Monday, November 12, 2018

Book of Virtues # 11 - "The Richest Person in the World"

            The Greek historian Herodotus tells the story of Croesus, king of Lydia in Asia Minor, who was known at the time as the richest man in the world.  Once he was visited by Solon, who at the time was called the wisest man in the world.  After he had showed off all his possessions to Solon, Croesus asked the philosopher who he supposed was the happiest person in the world.  He was disappointed when Solon named several happy people who were not at all wealthy, but who understood the meaning of love and family and country.  When Croesus grew angry, Solon told him, “No man can say whether you are happy or not until you die.  For no man knows what misfortunes may overtake you, or what misery may be yours in place of all this splendor.”

            Many years later, King Cyrus of Persia overthrew Greece, and took Croesus prisoner.  To make an example of his power by killing the richest man ever, Cyrus had him beaten and was about to have Croesus burned at the stake.  Remembering the words of the philosopher, Croesus moaned, “O Solon!  O Solon!  Solon!”  Cyrus asked Croesus what this meant, and Croesus told him the sage words that his friend had spoken.  Hearing this, Cyrus stayed the execution, gave him his freedom, and the two became lifelong friends.[i]  Solon’s words are true today as well—happiness is not measured in a person’s riches, but in their understanding and experience of love.

            The Book of Proverbs has much to say about money as well, and its message is much the same.  Financial gain isn’t everything—the things that matter run much deeper than that.  Proverbs 3:9-10 says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”[ii]  In other words, what matters most is honoring God.  When you put God first instead of your money, God will take care of you.  Keeping this in mind, Proverbs warns against seven pitfalls associated with riches.
 1.      Cosigning on Loans.  Yes, the Bible advises against it.  Proverbs 17:18 says, “One who has no sense shakes hands in pledge and puts up security for a neighbor.”  Nothing will create more strife between you and your neighbor (or your kids) than cosigning on a loan for them.  Then, if they default, it’s on you—and what a strain on a relationship that will be!

2.      Self-Indulgence.  Proverbs 21:17, 20 ways, “Whoever loves pleasure will become poor;    whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich…The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.”  God has given you resources to be used wisely, not squandered.  So, make financial decisions that will last instead of spending on consumables. 

3.      Impatience.  Sometimes it can be tough to wait on money that is waiting for you. But Proverbs 20:21 says, “An inheritance claimed too soon will not be blessed at the end.”  The writer is probably thinking of someone who has inheritance money waiting, that’s intended to be used for their retirement.  But instead of letting it be a blessing at the end, they use it early—and then they don’t have it later.

4.      Debt Lifestyle.  It seems like operating in the red is the American way—but Proverbs 22 warns against it.  “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender (v. 7).” Also, “Do not be one who shakes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts; if you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you (vv. 26-27).”  Debt freedom should be the goal of every Christian.

5.      Hoarding.  Proverbs 11:26 says, “People curse the one who hoards grain, but they pray God’s blessing on the one who is willing to sell.”  When you think about it, hoarding indicates a lack of faith, because you’re trusting in your stores of provision and believing in scarcity, rather than trusting in an abundant God who will always see you through.

6.      Taking Advantage.  Proverbs 28:8 says, “Whoever increases wealth by taking interest or profit from the poor amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor.”  Hebrew law prohibited charging interest from fellow countrymen at all—so Proverbs suggests that taking advantage of a neighbor’s poverty will bring judgment from God.  The author expects the person who takes advantage of his neighbor to lose a fortune to someone else who will actually do his duty for the poor.

7.      Dishonest Gain.  Dishonest people would frequently alter their scales so the produce they were selling would seem a little heavier, and thus they would make more money.  But Proverbs 11:1 says, “The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him.”  Making money is important, but honesty is even more so.

Just as the Bible warns of financial pitfalls, it also encourages positive financial practices, promising God’s blessings for those who follow them.

 1.      Generosity.  Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”  God will pay back generosity by letting others see your generous spirit and frequent your business more often.  It pays to give—to the church, charity, and to individuals you see in need.
2.      Saving.  While the author discourages hoarding, sensible saving allows you to take care of others.  Proverbs 13:22 says, “A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.”  What a blessing it is to provide for your children and grandchildren—but saving like this can only be done through…
3.      Frugality and Contentment.  Proverbs 15:16-17 says, “Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil.  Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred.”  There’s nothing wrong with spending, but it’s better to enjoy modest pleasure, along with a proper attitude towards money, than to allow your uncontrollable desires to cause trouble.

