Boasting is biblical? Braggadocio has long been part and parcel of hip hop culture. Emcees boasting of their skills on the microphone was, and still is, standard fare in many rap songs. I started this article when I noticed the growing trend of Christian rappers adopting this ungodly behavior from the hip hop culture and inserting it into the Christian Rap genre. After Mr. Swoope’s commercially successful album Sinema dropped on iTunes, I heard him explain in an interview (14:27 mark) he believes Christians have a problem pursuing excellence and have a problem calling something excellent. Fleshing that thought out, he said “there is a very thin line between boasting in the cross, and boasting.”I realized then Christian Rap was in dire straits, and that we are in constant need of biblical reminders.
So where does the argument come from? What’s interesting about the “boasting in the cross”reference is it comes from Galatians 6. If you listen to the interview, you’ll understand the argument goes something like this: If Paul says“God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14), and “each one has his own gift from God” (1 Cor 7:7) then when I boast about my skills on the mic, I’m really just boasting in Christ because they’re the gifts He’s given me. I challenge you to re-read Galatians 6 and tell me if you think Paul is encouraging rappers to boast in their lyrical abilities. That’s the exact opposite conclusion Paul wants you to come to.
Isn’t it legitimate to boast in our excellence? But aren’t Christians justified in telling the world how excellent they are? Proverbs 22:29 says “Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before unknown men.”We’ll stand before kings if we’re excellent. How will the world know of our excellence if we don’t tell them? We certainly can’t stand idly by while someone demeans us, can we? That would prohibit us from achieving our artistic excellence.
So what is the Bible’s teaching about boasting? This flawed exegeses and spiritual immaturity lead to an understanding that you can indeed boast in yourself as a biblically condoned practice. Nothing could be further from the truth. To boast in yourself and the gifts you have been given are evidence of a proud heart. Please consider this small sample of texts and how they relate to boasting and pride:
Proverbs 3:34 But (God) gives grace to the humble.
Proverbs 16:5 Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord.
Proverbs 16:19 It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.
Proverbs 27:2 Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.
Matthew 12:34 Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.
Isn’t boasting required? The pressures to boast about ourselves are great. Mr. Swoope argued in the interview that critics had called him a “whack”rapper, and that he had to defend himself. I have to ‘kill’other rappers on the mic goes the argument fueled by monetary and popular pressure. If a rapper is called whack, he must defend himself, his reputation, and his brand if he wants to maintain the respect he’s earned from his peers and the public. So, Christian or not, they argue their paycheck is at stake when they’re name-called, and they have to answer. No I am not whack. Let me tell you how awesome I am.
Is pride and boasting limited to rap? Not by a long shot. That’s why it’s so disturbing. It is a natural part of our sin nature that must be battled constantly. We have to practice humility, we don’t have to practice being proud. Accepting and promoting boasting in our music sets a tone for our daily living. Instead of pursuing humility, we become fueled by pride. This is devastating to us because we are so prone to pride in all our endeavors. We become proud in our home, our work, and our churches.
So what do we do now? We repent of our pride, of delighting in the compliments of others, and promote a sufficiency in Christ Jesus. Boasting in anything but God, is sin. What are we bragging on, anyway? Our skills? Our success? Our sales? These are gifts that can be taken from us at a moments notice, and were given to us to glorify God with.
Is our own fame really what we’re called to chase as Christians? How about holiness, humility, and dependence on God? C.J. Mahaney, in his book Humility: True Greatness, offers a redefinition of greatness based on Jesus’answer to His disciples when they were arguing over who would be greatest in the kingdom of God. “It (true greatness before God) means turning upside down our entrenched, worldly ideas on the definition of greatness.”(44)
As we pursue excellence in our work, let us be reminded of Isaiah 66:2 “But on this one I will look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.”God’s view of us and His standard of greatness and excellence must be our standard. To pursue excellence and set our glory against His is not really excellence at all.
Be content in your identity in Christ. It’s not too late. Not for any of us. Repent of your pride. Remove it from your work, whether that’s art or banking. Many cultures promote pride, not just hip hop. Fight against it and embrace contentment in Christ’s sufficiency. If it is indeed true that not many noble, wise, or mighty according to the world are called by God (1 Cor. 1:26), than let us be encouraged by this quote from Richard Baxter in A Christian Directory: “Remember that the pleasing of God is your business in the world, and that in pleasing him your souls may have safety, rest, and full content, though all the world should be displeased with you.”(191)