Russell Herman was a carpenter who lived in the state of Illinois. When he died at the age of 67, his will included a staggering list of beneficiaries. He left instructions for two billion dollars to be given to the city of East St. Louis, another billion and a half for the state of Illinois, two and a half billion dollars for the national forest system, and to top it all off, Russell left six trillion dollars to the federal government to help pay off our national debt.
Which all sounds amazingly generous, but there was only one small problem — when Russell died, the only thing he owned was a 1983 Oldsmobile. He made a lot of grand claims, but, in the end, his promises were meaningless because there was nothing to back them up.
If we’re not careful, the same thing can happen to us. As Christians, we claim to love our family, to love our friends, to love everyone at church, and even to love our enemies. But the real question is, do we have what it takes to back that up? Because the best way to determine whether or not we truly love someone is not just by our words but by our actions. Are we patient with others? Are we kind to others? Do we envy others?
We continue this morning in the great love chapter of the Bible, I Corinthians 13, as we look together at the various characteristics of love. Last week, we saw that love is not envious. And we saw how love reacts whenever others do better than we do, or when others have more than we have. This morning, we want to look at a couple of qualities that show us how love reacts when the opposite is true, when we are the ones who succeed and do well.
Paul tells us in verse 4 that “Love… does not boast, it is not arrogant.” (I Corinthians 13:4). I think you can see right away that those two characteristics are very closely related. People who boast tend to be people who are arrogant, and people who are arrogant tend to boast about themselves.
I graduated from Andrew Jackson High School in Jacksonville, Florida. We had a cross-town rival named Robert E. Lee High School. It was a rivalry that had gone on for over 50 years. Several weeks before we played them in football, we would make fun of them, build a huge paper mâché general and burn it, and brag about how good our team was. Whoever won that game gained bragging rights for the next year.
The same thing takes place between UNC, NC State and Duke, Alabama-Auburn, Florida-Georgia, Army-Navy and dozens of other rivalries. The fact is, whenever there is competition of any kind, bragging seems to be in order. It’s bad enough when it happens among sports teams, but it’s disastrous when it works its way into the church. As I said, most of our boasting comes from a spirit of arrogance.
Napoleon Bonaparte was a married man, but he brought several mistresses into his home. To explain his behavior, he said, “I am not a man like others and moral laws or the laws that govern conventional behavior do not apply to me.” What strikes us about that statement is the absolute arrogance of it. Now that’s an extreme example, but it shows us that arrogance causes us to see ourselves as more important than others; to view our desires and our needs as more important than theirs.
Let’s take a look at these two characteristics to see how they manifest themselves in our lives, and how they are the very opposite of the love that we need to have as children of God.
Let’s start with a definition of boasting or bragging. The Greek word that’s used here means “to talk conceitedly”. I looked up the word “boasting” in English dictionaries, and my favorite definition came from vocabulary.com which says, “When you boast you are bragging about yourself and your accomplishments, often to the boredom and annoyance of your audience.”
A person who brags likes to make sure that everyone else knows what he has or what he’s done. Bragging is an attempt to gain recognition or draw attention to yourself. It is an effort to make you seem more important and to make other people feel less important because of what you have or who you are or what you’ve done.
In a sense, bragging is the opposite of envy. Envy is wanting what someone else has. Bragging is trying to make other people envious of what we have. Envy puts others down; bragging builds us up.
In Jeremiah 9:23, God said, “Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches.” But those are exactly the sorts of things that people tend to boast about. We see it in the world around us, and we see it throughout scripture.
The giant Goliath taunted the army of God’s people, boasting about his ability to defeat whoever the Israelites could send forth to fight against him. But a stone from the slingshot of a young boy named David shut him up pretty quickly (1 Samuel 17).
King Nebuchadnezzar boasted about Babylon, a city that he built by his own power. “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30). But when God spoke from heaven. Nebuchadnezzar was humbled until he acknowledged the sovereignty of God.
Peter boasted about his ability to remain faithful to Jesus. He said, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” (Matthew 26:33). But we all know that that turned out before the rooster crowed the next morning.
But the picture of the Pharisee in Luke 18 is probably the ultimate braggart: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” (Luke 18:11-12). Here’s a man bragging in his prayer to God about how good he was.
Solomon gave good advice when he said, “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” (Proverbs 27:2). But, because of our pride and our arrogance, we’re all tempted to brag a bit.
So, Paul says that love is not arrogant. The Greek word that’s used here is derived from a word that means a bellows. You may have used a bellows to pump air into a fire in your fireplace, or maybe you’ve used a bellows to pump air into an air mattress. So that explains why a lot of translations tells us that love “is not puffed up.” I think William Barclay captured the connection between the two when he translated it this way, “Love is not inflated with its own importance.”
That’s what Paul was talking about in Romans 12 when he said, “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.” (Romans 12:3).
A good example of arrogance was Pietro Mascagni, who was an Italian composer. In 1901, he wrote an opera (“The Masks”) that he dedicated to himself. He wrote, “To myself, with highest esteem and unchanging affection.” I think we would all put that in the category of arrogance.
