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6. Love Is Not Proud but Humble (1 Cor. 13:4-5)

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Another aspect of the dark backdrop that puts love brightly in the foreground is pride. Thus, Paul says, "love …does not boast; it is not arrogant or rude" (1 Cor. 13:4-5). This is perhaps one of the most important considerations in living a life of love that has abiding value and true meaning. It is the key to becoming a Christian and receiving the sure promise of the glories of heaven. The Christian life begins with the eyes facing downward and the lips saying, "God, have mercy on me a sinner" (Lk. 18:13). Like the prodigal we will claim only unworthiness before the Lord: "I am not worthy to be called your son" (Lk. 15:21). Those who are poor in spirit are the ones who have the riches of forgiveness and peace with God (Matt. 5:3).

In the Christian life, it is radically important that we carefully weigh the danger of a proud spirit because this is something greatly opposed by the Lord. The Lord arrays Himself in battle gear against the proud! He resists the proud (Jam. 4:6). I realize that Romans 8:28 is in the Bible (that is, that God works all things for good in the lives of His people). But I do not want good to come to me by the Lord arming Himself in battle array against me. That tells me that I will find the good but it is going to be through a lot of unnecessary pain. When I am lying on the battlefield with my enemies trampling all over me, I may then recognize that the one who knocked me down is the Lord. This is one warning you do not want to miss as we are cautioned against a proud spirit as backdrop in the pursuit of love.

Therefore, my topic for today is the call to humble love that is found in Paul's three-fold description of pride. I have two points: the description of pride and the exhortation to humble love.

1A. Paul's three-fold description of pride

In 1 Corinthians 13:4-5, Paul mentions three things that love is not: it is not boastful, it is not arrogant, and it is not rude. If we think of these three things as dots on a canvass and we draw lines that connect them, then the picture that emerges is a sketch of pride. This sketch will enable us to put humble love into bold relief.

Love is not arrogant. Arrogance refers to pride as something deep within the inner man of the heart. It is distinctively a way of thinking about yourself. This stress of thinking is strikingly evident in Romans 12:3 where Paul refers to thinking four times in the same verse. "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought" is literally, "do not think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but think so as to think soberly." He is warning about pride. We are not to think a certain way regarding ourselves. Namely, we are not to have too high a view of ourselves. Pride is first a matter of attitude and thought. It is a view of one's self. But it does show up in a corresponding manner of life.

This is a self-knowledge issue. As it has been put, self-knowledge is like a window to correct knowledge of the world. If self-knowledge is blocked then a true knowledge of the world is blocked. Thus pride is a mindset in which we do not see ourselves in proper perspective: we have too elevated of a view of self.

Love does not boast. Contrasted with envy, boasting looks at what we have whereas envy looks at what others have and we want but lack. When tempted to boast, we are concentrating the wrong way on what we have attained or obtained in prestige, accomplishments, or possessions.

Being boastful refers to self-applause showing that the proud person wants the elevated view he has of himself to be shared with others. In applauding oneself, praise is being sought from those who hear. The proud person wants others to see, hear, and acknowledge his accomplishments.

This proud quest for praise may be religious (or as it is in truth, sacrilegious). It was the religious leader who praised himself in prayer and was condemned. The poor man who humbled himself was justified (Lk. 18:14a). Thus Jesus said, "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted" (Lk. 18:14b).

Interestingly, boasting applies to our work when we do what we do and speak about it without stating our dependence on the Lord. Boasting is speech that lacks something, that lacks this acknowledgement. Therefore, it is boasting if you speak of going to work, doing this and that, getting gain, and eventually retiring without acknowledging your dependence on God (James 4:13-17). You ought to say, "The Lord willing." If you do not do so somewhere in your speech over time, then your speech is boastful (thus, "you boast in your arrogance," v.16). You are living out of the spirit of independence. This is the assertion of human autonomy and self-sufficiency where you tacitly claim to be the master of your fate.

Thus, boasting is not just praising self and seeking the praise of men. It is failing to speak of God's sovereign rule over the affairs of your life. It is failing to confess that God made you to differ from others in natural gifts, abilities, and attainments. It is pride to not acknowledge that all the distinguishing advantages you have come from God (1 Cor. 4:6, "who made you to differ? What do you have that you have not received? Then why boast?").

