Many of us Christians, pastors, and spiritual celebrities, especially in my younger generation, are like those crows. We perch ourselves on the high roosts of Christendom, take our position, and caw for praise. The older, more seasoned generation of pastors see it, discern, and mourn it. Sometimes they necessarily address it, but we are too sozzled in our cawing to listen. We brag about our spirituality and ministry. Examples abound.
It was early on in our church planting endeavors. Our sapling church was hardly standing. Many had come and even more had gone. It was a painful time for me. But not always for righteous reasons. I ached that the sapling was so small, numerically. I sorrowed over so few staying. Church-planting and ministry friends would ask the dreaded question: “So how is the church plant going?” “Uh, fine. Sort of.” Which lead into the next, more-dreaded question: “How many people are attending now?” “Uh, well, at one point we had, like, 50ish.”
As I look back on those days, I have to ask myself, “Why were those such dreaded questions?” For me, there was really one reason: I wanted to brag. I craved crowing over numbers and ministry results. I wanted to boast in “what the Lord was doing” and “how humbled I was that the Lord had brought so many.” But I didn’t want to boast in the Lord. I wanted a triple-digit number to brag about to our supporters. I wanted to boast in me. I wanted the spotlight.
“Love does not brag” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Among other things, the Corinthians were boasting about the supposed supernatural spiritual experiences that they were having, hence Paul’s correction. “Brag.” The word has the idea of self-glorification, boasting, and a superficial self-applauder. It speaks of someone who vaunts, displays, and praises self.
Why is love antithetical to bragging? Bragging is an expression of self-worship (over and above God) and self-love (over and above others). All love and glory is channelled to self.
Bragging wants attention. It’s an extreme self-worshiper. It will hijack whatever means at its disposal—work, skills, giftedness, ministry—to applaud itself. And if it does not get attention, it will do things like become jealous, angry, resentful, and suspicious of others. A bragger sees its best friends as those who are most involved in boasting about it. But bragging need not only be external boasting. It could be internal as well; silently boasting to oneself.
When my two-year-old crows, “Look how pwitty my Mickey Mouse diaper is!” and my four-year-old boasts, “I skied all da way down wivout falling!”, it’s cute. But, when a twenty-two and forty-four-year old crow and boast, it’s not so cute anymore.
Bragging shows itself in many ways. It hopes and longs for others to applaud its deeds, abilities, hard work, knowledge, and success.
If bragging about good things in life does not lift itself high enough onto the winner’s platform, braggers will brag about bad things. We will even go so far as to brag about sufferings with the hope that others will take up our cause.
Bragging does things like story-topping. It one-ups everyone else’s story. While they are listening to someone else talk, the bragger is anxiously setting the stage to wow the crowd with their show. Story-toppers are braggers.
The story-topper always had more business success and the more harrowing outdoor adventure; it gained more credentials, climbed the harder route, read those books already, already implemented the better parenting technique, knows more about whatever topic, experienced the crazier experience, and suffered the harder trial.