I once heard this comment made about an individual: “If you could buy him for what he is worth and sell him for what he thinks he is worth, you could make a fortune.”
Solomon said, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate.” (Proverbs 8:13).
I think maybe the reason God hates pride or arrogance is because it’s the direct opposite of agape love. Love seeks the best interests of others. It considers others to be important. But arrogance or pride does just the opposite. It’s only concerned about self. Arrogance says, “I am the most important. What I want comes first.”
And arrogance was a big problem among the members of the church in Corinth. In fact, this word is found 7 times in the New Testament, and 6 of those times are in I Corinthians.
It all started with those divisions within the church. Those divisions centered around their allegiance to different preachers — Paul, Apollos and Peter — but Paul saw it for what it was – it was primarily as a problem of pride. They were “puffed up in favor of one against the other.” (I Corinthians 4:6).
There was competition in the church and each side was puffing itself up and putting the others down. There was a fierce sense of “how good we are” and “how sorry you are”. And there’s just no place for that in the Lord’s church.
3. Boasting and Arrogance in Our Own Lives
But boasting and arrogance weren’t just problems of the first century. We all struggle with these two sins from time to time and whenever we do, it makes it very difficult for us to love others.
There are a lot of different ways that boasting can creep into our lives. The most obvious way is simply telling people how great we are. This kind of bragging is easy to spot. “I’m a great bowler; I rolled a 256 last night.” “I made sixty grand last year and I’ll double that this year.” Or, “Look at the expensive car that I drive.” This kind of boasting is so obvious that most of us find more subtle ways to brag.
Like our attempts to one-up others in our conversations. Have you ever noticed that when someone else is telling a story about something that happened to them, you can’t wait for them to finish so you can say, “Well, if you think that’s something, let me tell you about what I happened to me!” and off you go. Or, “You think that operation was painful. Let me tell you what I went through!” Then a third person chimes in and tries to top you both. Why do we do that? Because the person telling the story is the center of attention, and we like to have the attention.
Another way we sometimes demonstrate arrogance – and this may be the worst of all – is the result of our Bible knowledge. While knowing more about the Bible should make us more humble, it can sometimes make people more arrogant and fuel their ego.
I’m talking about the person who feels that every one of his doctrinal positions is absolutely correct, and everyone else is wrong. The person who is eager to argue and even divide over the smallest details of theology. The person who raises his convictions and preferences to a standard that must be followed by everyone else. The person who loves the truth, but has no idea how to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).
I like what Peter Marshall prayed once. He said, “Lord, when we are wrong, make us willing to change. And when we are right, make us easy to live with.”
Someone may say, “Wait a minute! I don’t think all those things you mentioned are so bad. After all, it’s not boasting to tell the truth. What if I do drive a nicer car than you do, or if I do make a lot of money or if I did bowl 256 last night, is it wrong to say so?”
There was a TV western years ago called “The Guns of Will Sonnett”. On that show, Will and his grandson searched for Jim Sonnett, who was Will’s son and the boy’s father. The famous line from that series was this, “Jim Sonnett is the third fastest gun in the west; the boy is better, and I’m better than both of them — No brag, just fact.”
So, what’s the difference between telling the truth and bragging? I think it has to do with our attitude. It all depends on the reason I have for telling you. If my telling the truth comes from a heart of arrogance, then it’s wrong. If I’m telling you something to build myself up in your eyes or because I think I’m more important than you are or because I want all the attention focused on me, then I’m bragging.
Sometimes it’s difficult to make that distinction. If one of you goes out tomorrow and you buy a brand-new car and you come to me and say, “I want you to see my new car”, I don’t necessarily consider that bragging. You want to share the news of your good fortune with me, and I want to know because I’m happy for you. But if you come to me and say, “I want you to see my new car” and you’ve got the attitude, “Mine’s better than yours is which makes me better than you.” then that’s bragging.
Bragging is not simply talking about yourself, but doing so out of a self-centered desire to see yourself first. The whole idea of bragging is to make somebody else feel that you’re better than they are. Boasting is designed to hurt other people. It’s designed to make you stand out and for them look inferior. Because the other side of “big me” is “little you”. And it’s so easy to do. Boasting always focuses on self.
And that’s the very opposite of love, isn’t it? Love wants to build up the other person, to put the good of another person first. Love says, “I want you to feel important. I’ll take the role of a servant.” Love doesn’t brag or blow its own horn. And, let’s face it, nobody really likes people who do, because they’re people who don’t have love in their lives.
Something we need to keep in mind, though, is that not all boasting is the result of arrogance. As strange as it may sound, sometimes we boast because we feel inferior. When we fail, we feel like we’re incompetent. So, to cover up that hurt, we put up a front to pretend we are just the opposite — highly competent.
In other words, we brag about how good we are to cover up how bad we think we are. We somehow think that the more we brag, the better we’ll feel about ourselves. The problem is, it usually only makes the problem worse because people tend to put down a braggart, so his sense of rejection is made even stronger.