Love is not rude. Do you intuitively connect rudeness with pride? Rudeness is a wrong view of oneself coming out in contexts where superiors are present. By superiors I simply refer to the fact that we are all under God ordained human authority structures. It begins with the relationship we have to our mothers and fathers. We are commanded to honor them (cf. the 5th of the Ten Commandments). The principle carries over to all authority structures that God has ordained for life on this earth. There may be some gray areas here as to how we carry out the fifth commandment in its true spirit and intent. But it still has a vital relevance that should be sought after diligently.

In contexts where we relate to those in authority over us (mom, dad, police, governors, elders, and pastors, etc), rudeness expresses wrong thinking about ourselves. You operate in such a way that you show that you are full of yourself. You think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. That is what often drives disrespect, poor manners, and the lack of common courtesies (cf. Titus 3:1-2 where submission to authority includes courtesy that shows maturity).

Consider the case of the mother that taught her daughter to call her by her first name. The child is obedient to do this. She even "honors" her mother by respecting mom's wishes in this regard. Probably, the parent seeks in this way to build a bond of friendship with the child by closing the distance between them. This is trying to establish a kind of equality by removing the title, mother, and replacing it with a first name basis. If it is wrong, and I think it is wrong, it is not the worst thing that could be done. It is well intentioned and many other things may balance it. However, because of the fifth commandment, which is an important guideline for us to follow, the wrong thing is being cultivated. Instead of cultivating equality by first name familiarity, parents ought to instill a sense of respect for the authority that mother and father have by God's appointment. In other words, they should cultivate a sense of the inequality that pertains or better they should cultivate a sense of the authority that parents have as mother and father. A helpful way that this is done is in the manner of address.

There are gray areas in how this applies to various authority structures in various cultures and contexts. But on balance the spirit and intent is to express respect for those in authority over us (cf. the disrespect of calling the president of the United States "slick Willy" even though he may not have carried himself honorably).

Even table manners show a respect for others that involves giving place to them, it involves yielding to their wishes, and putting them first. Teaching children to speak when spoken to instills respect for adults. Listening when someone else is speaking is courteous rather than rude. In the college classroom, sometimes I have to remind the students that carrying on side conversations when someone is speaking is rude.

In this connection, is it rude to refer to the pastor by his first name? Some pastors make a point of establishing a first name relationship. Is that the right way to go? Let me give you some thoughts on this. This is somewhat delicate and I aim to be as moderate in my conclusions as I can be.

First, let's talk about children. Children should be taught to respect mom and dad and by extension to respect adults, office holders, and thus pastors. Just as young children should not go around calling adults by their first names, likewise, they should not refer to their teachers at school or their pastors at church by their first names. What about teens, are they to avoid a first name familiarity with their teachers? What about college students ranging from young people to much, much older young people? Are they to avoid a first name familiarity? I am not sure on how insistent that we ought to be on this point. But I will say that when students refer to the instructor in terms that show respect for his learning and his position in the classroom (obviously with a respectful tone and hopefully with a respectful heart) they honor the teacher and they cultivate a healthy learning environment. The instructor is thus not treated as my best friend but as an educated person that is helping me overcome my ignorance. A tone is set that encourages teaching by the teacher and learning by the student. By analogy, I would say that referring to ministers as pastors acknowledges the God appointed office they hold and it sets a tone that encourages pastors in their labors and that encourages disciples of Christ in their learning under pastoral care. The idea of being under pastoral care involves humble submission in the context of gospel preaching and teaching (cf. 1 Thess. 4:12-13; 1 Tim. 5:17-18; Heb. 13:7, 17).

Second, let's distinguish between heart submission and "nouns of address." If church members do not value the principle of submission to their pastors, then they have a problem of pride. That is the case because submission is a matter of humility, of humble love. Furthermore, if they can never bring themselves to address the pastor as "pastor," it may be due to a spirit of pride. However, one may have respect without cultivating it in nouns of address (as in the mother/daughter example cited above because of other things that have a balancing effect).

Third, let me speak to this in a subjective way. I feel honored when you refer to me as your pastor and when you address me in this way. Without question, I feel more honored to be addressed as pastor than to be called Reverend, doctor, or by my first name. When you call me by my first name I gladly own our friendship. Our friendship is very important to me and I highly value it. But when you call me by my first name I do not feel honored as your pastor. It is not that I feel dishonored, probably because I am honored to be your friend. In the use of first names, being honored as your pastor is simply not in the picture; it’s a different ball game. However, when you address me as pastor, it is like a call to attention for me; it gets my attention in a very endearing way. It is a reminder to me of my office and when you use this noun of address, it is a polite way of telling me that you think of me in this way, namely, as your pastor, yours personally. This is a little thing that goes a long way on the path of encouraging me. It removes fog from the road and serves as an invitation to me to be your pastor in the best way that I can. It is encouraging to me. By your use of this title, I feel respected, honored, and encouraged in my work in the gospel (cf. Heb. 13:17). It is one way that I feel loved by you (cf. 1 Thess. 5:12).

