Studies in First Corinthiansby Bob Burridge ©2018
Lesson 34: 1 Corinthians 13:4c (ESV)
The Center of Love
There have always been false teachers who try to convince people of things that aren’t true. And there are always false religious leaders who are successful in becoming popular. It was that way in Corinth when Paul wrote his letters to them, and it was that way in the time of Jesus.
Our Savior warned his people about how to recognize those popular deceivers. They shouldn’t be judged by how popular they are, or how successful they seem to be. They know how to get crowds to follow them, but they aren’t what they seem to be. We’re to compare their lives and teachings with God’s word. That reveals what’s really in their hearts. Jesus said in Matthew 12:33 ” … the tree is known by its fruit.”
There are other familiar sayings that reflect that same basic principle. Shakespeare gave us the well known saying, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” The essence of something isn’t in its name or what people say about it. It’s in it’s true nature deep inside. And we all know that a wolf in sheep’s clothing, is still just a wolf — but one with a very good tailor.
These sayings remind us that things and people behave as they do because of what’s at the core of their nature.
When we apply this spiritually …
– if the ways of Christ aren’t visible in a person’s thoughts, words, and life, then maybe Christ is not in there.
– if someone don’t take in God’s word to nourish his soul, he won’t live by it or know its blessings.
– if a person doesn’t have a sincere love for God, his principles, or his people, then something is deeply wrong way inside his soul.
In Corinth these false teachers were exposed by their pride, their tolerance of immorality, their lack of concern for people who had less money, a lower station in life, or who were suffering.
A person’s true affections show up in his attitude and choices. This reveals the state of his heart. If someone loves God, his people, the principles he gives us to live by, and the truths he reveals to us, then love, with all its 16 characteristics in this chapter will be seen to be growing in his life. But if a person’s greatest love is for himself, or his own pleasure and comfort, then he won’t be truly happy or at peace, because that’s not what God created us to be.
We’ve seen in the first part of 1 Corinthians 13:4 that love is patient and kind. It’s patient because love understands that God has his own timing and we often have to wait. It’s kind because God strengthens us by implanted love to rise above our selfish inconsiderate behavior. With a higher awareness of the Divine Purpose behind the things that happen around us, we have a deep and sincere love for God who’s behind it all, and a compassionate love for those God brings across our path in life.
The next three characteristics of genuine love take us right to the core of our souls.
Of these next 3 characteristics in 1 Corinthians 13:4,
the first is that “love does not envy”.
The Greek word translate here as “envy” is “zaelo-o” (ζηλόω). We get our word “zeal” from it. It means to be “truly passionate and eager for something”.
Zeal can be either good or bad, depending on what a person is zealous about, and how they express their enthusiasm about it.
Paul used it in a good way at the end of chapter 12 when he wrote in 12:31, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” Here the word is translated as “earnestly desire”. Even God is said to be zealous about guarding his honor and glory.
But here in 1 Corinthians 13 the word appears with the things love is not. It means the wrong kind of zeal, the kind that passionately wants things others have. It’s more than just wanting what you don’t have, it’s coveting, jealousy. It not only desires what God gave to somebody else. It would be happy to see the other person deprived of it so they could have it.
If a person truly loves God he will be happy when God gives good things to others. To be envious or jealous is to be dissatisfied with God’s wise and gracious distributions. A poisoned root yields a bitter fruit.
To covet and envy in that sense is to attack God’s choices and decrees. It implies that God is either not wise enough to agree with your better judgment, or that he’s not good because he intentionally over looks you.
It reveals a sense of entitlement. It’s as if you think you deserve to get whatever you think you should have, even if it costs others for you to get it.
All through history, even in the Bible, we can see this vice which is clearly the opposite of love. There was Cain in those first chapters of the Bible who envied God’s blessings on Able. It led to the first cruel and violent murder in all of history. There were the sons of Jacob who envied their father’s appreciation of their brother Joseph. It led them to sell him to slave traders and lie about it, telling their father he’d been killed by an animal.
We should be delighted by the happiness of others, not jealous of what God gives them. It’s wrong to be jealous when God gives someone else a nice car, house, clothes, beauty, opportunities, wealth, intelligence, talent, reputation, recognition, or any other things in life. Sometimes God calls us to have poor health, suffer disasters, endure cruel people, struggle with hardships, poverty, or tragic losses. Even Job was chosen to endure a role in that part of God’s eternal plan.
We should never think of ourselves as neglected or overlooked by God. We don’t need to know how it all fits together to know that God is both wise and good. If we trust and love him, we will look for ways to handle our lot in life responsibly. It’s wrong to let our lives be poisoned by envy and jealousy. We are to take true pleasure in seeing others blessed, even when we struggle or have needs of our own.
The next characteristic of genuine love is that
“Love does not boast”
Love doesn’t parade its accomplishments everywhere, bragging and showing off. It’s not self-promoting or hungry for applause and the attention of others. The Greek word translated here is “perpereu-omai”(περπερεύομαι).
It carries the idea of being hasty to run into the light of glory. It’s charging ahead for self-gain without considering the consequences to others. All this person cares about is the recognition he might get for himself. He’s impatient for it.
