Love.… does not boast, It is not proud. 1 Corinthians 13:4
There are times when fewer words are more powerful. Take, for example, Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, consisting of 169 powerful words which spoke to the hearts of troubled, grieving men and women on November 19, 1863. Others spoke that day for much longer times, but today we don’t even remember the names of the other speakers. Yet the world will never forget the impact of what Lincoln said. It was not the length of his remarks that were important but the weight and impact of them.
When Paul spoke of love when he wrote to the Corinthians in the middle of the first century, he used only 194 Greek words beginning with, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Yet none of the Greek orators or poets, including Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle, came even close to the classic description of love.
Paul’s first challenge was expressing the agape love which comes through the grace of God. Sensual love was the understanding which the Corinthians had, but in using the term agape, Paul elevated their understanding, stressing that agape love deals more with your behavior than your emotions, more your actions than your feelings.
In this passage Paul makes fifteen statements defining agape love. First, he says, love is patient. Then love is kind, and love is not jealous, concepts which I dealt with on a previous commentary.
Then, says Paul, agape love is not boastful. Have you ever heard someone say of another, “The older he got, the better he was!”? What did they mean? Simply put, every time the old-timer told the story, the better he was, the bigger was his fish, the greater was his accomplishment.
There are some individuals who major in one-upmanship. Seemingly, they just can’t let anyone get ahead of them. If you casually mention you caught a 40-pound blue tuna, they tell you about the larger one he caught. If your child scores a 92 on a school test, he scores a 95. Individuals who major in one-upmanship have no compunction about lying to prove their point. But, says Paul, that’s not what agape love is about.
Then statement five is, agape love is not proud (puffed up is the King James text). The Bible uniformly condemns pride and arrogance. Why? Because your abilities are a gift from God, and what you have came from the Father’s hand, so why should you boast and be proud?
Peter wrote, “Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble'” (1 Peter 5:5).
John Bunyan spent fifteen years in a cold, damp English prison at Bedford, England because he refused to knuckle under and submit to the authority of the state church. His sickly wife was in bed most of those years, and his blind daughter was forced to sell lace on the street, which his wife had made. Bunyan was humbled and could speak from experience when he penned these words in Pilgrim’s Progress: “He that is down, need fear no fall; He that is low, no pride/ He that is humble ever shall/ Have God to be His guide.”
Agape love, the kind Paul described, is neither boastful nor proud. Indeed.
Resource reading: 1 Corinthians 13.