Time to look at scriptural examples of not boasting.
The easiest way to not boast is to simply say nothing or be brief. Shamgar’s story in the Book of Judges of slaying 600 Philistines with an oxgoad is extremely short with no hoopla whatsoever and takes up a single verse (see Judges 3:31).
In Alma 26, Ammon rejoices over their success and his brother Aaron understandably gets a bit nervous that Ammon might be boasting. But after what we’ve learned so far, we can read what Ammon says and know he’s really not boasting in himself at all. Notice where his focus is. It’s very much on God.
8 Blessed be the name of our God; let us sing to his praise, yea, let us give thanks to his holy name, for he doth work righteousness forever.
9 For if we had not come up out of the land of Zarahemla, these our dearly beloved brethren, who have so dearly beloved us, would still have been racked with hatred against us, yea, and they would also have been strangers to God.
10 And it came to pass that when Ammon had said these words, his brother Aaron rebuked him, saying: Ammon, I fear that thy joy doth carry thee away unto boasting.
11 But Ammon said unto him: I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God.
12 Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever. . . .
35 Now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I say unto you, there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began; yea, and my joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my God; for he has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on his name.
36 Now if this is boasting, even so will I boast; for this is my life and my light, my joy and my salvation, and my redemption from everlasting wo. Yea, blessed is the name of my God, who has been mindful of this people, who are a branch of the tree of Israel, and has been lost from its body in a strange land; yea, I say, blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land.
37 Now my brethren, we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth. Now this is my joy, and my great thanksgiving; yea, and I will give thanks unto my God forever. Amen. (Alma 26:8-12, 35-37)
(I put Ammon’s boast in God in blue, and his acknowledgment of his weakness in orange.)
Ammon boasts in God for God’s
· Righteous works
· Strength to help Ammon do all things
· Ability to help Ammon do miracles
· Mercy and salvation to those who repent and believe
· Awareness of those who wander in strange lands
· Awareness of every people
· Numbering those who become His people
About the only thing that Aaron seems to have objected to is where Ammon says, “if we had not come up out of the land of Zarahemla, these our dearly beloved brethren, who have so dearly beloved us, would still have been racked with hatred.”
It seems Aaron feels like Ammon made it seem like their little group were the only ones who could have done what they did. Aaron seems to have preferred to believe that anyone could have done what they did. And if other groups of missionaries had felt called to go to the Lamanites, quite likely Aaron would have been proven right.
Another place that escapes being boasting is King Benjamin’s speech to his people. Look for how he avoids it.
11 But I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind; yet I have been chosen by this people, and consecrated by my father, and was suffered by the hand of the Lord that I should be a ruler and a king over this people; and have been kept and preserved by his matchless power, to serve you with all the might, mind and strength which the Lord hath granted unto me.
12 I say unto you that as I have been suffered to spend my days in your service, even up to this time, and have not sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you;
13 Neither have I suffered that ye should be confined in dungeons, nor that ye should make slaves one of another, nor that ye should murder, or plunder, or steal, or commit adultery; nor even have I suffered that ye should commit any manner of wickedness, and have taught you that ye should keep the commandments of the Lord, in all things which he hath commanded you—
14 And even I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne—and of all these things which I have spoken, ye yourselves are witnesses this day.
15 Yet, my brethren, I have not done these things that I might boast, neither do I tell these things that thereby I might accuse you; but I tell you these things that ye may know that I can answer a clear conscience before God this day.
16 Behold, I say unto you that because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God.
17 And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. (Mosiah 2: 11-17)
King Benjamin takes great pains at the beginning to show that he is no less weak and human than anyone else, even in his position of king. He realized that what he had to say about his life could be taken as boasting, but he wanted to call attention to the life lesson he learned through his experience of service. So he has to mention the service he’s done, but he specifically mentions he’s not saying it to boast, but to instruct. He uses it to point to the importance of serving God by serving our fellow men.
Thus, he shows by his example that there are ways to talk about our good works without boasting, such as in order to instruct others, but we have to find a way to do it so that we don’t call undue attention to ourselves. We need to put more emphasis on the lesson to be learned from the experience, rather than on making ourselves look good.
The caveat “I’m not saying this to boast” is useful, but it has to be heart-felt because people will know when we’re just faking humility.
When he tells what he’s done, he also says they are witnesses of it. They have all seen it, so they know he’s not claiming any extra. Also, he doesn’t tell it to them to claim special righteousness, but to state his conscience is clear and he’s done what he could. (And we know that he was probably very aware that he had to have God’s help with all of that anyway.)
Here’s a much lesser known example of someone boasting in God—David in Psalms 34.
1 I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad.
3 O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.
4 I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.
5 They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed.
6 This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.
8 O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. (Psalms 34:1-8)
If you notice, David boasts in the Lord’s mercy in answering prayers, the Lord’s revelatory power, knowledge, deliverance. The ending is an invitation to everyone else to “taste and see” the goodness of God for themselves, so it is given an instructive purpose.