Using a person's first name is a lesser and an external matter. The real issue is the cultivation of honor, avoiding obvious and offensive rudeness, and thus cultivating love. Calling me "pastor" is a polite way for you to affirm my calling before our risen Lord and to push me forward in serving you in a personal way. As I mentioned before, this may be a little thing but "little things mean a lot." I may have stated this somewhat poorly but there is a relationship of some kind between pride in the heart, speech (like boasting), and courtesies that express and promote God ordained authority structures.

2A. The implied exhortation to humble love

As we have stated before, the description of love is given to unpack the duty of following the excellent way (1 Cor. 12:31). The duty is like changing clothes. We have the duty to our risen Lord to take some things off and to put other things on. We are to infer to the opposite of pride. In this way we are to turn from pride to humble love. Here are some inferences we can draw in this connection.

1) Commit your greatness to God. A text in Jeremiah states this point succinctly: "Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not" (Jer. 45:5).

The opening section of the love chapter shows us how to be somebody (cf. the "I am" phrases). What the proud person wants is only obtained by turning away from pride to humble love. By humble love true meaning is given to who I am. If I really want to be someone great, I must pursue the excellent pathway of love. Here is the opposite of pride: I must leave it to God to give what greatness He chooses, how it will be made evident, and when it will become a reality in my experience (in the now or in the not yet). So, the exhortation is, "go the way of humble love." Put your personal ambitions aside. Leave whatever greatness shall be yours in the hands of the Lord to give as He pleases.

2) Let your "yielded-ness" be evident to all. Pride shows up in seeking the greatest regard. An arrogant person has a certain "air" about him; he has his nose in the air. His ideas are the best and are to be followed by everyone else. The exhortation here is to yield to the wants, wishes, needs, goals, desires, and perspectives of others as much as you can (in little things and in larger things). This is especially true in the life of the church and in the Christian home. It is a great quality of humble love to have husband and wife trying to out do each other in yielded-ness: "you go first, let's do what you want, no not what I want but what you want." In this connection, it is a difficult problem when one party gives and the other only takes: the proud person says, "yea, me, what I want is most important."

3) Replace scorn with kindness. To scorn is to belittle by words, gestures, or actions, to make people feel small or unworthy in our presence. It comes out in sneering ridicule (directly or indirectly given). Sometimes we learn how to improve when we are scorned but it still hurts (I recall becoming aware of how I spoke by being ridiculed for using words like "chimly" for chimney and "tager" for "tiger" as in the Detroit Tagers). Thus, by kind words and deeds protect the feelings of others. This exalts others while curbing self-exaltation.

4) Express a teachable spirit or be teachable. Stubborn pride leads to contention because the stubborn person wants everything to go his way and if it does not then he will make things difficult for others.

Here is a needed caution. When you disagree with pastoral exhortations or correction from others and you say to yourself (and perhaps to others), "I disagree" be careful, you think you stand but you are in danger of falling. If you say, "I don't need this," then mark it down, you probably need it in a big way. There is something there for you that you need. But you will never tap into it if your stance is characterized by an unwillingness to take a hard and possibly painful look at yourself. Here is a valuable perspective by which to guard the heart: whenever you find yourself in a spirit of resisting something, of hand waving, and of throwing up barriers to block full consideration of something, then at that very point you need to humble yourself before God and others.

Let me say something more about "I disagree." It is usually a sign of need. It can be ostentation in a subtle way. Other people are informed that I do not agree with x or y. What does this contribute to the discussion? It often simply polarizes and ends discussion if any were about to take place. My view is placed out in bold relief over against "so and so's" view. The accent is on "my" view. It is totally different if a) reasons are given for my view and reasons are given that justify rejecting the other view. It is totally different b) if discussion is engaged with the person I disagree with. If I am unwilling to engage hearty interchange and godly argument then the "I disagree" phrase is a smoke screen for closed mindedness.

