Last week we began our study of 1 Corinthians 13. We saw that this chapter is not really about marriage (though it applies), it is about how Christians should relate to all people. Without love anything else we do is empty.
The first two of the 15 phrases that we looked at last week describe love as patient and kind. We saw that love requires us to respond to others recognizing that they (like us) are still under development. They are in the process of growth toward spiritual maturity. Love endures even harshness from others because patient love will often melt a hardened heart. Responding in kind will only make a situation worse.
The description of kindness reminds us that part of loving is simply being nice to other people. It means; showing courtesy, gentleness, and interest in the lives of those around us. We are to be kind to people because they are valuable, not because of what they can do for us. And we are to be kind to people regardless of their background.
This morning as we move on in verses four and five we are going to look at five additional descriptions of love. All of these things are stated as negatives; things that love is NOT. Love does not envy, it is not proud, it does not boast, it is not rude and it is not self-seeking. We will combine pride, boasting and rudeness because they are so closely related to each other. All five have a common thread.
LOVE IS NOT ENVIOUS
Paul tells us that love does not envy. Envy is when someone wishes they could have what another person has. It may be a possession, a talent, a job, a house, a family, appearance, or even a spiritual experience. We have all felt this kind of envy at one time or another. I don’t think it is always sinful. At times we are merely admiring what another has or has done.
Envy becomes sinful when we begin resenting the other person because of what they have and feel that their blessing has somehow come at our expense. Envy leads us to dislike a person because of what they have or have been given. This may have been what was happening in the Corinthian church. People were envying the gifts and abilities of others and it was creating conflict and division.
When we envy in this way we are being unfair. It’s not fair that we judge someone simply because they make more money or have better genetics than we do. It’s unfair to think badly of a person because they have worked harder than we have or are gifted in different area than we are. It is unfair because we feel we deserve the blessings of our lives but somehow the blessings of others are robbing or cheating us in some way.
Envy at its worst reveals itself when we start diminishing the accomplishments of another, or we rejoice when we learn that this person struggles, or when we actually do (and say) things to undermine a person’s success. At these times we are trying to sabotage the good things that happen to others. Envy brings out the worst in us.
The Bible records a gruesome case of envy. Solomon was confronted with two women who both had infant children. In the night, one mother smothered her child when she rolled over on him. In the morning, in her horror, she envied the other woman so much that she took her dead baby and put him in the other woman’s arms and took the healthy child as her own. Naturally, in the morning there was a big ruckus over whose baby belonged to whom. The case was brought to Solomon and he solved the problem by offering to cut the baby in two so that they both could have part of the child. When the one woman agreed to the compromise and the other did not Solomon knew which was the true mother of the healthy baby. The mother filled with envy didn’t care what happened to the healthy child because she would rather have everyone suffer as she did.
The Bible is filled with illustrations of those who were controlled by envy. Eve ate the fruit of the tree because she envied the authority God had. Cain killed his brother Abel out of envy because Abel’s offering was accepted by the Lord and his was not. Joseph was beaten and sold into slavery by his brothers because they envied his favored position with their father. The Pharisees and Teachers of the Law worked tirelessly to undermine and eventually kill Jesus because they envied the response he received from the people. We are led to believe that Satan fell because of His desire to be as God. Each of these accounts show us that when envy creeps into our lives and takes over, we are often led to do previously unthinkable things
We are most likely guilty of envy when
- We find ourselves unable to celebrate with those who have something good happen to them.
- We begin to diminish the accomplishments of another. (“I suppose my child would play more if their dad was the coach”).
- All our talk is negative or a qualified positive (“He certainly is a nice person even though he wears a hair piece”) which is actually a putdown in disguise.
- We dislike someone because they are attractive, popular, or successful (even though we have a hard time admitting that this is why we don’t like them).
- We relish hearing about the fall or failure of someone who has spent time in the spotlight.
- We are upset because someone (even in the church or in families) seems to be getting more time and attention than we are.
Instead of envying, true love rejoices for the blessings given to others. True love finds joy in the good fortune of another.
LOVE IS NOT PROUD
Paul continued his list with three similar phrases: love is not boastful, proud, or rude. The person who boasts is the opposite extreme of the one who envies. The one who envies wants what another has. The person who boasts brags about their good fortune, honors, significance, experiences, in a subtle attempt to provoke envy in others.
The person who is filled with pride is the one who has an inflated view of their own importance. They like to strut in front of others and feel (at least deep down inside) that they are a cut above those who are around them. They love to tell people about what they know or who they know. They flash their cash or flaunt their bodies as a way of saying, “Look at how wonderful I am.” The proud person continually puts down others in order to maintain their position as “King of the Hill”
Rudeness naturally follows. Because no one else really matters to the person who is filled with themselves, they are often abusive, crude, or insensitive to those around them. They do not honor others because that would take the focus off of themselves. They want to be the subject of every conversation and the focus in any gathering.
People who are ensnared by pride become a law unto themselves. Celebrities and sports heroes (even in High School) feel they are above the law. They can do what they want (they think) because of who they are. Right and Wrong is not defined by some objective standard (like God’s Word), it is defined by whether or not it is something I want to do.
When you are talking to someone who is boasting, proud and rude you will find that in any conversation, you are likely to get into the game of “can you top this”. No matter what is wrong with you, someone will have something worse. No matter what you have achieved, someone will have achieved more. It is pride and envy played out. People can’t stand to let someone else have the spotlight.
The antidote to boasting, pride and rudeness is Humility. Humility is anchored to an understanding of God’s greatness. It involves getting the reality that He is God and we are His creation. Or as someone has said, it means we remember that He is God and we are not. Humility leads us to admit our weaknesses (instead of covering the up), it means recognizing that every good an perfect gift (and award and title) comes from the Lord. Humility rests in the Lord and not in the things of the world.
