Lesson Two – Let Him Who Boasts Boast in the Lord

Let Him Who Boasts Boast in the Lord


From our previous lesson we understood how the word of God speaks to the mind, heart and conscience of our “self.”  Each person’s spirit came from God and it possesses a likeness of His Spirit (Heb. 12:9; Jas. 3:9).  God has a mind, heart and conscience and so does each and every human being.  Each person’s spirit first conforms to the family and society into which they are born.  This is passive learning.  This is the beginning process of how our spirits that came from God became our individual present “self.”  The Corinthian Gentiles and Jews needed to accept God’s new covenant so they could put off the old self and put on the new self (II Cor. 3:1-6; Heb. 8:10-12; Eph 4:22-24).

Each Christian accepts the new covenant in the repentant process of their new birth.  The beginning process is hearing God’s word and the development of faith (Rom. 10:17).  The final process; “We are all baptized by one Spirit into one body.”  I Cor. 12:13.  This had happened to all the members of the Lord’s church in Corinth.  They could not have been the “church of God” unless the Apostle Paul had preached the kingdom of God to their minds, hearts and consciences (I Cor. 1:2; Acts 20:25; I Cor. 4:20).  This born again person who is now in fellowship with the Holy Spirit is able to take charge of his or her body and use it as a holy instrument for God (I Cor. 6:12-20; II Cor. 13:14).

The new covenant in Jesus’ blood has been offered by God to conform the heart and mind of each Christian into a “new self,” like Himself (I Cor. 2:16: Rom. 8:29).  This is a divine specialized covenant between God and mankind in the last days of time.  It requires the wisdom of God (I Cor. 1:20, 21).  It does not require man’s wisdom; therefore, there is nothing about which any one can boast – not even the Apostle Paul.  God has ordained that this transformation can only happen in the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:27).  Paul’s analogy of the human body to the church “drives home” the point that division is just as understandably unacceptable in the church as it is in a human body.

The problem in the Corinthian church was that some members, the “you” group, were boasting about men.  The “they” group may have been using the weakness of some church members to discredit Paul.  According to our historical analysis “boasting about men” was the cause of the division Paul wrote to correct.  Please review Part I, Lesson Three.  In our literary analysis we want to determine what he said to correct this problem.

We are now working with our literary analysis.  We want to see how Paul connected boasting to “what he wanted to say” to their hearts, minds and consciences.  This will be the solution for their problem.  We are preparing ourselves to understand what he said to the historical context we studied in Part I.  The question we want to ask of the text is; “Why did he say what he said right here?”  How does it function to drive his point?  How does it fit in what he said before and after this text?

Since Paul appeared to use the word “boast” as a special literary tool, we will investigate this possibility in this lesson.  Our aim is to see how he developed parts of his letters around “boasting” to help them understand their problem and encourage the church to:

Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace.  And the God of love and peace will be with you.       II Cor. 13:11


The words boast, boasting, take pride and arrogant all appear in the first major unit of thought in I Corinthians (I Cor. 1:29, 31; 3:21; 4:6, 7, 18, 19; 5:2, 6).  This includes chapters one through four.  “Boasting” appears in the fifth chapter.  We might consider chapters five and six to be an addendum to the issue Paul introduced in the beginning of this letter.  Boast, boasting, take pride and arrogant are not significant terms in relation to the structure of I Corinthians beyond Paul’s first major discourse.  However, in II Corinthians, he again employed these words several times and in a manner that appeared to relate to the structure of his letter.  He let “boasting” add strength to his point.  This is especially notable in the last four chapters where he exposed those “who wanted an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about.”  II Cor. 11:12.  This is a series of letters and they should be studied as a unit.

In our exegetical approach of the Corinthian letters we are now into the subject of the “writer’s style.”  Our interest is in how he chose to present the content in these letters.  Literature contains structure and content.  The recipients would have been interested in the content – we are interested in the content.  Content is best understood when we study it in the author’s structure.   The first four chapters are the structure we will first consider; however, Paul did not use chapters and verses to mark out the structure.  The numbering of chapters was added between A. D. 1207-1228 by Stephen Langton.  Verses were numbered by Robert Stephen in the mid 16th century according to sources on Google.  The introduction and the finish of a thought is how we determine structure in a letter.

Paul used the standard six-part form for both recorded Corinthian letters.  First, the introduction of the author (s) of the letters; secondly, to whom they were written; the third part; “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  The fourth part was the writer’s prayer in first century standard form letters.  The body followed and the sixth part was the close.  In both of these letters, Paul’s prayer included items relevant to the issues in the body.

The prayer in I Corinthians 1:4-9 is not a written prayer incorporated into this letter.  He wrote, “I always thank God for you because of His grace given you in Christ Jesus.”  He had already been thanking God that they had been “enriched in your speaking and in all your knowledge.”  Then he reminded the church; “You do not lack any spiritual gift.”  They could not boast because all things had been given to them by grace – unmerited favor.  The point is Paul may have been “setting up” the recipients for what he wanted to say at the end of this first chapter – which is the title of this lesson.

