Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 5


Does Not Boast, Is Not Proud.

“That’s one small step for man,” the granular transmission of Neil Armstrong’s voice wavered, “one giant leap for mankind.” It was 1969 and Armstrong’s Teflon-booted feet had just stepped onto the surface of the untrodden moon. What was happening here? Was this project to put a man on the moon the natural expression of the ingenuity, curiosity, and wonder of the human species, or was it something less lofty? Critics view the Apollo 8 mission as an exorbitant and meticulous tactic in the Cold War between America and the Soviet Union to claim national superiority—to boast of being the best. Billions of dollars were spent to fortify that boast. Armstrong’s address implied more than a giant leap of scientific progress for all of humanity; it boasted supremacy.

National arrogance notwithstanding, what is it about boasting and pride that is a problem? The term ‘pride’ is commonly used in today’s culture with an almost virtuous ring to it. Merriam-Webster explains that the word has undergone semantic drift (an “evolution of usage resulting in changed meaning”). But there is something timeless about I Corinthians 13, something unabashed in maintaining, “love…does not boast, it is not proud.”

Biblical synonyms for pride are arrogance, conceit, and haughtiness. To be proud is to esteem one’s self-importance higher than one ought. But what do we mean by “ought”? Is there a higher authority than a person’s own judgment of herself, some higher bar that calls us to better choices, more authentic living? Bump up against an arrogant person and you will immediately experience the angst of an existential principle being violated. Why? Because you will recognize a proud person’s lack of love for his neighbour.

God is all about love. He is the full expression of love. “It’s,” explains Chris Webb (‘God-Soaked Life’), “his essential nature.” Having created our world as an articulation and demonstration of that love, God put an innate infrastructure within us that is synchronous with love. God’s purpose and focus in this universe is to create a community of unparalleled love through which He Himself lives, moves and has His being. We must love—we are made for it.

“(T)he crucial question is not whether we love or not;” explains Webb, “in the end we cannot escape our own nature. We will love. We’re helpless to do otherwise. No, the crucial question is this: what will we love—and what will our loving do to us and to the world around us?”

So our discomfort with pride—if we will admit it—is that it twists the proper focus and expression of love—the love that God designed us to have. It focuses love on oneself ultimately. Pride wants to lift up self, to put it on the plane of something to be worshiped, and to be unhindered in its behaviours as a deity would be. Boasting is merely the verbage that expresses the inner fomenting of pride.

The Apostle John comments on the problem of twisted love and its attendant pride and boasting. He warns, “—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (I John 2:16,17).

It’s like turning on a lamp only to have the bulb flash, crackle, and then suddenly burn out. Have you experienced that? Some have called it the Edisonian-equivalent of a supernova. The flash and destruction of the light bulb is not a random, unexpected phenomenon; what has happened to the light bulb is a result of what has been happening inside the light bulb over a long period of time. Electric current passes through an incandescent bulb’s thin filament wire to produce heat and light while the filament becomes imperceptibly thinner. At first this thinning is just gradual, but over time the current flowing through the thinning tungsten filament produces heat that exceeds its operating temperature. In the case of our in-house ‘supernova’, the wire melts, a gap in the circuit is created, and a ‘tungsten arc’ flashes out the bulb’s final burst of light.

The thinning of the bulb’s filament is like pride. At first it’s almost unnoticeable. A thought here and there arises in our minds telling us ‘we are in control. We are the source of our power, our abilities and our successes. God may be out there, but we’d rather be independent of Him.’ Over time, though, there is a sort of runaway effect. The more we replace the presence of God with ourselves, the more we imagine our lives as self-determining, and the less we attend to our need for God to sustain us. Our filament-like souls become thinner and more fragile, but we are too busy thinking of the brightness we are creating.

