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“Love Is Not Envious, Boastful, or Prideful”

by Dr. Eitan Bar
5 minutes read

“It does not envy” (1 Corinthians 13:4c)

Envy, at its core, involves resenting others for their advantages, successes, or possessions and desiring those for oneself. This negative emotion can corrode community bonds and personal contentment. In the context of the early Christian communities to which Paul was writing, envy could have been a significant issue, given the diversity of social, economic, and spiritual gifts within these groups. When Paul states that “love does not envy,” he highlights that love—agape love—is selfless and seeks the good of others without regard for one’s own gain. This kind of love rejoices in the blessings and successes of others rather than feeling threatened by them.

This change in perspective turns potential envy into joy and strengthens relationships. Regular self-examination about our reactions to others’ successes can help us identify and mitigate feelings of envy. Understanding that everyone has unique challenges and blessings can foster empathy rather than jealousy.

Cultivating a sense of gratitude for what we have, rather than focusing on what we lack, can diminish the power of envy. Actively supporting and encouraging others in their endeavors can transform envy into a positive force. By investing in others’ success, we build a community where mutual support and love predominate over competition.

Furthermore, seeking a deeper understanding of one’s worth, as seen through the eyes of God, can alleviate feelings of inadequacy or jealousy. According to Jesus, our value does not derive from worldly achievements but from intrinsic worth—we are children of the Most High and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29).

In summary, Paul’s instruction that love “does not envy” serves as a call to nurture a heart that genuinely delights in the welfare of others. This approach not only enhances personal well-being but also contributes to building a more cohesive and supportive community. It’s a reminder that the fulfillment found in love is vastly superior to any satisfaction that might come from envy.

“It does not boast” (1 Corinthians 13:4d)

Boasting, as Paul understands it, involves speaking of one’s accomplishments or qualities in a way that is primarily intended to gain admiration or envy from others. This behavior not only reflects an underlying pride but also typically diminishes others, positioning the boaster as superior.

The original context of this directive was the Corinthians, a community diverse in gifts, socioeconomic statuses, and ethnic backgrounds. In such a setting, boasting could easily lead to divisions and strife as individuals sought to elevate themselves above others based on their abilities, spiritual gifts, or heritage. Paul’s admonition against boasting was, therefore, integral to maintaining unity and fostering a spirit of mutual respect and humility within the community.

In practical terms, to live a life that “does not boast” means embracing a humble view of oneself and one’s accomplishments. This wasn’t an issue just with the Corinthians. “Do not think of yourself more highly than you should.” (Romans 12:3) reminded Paul the Romans. It involves recognizing that every ability and opportunity one has is not merely a personal achievement but a gift that should foster gratitude rather than pride. This perspective is not about diminishing one’s value or achievements—as some think—but about framing them in a way that acknowledges the contributions of others and the grace that underlies all successes.

Refraining from boasting aligns closely with the teachings of Jesus, who exemplified humility throughout his life. From washing his disciples’ feet to his sacrificial death, Jesus consistently placed others’ needs and well-being above his status or comfort. His example challenges contemporary followers to consider not only how and what they say about themselves but also the impact their words have on others. Does one’s speech uplift and encourage, or does it seek to assert dominance and superiority?

Applying this aspect of love today calls for a conscious effort to shift the focus from self-promotion to the promotion of others. It asks individuals to consider how they might use their platforms, whether in personal conversations, social media, or professional environments, to highlight the contributions and value of others. This approach not only fosters a more inclusive and supportive atmosphere but also reflects a maturity of character that recognizes the interconnectedness of our lives.

Thus, when Paul instructs that love “does not boast,” he is not merely advocating for modesty in speech but for a deeper cultural and personal transformation towards humility and genuine community orientation. This teaching remains profoundly counter-cultural, challenging individuals to evaluate not only their actions but the intentions behind their words and the impact they have on the fabric of their relationships and communities.

“It is not proud” (1 Corinthians 13:4e)

Pride, often manifesting as an inflated sense of one’s superiority over others, directly contradicts the essence of love. This admonition is crucial in the context of the Corinthian Church, where discord and rivalry stemmed from comparisons and self-aggrandizement. Paul addresses this issue head-on, linking the behavior of the Corinthians to a broader spiritual principle that aligns with Jesus’ teachings on humility.

Pride and hyperindividualism are closely connected as both emphasize an exaggerated sense of self-importance and personal independence. Pride, in its negative form, involves an inflated ego and a focus on one’s own achievements and status, often leading to a disregard for others. Hyperindividualism, characterized by an extreme emphasis on personal autonomy and self-reliance, similarly prioritizes the individual over the collective. This mindset can foster a lack of empathy and community as individuals become more concerned with their own success and validation rather than the well-being of others.

Pride disrupts community cohesion by placing self-interest and personal glory above mutual support and collective growth. In the bustling and competitive environment of Corinth, where social status and spiritual gifts could easily become sources of personal pride, Paul reminds the believers that such attitudes undermine the foundation of the Christian faith, which is love. Love, as described by Paul, seeks not to elevate the self but to lift others, fostering an environment where all can thrive together.

Moreover, rejecting pride and cultivating humility align with Jesus’s teachings, which emphasize the blessedness of being “poor in spirit.” This beatitude praises those who acknowledge their spiritual need and depend not on their own merits but on God’s grace. It’s a call to recognize that true worth comes not from human achievements or recognition but from one’s relationship with God.

Therefore, when Paul instructs that love “is not proud,” he advocates for a way of life that prioritizes others’ well-being and values community harmony over individual distinction. This teaching challenges believers to examine their motivations and to strive for humility that reflects the character of Christ, who, despite his divinity, chose a path of lowliness and service. By living out this kind of love, Christians are called to embody the values of the kingdom of heaven, where the last are first, and the humble are exalted.1

To summarize, Paul’s profound exposition in this verse not only defines love by its attributes but also by what it is not, providing a clear contrast between the behavior that cultivates the community and that which disrupts it. This distinction underscores the transformative power of love as taught in Christian doctrine, which calls for a selfless and humble approach to interactions with others. By embracing these virtues, we foster a spirit of unity and peace, reflecting the higher calling of love that transcends personal gain and leads to a more harmonious society. This teaching encourages us to examine our motivations and actions critically, ensuring they align with the altruistic nature of true love, which seeks to uplift and unite rather than divide and elevate oneself.

This article is from my book, “The Theology of Love: Christianity’s Most Underrated Doctrine.

The Theology of Love
  1. I invite you to explore these kingdom values, as well as Jesus’s Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount, in my new book, “The Kingdom of Yeshua: Christ’s Timeless Wisdom to Revive Your Spiritual Life.↩︎

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist