Series: Love Is
C.S. Lewis once said that pride is the sin we are quickest to despise in others but slowest to see in ourselves. Nonetheless, we must be honest about where it is present in our lives, because love is not proud.
Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 8, C.S. Lewis
Respectable Sins, Chapter 11, Jerry Bridges
Stand-up comedian Brian Regan has a sketch on people who are always one-upping your stories. I won’t try to reproduce it entirely, but he talks about being at a dinner party and telling a story, when another guy chimes in and says, “That ain’t nothing!” I watched it again the other day preparing for this and laughed hysterically as many others do, because we all know people like that. In the skit Regan even asked what it is about the human condition that makes people get off on that kind of thing, and the Bible’s answer is called pride. C.S. Lewis was a Christian who wrote one of the greatest treatments of pride, and he pointed out that it is the sin we are most bothered by in others. It’s why we can laugh hysterically at Regan’s story; we all hate “that guy.” But then Lewis says it’s also the sin we’re slowest to see in ourselves. Maybe in the abstract we’d all say, “Yeah pride is an issue for me,” but what about the words used here in 1 Corinthians 13? Do you boast, are you arrogant, are you rude? Most of our knee-jerk reactions, myself included, would be to say, “No; I’m not that guy,” but do you see we’ve actually already proven we’re arrogant too? Aren’t we really saying, “No I’m not that guy; I’m better than that guy?” Maybe we’d better at least consider that possibility today, and I’d encourage you to do so as we look at this section of 1 Corinthians 13, which will show us that Love is not proud. So let’s talk about why love is not proud by looking at these three words: Boasting, arrogant, and rude.
The first word we’ll talk about is boasting. Love does not boast. Boasting has a fairly straightforward definition: It is outwardly asserting one’s comparative greatness. As with many of these, there is a kind of benign way of sharing with others some accomplishment of yours: “I beat my best mile time today”; “I lost 5 pounds this month”; “I got a promotion”. It’s actually weird not to share such things with people who love you, because those people will typically want to rejoice with you, and would feel a bit slighted if you deprived them of the opportunity. You’re joyful, and you let them rejoice with you. A good indication of boasting however is when you don’t have joy until you tell others, when you aren’t content that a few close friends and family know, but feel a need that many more should know, and when you are especially concerned to assert not only something good that happened in your life, but a way in which it is owing to something in you, and greater than others.
You can see this in school when you ask someone how they did on a test in hope you’ll get to announce that you did better. After it’s your career, when you can’t wait to share your title and the company at which you work. We can boast about our money: Think about the guy who always tells you about how he nailed the right stocks in his day-trading, or the couple who can’t wait to tell you how little they spent on something you probably thought was expensive. A favorite of Christians is boasting of our moral superiority. Think of the guy with the profile picture of him and 5 kids from a 3rd world country, or the one who’s always posting pictures on her social of the latest rally she marched in or food bank she volunteered at. Social media can be used for good purposes, but man is it an amplifier of boasting. You almost feel like you have to do it to keep up with all the other boasters. Consider honestly: How much of what you post is an overflow of joy in God so others you love can rejoice with you, which is not boasting, and how much of it is because your joy is incomplete until a certain number of people, many of whom you barely know, let alone love, give you enough likes?
Boasting can get creative too. We can even boast about things we haven’t even done yet: “I’m going to get this home improvement done, then I’m going to take this great vacation, then we’re going to have a 3rd kid, etc.” We can boast by denunciation, as when we get a kind of perverse pleasure out of denouncing the sins of the culture, with an implied boast: I thank God that I am not like them. In this election season, that sort of boasting seems to be a favorite of those on either side. We can boast vicariously, as when we talk about how great our kids are or name drop the great people we know. In the church at Corinth who originally received this letter, they would boast vicariously of the Christian leaders with whom they identified: “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” a kind of Christian version of “My dad can beat up your dad”. In even these more creative forms of boasting, the action is the same: An outward assertion of one’s comparative greatness. Love, on the other hand, is fundamentally other-focused, so you just tend to think about yourself less. Instead of constantly looking for what you might be able to find in your or something with whom you associate that makes you great, you’re constantly looking at others and seeing what makes them great.
Proverbs 27:2 says, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth, a stranger, and not your own lips.” Love will not praise itself; it will let another praise it, and love will rather be the “other”, the “stranger”, who praises someone else. More fundamentally however, love will speak highly of God. If you really love someone, if they are really dear to you, you love them for who they are. If I were to say to my wife, “I really love you; I love your blonde hair and how much of a morning person you are,” that wouldn’t be love, because my wife has brown hair, and she’s a total night owl. I wouldn’t be loving her; I’d be loving some version of her I’d crafted in my mind. So also, if we really love God, we’ll love Him as God, as the one who is infinitely greater and better than we.