When you think about your relationship with money, attitude is everything.  You can either make gaining and keeping money, or thoughtlessly consuming money, your all-consuming passion—or you can cultivate a balanced attitude that helps you take care of others. 

I’m reminded of the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, by Hans Christian Andersen.  In short, the emperor wants to impress everybody by his fabulous new garment, made of fabric that only the wise can see.  Of course, the reader knows that the emperor is being swindled—but the ruler, not wanting to seem unwise, pretends like he can see the “invisible” garment.  In fact, all the king’s subjects, likewise, not wanting to seem unwise, all pretend that they can see the new clothes as well.  It’s not until he parades his splendor before everybody that a child says, “But he has nothing on!”[iii]  Your relationship with money can be that way.  You can think it’s something to strut about, but people can see right through your pretense.  They might even act like they’re impressed, but in the end, you have to realize that you’ve got nothing on. 

In one of his letters, Paul reminds his young friend Timothy, “Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6).”  When it comes to money, I pray you’ll keep your priorities straight.  I pray you’ll know that happiness is not measured in a person’s riches, but in their understanding and experience of love.  Understand this, and you’ll be the richest person in the world.

[i] Bennett, William J.  The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories.  Simon and Schuster: New York.  1993.  Pp. 135-137.
[ii][ii] Scripture quotations taken from the NIV.
[iii] Bennett, pp. 630-634.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Book of Virtues # 10 - "Who's Side Are You On?"

            This Tuesday, we will go to the polls and elect people to serve in the House of Representatives and the Senate.  Perhaps I shouldn’t say “we,” because in the 2016 elections only 58% of eligible voters actually participated in the elections.[i]  That means that if a candidate gets elected with 51% of the vote, by 58% of the eligible voters, that candidate’s election only represents the desire of roughly a quarter of Americans who are eligible to vote.  To say that our system is flawed is an understatement—but it’s the best system we have.  I understand that it’s boring to talk about elections, and boring to pay attention to politics.  That’s why so few people do.  Recently, I read:

A lady who was known as Churchill's main rival in parliament was giving a speech. Churchill, with his usual enthusiasm for his rival, dozed off while the lady was speaking. She stopped her speech and awoke Sir Winston by yelling, "Mr. Churchill, must you sleep while I talk?" Churchill sleepily replied, "No, ma'am. I do so purely by choice."

            This seems to reflect the attitudes of many, when it comes to politics.  But boring or not, how we vote is important.  With the title of this article, you might be wondering what I mean, when I ask the question, “Who’s side are you on?”  You see, I wouldn’t dream of trying to influence the way you vote in this particular election—but I would be bold enough to try to influence the way you vote, in general.  I'm not talking about voting Republican or Democrat or Libertarian or otherwise—but voting ethically, based on the virtues you learn in the Bible.  The Book of Proverbs has a lot to say about government.  Proverbs 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people.”[ii]  When we vote, we shouldn’t be on the side of a particular candidate or specific party—but on the side of righteousness.  Keep that in mind, and look for righteousness in a candidate, and you can’t go wrong.

            Proverbs gives several examples of what a leader shouldn’t be.  Proverbs 17:7 says, “Eloquent lips are unsuited to a godless fool— how much worse lying lips to a ruler!”  In other words, dishonesty ought to be the first thing to disqualify a candidate.  Proverbs 28:3, 15 says, “A ruler who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops…Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a helpless people.”  A ruler shouldn’t disregard the needs of the poor.  When you’re looking for a good candidate, see how he or she treats the weakest people, and how their policies affect those who cannot stand up for themselves.  Proverbs 28:21 says, “To show partiality is not good— yet a person will do wrong for a piece of bread.”  This means that it’s a bad ruler who makes policies that benefit their own bank account.  Instead of showing partiality based on their own special interests, they should do what’s right and just.  Unfortunately, J. O’Rourke was right in saying, “When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.”

            It’s been said that once a little girl asked her father, "Daddy, do all fairy tales begin with 'Once upon a time'? "No, sweetheart," he answered. "Some begin with 'If I am elected.'"[iii]  We need to make sure that the goodness of a candidate is the real deal, and that they’re not just telling us a story to get chosen for office.  James Freeman Clarke reminds us, “A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman thinks of the next generation.”  If you ever see a statesman or stateswoman running for office, instead of a politician—vote for them, because we need more people like that!