The book of Romans tells us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. Paul does not say that we must diminish our abilities. However, we should recognize that those abilities are given to us by God.
Let me give you an example. Suppose you have musical ability. God doesn’t want you to pretend you have no ability. He doesn’t expect you to say, “I’m no good at that”. Much of the time when we say such things we are merely fishing for a compliment (which is a form of pride). Instead we should use our talents for the Lord. When we are honored or complimented we should simply say “Thank you” or give credit to God (rather than saying, “I guess you are right, a talent like me doesn’t come around very often!”)
Jonathan Edwards has helped me to recognize what humility looks like. The humble person,
- Acknowledges their sinfulness and need of God’s grace
- Recognizes and celebrates the giftedness of others
- Gives God credit and honor for the blessings of life
- Feels no sense of competition with others
- Has a honest appraisal of their gifts and abilities
- Refuses to make excuses for failures
- Doesn’t need to always be “right”
The humble person is usually soft, approachable, and someone we like being around. They have a strong awareness of God’s mercy and they extend that mercy to others.
Love Is Not Self-Centered
Paul points us to the obvious: We cannot love somebody else if all we care about is ourselves. Unfortunately, we live in a “Me First” society. Bill Hybels summarizes the situation well,
We have been taught the lesson over and over again: More for me is better for me. The world be damned. And it has been. The Me First mindset has led our society to the verge of internal collapse. Escapism, perversion, AIDS, unwanted pregnancies, violence, political scandal, and family breakups are all symptoms of our modern-day madness, our obsession with Me.
There are whole industries which cater to this Me First mindset. Advertisers encourage us to “find the real you” or to “indulge yourselves . . . . because you deserve it”. Credit card companies make a fortune by getting people to buy now and then pay forever and ever. Publishing houses crank out book after book that contains the “Assert Yourself” message. Increasingly we see that it is not so much that people don’t care about others . . . they don’t even SEE them.
When we are only concerned about ourselves there is no sense of sacrifice or service. Self-centeredness has doomed marriages, split churches, divided families, and brought countries and empires to ruin.
The opposite of this self-seeking spirit is a gracious spirit. A gracious spirit is seen in the person who
- Is content to Listen to what others have to say
- Sees the bigger picture and realizes they are not the focal point
- Is in tune to the people around them. They notice the tear, the grimace, the smile and respond accordingly.
- Is willing to give up what is best for self for the benefit of another
- Doesn’t look at others for what they can get from them but cherishes them because of who they are.
Hybels again writes,
Christianity, in its purest form is not bent on human fulfillment. Its overriding purpose is simple and to the point: God’s kingdom come. Christian, then, are those who roll up their sleeves to advance God’s kingdom. They give themselves away in love, so God and others might receive. They make decisions not on the basis of economic, social, or status factors, but with only one question in mind: Does this bring God’s kingdom on earth closer to reality?
Think about your own experience. Who are the people you recognize as being the best at love? I have the unique honor of seeing people in many difficult situations in life. As I think about acts of true love I don’t think about people who have great talent or possess many things. I have seen love in those who stand with another in the most painful times of life. I have seen it in the tender service of a nurse or a family member giving ice chips to one who is sick or dying. I see it in those who put their schedule aside to be available to someone who needs a friend. I see it in the person who gives a check to meet a need for someone else instead of buying something they really would like to have. I’ve seen it sometimes in the tear that falls unashamedly from an eye. I see it in those who serve others on a mission trip. I’ve seen it in the face of the person who gets down on their knees to talk to a child face to face. In each case love comes because a person forgets about themselves for even a moment.
I hope you can see that one of the great hindrances to true love is our preoccupation with the person in the mirror. Paul has given us the negatives: envy, boasting, pride, rudeness, and self-centeredness. Our job is to weed out these things and cultivate their counterparts,
- Contentment and enjoyment in life
- A willingness to let others shine
So how do we reach this destination? What can we do to cultivate a true spirit of love?
- Deepen your relationship with God. Start by trusting Him (rather than your goodness) for your salvation. Before you complain, learn to notice and thank God for your blessings. Thank God at the beginning of every new day. Try to notice and thank God for things you take for granted. In other words, take nothing for granted. Pray for those who carry burdens much heavier than yours. Grow to trust God’s wisdom and His grace. Envy will be replaced by gratitude and compassion.
- Deliberately work to put other people in the spotlight. Ask them questions about their experiences, applaud their achievements, and genuinely take an interest in their lives. If you do that you will find that there are some wonderfully interesting people in the world. You will feel blessed just because you get to be around such great people. Instead of resenting what they have received you will be able to share their blessing with them.
- Cultivate honesty. It is not just the politicians who “spin the truth” we do it all the time. We try to make ourselves look better than we really are. Be honest about your mistakes. Refuse to exaggerate your successes (if you lost 5 lbs. don’t say it was 10). Report accurately what you said to another. Acknowledge the influence of others on your thinking. Learn to see things as they really are and tell it like it really is.
- Remind yourself daily that your true impact in life will not be from the stuff you own or the titles you wear. Your true impact will be found in the person you are and the faith you possess.
- Work hard to give God the glory for the good things of life rather than grabbing that glory for yourself.
Imagine what would happen in your marriage, in your finances, in your health, in your sleep patterns, in your friendships, in the church, at your job, and even in the trials of our lives, if we could remove these barriers to love in our lives. We would feel less deprived, you would stop viewing life as a contest and we would know a greater joy than we knew possible.
It sounds easy, but it’s not. But we all know that nothing of value ever comes easily.