Why Does Paul Say “Love Does Not Boast”?
- Lisa Loraine Baker Contributing Writer
- 2022 24 Mar
Many people remember Mohammed Ali, the renowned twentieth-century boxing champion whose oft-heard boast was, “I am the greatest!” An unverified but widely circulated story exists about him arguing with a flight attendant who insisted he affix his seat belt before takeoff. He boasted, “Superman don’t need no seat belt!” The flight attendant replied, “Superman don’t need no airplane to fly, either.”
It makes us laugh, but the story serves as a reminder that none of us is “all that.” Call it bragging or boasting; when we carry an air of our ways being better than others’, it shows no love for them.
As Christians, how are we to love? First Corinthians 13 is known in Christian circles as the love chapter. Verse four declares, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” A portion of the verse says love does not boast. What does this mean? We need to examine the context of the passage to gain a better understanding of what the Apostle Paul is saying.
What Is the Context of 1 Corinthians 13?
The Corinthian church was located in Corinth in the southern part of Greece. The city sat on a major trade route, and it embraced a culture of debauchery — so much so its name was synonymous with disgusting immorality and drunken depravity. Paul founded the church there, and he thought of the members as spiritual children (1 Corinthians 4:14). He took “ownership” in their identity and spiritual well-being. When he learned the morally corrupted environment seeped into the church’s fiber, Paul, unable to be amongst the church in person, sent admonitions, counsel, and love via this and other letters.
People of that church were abusing their spiritual gifts, and factions had developed which hurled church members at each other. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1:10-12 quickly addressed the matter, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?’”
Where is love in such division? Paul took a wise, methodical approach in chapters one through eleven as he sets the case that we, as believers, are to live in unity, and are to do so because of love—God’s love for us, and our love for each other.
Paul moves his focus to the correct way — the godly way — to conduct oneself as a Christian. Starting with chapter twelve, Paul concentrated on spiritual gifts, and he ended that chapter with this golden nugget: “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.”
What’s the more excellent way?
The whole of chapter thirteen concentrates on the more excellent way Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:31. And that way is through love.
What Does It Mean That "Love Does Not Boast"?
To reiterate, 1 Corinthians 13:4 says, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” Paul tells us what love is, and he also tells us what love is not.
Boasting usually connotes something negative. In 1 Corinthians 13:4, “boast” (perpereuomai) means to vaunt oneself, making it a selfish action. When Paul earlier spoke of boasting in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31), the Greek word he used means to heap glory upon or rejoice in another. A statement such as, “The Lord Jesus changed my life! I now know peace and joy because of Him,” is boasting in the Lord. People who make such a claim shower the praise and attention on Jesus, not themselves.
What matters is the motive for the boast and the object of one’s boast. In the nine verses where we are told to love ourselves (Leviticus 19:18,34; Matthew 19:19, 22:33; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8 ), every verse says to love our neighbors first. And before our neighbors? God. The is part of the Great Commandments (Matthew 22:36-40). We are to love ourselves because we are created in God’s image. We are not to love ourselves or others above God. When we do, we, in effect, exalt ourselves and engage in self-worship. The people in the land of Shinar chose to erect a tower “with its top in the heavens” in an effort to “make a name” for themselves. They no longer chose to be identified as people who loved the Lord God above all else. Instead, they boasted in and loved themselves above God (Genesis 11:2-4).
Why Does Love Not Boast?
If we love someone with a godly love, then by definition of the word, we decide to compassionately and responsibly pursue the well-being of another. God’s Word tells us in Philippians 2:3 to, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Loving another takes self out of the picture, except to give of oneself. God showed us the ultimate love when He sent Jesus to take on the sins of the world — our sins — and save us from His wrath. God so loved us He gave His only Son! (John 3:16). Our boast, then, is in Christ, as we seek His glory and rejoice in Him!
If love does not boast, what should it do?
In the immediate context of 1 Corinthians 13:4, love is to:
- Be patient
- Be kind
- Be humble
- Be gentle
- Be helpful
- Be forgiving
- Rejoice in the truth
- Bear (hold up under) all things
- Be hopeful
- Endure all things
- Never end
When we ponder the above list, we see a portrait of much of God’s character.
What Are Some Other Traits of Biblical Love?
Is steadfast (Genesis 24:27)
Is sacrificial (John 3:16)
Covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8)
Trusts in God (Psalm 143:8)
Unifies the church (Colossians 3:14)
Reveals us as Christ’s disciples (John 13:35)
Is sincere (Romans 12:9)
Is commanded by Jesus (John 15:12)
Is devoted (Romans 12:10)
Is made complete in us as we love Him and others (1 John 4:12)
Would have one lay down his life for another (John 15:13)
Is courageous (1 John 4:18)
Causes us to be children of God (1 John 3:1)
Increases and flows over to one another (1 Thessalonians 3:12)
Is inseparable from God (Romans 8:38-39)
Seeks the good of others (1 Corinthians 10:24)
Is given by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 1:7)
Is better than life – God’s love (Psalm 63:3-4)
The list goes on, and it’s an encouraging study.
A Prayer to Love Others Well
Throughout Your Word You not only tell us to love others, but You, our perfect Father, also show us how to love others. Help us to be more like Jesus and follow His command to love You with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and then to love others as ourselves. In loving them, we love You more and display You to a lost and dying world. Thank You for the privilege to be Yours and to share the good news with our loved ones, friends, and neighbors. May we, as kingdom dwellers, act in grace and love toward others. I pray you give us minds which are pure, generous, and humble as we reach out in love to others.
In the matchless name and abiding love of Jesus I pray.
As we ponder the admonition not to boast with selfish motives, we referenced numerous passages which speak about biblical love. As you meditate upon them, try to memorize some for your and other’s enrichment toward becoming more like Jesus.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Wavebreakmedia
Lisa Loraine Baker is the multiple award-winning author of Someplace to be Somebody. She writes fiction and nonfiction. In addition to writing for the Salem Web Network, Lisa serves as a Word Weavers’ mentor and is part of a critique group. She also is a member of BRRC. Lisa and her husband, Stephen, a pastor, live in a small Ohio village with their crazy cat, Lewis.