            Proverbs gives us some examples of what an ideal leader ought to be like.  16:12 says, “Kings detest wrongdoing, for a throne is established through righteousness.”  Pick a person who doesn’t just say the right things, but who lives the right kind of life.  Proverbs 20:28 goes beyond righteousness and adds a deeper quality: “Love and faithfulness keep a king safe; through love his throne is made secure.”  If you vote for a politican who’s unloving and unfaithful, you voted for the wrong person!  Proverbs 31:8-9 says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”  Our votes ought to support the kinds of public servants who will do just that.

            We like to blame the sad state of affairs in American politics on those who run the country.  Unfortunately, we can’t do this, because we forget that our leaders were elected by the people.  All too often, we go to the polls uninformed about the candidates, the parties, or the issues.  Winston Churchill said, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”  What an indictment—but it’s true!  If we voters made it impossible for crooked politicians to get into office, all we’d have running our country would be people of integrity.  Unfortunately, we’re willing to vote for anybody who will serve our special interests, regardless of the kind of character the candidates have.  Orson Scott Card once said, “If pigs could vote, the man with the slop bucket would be elected swineherd every time, no matter how much slaughtering he did on the side.”  In other words, whoever offers you a little something is who you’re likely to vote for—but Christians ought to be better than that!  We should be first to make sure that we’re voting for people of virtue and truthfulness—and if our  parties won’t field candidates who represent these traits then we need to either replace those people in our parties who choose candidates, or we need to consider changing parties. 

            When I ask the question, “Who’s side are you on?” it’s certainly not my intention to get you to choose one party over another—because maybe each party makes a good point about this issue or that.  But I’d hope you’re on the side of the weakest and most vulnerable, the people who can’t speak for themselves.  And I hope you’re on God’s side, insisting on candidates who reflect Christian values.  2 Timothy 2:1-2 says, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”  I pray you’re on the side of truth, and I pray you’re on the side of peace.

[i] What does voter turnout tell us about the 2016 election?  Politics Nov 20, 2016 3:03 PM EDT.  September 26, 2018.
[ii] Bible quotations taken from the NIV.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Book of Virtues # 9 - The Mother of All Sins

I wanted to share a little story with you about patience.  A teacher…

was helping one of her kindergarten students put his boots on? He asked for help and she could see why. With her pulling and him pushing, the boots still didn't want to go on. By the time she got the second boot on, she had worked up a sweat.

She almost whimpered when the little boy said, "Teacher, they're on the wrong feet." She looked and sure enough, they were. It wasn't any easier pulling the boots off than it was putting them on. She managed to keep her cool as they worked together to get the boots back on -- this time on the right feet.

He then announced, "These aren't my boots." She bit her tongue rather than get right in his face and scream, "Why didn't you say so?" like she wanted to. Once again she struggled to help him pull the ill-fitting boots off.

He then said, "They're my brother's boots. My Mom made me wear them." She didn't know if she should laugh or cry. She mustered up the grace to wrestle the boots on his feet again.

She said, "Now, where are your mittens?" He said, "I stuffed them in the toes of my boots ..."[i]

            Now, maybe you’re not a teacher, but I can bet you’ve felt the same way!  Sometimes patience can be difficult, when you’re doing everything you can to accomplish something, and things keep happening to ruin your day.  Or, patience can be hard to come by when you’re waiting on something good that never seems to come.  Like that half-hour pizza delivery that’s too slow.  But if we’re that impatient our solution becomes the Little Caesar’s hot-and-ready pizza, and what you gain in instant gratification, you sacrifice in quality.

            The Bible has a lot to say about patience.  In the Old Testament, God’s people had to wander in the wilderness forty years to make the full 822 miles from the Red Sea to Jericho.  Believe me—they learned patience!  In the New Testament, Jesus talked about the wise man building his house on a rock, which apparently takes longer than building on sand, or maybe rocky property costs more money, which means he had to save longer.  According to one website, “the saying – ‘patience is a virtue’ comes from the poem called Piers Plowman, created in 1360 – 1387. The original author of the quote is William Langland.”[ii]  That expression is as true today as it was then—as are the Bible’s bits of advice about patience.

The book of Proverbs says a lot about patience in the way we run our mouths.  Did you ever know someone who talks a lot, just to show how smart they are?  Proverbs 17:27 says, “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.[iii]  Generally, it’s the person who talks the least, who knows the most—but a lot of people don’t seem to grasp that fact.  How do you think a smart person gets to be smart?  By listening.  By being quiet.  Proverbs 18:13 says, “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.”  Lately, I’ve been trying to be a better question-asker, and a better listener.  I hope it makes me a better person, and that it helps me to care for what others have to say more than I care about expressing my own opinion. 

