should glory”... “But may it never be that I should boast”... “But far be it from me to boast...EXCEPT...” Wait a minute! “Except”? Are there really exceptions to this rule? Yes!

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ...

The only boasting that Paul was interested in was cross-centered boasting. Keeping that “flesh-centered” boasting in mind, look at what Paul tells us about boasting in the cross”. He tells us at the end of verse 14 that...

First, cross-centered boasting comes from accepting how we look on the inside. In chapter 2, verse 20, Paul has already talked about how he has been crucified with Christ. In verse 14, Paul returns to that same idea. Crucifixion was a shameful death. To boast in his own spiritual crucifixion was to admit that he was a man worthy of death; that the old Paul had to be killed. Paul was not interested in trying to look good on the outside. But he understood the critical importance of recognizing how bad we look on the inside because of sin.

Listen to how Paul states the importance of this in II Corinthians 12:9: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Second, cross-centered boasting is about living for an “audience of one”. We also find in verse 14 that Paul is explaining more about the implications of what it means to be “crucified with Christ”. To be “crucified with Christ” also means being “crucified to the world”. That means the part of us that only wants to lives according to the world's system is put to death with Jesus. But at the same time, we learn that in the death of Jesus, “the world was crucified to me”. Now what does that mean? I think it means that world system no longer has any claim on or any power over us.

A true follower of Christ doesn't live to be liked by others. The world's opinion should not be what drives us. If it is, then like these Judaizers, we will be tempted to compromise. This certainly wasn't the case with Paul. Look at verse 17: From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. Paul is making the same point here that he made in 1:10...

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.The “marks of Jesus” mentioned here are the visible scars Paul had received from suffering for his faith. They were clear proof that Paul was living for an “audience of One”.

But we also learn here that, third, cross-centered boasting results in walking in eternal goodness. The Judaizers were interested in outward conformity to God's Law. But in regard to those external things, look again at what Paul says in verse 15: For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation [or “a new creature”].

Whether someone was circumcised or uncircumcised, that didn't matter anymore. There was no significance in either of those positions. This is what Paul tells us about Jews and Gentiles [non-Jews] in Ephesians 2:14-16...

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility [15] by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, [16] and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Paul picks up this same theme at the end of verse 16 when he talks about “the Israel of God”. There is an Israel according to the flesh. But the “Israel of God” is simply another name for the true people of God, this “one new man” Paul spoke about in Ephesians 2:15. This is what Paul talked about at the end of Galatians 3: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [29] And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. You see, to boast in the cross of Jesus is to boast in the reality of this new life, this new identity, this new heart that Jesus purchased for us. We are no longer part of the old creation. We are new creatures. We are the firstfruits of that newness that will one day describe the entire universe.

And as Paul points out in verse 16, God wants us to live in light of this principle of newness in the Spirit, and not the 'oldness' of the Law: And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

Listen to how Paul expresses this in what sounds like a verse that belongs in Galatians: Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. [3] For we are the circumcision [true, spiritual], who worship by the Spirit of God and glory [lit. boast] in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. That's Philippians 3:2, 3.

We are not interested in what is merely external. We are interested in what is eternal.

III. How Will You Boast This Week?

This morning, God has shown us that there are two ways to boast. We can either follow the lead of the Judaizers, or we can follow Paul's lead. We can either boast in the flesh, or we can boast in the cross of Jesus.

You see, it would be a mistake for us to limit this word boasting to the example of someone like Muhammad Ali. As we talked about at the beginning, if we compare ourselves to him, all of us are “off the hook” when it comes to the wrong kind of boasting, right?

No, “flesh-centered” boasting is more than just bragging with big words. Let me try to expand our perspective by showing you something about the particular Greek word for “boasting” that Paul has written down here (with his own hand!) in verses 13 and 14. See if you can spot this same word in a well known passage from Paul's letter to the disciples in Rome.

Through [Christ] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. [3] Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance...[11] More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:2, 3, 11)

Do you hear that same word for “boasting”. In these verses, the same word is translated as “rejoice”. Now in English, those words are farther apart than in Greek. But here's where I think this connection can help us expand our thinking about boasting. Think about this:

Rejoicing means lifting up and being lifted up by what is a good thing. Boasting means lifting up and being lifted up by myself as that good thing. (2x)

What will you be lifting up this week in regard to yourself…in your speech, in your relatonships, in your work, in your priorities, in your finances? Will you be lifting up YOU in some way?

What will you be lifted up by this week in regard to yourself? Will it be the approval of and acceptance of others? Will it be some accomplishment, some success? Will it be some sense of confidence or control? Will it be a personal sense of righteousness based on external goodness? Will it be the idea that no matter the problem, you can figure it out? You see, we all boast in the flesh, we all can go forward in this kind of boastful spirit. And it can be very subtle.

But this morning, God wants to leave us with a clear understanding that Jesus is enough. If we are going to lift up and be lifted up by anything, it must be Christ. It must be this gospel. In two of his letters, Paul quotes from Jeremiah 9 and reminds us, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 1:26-31; II Cor. 10:17)

For a church that was being infected by the idea of what I can DO, Paul does here what he’s done throughout the letter. It’s not about what you can DO. It’s about what Jesus has DONE. Boast in that, because only the reality of the cross can bring things into perspective for us. Only the cross can temper our words and attitudes can only the cross can show us, with clarity, how guilty and helpless and aimless we are, AND how great and powerful and good God is.

The last line of the letter is fitting isn’t it? For a church entangled in Law, Paul leaves them and us with the corrective blessing all of us need:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

other sermons in this series

Jan 27


Jan 13


Jan 6