“Setting them up,” was what Paul was doing with the rhetorical questions:  “Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?   Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”  I Cor. 1:13.  Their answers just had to be, no, no and no to each question.  If they would verbalize what they knew in their hearts, it would have been a confession of their “mere men” thinking (I Cor. 3:1-4).  The problem would have been solved but some had become arrogant (I Cor. 4:18).

Please note how he placed these “set them up” questions in his letter between the fact they were divided around those whom they considered to be “significant others” and another group of rhetorical questions:  “Where is the wise man?  Where is the scholar?  Where is the philosopher of this age?  Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world?”  I Cor. 1:20.  Their answers would perhaps have been; “I don’t know” to the first three and “yes” to the last one.   These rhetorical questions are Paul’s literary tools to force the recipients to think rationally about their behavior.   Paul later said, “You are looking on the surface of things.”  II Cor. 10:7.  He wanted each member to search his or her conscience (II Cor. 4:2; 5:11).  This is followed by a long discourse about the wisdom and power of God – versus the wisdom of men.  Within this discourse Paul set forth these facts:

  1. The inhabitants of the world had not come to know God by the wisdom of men (I Cor. 1:21).  There is a big difference in knowing God and knowing about God (John 17:3; Matt. 7:23).
  2. Paul was sent to preach the gospel to save those who believe.  He preached the kingdom of God in Christ and the cross of Jesus (I Cor. 1:17; 4:20; 15:3, 4).
  3. God had called the Corinthian Christians by the gospel of Christ Paul had preached; therefore, they were saved from the foolishness of the wisdom of men and their own sins.  They had become recipients of the power and wisdom of God (I Cor. 1:24, 30).
  4. Finally he reminded them of the fact that they were not powerful or wise, even by man’s measurements before they were “added to the saved;” this is to say, the church of God (I Cor. 1:2, 26; Acts 2:47).

Paul was now ready to introduce a line he borrowed from Jeremiah, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”  I Cor. 1:31; Jer. 9:24.  This line became a powerful tool in these letters (II Cor. 10:17).  Our concern in this lesson is to become aware of how he built up the word “boast” and used it as a literary tool in the organization of his letters.  Consequently, we will leave the deeper lessons in this “first major unit of thought” for later.  However, there are two significant points Paul may have inserted for the Jews who claimed to be apostles (II Cor. 11:12-15).

First, Sosthenes was added as a co-author.  We must ask: “Why was his name added?”  If this was the same Sosthenes who had been the synagogue ruler, and the Jews who beat him were the same people who were masquerading as false apostles, then we understand Paul may have been “scoring a point” over the opposition (Acts 18:17).  His name could have been added to encourage the church.  It could have been added to “cut the ground from under” Satan’s deceitful workers.  It could have served both goals.  Sosthenes is not credited with even one “mention” in the body of the letters unless we include him in Paul’s “we” identification for himself.  Yet Sosthenes was listed as a co-author – surely there was a reason.

Secondly, the quote Paul borrowed from Jeremiah 9:24 would have been a familiar scripture for the false apostles.  Jeremiah’s usage of this passage of scripture is very similar to the context in which Paul used it.  Both writers were comparing the wisdom of God with the wisdom of men.  Please read Jeremiah 9:12, 23, 24.  Paul’s opposition, if indeed they were Satan’s Jews working through the weaknesses of arrogant church members, could have understood his “quote” was made for their benefit.

The next usage of his technical word “boasting” is found in the third chapter, verse twenty-one.  The content in chapters two and three is about the source of Paul’s message and his role in its application.  He received it from the Holy Spirit who revealed to him God’s secret wisdom about satisfying the need for glory God created within each human being (I Cor. 2:7, 12, 13).  He was careful to avoid using “wise and persuasive” words in his preaching because he wanted the believer’s to have faith in the power of God.  God and Jesus know about the innate needs created in each person from our conception (I Cor. 2:4, 5; Matt. 6:32, 33).  They offer mankind proper ways to attain satisfaction.

Paul chose his and Apollos’ name out of the four on his list in chapter one.   Then he rhetorically asked; “What, after all, is Apollos?  And what is Paul?  I Cor. 3:5.  The church knew these men.  They could think about them in relation to the church before the members were dividing.  Paul wanted them to think about them as co-builders with Jesus of something that was not in Corinth before they arrived.  Paul planted the seed.  He did not plant the church.  He planted the word of God – the “message of the kingdom.”  Matt. 13:19; Luke 8:11.  The word came from God to Paul.  It was God, not Paul, who made the kingdom grow in the members of the church in Corinth (I Cor. 3:7; Luke 17:20, 21).

The members were “God’s field, God’s building.”  I Cor. 3:9.  They were not Paul’s members of the church.  He was not Reverend Paul.  He was not even, quote, “The Preacher.”  He was a preacher of the word of God whose preaching laid a foundation for something in Corinth that required the wisdom of God.  This spiritual building in Corinth was “the temple of God” and the Holy Spirit lived in the members.  “So then, no more boasting about men!”  I Cor. 3:21.  What a simple conclusion!  Yet, the Christian religious world has not “caught” his point.