Sometimes you realize you’ve been impatient when you’re in an argument, and you say just what you’re thinking, way too quickly.  Proverbs 29:11 says, “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.”  Sometimes it’s best, just to bite your tongue and not say what you’re thinking, if you know that your words would bring pain.  Don’t tell your wife what you think of her mother.  Just be patient.  Breathe.  Step away and come back to finish the discussion later when you’re more clear-headed. 

Proverbs warns not to be too quick to speak, even if it’s something good or helpful that you’re saying.  Lots of people have made vows to God.  Like, “God, if you let me win the lottery, I’ll give half the winnings to you.”  Or, “God, if you let this airplane land safely, I promise I’ll give up drinking.”  But Proverbs 20:25 says, “It is a trap to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider one’s vows.”  Jesus said it’s better not to make vows at all, but just let your “yes” be “yes,” and your “no” be “no.”[iv]  Speaking too quickly can get you in trouble.

Proverbs advises patience, not just in what we say, but in what we do.  We’re an Amazon Prime kind of generation, where we expect to buy with one click, and have it show up on our doorstep, delivered by a drone, in twenty-four hours.  The problem with our instant gratification is that we often don’t take the time to make sure we’re making wise purchases.  Then, when the box arrives, we have to acquaint ourselves with the return policy.  Proverbs 19:2 says, “Desire without knowledge is not good—how much more will hasty feet miss the way!”  Or, like the teenage couple that is so “in love” that they don’t wait before having sex, only to regret it later.  Hasty feet miss the way—and in many cases the result is something for which there’s no return policy. 

It’s been said that pride is the father of all sins; If that’s true, impatience is the mother.  Pride says, “You’re the most important, so you deserve it!”  Impatience says, “Not only do you deserve it, but you can have it now!”  Put these two together, and you have a whole family tree of sins that follows suit.  This could be the woman who has taken to excessive gambling because she can’t wait to grow her fortune by investing or saving wisely.  Or it could be the man who can’t wait for his marriage to improve, so he looks outside of it for comfort.  It might be the person who chooses the immediate gratification of that donut over the patience it takes to gain a healthy lifestyle.  Together, Pride and Impatience can have lots of babies—but humility and patience put a stop to these two ever meeting, marrying, and making babies.  In Psychology Today, Dr. Judith Orloff writes about practicing patience:

To turn the tables on frustration, find a long, slow-moving line to wait in. Perhaps in the grocery store, bank, post office. Or if you’re renewing your driver’s license, dare to take on the mother of all lines in the DMV. But here’s the switch: Instead of getting irritated or pushy, which taxes your system with a rush of stress hormones, take a breath. Tell yourself, “I’m going to wait peacefully and enjoy the pause.” Meanwhile, try to empathize with the overwrought cashier or government employee. Smile and say a few nice words to the other beleaguered people in line. Use the time to daydream; take a vacation from work or other obligations. Notice the stress release you feel, how your body relaxes. Lines are an excellent testing ground for patience. To strengthen this asset, I highly recommend standing in as many as possible.

Practicing patience will help you dissipate stress and give you a choice about how you respond to disappointment and frustration. When you can stay calm, centered and not act rashly out of frustration, all areas of your life will improve.[v]

[iii] Scripture quotations are taken from the NIV.
[iv] Matthew 5:37.
[v] Judith Orloff, M.D.  “The Power of Patience: The importance of patience as a coping skill and how to achieve it.”  Psychology Today.  Posted Sep 18, 2012  September 18, 2018.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Book of Virtues # 8 - "The Green-Eyed Monster"

Last week we talked about pride, and how it “goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).”[i]  Pride I’m reminded of Aesop’s fable, “The Peacock:

The Peacock, they say, did not at first have the beautiful feathers in which he now takes so much pride. These, Juno, whose favorite he was, granted to him one day when he begged her for a train of feathers to distinguish him from the other birds. Then, decked in his finery, gleaming with emerald, gold, purple, and azure, he strutted proudly among the birds. All regarded him with envy. Even the most beautiful pheasant could see that his beauty was surpassed.
Presently the Peacock saw an Eagle soaring high up in the blue sky and felt a desire to fly, as he had been accustomed to do. Lifting his wings he tried to rise from the ground. But the weight of his magnificent train held him down. Instead of flying up to greet the first rays of the morning sun or to bathe in the rosy light among the floating clouds at sunset, he would have to walk the ground more encumbered and oppressed than any common barnyard fowl.[ii]