God is infinitely greater than we: We have a birthday; there was never a time when God was not. Our life is a vapor; the word of the Lord endures forever. We are dependent on a thousand things to sustain our lives: God, parents, oxygen, food, just laws, just enforcement of those laws; God is dependent on nothing. We are present in one place at a time, God is completely present in all places at all times. There are a thousand things we can’t do; nothing is too hard for God. There are a thousand things we don’t know; God is the source of all knowledge. He’s also infinitely better than we, and by this is meant God is not only great and majestic: God is good. We often miscarry justice, but God’s sentence is only just. We often make promises and fail to carry them through; God is faithful to all of His promises. We are harsh and cold toward our enemies; God loved us when we were His enemies. Our love for God and others is either altogether absent or fluctuates by the day; God loves His people with an everlasting, unchanging love.
So far from boasting, if we love God in return, we love all these things about Him, and freely assert them outwardly. We feel no comparative greatness in relation to Him, so we have nothing to boast in. When we do talk about ourselves, it’s to confess our utter dependence on Him and our utter guilt before Him in confession of sin. If we do happen to see any good in ourselves, we talk about it like this: “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom 7:18), “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10), and “by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor 15:10).
When we boast, we boast only in him, outwardly asserting His greatness and His goodness in worship and to the world around us in evangelism. So earlier in 1 Corinthians Paul wrote, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:31). That’s a love that is not proud, a love that does not boast. Let’s talk next about arrogance.
If boasting is an outward assertion of our comparative greatness, arrogance could be defined as a heart assessment of our comparative greatness. It’s the attitude behind boasting. It’s not outwardly asserting your comparative greatness; it’s thinking of yourself as comparatively great. Once again, there’s nothing wrong with having an accurate sense of our self: You are an image of God, and that gives you great dignity and worth simply because of who you are. It’s not arrogant to expect others to treat you with dignity or to expect fair and equal treatment under the law. It becomes arrogance when you start to think not merely that you matter, but that you matter more than others. It is a sense of comparative greatness. C.S. Lewis points out that pride is essentially competitive: It delights not in having something, but in having more of it than others. And you may actually have more than others: In some ways we all do. God has given you certain gifts, accomplishments, and resources that are always greater than someone else. Simply acknowledging that doesn’t make you arrogant. Those things become arrogance, though, when those things lead to an inflated sense of your own importance, when you start to feel like you are greater than others because you have greater gifts, accomplishments, or resources.
Arrogance latches on to many of the same things we’ve already talked about boasting of, only it’s the internal posture behind that act of boasting. It’s possible, then, to keep your lips from boasting through great self-control, while still harboring arrogance in your heart. Think about this: What’s something you wish everyone here today knew about you, that you would tell them if you knew it wouldn’t make you look so arrogant? That’s where you are arrogant. There are also ways besides boasting that arrogance shows itself: Racism is one of the clearest. In racism we take something about ourselves that isn’t actually any better: Our skin color or some other feature of our appearance, and we first pretend it is better, and on that basis feel more important than others of different racial groups, more entitled to live in a safe neighborhood, receive fair treatment from the law and law enforcement, or work a high-paying job.
Another manifestation of arrogance is when we feel that certain acts of service or people are “beneath” you. Again, not the kind of thing it’s cool to say out loud, but are you willing to give time and energy in your life to do things the world does not deem great? The church is a great opportunity for this. The Psalmist wrote, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10), but would we accept a role as a mere doorkeeper in God’s church? I have to use my mouth to praise some of you at this point, because in this church I’ve seen engineers click through worship lyric slides, doctors change diapers, and start-up founders set up chairs. You’ve shown me this love that is not arrogant. Or consider your relationships. Are you always having to find the cool crowd, or are you happy to associate with whomever the Lord brings into your path? Churches are full of people the world doesn’t call cool because God loves to save them; will you love them?
Paul mentioned wisdom in that verse I’ve just quoted, and in fact great knowledge is often a source of great arrogance. Paul somewhat famously wrote in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Knowledge is very good thing, but arrogance shows itself here when we use knowledge to beat others rather than to help others. The goal becomes, “I leave feeling like I was right and the other person knows how wrong they were,” rather than, “This person helped me move closer to what is true and good and I did what I could to help them do the same.”
