Saturday, October 10, 2015

More Principles for Avoiding Boasting

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For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

If we keep the perspective that the grace of God helps us as we do all we’re asked to do we can see better that we really are saved by our faith in Christ and not of ourselves, and then we’re less likely to preen and boast.

See that ye are not lifted up unto pride; yea, see that ye do not boast in your own wisdom, nor of your much strength. (Alma 38:11) 

After all we’ve read before, we see now why Alma gives these instructions.  Alma didn’t want his son Shiblon to fall into the same sins his son Corianton had.

Later, Helaman gives these instruction to his sons:

And now my sons, behold I have somewhat more to desire of you, which desire is, that ye may not do these things that ye may boast, but that ye may do these things to lay up for yourselves a treasure in heaven, yea, which is eternal, and which fadeth not away; yea, that ye may have that precious gift of eternal life, which we have reason to suppose hath been given to our fathers. (Helaman 5:8, emphasis added) 

After reading some of the previous scriptures about boasting, we can see exactly why Helaman said that having an opportunity to boast is not the best reason to do good. If we were to do good and then to boast about it, that would negate any spiritual benefit we got from it by eventually bringing about our fall. 

Instead, Helaman advises taking a longer view—doing good in order to lay up a treasure in heaven.  It’s nice to know that a treasure in heaven is not going to go anywhere and it can’t be stolen and it can’t decay like things on earth.

I suppose Helaman thought his sons might boast of good works in order to quickly get a social reward of praise rather than waiting for the full eternal reward.  This makes me think that maybe we have a nasty tendency to fall into the trap of thinking that the good we do in life guarantees our reward will come in mortality with some kind of increased status and that’s one reason why we boast.  

One way we might apply Helaman’s counsel today is by not doing good just so we can put it in our resume or our author biography or curriculum vita or so that we can mention it to other people or do a Facebook status post on it.  At the very least, if we mention it to others, we can try to make it a way to convey spiritual principles to help them rather than to raise our image.  Do it like King Benjamin did.

Paul had some instructions for the gentile converts who might have boasted that they were more faithful than the Jews.  He used imagery like that of the allegory of the olive tree to make this point:

18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.
19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.
20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:
21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.
22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. (Romans 11:18-22)

Paul essentially said that conversion to the truth is not a win-lose proposition; one person’s conversion is not at the expense of another person’s unbelief.  Nor does one person’s unbelief enable another person’s conversion.  If the Jews had accepted the gospel instead of rejecting it, the gospel would still have gone to the gentiles eventually.

In the end, God is no respecter of persons; anyone who believes can lay hold on His mercy, whether Jew or gentile.  Likewise, anyone who falls into unbelief will be cut off.

Essentially, conversion is not something to boast about, nor by extension is continued faithfulness.

 Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips. (Prov. 27:2)

Here’s something interesting—why is it that when others praise us it is embarrassing but it’s not so embarrassing when we praise ourselves?  The reality may be that it is just as embarrassing, but we can’t see it because we are doing it.

17 But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
18 For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.
(2 Cor. 10:17-18) 

If we have to glory in anything, glory in the Lord.  And of course, Ammon and David and King Benjamin have showed us samples of how to do that.

 There’s another awesome principle there too—just because we commend ourselves doesn’t mean that God commends us.  And God’s approval is what really counts forever.  So that gives us something to look for, something to ask for, something to strive for.

As a random personal exercise while I was working on these posts, I decided to make a list of all the things I’d done recently or that I’d been involved in recently that I had gloried in or had boastful feelings about. 

Afterwards I looked at that list and began to suspect that maybe my complacent, boastful attitude had kept me from having important revelation on how to improve in those things.  And maybe when I’d thought I’d been successful I wasn’t as successful as I thought or as I could have been if I’d been more humble.  It was pretty sobering.

Try this for yourself. Make a list of everything in your life that you’re proud of.  Odds are that those things may be things that you boast about, either vocally or internally. 

Here some patterns of what I have tended to take credit for and boast about (even if only internally):
--Other people’s good choices if I feel I had a hand in it.  (By the same token, this may lead me to blame myself when others make bad choices.)
--Others’ good choices even if I had nothing to do with it. (This is nothing more than wishful thinking.)
-- Successful outcomes (and often I might blow them out of proportion and consider them more significant than they really are)
--Capability to do others’ jobs (I might think, “If they put me in that position, there wouldn’t be this problem.”)  This is, of course, ignorance of the actual challenges.
--The good things I do.  (But do I really understand and appreciate all the supports that Heavenly Father gave me so that I could do those things?  Do I acknowledge the promptings, the energy, the knowledge, the uplift, the way things were orchestrated where I couldn’t see?  Do I grasp how the atonement was compensating for my weaknesses when I needed it, even weaknesses I may not have known I had?  Usually not.)
--Things I have become which involved developing diligence, patience. (Unfortunately I tend to be blind to the favorable circumstances and absence of handicap and the help of others that enabled my development.)

Only after brainstorming these things and writing them down and looking at them squarely have I been able to see just how utterly pathetic my boasting has been, how completely unmerited it was. 

Sad to say, I’ve lived a lot of life recently trusting in my own _______ and now I have to learn how to think without internal boasting or complacency.  I need to learn or re-learn to boast in the Lord and to stay meek and contrite. 

I don’t really have many illusions about my ability to remember this long term. (Man is quick to boast, after all.) But I can at least post this on my blog, try to practice it in my life, pray for help to retain the lesson, and when I need a refresher from time to time I’ll be able to go back and reread it.

Elder Marvin J. Ashton gave a good talk about boasting called “Neither Boast of Faith nor of Might Works” which is worth reading through. When you read it, you will recognize some additional ways that Latter-day Saints may boast. There’s also at least one really good story.