            Pride is a one-person affair—thinking that you’re so great that you deserve special honor.  Envy is a two-person affair—comparing yourself to others and wishing you had what they possess.  Aesop’s story begins with the peacock’s pride, and ends with the bird’s envy.  Both exhibit a sense of discontent in what a person already has, or what a person already is.  When a person compares what they have with what others have, we often say they are “green with envy.”  According to one website, “The origin of the idiom 'green with envy' is believed to come directly from the great William Shakespeare himself. In Othello, Iago warns Othello: ‘Beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.’”[iii]

            The Bible is our book of virtues that has much to say about the topic of envy.  Interestingly, most of the references to envy take the assumption that the people you might feel this way towards are all dirty, rotten, sinners.  Let me give you a few examples.  Proverbs 3:31-32 says, “Do not envy the violent or choose any of their ways.  For the Lord detests the perverse but takes the upright into his confidence.”  Proverbs 23:17-18 says, “Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord. There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.”  Proverbs 24:1-2, 19-20 says, “Do not envy the wicked, do not desire their company; for their hearts plot violence, and their lips talk about making trouble.  Do not fret because of evildoers or be envious of the wicked, for the evildoer has no future hope, and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out.” 

While it’s true that some people do envy the wicked, it’s also true that we’re far more apt to paint people as wicked if we envy them.  You see, envy is a creative artist who knows how to depict us as the good guys who have been slighted, and people who have something we want as the miserly bad guys who just refuse to share.  The Book of Proverbs doesn’t argue against your false assumptions but works within them.  Instead of saying, “Now, you know, they’re really not that bad,” Proverbs says, “Ok—you say that the people you’re envious of are sinners—let’s grant that for a moment, but let me show you why it’s not a good idea to envy them.”  Proverbs says that we shouldn’t envy because God is with the upright, and because God has a future hope for us.  Besides this, “the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out” reminding us that all gain is temporary—so why rush after it like a green-eyed monster? 

The Bible is filled with stories of people who caused trouble because of envy.  In the Old Testament, Joseph’s brothers resented him because of the coat of many colors.[iv]  In the New Testament story of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells the story of the delinquent returning home.  But the older, well-behaved and responsible brother is envious of the attention lavished on the one who had been pardoned.[v]  The result of envy is that it sickens the spirit, and the Bible says, can even sicken your body.  Proverbs 14:30 says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.”  Envy is bad for you, Proverbs says—but having a peaceful, contented spirit gives life.

Envy is bad enough on its own, but when you combine envy with pride, you get covetousness—a sense of entitlement that says that what another person has ought to be yours.  Sometimes this can be not a one-person or a two-person affair, but even a three-person problem.  Exodus 20:17 gives one of the Ten Commandments as: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  Coveting isn’t just envying something like your neighbor has.  Coveting is wanting the same thing that your neighbor has.  Often, it can lead to you wanting to take what your neighbor has.  And when that object of your obsession is a person (that belongs to your neighbor), you’ve created a complex problem that leads to destruction.

In Luke 12:15, Jesus says, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”  Jesus advises not to give thought to worldly possessions, but to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness first—and then sit back and wait for God to give us what we need (Matthew 6:33).  The solution is learning to be content with what you have, and in who you are (which is even more important).  Learn to see yourself not by comparison to your neighbor, but as God sees you—whole and complete, made in God’s image and worthy of God’s love.  God made you just as you are, and God has a purpose for you.  That purpose doesn’t involve trying to acquire or become something that’s not meant for you.  It involves a heart at peace (Proverbs 14:30). 

That peace can be awfully difficult when you’re constantly comparing yourself to another.  Aesop told a tale about a horse and a donkey that illustrates this point:

A Horse and an Ass were travelling together, the Horse prancing along in its fine trappings, the Ass carrying with difficulty the heavy weight in its panniers. “I wish I were you,” sighed the Ass; “nothing to do and well fed, and all that fine harness upon you.” Next day, however, there was a great battle, and the Horse was wounded to death in the final charge of the day. His friend, the Ass, happened to pass by shortly afterwards and found him on the point of death. “I was wrong,” said the Ass: “Better humble security than gilded danger.”[vi]

            Instead of comparing what you have to someone else, or comparing who you are to someone else, it’s better to find contentment inside yourself.  Proverbs 14:30 says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.”  Find your identity in Jesus, because He is the One who gives life to the full.