Bu, whatever the reason for our boasting, love does not boast. Boasting is based on a pre-occupation with self. It may be a very blunt attitude: “I’m better than others and they need to know it.” Or it may come out of a sense of failure or fear or insecurity. But, either way, it represents a person whose thoughts are centered on self.
A Christian, however, thinks first of others. Agape love looks at others and tries to build them up and make them feel more important.
4. A Spirit of Humility
If we are going to develop a love that “does not boast” and “is not arrogant” we’re going to have to learn to develop humility because humility is the opposite of arrogance.
William Carey was a missionary and one of the greatest linguists the world has ever seen. He translated parts of the Bible into 34 different Indian languages. Carey began his life as a cobbler, fixing shoes. When he arrived in India as a missionary, he was immediately regarded with dislike and contempt because of the social system people had been locked into for centuries. So, he was given absolutely no respect.
One time, at a dinner party that Carey was attending, a snob wanted to humiliate him. In a voice loud enough that everyone could hear, he said, “I hear, Mr. Carey, that you once worked as a shoemaker?” William Carey said, “Oh no, your lordship, not a shoemaker, only a shoe repairman.” He wouldn’t even claim to make shoes because he only repaired them.
What a contrast to the apostles during the ministry of Jesus! Remember during the last few weeks of the life of Jesus, James and John came to the Lord with a request, “Lord, when you set up your kingdom, put one of us on your right hand and one on the left.” Why? Because we’re important. We’re your closest friends and we deserve the honor.” But notice the reaction of the other apostles — “they were moved with indignation.” (Matthew 20:24). Why? Because they wanted those positions of authority. They thought they were most important.
As we come to the last night before the death of Christ, the disciples are still arguing. “But there was also rivalry among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest.” (Luke 22:24). But Jesus said in Mark 10, “Whoever desires to be great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-44). If we’re going to love others, we’ve got learn how to be a servant.
In order to get this point across, Jesus got down on his knees, wrapped a towel around his neck, took a basin and began to wash his disciples’ dirty, filthy, stinking feet! How many times have I been willing to go to such great lengths to see to the needs of my brothers and sisters in Christ? The truth is, I’m usually so busy worrying about my own life and my problems and my needs, that I’m often not even aware of others’ needs, much less getting down on my knees to help them.
But, you see, here’s the real essence of love. When I can stop looking at “important me” and look at “important you”. When I can set aside my pride and do whatever is necessary to provide for your welfare. Truly, love “is not arrogant”. In contrast to the spirit of boastfulness and arrogance is the humility of love. Love is so concerned about others, so interested in encouraging, exalting and building up others, that it feels no need for self-exaltation. And when we can learn to follow the example that Jesus set for us, we will have learned the true meaning of love.
5. The Remedy for Boasting and Arrogance
So, if boasting or arrogance is something that we struggle with, how do we get rid of it? Let me suggest one simple thing: Remember that God is responsible for who you are and what you have.
In Deuteronomy 8, God told the Israelites that when they entered the land of Canaan, they were going to be temped to be proud and boast about what they had. He said, “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)
Paul put it this way earlier in his letter to the Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (I Corinthians 4:7)
In other words, why are you boasting about something that God gave to you? When we boast, we’re giving glory to ourselves that we don’t deserve. We’re taking credit for gifts that have been given us by God.
Even our salvation has been designed in a way to eliminate boasting. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Charles Spurgeon put it this way. He said, “Grace puts its hand on the boasting mouth, and shuts it once for all.”
I like what Richard Philips said about boasting or bragging. He said:
“The problem with pride is not that it seeks to bring us glory. We were created for glory, being made in the very image of God. Adam and Eve were glorious in the Garden…In itself, glory is good, appropriate, something to be rightly pursued.
“The problem with our self-glorifying is the problem with all sin; it is a good thing made evil…Our glory is intended to promote the glory of the One who created us; that is what Adam was to do and to be, the image-bearer of God’s glory. The problem with our pride and boasting is that it steals glory from God, to whom all boasting is rightly due.”
And that’s so true. When we spend all the time putting our focus on us, it takes the focus away from God. At the beginning of this lesson, I quoted Jeremiah 9:23, but I want to go back and quote the full passage.
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
There’s something about us humans that we seem to feel the need to boast. And we will always boast about whatever it is that we feel is most special. So, we need to get ourselves off the pedestal and acknowledge the supreme greatness of God. Then and only then will we boast only in the Lord and not in ourselves because we understand how much his greatness surpasses ours.
As the Psalmist said, “My soul will make its boast in the Lord; the humble will hear it and rejoice” (Psalm. 34:2).
But, in regard to ourselves, “Love… does not boast, it is not arrogant.” (I Corinthians 13:4). You know that none of us feel loved when other people talk to us about what they have or who they are or what they’ve done, because boasting demonstrates a self-focus. May God help us to get rid of our selfish tendency to put the focus on ourselves as we try to get other people to see how important we are, and truly seek to lift others up instead.
I’ll close with this quote that I found — “The fool talks about what he’s gonna do, the boaster talks about what he has done, and the wise man does and says nothing.”