There will always be “people of quality” who are drawn to Christ but their most usual qualities are humility and amicableness simply because they do indeed know Christ. They are not puffed up. But the socially conscious church is repudiated by the Saviour. Human standards do not prevail in the divine society. They are in direct and dangerous opposition to the preference of God. He withdraws from pretentious gatherings that pamper themselves with self praise. That is precisely what Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 1: 18-31. Yet we see churches fawning over the rich and the great, and taking pride in social standing and impressive accomplishments.
The Corinthians craved to be spiritual “yuppies and toffs” (snobs) and judged others accordingly. Paul mocks their self esteem and rivalry: “Already you have all you want. Already you have become rich. You have become kings . . . (4:8). Paul teaches that no endowment, natural or spiritual, is to be the cause of boasting, superiority, or rivalry within the people of God. “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (4:7). Grace levels people to humbleness of heart and mutual high regard. The church becomes classless and the relationships courteous. All are recipients of divine favours sovereignly dispensed. All occupy the status of dependants and each one survives and thrives on divine welfare that may be maintained or withheld.
The Corinthians are Exhibit A as to the occurrence of the very worst form of human arrogance. Pride may transfer from natural abilities, attainments, and acquisitions to spiritual over-confidence and contempt for those deemed not so spiritually developed. Knowledge, real or pretended, can give rise to dominance and elitism in the church. This knowledge is not gained through passion and love for truth in itself, or for usefulness, but for self elevation and distinction. The gifts of God are abused in a spirit of personal grandiosity. The church becomes a sphere in which people of ambition seek to reign. It is relatively easy, if one is thrusting enough, to gain influence in a community where trust and self-effacement constitute the atmosphere and general attitude, and where folk are willing to give way out of modesty. The apostle John identified one such self-promoting personality in Dioterephes, “who loves to be first” (3 John 9). Eager volunteers need to be vetted. Their nature might be wolfish. “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (1 Timothy 5:22).
The foundation for the avoidance of boasting is the recognition that the cause of all capacities and favourable circumstances is God. It is by his cause that that we receive or perform any good. When we look to the source of all we have we are disinclined to avow self-sufficiency, and Paul takes us back to the very origin of faith and our position in Christ. That itself is due to God and we are deprived of any grounds whatsoever for boasting or becoming bloated with self importance.
It may be that some believers, aware of their blessings in Christ, trace their happy condition to the sensible decision to place themselves in his care. It may not be a conscious cause of self congratulation but there is an assumption that grace began the moment they chose to believe. The emphasis in their experience of conversion is on their acceptance of the gospel offer. They begin their account with “I” rather than with God, and in doing so they actually have themselves to thank as well as God. It is a false commencement to an acquaintance of the realities of which a Christian ought to be conscious. We did not begin the process of seeking or knowing the Saviour. “It is because of him (God)”, avers the apostle, “that you are in Christ Jesus.”
We were marked out for that destiny, and, characteristically in his work of mercy, God made the first move, which wasn’t slight, but all- powerful and purposed from eternity. He initiated a transformation that could only be achieved through the exertion of his great might and the allurement of his great love. Nothing human or created causes us to be found in Christ. It is because of Him. All boasting is excluded at the outset of our life in fellowship with God. We have no one to thank but him. We didn’t make a smart choice, humanly speaking. We made a choice enabled by God and we made it through his gift of a renewed faculty of choice. We were already touched by grace before we knew it. God had already grasped us before we reached out to him. It is no wonder that Paul advises, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1:31). It is a marvellous realization to capture the thought that God’s advance toward us preceded any desire for him. It leaves us lost in wonder and amazement. Paul knew a lot about human boastfulness. He was an inveterate practitioner of the obnoxious art. He didn’t give it up. It became a healthy habit because he found he would rather boast in the Lord. It was merited.
But Paul does not only, and surprisingly, attribute the start of our life in Christ to God and not our own wise discernment, he continues to ascribe the whole course of salvation until its completion entirely to the Christ the Father has given. We live on divine charity from start to finish. Christ has become for us, “wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption” (v30). Nothing in the nature of godliness or the securing of our eternal goal is self produced. It is caused through Christ. We are given the wisdom to recognize no good thing in ourselves. All our boasting has been a futile lie. He confers his own worth and merit upon us which is why God so instantly and eagerly receives us. He made us accepted in the Beloved. We cannot boast. And the holiness that makes us fit for the friendship of God is caused by the Holy One indwelling and working within us. It is not a matter of self improvement but supernaturally wrought resemblance to Jesus. We cannot boast. And our final redemption or deliverance from our wretchedness and this foul world is because of Christ’s amendment and atonement on our behalf, and because he has stuck fast to us until the end. We have no cause to boast about anything.