For example, let's say you disagree with my preaching on some important areas of the law of God in relation Christian living. We can all agree that that is a legitimate posture for you to take and you are a believer-priest with no authoritative pope over you. We gladly and enthusiastically grant that as Protestants in the reformed tradition. However, if you disagree with your pastor-teacher and never engage him on that point then something is wrong, perhaps seriously wrong. This is a case where seeking out different views (seeking discussion with those who disagree with you) is most relevant for the valuable exercise of iron sharpening iron (Prov. 27:17). Ultimately it helps both parties and humble "one anothering" love will so engage (cf. how a sparring partner advances a boxer).

Open-mindedness goes hand in hand with humility. Unwillingness to compare with empathy (looking for the good) shows how narrow mindedness manifests a proud spirit. A good question to ask ourselves when confronted and the "I don't agree" phrase comes out is, "Do I have a pride problem, am I thinking of myself more highly than I ought?" A humble person will oppose taking the hard line first with inflexibility.

Hence there is a two-tiered problem here. a) In particular, there is the issue of correction regarding whatever it is that is on the table. For example, when those close to us have some problem with our conduct and they tell us about it, this is a correction that ought to be received, pondered, and carefully weighed to whatever benefit we can get. b) But in general is the issue of pride. Which is worse? Most likely, the worse thing is the general disposition of pride, especially when the particular issue arises directly from pride and is driven by it. Even if the correction is inaccurate and unfair, it is evident that the proud spirit that is aroused is the most important real problem.

Thus, willingly receive teaching, admonition, and correction. Recall the fact that pride makes us uneasy when we are exposed. It may make us angry. Humility will dispose us to accept and even prize correction. It is seen as the work of a friend in kindness (Ps. 141:5; Prov. 12:13, 18). Peter directly says "clothe yourselves with humility" (1 Pet. 5:5-7; he weaves humility before God and before man into the same fabric of godly conduct).


1) Admit your need to the Lord. Swallow your pride. Own up to the hidden man problem like Augustine did: "Yes, Lord I wear a mask looking in the mirror of your holy word. Take me from behind my back where I have placed me and show me how foul I truly am. Let me see this sin squarely but in light of the healing balm of the humble love of Christ who gave Himself for me." This is how we are exposed to the all-seeing eyes of God without being reduced to shameful things and shattered into a thousand pieces. Again, recall that Jesus said, "he that humbles himself will be exalted" (Lk. 18:14).

2) The ultimate remedy to pride is to give all glory to God. That means to turn away from self, from autonomy, self-applause, boasting, and rudeness.

a) To give God glory is to acknowledge your comparative smallness before Him admitting that you are finite and sinful. In Genesis18:27, Abraham says, "I am but dust" in contrast to God whose throne is in the heavens. With Job, the humble person says, "I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes"(Job 42:6). This attitude "before God" is the most essential thing. Say, with the Psalmist, "not unto us, not unto us, but to your name give glory."

b) Hence the flip side of this is even more important. You are to confess His comparative greatness (His incomparable greatness) by submitting to Him, praising Him, seeking His will in your daily life, and seeking to glorify God in everything you do. For example, consider Psalm 139:1-6 and the Psalmist's confession of sin and ignorance before the Lord whose knowledge is "too wonderful for me, it is high and I cannot attain unto it." Also, consider how God is independent needing nothing whereas we totally need Him "in whom we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:24-26).

c) So humility begins with knowing God. If you get a true view of the sovereign majesty of God manifest in the work of Jesus Christ the risen Lord, then you will worship. You will worship Him, praise Him, and seek to honor Him in all you do. It presupposes the belief that man is created by God to be His image. We can never have a proper view of ourselves without a proper view of the Creator/creature distinction and relationship presented in the Bible. Humility is a comparative thing. Comparing is where we often get into trouble yet this is exactly where humility comes into play. It is a matter of how we see ourselves in relation to God and from that perspective how we see ourselves in relation to others.

3) Subject yourself wholly to the risen Lord Jesus Christ. This is the way to greatness, exaltation, peace, and rest of soul (cf. Matt. 11:28-30).

I close with the following thoughts from Edwards:

Distrust yourself. Rely only on God. Renounce all glory except from him. Yield yourself heartily to his will and service. Avoid an aspiring, ambitious, ostentatious, assuming, arrogant, scornful, stubborn, willful, leveling, self-justifying behavior; and strive for more and more of the humble spirit that Christ manifested while he was on earth. Earnestly seek, then, and diligently and prayerfully cherish, a humble spirit, and God shall walk with you here below, and when a few more days shall have passed, he will receive you to the honors bestowed on his people at Christ’s right hand (Charity, 155-56).

Related Topics: Love

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