Love Does Not Boast
Love Does Not Boast
From the editor:
Over the next few months, PreachingToday.com is going to run an entire transcript series from Haddon Robinson on 1 Corinthians 13. The first two sermons in Haddon's series have already been posted: The Basic Need and What Is This Thing Called Love?. Just below this note—before the actual sermon transcript—Haddon shares the story behind this wonderful series.
The story behind the series (from Haddon Robinson):
This sermon series came about because of tensions around the Gordon-Conwell seminary campus that were more than I had seen in the years I have been here. Jim White, the former president, resigned after a year, and to some degree unexpectedly, and I was asked to be the president. I did a number of things to try to draw the campus together and work on morale, but one of the major ingredients was I chose to speak a series of messages in chapel on 1 Corinthians 13, because it spoke of love and relationships, and it was positive in the sense that I wasn't going to major on what we didn't do or what we didn't like but on what we should do. There are times when we preach to a situation that is not a crisis as much as it is a presenting need, and that's what I was doing.
This series reflects the intersection of expository preaching with the role of being a leader. The sense of purpose that I had for these messages was strong. I chose the passage because I knew I needed to bring the campus together. As a leader I knew I was not going to be in my position for a long time, so I was thinking, If I'm here for two years, what do I want to accomplish? I saw myself as a middle-relief pitcher. I wanted to do what I could to prepare the campus for the person to follow me. When I'm preparing to preach in a situation where I'm not in a leadership role, in my study of the text I'm more likely to ask, "Why did Paul write this? What was his purpose, and what would my purpose be in this sermon in line with his purpose?" But in this series I started with my purpose and then went to the passage.
As a leader, sometimes you have to articulate for people what your church is about or where you're going, and sometimes you're wise not to have a biblical passage as the basis for your talk, but instead to say that you're not preaching a passage of Scripture. That's because you want to avoid using the Bible like the national anthem at a football game, where you salute it but then do something else. So you might say, "I want to talk to you today about our church, where it's at, where it needs to go." It's far more legitimate to do that than to pretend a biblical passage is directing your thought when it's not.
On the other hand, I did not feel that I should address the situation as it was on campus quite that directly. I use these words very carefully because they aren't always true for me: I felt God was leading me that this is what needed to be preached. Beyond the first message in the series, I did not make a point of saying that this text relates to the need we have on campus. I just preached the text. I didn't think it was profitable to stir up what didn't need to be stirred up.
One challenge for those who aim to preach expository, biblical sermons is how to preach small segments of a large passage. The tendency is to end up with a topical message that uses the text as a springboard. In this series, the first message covered a paragraph, but the rest dealt with small segments of the text, and I think I was successful in keeping it within 1 Corinthians 13 and within the Corinthian letter. First Corinthians 13 is the centerpiece for the Corinthian letter, in that many of the problems that Paul deals with would have been solved if the Corinthians had the attitude described in chapter 13. So I preached the passage but then preached to the wider context of the book.
When you preach at a seminary, you've got a pretty critical audience. It's a good audience, but you sense that there's quite a bit at stake; I wanted what I was doing in the pulpit to reflect what I was teaching in the classroom. I wasn't able to complete the series through the end of chapter 13, but it took me through two semesters.
And by the way, I don't think these are my best sermons; they were the right sermons for a situation. They were prepared on the run, in the sense that I wrote them on top of fulfilling my other administrative duties as president. For each message I wrote a very rough manuscript to help me think my way through the material clearly, but they were not polished manuscripts. That's one reason why it's worthwhile to put them on PreachingToday.com, because most pastors are not preaching for the ages; they're preaching week by week for their church.
The series seemed to make a difference in the spirit on campus. Several people commented that over the course of a chapel series, attendance tends to drop off, but that didn't happen with these messages, as the chapel remained full throughout.
Have you ever looked at the catalogs of a Christian college or seminary? I think they support the documentary hypothesis of the Old Testament. They're put together by different people. The back part of the catalog is put together by the faculty. That's where you have the courses and what it takes to get into the courses. They're about as exciting as a cemetery and as stuffy as a tomb. Nobody reads the back part until you go and take a course. To read the back part before you're taking a course is like reading the want ads when you don't need a job. But they're there. That's the faculty's contribution.
The front part, which is far more interesting, is put together by the public relations people, the admissions department. It's got pictures. Usually the picture is of a broad, green field, and people are out there playing soccer. Or you'll see a professor and students sitting on the grass. Evidently he's teaching while they listen. And you know the only time that professor sat with those students was when they were going to take the picture. Or they're the pictures in the cafeteria—students laughing, eating, frolicking. You never see a picture of some student sitting over to the side by herself. And then in the middle they have a rogues gallery of the faculty. All the faculty are smiling. The only time I've seen all the faculty smile at once was at the end of school, after the Christmas party, and they were going home.
Think about that. Is it false advertising? Well, probably not. What we're trying to project is the fact that when you come to college or seminary, you're coming to a community. So the images tell you that when you come you're not only going to learn, but there's also going to be an atmosphere where you will be loved. And folks come to the seminary looking for community.
The Bible has a lot to say about community. Another word for community is church. The Bible's always talking about that. For instance, in the Corinthian letter, Paul is talking to a community of believers in Corinth who were incredibly gifted. In fact, Paul says they were up in the front of gifted churches that he knew. I look at our community. Without exaggeration I think it is marvelously gifted. I stand in awe of the gifts that many of you have, that people on our faculty have. But Paul wants us to know that gifts by themselves don't form community. Gifts by themselves ought to put us in competition with one another rather than in communion with one another.