[i] All scripture quotations are taken from the NIV.
[ii]  September 11, 2018.
[iv] Genesis 37
[v] Luke 15:11-32

Monday, October 1, 2018

Book of Virtues # 7 - "Pride Before the Fall"

            Social media has made today’s world so full of bragging that it’s hard to tell the difference between people simply sharing good stuff in their lives, and people exercising arrogance.  Dr. Samantha Rodman talks about six ways that moms brag about their kids:

1. The Obvious Brag.  “James runs so fast that the coach said he’ll be a shoo-in for college track!”

2. The Subtle Brag.  “Ella isn’t that great at school, [besides her A’s,] she got two B’s this term.”

3. The Vicarious Brag.  “Ivy got asked to the prom by three different guys. I remember when that happened to me!”

4. The Unique Snowflake Brag.  “Jonathan has five different species of bugs in jars in his room. That boy is a budding entomologist if I ever saw one!”

5. The Heart Of Gold Brag.  “Pia insisted that the family spend Thanksgiving building homeless shelters in Mumbai this year. That girl, wow.”

6. The Brag About Your Own Kid.  “Fiona just killed it at the orchestra performance. I guess that my flautist genes carried on, or possibly the fact that I’ve encouraged her to practice—lovingly and totally not in a Tiger Mom way—every night since she was 7.”[i]

 The truth is that everybody catches themselves bragging now and then.  The Bible has a lot to say about bragging and the sin of pride.  It's important to recognize pride in ourselves because it can have some very dire consequences.  The book of Proverbs warns about this problem, saying, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall (16:18[ii]).”  Here are several outgrowths of pride, that Proverbs warns against:[G1] [G2] 

1.      Listening to Yourself First.  Proverbs 18:12-13 says, “Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.”  A lot of people spend more time talking in a conversation than they spend asking questions and listening.  This shows pride because it puts yourself first.  The result is that you don't learn. [G3] 

2.      Taking the Best, First.  Proverbs 25:6-7 says, “Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among his great men; it is better for him to say to you, ‘Come up here,’ than for him to humiliate you before his nobles.”  Jesus echoes this in Luke 14:8-11: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.  If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.  But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.  For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

3.      Bragging About the Future.  Proverbs 27:1 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” I knew a man who used to brag about how much money he was “on track” to make—without him even making it.  Jesus’ brother James expands on how arrogant this is: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’  As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil (James 4:13-16).”

4.      Putting Your Comfort or Success First.  Now, we’re touching a sore spot, because this is the American way.  But Proverbs 16:19 says, “Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud.”  If putting yourself first means stepping on other people, God calls that sin, even if it’s the way the world works.

5.      Praising Yourself.  Proverbs 27:2 says, “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips.”  And even when it’s somebody else who praises you, be careful—because the way you handle other people’s praise says a lot about you.  Proverbs 27:21 says, “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but people are tested by their praise.”  When you receive praise from others, don’t exercise false modesty.  Don’t say “aw, shucks,” or turn it away.  But don’t glory in it, either.  Simply say, “Thank you.”

6.      Gloating.  Proverbs 24:17 says, “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice.”  Remember, God doesn’t play favorites (Romans 2:11).  Gloating presumes you’re in a position that you might not possess—so just be careful, or you might be next!

7.      Putting Your Trust in Yourself.  Proverbs 28:26 says, “Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe.”  The Bible warns not to trust in yourself overmuch, but to place your trust in God.

Aesop told a fable about two roosters fighting for dominance in the farmyard.  “Finally, one was vanquished and he went and hid himself in a corner of the hen-house. Defeated by Pride The victor flew up to the roof of the barn and begin to crow, ‘I’ve won, I’ve won!’ An eagle swooped down and carried him away and the rooster that had been defeated suddenly found himself unchallenged master of the farmyard.”[iii]  The Book of Proverbs reinforces this truth when it reminds us, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall (16:18).”  I pray you’ll think before you crow, and that you’ll remember, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble (James 4:6).”

[i] Rodman, Dr. Samantha.  6 Ways Moms Brag About Their Kids.  Edited from the original:  September 4, 2018.
[ii] Scripture quotations are taken from the NIV.