This morning we are going to look at the last part of verse 4 of I Corinthians 13. We have considered the first three descriptions of the behavior of love here: Charity suffereth long, charity is kind, charity envieth not. Now we are going to look at the last two together. Both of them fit under the heading of humility, or that charity, in the negative here, is not proud. This is our text: “Charity vaunteth not itself is not puffed up.”
This chapter on love is not a sentimental description of love—that you sit in a corner and you read it and you admire what this chapter has to say about love. Rather, it is a convicting rebuke to the church at Corinth because she is the exact opposite of what the apostle is saying here.
We ought, as we study this chapter, to come under that conviction, the conviction by the Holy Spirit of our own failings in this area of love, so that we repent. One way that has been suggested of coming under that conviction or seeing how confrontational this Word of God is, is to replace, as you read this chapter, the word “charity” with your own name, and then ask yourself the question: Is this true of me if I put my name in the place of charity, so that it would read concerning myself: I suffer long, I am kind, I do not envy, I do not vaunt myself, I am not puffed up, I do not behave myself unseemly, I do not seek my own things, I am not easily provoked, I think no evil, and so on. As soon as we do that, we see how small our obedience is and how it is hardly true of us that we love as that is described here. We have but a small beginning of the new obedience. We have to grow so much in this particular area.
There are two statements we consider in this message concerning love, and I want us to start with the second one: Love is not puffed up. The words “puffed up” here have the idea of being proud or arrogant. And that is the way that we translate it in many other English translations. But what the King James Version has here is the literal translation of the words. The word here literally means to puff up or to blow up. It has the idea of inflating yourself with proud and vain thoughts of self-importance, of exaggerating your own abilities and achievements. So, we speak in the English language of someone who has a big head or of someone who is full of hot air. That is the idea here—someone being puffed up. One who is puffed up (Rom. 12:13) thinks more highly of himself than he ought to think. In his own mind, he elevates himself. He puts himself above others. So, the Bible speaks of being lifted up with pride.
Now, it is interesting that in the creation itself God gives us some pictures of what this pride looks like. Perhaps, boys and girls, you have studied frogs and toads, or fish (and particularly what is called a blow fish). You know what frogs and toads and blow fish do, do you not? They inflate themselves in order to intimidate another animal, or maybe to scare off a predator. They make themselves bigger than they actually are. A field lizard will do the same, and a cobra (with the flaring of the neck), and some birds as well. They do this to impress others, to give them an impression that is not actually true. That is what pride does. Pride inflates itself. That is the way pride is used by human beings. It puffs itself up to give an impression that is not actually true. Love is not puffed up. It does not do this.
The other phrase here is “vaunteth not itself.” This word “vaunting” itself has the idea of boasting, of showing off, of parading oneself, parading abilities and achievements and possessions and position and looks, and putting these things on display as an exhibition for others to admire and see and to call attention to those things. To say to others, “Look, look, look at me, look at my achievements, look how great I am.” Most often, this vaunting is done with words, and that is why it is boasting: “Listen to what I’ve got to say about myself.” And so pride comes to expression.
But it can be more subtle. Think of this. It is very easy for some of us to enjoy conversation with others, so long as the conversation is about me. And we have ways in conversation to steer what is being talked about back to ourselves so that we can insert ourselves into the conversation. We do not like to be out of focus, we want to talk about our life, our achievements, our struggles, whatever it is. And we want people to be thinking about and talking about us. We want to impress others, or we want to keep the attention of others. Vaunting itself.
There is a great temptation for this, and there is an outlet for much vaunting in today’s society. It is the use of social media. That has become a great outlet not only for envy but also for vaunting.
But love is not constantly anxious to impress others. Love vaunteth not itself.
So love is not puffed up, and love vaunteth not itself. You can see, very easily, what the relationship between these two ideas is. The boasting words, the vaunting, comes from pride, the puffed up ego. It is like this: the mind mulls on self, the head gets big, and it explodes in words. That reminds us of what Jesus teaches about where words come from and where even everything in our expressed behavior comes from. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.” From within comes pride. Pride is evil, and pride will come to expression in proud words and boasting. Jesus says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”
So boasting comes from that proud heart. The person who likes to talk about himself, is in love with himself and is consumed with thoughts of himself. If I think that I am wonderful, then I will want others to notice that too. And so I parade my glory before others. Then others will extol my glory—what a wonderful person you are! They will stroke my ego. Pride produces boasting.
Paul writes this to Corinth because this characterized the church in Corinth. In fact, I think that, as we read the book of I Corinthians, we can say that this is the outstanding evil in the church at Corinth. Out of pride comes every other evil that there is and every other vice that comes to expression in the human life. But this was the particular issue at Corinth: pride. The word that is used here in verse 4 for “puffed up” occurs in the New Testament Scriptures only seven times. And of those seven times, six are here in I Corinthians. So we could even say this, that this is one of the themes, this is what Paul is addressing in Corinth. This is what he wants to root out of Corinth: pride, being puffed up. He says in chapter 5:6, “Your glorying is not good.” He means that it is evil, it is sinful.
That was Corinth. But, of course, it is also us. It is the problem of humanity, is it not? It began with Eve. Satan came to her and tempted her and said, “Don’t you want to be like God and know good and evil?” And in her pride, she said, “Yes, I want to be like God.” She was puffed up. And she took. And in that taking, she boasted against God. Certainly pride is evident in the fallen world in which we live. In Psalm 73 we talked about this psalm in connection with envy, but you also see pride here. In Psalm 73 the psalmist describes the ungodly wicked this way: “Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain.” He means that they wear pride around their neck like a necklace. And a necklace is something that is important to you, and you put it on display for everyone else to see. That is what we want. We want everybody to see us. We are important. That is pride. The psalmist says in verse 9 that “in their pride they set their mouth against the heaven, and their tongue walketh throughout the earth.” With words, they boast against God and they boast against men. Romans 1:13 says that the world is full of unregenerate men “who are proud and boasters.”