There are two paths to bragging:
Sometimes it’s because of self-centered pride when you’ve been blessed or successful in life. A person’s attitude in success can lead to sin just as easily as his attitude when he’s in need. Love doesn’t have a sense of self-superiority over others. It lives humbly.
Sometimes bragging comes from a different side of the ego. It can be an evidence of feeling inferior. Boasters might not see what they do as important or well done. And sometimes, boasters really don’t do much. They fail to see how their part could contribute to the Kingdom of God. They measure by the dishonest scale of the world. Their bragging is to compensate for the little they do by embellishing it.
Both paths to bragging come from the same disturbed soul: It craves and lives for the attention and recognition of others — deserved or not. Both the one who thinks he’s superior and the one who feels inferior are deeply self-centered and have an unhealthy attitude about their place in God’s world.
They live to make others think they’re great, rather than to let greatness come from God.
– Ephesians 6:6-7 reminds us where recognition for our accomplishments should come from. “not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man.”
– Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
– James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
Love rejoices to see others succeed and be recognized. It doesn’t look for ways to steal the spotlight and to stir envy from others. Egotism has no place in the Christian’s soul. Again, a poisoned root yields a bitter fruit.
Those who brag are impatient for glory. They aren’t content to let their work speak for itself. They raise their own self-expectations in a vain quest for self-esteem, rather than in humble service to Christ which brings a healthy self-confidence.
We need to humbly submit to God’s plan, and accept our place and duty in it.
The last of these next 3 characteristics is
“love … is not arrogant.”
The Greek word translated as “arrogant” is “phusio-o” (φυσιόω). It comes from the word for “bellows”. We have an antique bellows by our fire place which was used to get the embers burning hotter. Just like the arrogant person, it just puffs out air. That’s the meaning of the word.
When this right kind of love is lacking, the person gets full of air and puffs out whenever it can. It’s vain.
This quality of a person is reflexive: It turns everything back on the person himself to promote his own importance and glory. He gets the idea that his own preferences, opinions and choices are the best for everybody else. He comes to believe that everyone else isn’t as wise as he is.
It’s the attitude behind the elite socialists. They think that nations and communities should be ruled by them because they know what’s best for everybody else.
They have a sense of personal superiority. They are elitist bigots who look down on others. They demean the needy, the weak, and the less educated, while taking advantage of them.
They want stronger central governments and heavy regulations on everything to promote their own agendas. They favor big taxes because they believe the elite can spend our money better than we can.
But individuals can be arrogant too. They think everybody is stupid if they don’t agree with everything they believe or say. They lack a good sense of God’s superiority over everything and everyone in all of creation. Again, a poisoned root yields a bitter fruit.
Our confidence should be in God’s word. But this isn’t arrogance. It’s a humble and loving submission to what God says and commands. It’s very different from self-promotion and arrogance, though the world might not see that. Often people mistake our faith in God’s word as truth for the arrogance people have which comes from their own self-importance.
We certainly believe that the gospel is good for everybody, the only true good. We have no doubt that God’s moral principles should always be honored and obeyed. We believe that it is wrong to lack faith in Christ as the only Savior and our true Lord. But this is because we put God above ourselves and above all other things in life. It’s not because we exalt our own imaginations, opinions, and theories.
The false teachers in Corinth were arrogant. They attacked Paul’s apostleship and looked down on those who disagreed with them.
We, on the other hand, should have compassion on those who reject God’s truth and ways. We know we’re just like them, sinners, but saved by grace and informed by God’s mercies. Aside from his work in us, we would be among those who are deceived, confused, and self-centered.
In contrast to this jealousy, bragging, and arrogance,
a true kind of love engenders humility.
But its not that false humility that flaunts itself or that looks for pity and sympathy all the time. Those who truly love God and care for others don’t go around bragging about how humble they are.
In 1741 Benjamin Franklin wrote his “Thirteen Virtues“. In them he says, “In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.”
Those who are genuinely humble aren’t always complaining about their rough lot in life. They don’t fish for sympathy and pity which is just another kind of attention getting.
We all appreciate and need sincere sympathy from others who truly care. But it’s self-centered to always be complaining and whimpering to get others to pity you.
Both of these attitudes, the one who flaunts his humility and the whiner, expose a heart anchored in it’s own importance. These are things to work on overcoming.
Love is such a burden lifting thing. It moves the responsibility for our own honor to God who gives it where he knows it’s best. When we love as we should, putting God first and respecting others as we should, we get busy with our own work and don’t just appreciate our own accomplishments, we can truly value the successes and accomplishments of others as well. We need to see every good as a work of God. Sometimes he suppresses sin in us, and even in the most ungodly around us, and he enables us to do wonderful things, even very simple things that are good. This makes us able to see God’s hand at work in others as well as in our own lives.
When self is our God, we reject our only hope for inner peace and satisfaction, and we evidence a soul without life. But when we follow after the characteristics of this godly kind of love, we show that Christ is in our hearts, and that the love he promises is there and growing.
(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)