Paul may appear to be defending himself in chapter four as he continued to make his case for “boasting in the Lord” rather than about men.  Evidently, he was not defending himself for later he asked; “Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you?  We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening.”  II Cor. 12:19.  Paul was sent by Jesus Christ.  Paul spoke in the sight of God; that is, with God and Jesus present (II Cor. 10:4-6; 11:31).  He did not need to defend himself but the church members should have been defending him before his opposition (II Cor. 5:11, 12; 12:11).  He wrote, “So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret wisdom of God.”  I Cor. 4:1.

Then he warned:

Now, brothers I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written.’  Then you will not take pride in one man over another.  For who makes you different from anyone else?  What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?  I Cor. 4:6, 7

Paul did engage in what might be classified as hyperbolic irony in I Cor. 4:8-13.  Hyperbole is a literary tool that allows for an overstatement of the actual situation.  Obviously, the arrogant members of the church were not kings and he and whoever made up “we” were not the scum of the earth.  Since he presented himself as one who “got the short end of the stick” more than once in these letters we need to understand his motive.  His point is obvious in this case.  He wanted the church to see how ridiculous their relationship had become by making statements like “We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ!”  They were guilty of boasting about their new wisdom from God, as if it had happened by their own achievement; whereas, Paul had begot them – “became their father.”  He concluded by saying, “I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you as my dear children.”  I Cor. 4:14.

What have we learned in our literary analysis?  In other words, what did Paul say by divine inspiration to correct the problem of division in the Corinthian church?  What we have learned by careful analysis from the first four chapters of I Corinthians is what we will use as a background for a detailed study of the Corinthian letters later.  So now we should be able to summarize what we have learned and how the author tied this to the word “boasting.”

In Paul’s prayers he had been thanking God because the Corinthian church members had been enriched in every way.  Note in the foregoing scripture he asked them “What do you have that you did not receive?”  Some members of the church were boasting about their present gifts as if they had attained them by their own achievement.  This could include some of the special gifts from the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12:7-11).  Their boasting and arrogance was causing divisions.  What kind of divisions?  It was the same as it is today in all religious circles.  It is the number one problem in the Christian religious circles and it had its beginning right here in the church of God in Corinth.  Paul is identifying the problem for us and presenting the solution.  We need to hear this because it has already happened in many churches of God in Christ and they have not yet realized it has happened.

What we learned:  The members of the church were looking at the preacher but failing to keep in mind that the power of God was in the message.  Paul asked them, “What is Paul?”  Sure he was proclaiming great and wonderful things that were changing the believers’ lives.  They, as many do today, were switching their allegiance from God who sent the message, and Jesus who made it possible by the cross, to the man who was preaching.  They were boasting about the preacher and not God who gave the message and caused their spiritual growth.  This is what we will need to keep in mind later as we study these four chapters from thought to thought.  The historical information in chapter five may have been added to emphasize the seriousness of the problem.  “A man has his father’s wife.  And you are proud!” I Cor. 5:1, 2.  Paul used Jeremiah’s word again, “Your boasting is not good.  Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?  I Cor. 5:6.  Yes, they knew the answer to this rhetorical question also.

We will continue to follow Paul’s use of “boasting” in II Corinthians in our next lesson.  See II Cor. 1:12, 14; 5:12; 7:14; 8:24; 9:2, 4; 10:8, 13-17; 11:10, 12, 16, 18, 21, 30; 12:1, 5, 9.

Questions for Discussions

  1. How does the concept of Paul’s speaking to the Corinthian Christians’ mind, heart and conscience relate to the source of their spirits?   How do these both relate to God’s new covenant in Christ?
  2. Why is it important to do historical analysis before we attempt to do literary analysis?
  3. How does literary analysis and Paul’s use of words that are synonymous with boasting relate to the writer’s style?
  4. Since we cannot depend on chapters to denote Paul’s structure for the content of these letters, how do we determine his structure?
  5. What had Paul always been thanking God for in relation to the Corinthian church?  How did he use this information in his prayers later in his rhetorical questioning?
  6. In what sense did Paul’s use of rhetorical questions to “set up” the Christians to work out their problem?  What was he attempting to get those who were boasting to acknowledge?
  7. Why have the people who have attained their wisdom according to world standards not been able to know about God?
  8. Show how Paul’s quote from Jeremiah was used to close out his attempt to solve their problem of division in chapter one.
  9. How might the addition of Sosthenes as a co-author of I Corinthians have been used by Paul to “get at” the Jews who claimed to be apostles?
  10. Why did Paul avoid using “wise and persuasive words” for teaching God’s word?
  11. How did the rhetorical question, “And what is Paul?” serve to build up his use of the word boasting at the end of chapter three?  What was Paul’s key point in this “build up” that made his admonishment “so no more boasting about men” so reasonable to rational thinking people?
  12. Did Paul think he needed to defend himself?  Defend your answer.
  13. Explain how Paul’s exhortation to “not go beyond what is written” could have become a solution to their problem of division in the church.
  14. How had the allegiance of some of the Corinthian Christians shifted after Paul left at the end of his eighteen month mission?

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