Love Does Not Envy, Does Not boast, It Is Not Proud or: Celebrating Others
(1 Corinthians 13:4; NLT)
“When Envy breeds unkind division: There comes the ruin, there begins confusion.” Shakespeare has Exeter say in Henry VI
While love binds together, envy, bragging and pride all create division. This, however, is not the only similarity between these three aspects. Interestingly, all three of them are closely linked with each other even though it does not seem like it at first glance. If I envy someone or am jealous of them doesn’t that mean that I feel inferior, whereas if I am proud I feel better than them? Truth is, we all have a tendency to swing into pride in order to get away from this nagging feeling of inferiority. Where there is pride, you can be 100% sure that it is simply a cover-up for a perceived deficiency.
Let’s get something straight, though: There are different kinds of pride and not all of them are bad. There is the dad who is proud of his daughter graduating from university, the daughter who is proud of her achievement and the granny who is proud of her grand-daughter for having done well. And she is proud of herself for helping to make this happen by sacrificing a lot of money to pay for her tuition fees and comforting her granddaughter during the tough times. This form of pride says, “You are amazing, you did well, look at you! You thought you couldn’t do it and here you are in robe and hat, certificate in hand. Now go out and change the world!” It says, “It might have cost me a lot but I have invested in something better. Because of what I did my granddaughter has been able to reach her full potential and look what that has done for her self-confidence!” This kind of pride empowers, celebrates another, creates a sense of community and paves the way for greater things to come. It is a legitimate assessment of the situation. The fruit of it is good.
You wouldn’t believe how many times when praying for someone I felt God nudge me to tell the person receiving prayer that God was proud of them and how many times that resulted in them breaking down in tears and going away changed, knowing they are capable, knowing they are loved. “Well done you good and faithful servant!” are words that we need to hear and acknowledging accomplishments is the honouring thing to do.
If this pride aims at putting others down, though, if its goal is to compare with the intent of elevating ourselves over another, we have crossed the line over to the pride that is deemed unloving in 1 Corinthians 13:4, because love does not boast. In the church, we are mostly pretty aware of that, I would say. If anything, there is more of a tendency to play down our achievements than to advertise them, sometimes to a degree that is not honouring to God as we degrade ourselves and in doing so God as our creator as well. But one form of pride existing in the church says, “I am someone. Already my parents have been leaders in the church. I was around when big name X was here. I have followed Jesus all my life and have been in this church for decades. I have always been a good person, and have been in ministry since my youth.” All this is not new. Paul talks about exactly that in Philippians 3:4-6: If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (ESV). All these things say, “I am better than you and should therefore have more of a say” while the truth is that we all fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23-24; NIV).
If we want to love the way Jesus loves, the words of the apostle Paul need to become a truth in our lives: But whatever gain I had, I count them as rubbish... not having a righteousness of my own ... but the righteousness from God that depends on faith (Phil. 3:7-9; ESV). As good as it is to celebrate victories and be proud of achievements, we must make sure that we don’t find our identity in them but only in the fact that we are sons and daughters of the God Most High.
Putting an end to the negative kind of pride requires knowing that I am loved. Eternally, unconditionally, sacrificially. I am loved by the Lord God almighty, the God who created heaven and earth, the God who gave His only-begotten son so that I may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). I am loved NO MATTER WHAT.
Only if I know that, can I truly be who God created me to be and make peace with my deficiencies. Only then can I let others be who they were created to be, no matter their deficiencies. Pride tries to cover a lack and to convince others that I am acceptable. If I know who I am, if I know I am accepted no matter what, I can lay aside pride.
True love is not jealous. I used to get really offended by the scripture in Romans 9:20-21: Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? (NLT)
I thought how terrible it was of God to create some people to deal with the rubbish of this world and tell them that they have to be okay with that while others get to sit around looking nice. Very obviously, some people have more value to God than others, don’t they? But then I realized that it would probably be much more upsetting if the binmen were on strike than the manufacturers of the Meissen porcelain factory. The question is not one of value. God deemed every single one of us valuable enough to send Jesus to die for us! The question is if I can say yes to whatever it is God calls me to be and to do. Jesus could humble himself to living a simple life, could endure scorn and mocking without explaining himself and suffer a cruel death undeservedly because he knew who he was. This is why he could love the prostitute, fellowship with the tax collector, and resist the very devil’s temptation without fearing for his reputation. We are all different. We are gifted and challenged differently and called to different things. I think it’s Joyce Meyer, who says, “Be the best you you can be!” The question is, can we say yes to that and praise God in the process?
Lord Jesus, thank you for leaving your life of eternal glory to come to this earth and give your life so that I might live. Forgive me where I compared myself to others, envying their achievements and good fortune, thinking you were favouring them over me and trying to be someone you didn’t mean for me to be. Thank you for who you made me. Thank you for all the gifts and skills and insights you have given me. Help me to use them to be a blessing to others. Show me where I put others down for fear they take away from my glory. Help me to glory in you and the righteousness that comes from you through faith. Let me know and experience anew today how much you love me. Help me to be the best me I can be. Teach me how to love like you love me.