Love Does Not Boast (1 Corinthians 13:4)
by Ted Schroder
Love recognizes that everything we possess, everything good and worthy of praise that we have done, is a gift of God. Without God we could do nothing. Love is secure in the love of God. Love feels valued by the most significant player in one’s life. The beloved believer has experienced an encounter with God in Christ. We discover that God is, as Charles Wesley put it “Jesus, Lover of my soul.” Christ is the Bridegroom who “loved the church and gave himself up for her” ….
“Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness.” (Ephesians 5:25-27, The Message)
As the Bride of Christ we are grateful for his love, for his choosing us in love, for providing for us now and in our future, for making us part of his divine life. Because of this identity, we know who we are, and we rejoice in the privileges of our position. We are his family, his household, with constant access into his hospitable presence.
We enjoy these privileges, not because of our merit, but because of his grace. We cannot boast of our blessings as earned by our own efforts, but as freely given to us. God chose us – foolish, weak, lowly and despised as we are –
“so that no one may boast before him…..Everything that we have – right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start – comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, ‘If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.’” (1 Corinthians 1:29-31, The Message)
The problem is that when we are insecure and indifferent about being loved and valued by God, when that is not enough for us, and we crave the adulation and affirmation of others, we blow our own trumpet.
The basic sin we suffer from is that we want to be loved for ourselves, we want to feel intrinsically important, we want others to recognize our worth. Jesus said that we want to be rewarded by our peers, so we boast about our accomplishments. He cautioned about doing good in public to be noticed by others. He warned about announcing with trumpets our giving to the needy so that we are honored by men. He prohibited advertising our praying and fasting to be seen by men. All this is boasting. It will be seen by our peers, and we will be rewarded by our peers, but we will have no reward in heaven. Good works are to be done in secret, and our Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward us. Living out of the love of our heavenly Father rather than our peers is the way to store up treasure in heaven. Trying to impress others in this life is a losing proposition. It requires constant effort to market ourselves. Life becomes a public relations treadmill. We can never rest on our laurels. If we drop out of the ace we will be forgotten quickly. We will disappear from sight. That is why presidential candidates must keep themselves continually in the spotlight. By contrast, as Christian believers we should look for our reward from God in the future. His reward should be enough. It is eternal. (Matthew 6:1-17)
But it isn’t, is it? We want affirmation now. We want to be thanked now. We want to be noticed now. We want to be appreciated now. We want to be honored now. Why? Because we are frightened that we will be forgotten, that our contribution will be taken for granted, that our lives will count for nothing. We fear loneliness, anonymity, being lost in the crowd, being insignificant. When we get together with others we talk about ourselves, we blow our own trumpets, we boast about our families, we drop names, because we feel the need to be loved and admired by our peers.
Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector to illustrate this condition. The Pharisee stood up in the temple and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men….I do this and I do that, aren’t I good and worthy of praise?” (Luke 18:9-14)
He boasted about himself. He was not loving to the tax collector. He looked down on others. He exalted himself. Jesus said, that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.” The person who is blind to his own faults, and is full of himself, will be humbled. Love is humble about oneself, not boastful. Love recognizes that we have much to be humble about. “God, have mercy upon me, a sinner” Eventually the boastful will be humbled. Aging has a way of humbling us.
I recall the bishop who confirmed me when I was fourteen. He was an impressive man – almost larger than life. A decorated war hero, who was injured in the north African campaign in World War II, he stood ramrod straight, was impeccably dressed, had a booming voice, was married into one of the first families of New Zealand, and intimidated his clergy by his authority. When he came to town for his annual visitation he swept in like royalty in his Rover automobile, charmed the ladies, and took over the church service. He liked being called. “My Lord,” when you first greeted him. During my undergraduate days he invited me and other seminarians to his Episcopal residence, a grand house named Bishopscourt, for supper. We were regally entertained, and then repaired to his private chapel for evening prayer. When he attended black tie balls he would appear dressed in his purple gaiters with buckled shoes, the Victorian formal wear for English bishops. He was known to like his drink, and was sometimes unsteady on his f t after such celebrations. When he was retired, and his wife had died, he drank to dull the pain of his loneliness, and his war injuries. It was ignominious for him when his driver’s license was suspended after he was cited for driving under the influence. A few year’s ago he was charged with shoplifting. As a result of his dementia he would pocket candy bars without paying for them!
Love does not boast. Love is humble. None of us should be impressed with ourselves. We have no reason to look down on others. We are all sinners who need the mercy and the love of God. All of us will age and do things over which we have no control, which if we knew ahead of time would silence our boasting.
For twenty years I have convened an annual meeting of clergy friends in a Covenant Group. We meet for three days each January and share our lives with one another for support and encouragement. Each person has an hour to tell us what is going on in his life. One of our rules is that we must not boast about our achievements. Instead we must share our challenges, our struggles, and our difficulties. We did not want our group to be competitive, where we would play the game of who had the most successful church, who had the greatest numbers, or the biggest budget. It is the spirit of competition that fosters envy, and boasting in order to feel good about yourself.
This can happen in any group. We feel the need to justify our existence, and engage in frantic activities in order to be seen by others and to be rewarded by their approbation. Preachers and politicians make long speeches and long sermons to be seen by men as being serious contenders for public office. To be long-winded is to be boastful. Love that is humble knows the value of an economy of words and gets to the point fast.
At one point in a debate with opponents of the love and grace of God in Christ, St. Paul listed his religious credentials. He called them “reasons to put confidence in the flesh.” (Philippians 3:4) He boasted about them: “If anyone thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more.” After listing them he went on to say:
“The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash – along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant – [rubbish]. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him.” (Philippians 3:7,8, The Message)
What is important to you? What other people think of you? Why is the appreciation of your peers so important to you? Why do you want to be recognized? Why do you feel the need for all that? Why do you feel the need to boast? Why are you insecure in the love of God? How can you embrace Christ, and be embraced by him? Let him love you. Receive his love in Christ. You don’t need to earn that love. You can’t earn that love. It is freely given. But you must be humble enough to accept it, to be wooed and won by the Bridegroom.
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.
January 28, 2007
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