By Daniel Bobinski
Note: In March of 2020 I decided to use this space to focus on God’s greatest command. If you’re connecting with this series for the first time and would like to read the earlier columns on this topic, I encourage you to visit Christian Living’s website to read the whole series. Visit https://www.christianlivingmag.com/columns/
This series on biblical (agape) love is built upon the greatest command: Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. When I first started this series, I pointed out that the “as” in that statement means “in the same way as.” I also pointed out that some argue we’re not supposed to love ourselves; we’re supposed to deny ourselves. I always say both statements are true, it’s just that clarification is needed for what “self” means for each use.
Denying ourselves refers to following the ways of the flesh. Absolutely – we’re supposed to deny the lusts of the flesh and follow after Jesus. But when Scripture says to love ourselves, it refers to cherishing what the indwelling Holy Spirit is doing within us as He transforms us into the image of Christ.
Think of that transformation this way: If God is patient toward us, who are we to think ourselves better than God and be impatient with ourselves? I don’t see any place in Scripture where God gets impatient with Himself, so if we are being transformed into the image of God, then neither should we become impatient with ourselves.
As we move into this next installment of our examination of biblical love, which is Love is not proud, we need to keep in mind a similar differentiation of denying ourselves vs. loving ourselves.
The reason for this differentiation is that two types of pride exist. One of them is healthy; the other is not.
It is healthy for us to “take pride” in something, such as taking pride in our children or our work. That’s because one definition of having pride is “to highly value something.” As an example, if my daughter finds a creative way to solve a problem, I value her ability to do that, so I take pride in her accomplishments.
This is the kind of pride spoken of by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 7:4, where he tells the Corinthians, “I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged…” (NIV). Paul uses the Greek word doxazō when talking about this healthy kind of pride.
However, our 1 Corinthians 13 definition of what love is and isn’t uses a different word. Here, Paul uses the Greek word physioō to indicate an unhealthy type of pride. In addition to being translated “proud,” physioō is also translated “puffed up” and “arrogant.” This idea is to make oneself or one’s work appear greater than what really exists. BlueLetterBible.org tells us it’s similar in concept to a bellows, “used to inflate, to cause to swell up.”
Paul is saying that such actions are never part of agape love.
Jesus is our ultimate example of agape here. As God in the flesh, he had zero need to puff up his abilities or accomplishments.
And so, if we are to love the Lord our God, we have no need to puff up his abilities or accomplishments, either when talking with Him directly or when telling others about Him.
Then comes loving our neighbors. There’s no need to puff them up, either. No need to inflate their ego through flattery. According to the Apostle Paul, doing so would be acting in a non-loving manner. Of course, that doesn’t mean we need to deflate another person, either. It’s best if we acknowledge people’s abilities and accomplishments with a balanced, realistic assessment.
I’ve been around people who regularly over-inflate other people’s accomplishments, and I must say, it doesn’t take long for me to doubt everything they’re saying. Consistently puffing up other people causes one to come across insincere.
That leaves loving ourselves. If we agape ourselves, we can’t inflate our own abilities and accomplishments. As when talking with others, if we inflate our own abilities or accomplishments, it doesn’t take long for others to not trust what we say – and that greatly inhibits our ability to tell others about Jesus.
In the same way that I begin to doubt someone when they puff up and flatter others, I also doubt people when they exaggerate or overstate their own capabilities.
So, that’s what NOT to do. But as I’ve asked in previous installments, what should we do instead?
One could say the opposite of pride is humility, but I think it goes farther than that. After all, it’s easy for some to fall into a pattern of false humility. Therefore, I think the healthiest approach for actions to take in place of being puffed up is simply being realistic.
It’s kind of like when Jesus said for your “yes” to be “yes” and your “no” to be “no.” There’s no need for stretching reality in any direction. You are who you are, you have been gifted with skills that God wants you to have, and with that alone, God loves you so much that he sent His Son to die on a cross to redeem you to Himself – no matter how many imperfections you may have.
The main difference between Love “does not boast” and “is not proud” is the concept of puffing up. To boast means to brag about accomplishments; to be proud in the physioō sense is to inflate one’s accomplishments so as they appear larger or better than what they were.
With that in mind, the healthiest, most agape response is to be a realist. Display no false humility, but also do no boasting or puffing up, either.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is an award-winning and best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. Reach him at email@example.com or (208) 375-7606.