Pride and boasting must be replaced with humility or we will self-destruct. God is love. He calls us to be filled with Himself but His love is only accessible if we come to Him in humility. The author of I Corinthians 13 recognizes that. He is giving us operating instructions for our human lives. When he explains that love “does not boast (and) is not proud” he is trying to help us see into ourselves and discern this uncomfortable truth. So let’s look at this aspect of our lives today and, God helping us, choose humility.

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Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 4


It Does Not Envy.

            ‘Two neighbours came out together to tender their petitions to the god Jupiter,’ describes one of Aesop’s tales entitled “Greed and Jealousy.” The two wanted their heart’s requests to be granted. The one neighbour was full of greed, the other consumed by envy. As the fable goes, Jupiter granted that each might have their request on the condition that the god would also give the alternate neighbour double the first one’s request.

The greed-filled neighbour began by praying for a room full of gold. The deity provided it and, as promised, furnished the other with two rooms full of the same. Now it was the envious neighbour’s turn. Envy not only covets, it cannot bear to think of another having more pleasure than itself. So, in spite of the two rooms of gold now at his disposal, the man devoured by envy prayed to have one of his own eyes blinded. What kind of request was that? It was an entreaty of a man ruled by envy to ensure that his neighbour would never be able to enjoy the beauty of his single room of gold.

“Envy,” explains author Chris Webb (“God-soaked Life”), is an example of “misdirected love. (Envy) can’t abide the idea of being exceeded by others.” While Aesop’s fable describes the extremity of one man’s envy against another, envy also insinuates itself into our lives in quieter, less obvious ways. It camouflages itself so that we are slow to recognize it, loath to acknowledge it and to do whatever it takes to remove its influence over us.

When we caution a friend to avoid certain new opportunities, we may be expressing envy by attempting to foil their success. When we share with others intelligence regarding the weaknesses of a common friend, envy may be our hidden motive. When we view others’ excellences with criticism or bitterness and are secretly happy to see them fall, envy is at the root of our reaction. For some, envy expresses itself in purposeful endeavors to discredit even God Himself. But as in Aesop’s fable, envy always consumes and eventually destroys its host.

The ‘Love Chapter’ of I Corinthians 13 is God revealing to you and me the tendencies of the human heart. It reveals the parameters of His idea of love—love that is directed in a uniquely non-destructive way. So while the Apostle Paul has begun his text with the placid phrases, “Love is patient, love is kind,” he now moves to aim his pen into the territory of our innate human vices, beginning with envy. Envy is love twisted inward. Envy is submitting to a greater disposition toward self than toward others. Envy wants self to rule supreme, and all others to be lesser.

But godly wisdom coaches us to see envy for what it is and to deal with it as with a mortal illness. As the Apostle Paul puts it in another epistle, envy arises out of “foolish(ness), disobedien(ce), dece(ption) and enslave(ry) (to) all kinds of passions and pleasures” (Titus 3:3). Those are hard truths to hear. But there’s more. He goes on to present the means of dealing with envy in our lives. Here it gets very personal; not everyone is willing to get so personal, so relational. He tells us we must embrace Christ’s redeeming grace and mercy, admit we’ve practiced a warped version of love and instead accept Christ’s version. He explains we need to make use of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit who gives us rebirth, renewal, and does a slow but complete clean-up in our lives.

Then we begin a process of learning a new kind of love, love arising out of the infinitely complete love of God. This love is called wise because it accounts for infinite reality and results in true human fulfillment in relationship with God and others. It “is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).

So let’s take a deep breath and make a mental note to be alert to envy this week. Let’s ask God for eyes opened to our own envious thoughts, maybe even words and actions. Let’s acknowledge our sin, recognize the grace of Christ that heals us, and nip in the bud every bit of envy that tries to entangle us. God is faithful and wants to work in us the kind of love that Jesus’ life expresses. It’s the kind of love by which a human being like you and me can be transformed. It’s God’s love.

(Photo Credit: By Agnico-Eagle – Agnico-Eagle Mines Limited, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16231250)