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.
(Photo credit: By No machine-readable author provided. Dickbauch~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=583483)