You’re probably getting the impression that this could go on for a while, because in a sense pride lies behind every sin, but let me mention one more manifestation of arrogance that has always been particularly convicting for me: How do you handle your preferences? When you’re in a relationship or a group, do you expect to get to go where you want to eat, watch what you want to watch, do the music you want to do? There are things God says are true and right for everyone; those aren’t preferences. But arrogance takes our preferences and expects others to submit to them, while love is quick, eager even, to lay down its preferences in order to please others. You ever know people like that? They aren’t just being passive or indecisive; they literally want to do what you want to do because they love you; you are important to them, and they aren’t very important to themselves. Isn’t that awesome?
Love is not arrogant. Love for others means they just become too important for you to be very important to yourself. Love for God means whatever gifts, accomplishments, and resources you do have in your life, you don’t conclude from them your comparative greatness; you conclude from them God’s comparative greatness, that He would be so kind to a sinner such as you. As Paul wrote earlier in 1 Corinthians, “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” And finally, the last way the heart posture of arrogance shows itself that we’ll consider today is through rudeness.
To be rude here means to act with an utter disregard of community standards. It’s often used with a sexual connotation, referring to acts of sexual immorality that even the non-Christian world would look upon with disgust. In Corinth, for example, there was a man who had his father’s wife, and Paul points out that even the pagans do not tolerate such sexual immorality. He goes on to say that the Corinthians were arrogant about this, proud perhaps in this case of their independence from pagan sexual norms. Arrogance is deceptive: It can show itself in the more overt forms of boasting, where clearly you care a lot about what people think of you: You need them to think you’re great, so you’re always telling them how great you are.
Rudeness demonstrates an attitude that would seem to be the opposite, but is in fact just as proud, just as arrogant. Rudeness says, “I don’t care what anyone thinks of me!” “I don’t care that the pagans don’t tolerate a man having his father’s wife!” the man in Corinth may have said. It’s basically saying, “I could never be bothered by what some worthless peons think of me.” Do you see how that’s arrogant too? Love finds others important, so if you are loving, you will care what people think of you. You won’t be controlled by it, because love for God means you ultimately care more what He thinks of you, but love will be very slow to flaunt the standards of the community in which it lives. Its first preference will be to oblige. There are times where righteousness requires you to do something very unpopular, something the community may even call evil, but if you’re doing something both your church community and the world around you sees as way out of bounds, guess who’s probably wrong? It is arrogant to assume otherwise. It is not an example of Christian freedom to say whatever you want or just “tell it like it is”; it’s arrogance.
And much like boasting, you can socialize and discipline yourself out of rudeness. You can become very polite and politically correct on your own. But the arrogance of the heart, the arrogance we are so quick to condemn when we see it in others, we must all acknowledge is not absent from our hearts. Pride is the universal human sin, universal to all but one. When God became a man in Jesus Christ, the love that is not arrogant became human. Remember we said God actually is comparatively greater and better than all He made, yet listen to this description of Him from our call to worship this morning: “Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap” (Psalm 113:5-6). Indeed, who is like Him? Who is actually great like Him? None. And who from a position of genuine greatness nonetheless looks far down, on the heavens even, and even farther down, on little specks of dust like you and me, on even the poorest and neediest among us, in order to raise us up? None. None but Him. Though He was truly above us, He did not consider relationship with us to be beneath Him. Though He is truly cool if that word can be used of Him, He associated with us when we were most definitely not cool.
And in Jesus Christ He not only looked down on us; He came down to us, taking on the form of a servant. Something that occasionally bothers people about Jesus in the Gospels, something that has bothered me from time to time, is He doesn’t seem to just come out and say, “Hey; I’m God. Worship me.” He hints at it when He needs to, and when others call Him that He doesn’t deny it, but He doesn’t trumpet it and demand that everyone roll out the red carpet for Him. At His trial before His crucifixion, when Pilate asked him if he was the king of the Jews, though He truly was, He simply replied, “you have said so.” Why’s he do that? Is he just being cryptic and mysterious? No. He does it because He is the love that does not boast. He is the love that is not arrogant or rude, and He came not to be praised, but to be condemned, condemned in our place, so we who are arrogant could be forgiven, freed from our arrogance, and one day even made great in the sight of God through Him. He then rose from the dead and ascended again to His position of greatness, and yet even now continues to condescend in relationship with us.
Do you see how great and good He is? Do you see how much greater, how much better, He is than you and me? Then believe in Him, and He will shower His greatness and goodness upon you. He will forgive you, and He will begin to drive the arrogance out of you by His Spirit. Let the lips of another praise you; use yours to confess your sins, praise others, and most of all, to praise God. Let the standards of your community matter to you, because the people of your community matter to you. And stand in awe of the greatness and goodness of God to you in Jesus Christ. As long as you are looking up at Him, you won’t be looking down on others.