Love is Not Arrogant (1 Corinthians 13:4)
by Ted Schroder
St. Paul uses a word that is translated “arrogant” in the ESV, which he uses half a dozen times in this letter, and only once elsewhere. No other New Testament writer uses it at all. The KJV translates it “not puffed up.” That is literally true, for the word expresses an attitude that is puffed up, inflated with pride, vanity and arrogance. J.B. Phillips paraphrases it: love does not “cherish inflated ideas of its own importance.”
In 1 Cor.4:6,7 St. Paul cautions against “taking pride in one man over against another. For who made you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did not receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”
In 1 Cor.8:1,2 he says, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.” The person who thinks he is something is a windbag, full of airs but of no substance. Whereas the person who loves others builds them up, edifies them, and leaves them for the better.
Jesus warned against this kind of pride in the religious leaders of his day. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” (Matthew 16:6) The yeast is the teaching of these religious leaders. Their arrogance and self righteousness permeated everything they said and did. They cherished inflated ideas of their own importance. They were puffed up by knowledge. They saw themselves as superior to others. Jesus said, “they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues.” (Matthew 23:6)
As a young boy I used to like to make ginger beer. I would walk down the street to the brewery on the next corner of our block and ask the brewer for some yeast. He would dip my jar in his vat and I would return home to use it in the bottom of my bottles, with the ginger, sugar, water and raisins, to concoct my ginger beer. The yeast would generate the fermentation that would provide the carbonation, the fizz, for my drink. When Antoinette makes bread at home she uses yeast and waits for the dough to rise before she puts it in the oven. The yeast permeates the dough to puff up the bread.
Love is not puffed up by a sense of inflated importance. Yet the yeast of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herod, permeates our self-consciousness. If you were like me, you were raised unconsciously with the belief that, as a Westerner, you were better than other people. Western Europeans, and North Americans were regarded as smarter, more disciplined, more highly educated, more hygienic, more moral, more law-abiding, more trustworthy, than the rest of the world. It didn’t need to be said. It was a given. We were superior to others. This sense of superiority was resented by the rest of the world. It led to the image of the arrogant British, the vain French, the domineering German, and the ugly American. It encouraged racism, religious bigotry, colonialism, and imperialism. The novels of the nineteenth and twentieth century portrayed characters who embodied these attitudes. Westerners professed to be Christians, to follow the teachings of the New Testament, but the yeast of the Pharisees permeated their behavior. t puffed them up, and turned proper national pride into arrogant jingoism. Today this disease has permeated into Islamic extremists. Now terrorists and suicide bombers believe that their fanatical commitment shows that they are superior to all who do not agree with them. Secular humanists and other academic atheists suffer from the same hubris when they disdainfully dismiss those who believe in God.
This is the yeast of the Pharisees. It is a sense of self-righteousness by which we judge others as inferior to ourselves. Almost unconsciously we pass judgment on others. It seems we can’t help it. It is part of our DNA. It is the result of original sin that permeates our human nature, our history and our culture.
It manifests itself when we look at people who have made, what we consider, poor choices, in their lives. They may have married the wrong person, or got addicted to alcohol or drugs, or made bad investments, or trusted questionable people. We judge them as being inferior to us. We may have made, what we consider, sensible, good choices, and that qualifies us for the credit of being worthy of praise. “The Pharisee gave himself credit for the ‘smart choices’ he had made in his life….there was no compassion on the part of the Pharisee, none at all. There was self-congratulation and contempt.” (Grace in Practice, Paul Zahl, 111)
This sense of moral superiority is one of the reasons why we don’t feel compassion for people who are going through a hard time. We feel that, if they had made better choices, like us, and were sensible and responsible, like us, they would not be in the position they find themselves. At least, we rationalize our indifference this way. While we reject the Hindu caste system, which is based on karma, the belief that we are reincarnated into a life form based upon our choices in a former life, we unconsciously embrace it.
What is the answer, the antidote to this yeast of the Pharisees, this puffed up pride, this arrogance which inflates our sense of importance? It is love that is motivated by compassion. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear, children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18)
The Cross of Christ is God, not remaining aloof from us, not regarding us as deserving to stew in our own juice because of our choices, but being moved with compassion, and entering into our suffering and dying in atonement for our sins. Love is full of compassion for others. Jesus was full of compassion for the hurting and the hungry. He was a healer and a helper. He did not blame the 5,000 who did not bring enough food to feed themselves. He had compassion on them, and fed them. He could have thought that they were stupid and incompetent to come out in the countryside without enough provisions, but he still took care of them.
We have been raised on a diet of self-reliance, individual responsibility, and accountability. Those of us fortunate enough to have been blessed with opportunity, education and good health are tempted to believe that we deserve the success and affluence we enjoy, and that the reason others don’t enjoy it is that they haven’t worked hard enough for it. We can easily fall into an attitude of self-congratulation and contempt rather than compassion.
This compassionate love is what has fuelled cross-cultural mission. It is what motivated Christian missionaries to take the Gospel to those who did not know the love of God. It is what sent medical and educational missionaries, healers, preachers and teachers, into the most needy parts of the world. They did not regard themselves as superior to those to whom they were sent by a loving God. They were not inflated with a sense of their self-importance. Instead they were like Jesus, who, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) We can be like that too, if we see ourselves as recipients of God’s grace, undeserving of what we have, and equally in need of God’s compassion. We are not superior to others, however much we may want to think ourselves to be. The ground is level before the Cross. It is God’s compassion that saves us. It is his compassion that can overcome our arrogance, so that we may be able to love others.
Ted Schroder’s new book, SURVIVING HURRICANES: DELIVER US FROM EVIL, is now available from www.Amazon.com or Amelia Island Publishing,
(firstname.lastname@example.org) 904-277-4414, for $24.95 plus $2.55 for shipping. It deals with the problem of evil and suffering from the point of view of the Armor of God, and the Lord’s Prayer, and provides prayers and questions for reflection and discussion.
February 4, 2007
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