In the Scriptures we read that this is what will characterize the last days. II Timothy 3:2: “Men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy.” The Antichrist himself will be the epitome of that. Revelation 13:5: “There was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies.” His pride is that he sets himself up as God, in the place of God, who must be worshiped.
But now, as we think about pride, it is not just for us to observe it and point at pride in others. It is here, in my heart, in your heart. That is where we find pride. It is evident in our words, on our lips, in our boasting against others, in our showiness, and even in our proud boast against God. Love does not vaunt itself, and it is not puffed up.
So, how is pride counteracted in a life of repentance? It is counteracted by these two things: love and humility. Where love is, pride cannot be. Where humility is, pride cannot exist. Love and pride are mutually exclusive. We can think of examples of that. Where pride is, love cannot be. If in your marriage, you are proud against your spouse in so far as you think of yourself as superior, you exalt yourself above your husband or your wife, you think of yourself as better. In so far as you do that, you cannot love your husband or your wife for who they are. In fact, you are hating them for who they are.
The apostle is addressing a church here. There can be a church pride, an institutional pride. And that institutional pride shuts the church out from love that it should have, a love for the lost, a love for the stranger, because the church can become so proud in who it is as an institution. Love and pride are mutually exclusive. They are inconsistent with one another. They are opposite to one another.
That comes out especially when we think of the proper objects of love. When Scripture calls us to love, whom does it call us to love? It calls us to love God and it calls us to love the neighbor. The chief delight and the chief object of our love should be God. Love glories in God. It delights in the majesty and holiness of God. But when one is proud, on the other hand, one is seeking his own personal glory. Pride is self-love, is it not? And the two are incompatible. You cannot have a love for God, putting God on the throne and seeking His glory, when that is exactly what you want for yourself.
So self-love, pride, is counteracted by a proper love for God, thinking proper thoughts of God, and glorying in Him and praising Him. It is interesting that in the Old Testament the word for “pride” and the word for “praise” are the same word. When praise is directed at self, that is what it is—it is pride. But, when praise is directed at God, that is worship! And pride (self-love) and worship (love for God) are mutually exclusive. Love God and love your neighbor.
The proper object of love is not self but others. That is what this chapter is about, is it not? Again, you see that pride and love are inconsistent. And here is the way to counteract pride. To love others. If you think of the welfare of another (think of the way we describe love—seeking the good of the other), if you think of the welfare of the other and if you do that especially when they are unworthy (so love your enemies), and then act on that (which is also love), then you cannot revel in your own perfections and praise because the object of your love is the other. We counteract pride with true love.
Then the Bible also points to humility. Humility is the opposite of pride. Humility is essential to love. You can love only when you are humble. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul connects love and humility several times. Think of these verses: in Ephesians 4:2 he says, “with lowliness and meekness [that is humility], with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love.” Lowliness and meekness—and then you are equipped to be longsuffering and to be forbearing to one another in love. The two are connected. In Colossians 3:12 you see that connection again. Paul says, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness [that is love], humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering.” Only when we are humble can we love.
Just as pride is the root of every sin, so true humility is the root of every virtue in the Christian life. God resisteth the proud, but He gives grace to the humble. So, where does true humility come from? True humility is worked by the Holy Spirit. It is the self-consciousness of the sinner as he stands before God empty. He stands indebted to God. And as one stands before God empty and indebted, he is much more aware of his own sin and worthlessness than of the sin and the worthlessness of others.
That is the way of the child of God. That is the way of humility. That is why humility is love. We stand empty before God and we love Him for His grace. And, standing empty before God, in the experience of God’s grace, and understanding in meekness and humility our own unworthiness, this is good news, is it not? Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. Then we are humble before others. Then we can love the unworthy.
So, here we counteract. We repent of pride by putting on love and humility. Humility is manifested supremely in Jesus Christ. And His humility is also His love. That is, what He did in humility is the way that He expressed His love for us. That is given in Scripture not only as a pattern for us to follow. It certainly is a pattern for us to follow, but when we understand the humility of Jesus Christ as His love, well, then, every child of God can say, “I do not just know what that is by observation, I’ve experienced the humiliation of Jesus Christ, because I know the love of my Savior for me.” He came, did He not, seeking our good, which is what love does, and placing Himself below us. That is humility.
Philippians 2, well known and a favorite passage in the New Testament: “He, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” This is the humiliation of Christ: coming from the hidden glory of God and going into the inconceivable depths of hell. That was His humility. He did not just become like us, but He took our place and put Himself below us in the agonies and torments of hell. That was His humility, and herein is His love.
That was the incarnation. He came into our flesh in love and humility. You see it in His ministry, particularly when He comes to the end of His ministry and is with His disciples in the Upper Room and, you remember, He became a servant to them all by taking the water bowl and the towel and washing their feet. And then He says to His disciples, “Ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” Herein is love: humility before others! Are you ready to do that? To wash the feet of others? Or this morning, when you walk out of church, do you talk about yourself because you think more highly of yourself than you ought to think? It is as simple as that, is it not? How highly should you think of yourself—chief of sinners, object of grace, unworthy but forgiven? You see how humility is essential to love?
Charity vaunteth not itself and is not puffed up.
Father, we stand before Thy Word again in gratitude and in humility, in repentance. Help us, Lord. We have only a small beginning, but we are confident that the work Thou hast begun in us Thou wilt perform till the day of Jesus Christ. So, give us to grow in love, in humility, and in repentance over our pride, so that as we boast, we glory in the Lord and we glory in one another and not ourselves. We pray this for Jesus’ sake, Amen.