That's why in 1 Corinthians 13 Paul says: Look, I show you a better path to follow. Don't put your emphasis on gifts. Put your emphasis on love, because if you use your gifts without love you accomplish nothing. It makes you nothing, and in spite of all that it might appear, you gain nothing at the judgment seat of Christ. Without love you can't have community.
But then the question is: What do you mean by love? The word Paul uses is the word agape. It's unlike other loves. Most of the time when we think of love, we think of emotion. John Whyte, a Canadian psychiatrist, did a study of all the things we link to the word love. They're emotional. For example, when a mother gives birth to a new baby, and they bring that baby to her all wrapped in pink or blue, Whyte says a biochemical change takes place in the mother as she reaches out emotionally for that child. Romantic love is emotional. But that's not what Paul is talking about. Paul is talking about a set of the mind, an act of the will, a determination that whether I'm dealing with friend or foe, I will seek that person's highest good, and I will not return evil for evil.
What does that look like? Paul gives us 15 phrases to show us love in action.
The first two: "Love is patient. Love is kind." Because this love of which he speaks comes to us from God, it reflects God. God's awfully patient with us. And when you sense that he doesn't deal with you according to your sins or rewards you according to your iniquity, you can show that same kind of love to other people. And love is kind. God's kind. Paul speaks often of the kindness of God. So if his love is shed abroad in your heart, one of the marks of a campus like this should be those little, unremembered, unremarkable acts of kindness that we show to one another.
Love does not envy.
And then having set up patience and kindness like a headline for the rest, he talks about some things love doesn't do. He talks about some things that get in the way of community. He says this love of which he speaks does not envy. There's a legend that the devil was crossing the Libyan Desert. He came across some imps that were trying to get a holy hermit to sin. They were giving it their best shot. They attacked him with the lusts of the body, and he didn't flinch. They told him he looked like a fool out there by himself in the desert, but that didn't bother him. They attacked him with doubts, but he was able to handle them. According to the legend, the devil watched all this and said, "Look. If you're dealing with a really holy person, you have to take special measures." And according to the legend, he walked up to the hermit and said, "Did you know your best friend has just been made bishop of Alexandria?" And according to the legend, a look of malignant jealousy crossed that holy man's face. It's just a legend. But if you know much about life you know it has a great deal of truth in it.
A great many folks who don't fall into other kinds of sin often find they're victims of envy. And the things we envy are often trivial. Your roommate has a brand new computer. She just opens it and half the assignments are done, and you've got something close to a typewriter. So pretty soon you begin to envy her for having that. Or somebody gets a better office than you do; it's larger, has an outside window. You feel you're confined to a prison cell. Or somebody you went to seminary with now has a large, thriving church. You read about him in Leadership journal or interviews in Christianity Today magazine. And you're down there at St. Awful by the gas station, and nothing's happened. You find yourself envious. Or you spend a couple of years writing a book. You don't write it in ink; you write it in blood. You slit open a vein. That's how much you put into it. And six months after you've written your book, you read a review of another book in the same field, and the reviewer says "not in my lifetime or in the lifetime of my children will there be a better book on this subject." You're eaten up with envy. Envy seizes on the differences among us. It looks at those differences, and that's all it sees. It eats our souls and our spirits. Where love is, envy doesn't exist, because love sees the other person as an individual, not as a computer or an office or a book.
You say to me, all right, that's all preacher talk. I want you to know I'd be glad to swap. I'd be glad to get what that person's got. I'll swap. Would you? Really? I mean, if you make the swap you have to swap completely, not just for the computer or the other person's position. You have to swap completely. Along with the big church, you get his problems and his pressures. Along with her computer, you get the depression that dogs her. Along with that person's scholarly reputation, you have to take his children. You have to take the other person's insipient cancer. You want to swap? When you really know somebody else and where they hurt, where they fear, you don't envy them; you want to help them.
Edward Arlington Robinson in a poem about Richard Cory said:
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, imperially slim.
He was always quietly arrayed,
He was always human when he talked,
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good morning," and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich—richer than a king.
Admirably schooled in every grace.
In short, we thought he was everything
To make us wish we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light.
We went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
When you really know people—really know them—you don't envy them.
The only way I know you can overcome envy is to realize that whatever gifts you have have come from God, and whatever the other person has has come from God.
When we were living in Denver we had some friends that came over once a month. They were pastors. Dale Schlaeffer, one of God's great people, had a church of about 600 members. There was a group of people in Denver who got together and decided they were going to try to impact the community—they were gifted laypeople, they had a good preacher. These other people started a church, and within six months that church had grown to a thousand people. Dale's church was about a mile from this new church. Even worse, people from his congregation began to attend the new congregation. One evening he told us he was trying to deal with envy. The next month when we got together, I said, "Dale, how's it coming?" He said, "I've defeated it. God did that for me." I said, "What did he do?" He said, "One day I was praying about this and I was saying, 'Oh God, help me get over this envious mood.' It was as though God said to me, Dale, didn't you pray that you'd be able to reach a lot of non-Christians in your area for Christ? Yeah. I'm doing it up the street. Didn't you pray that there would be a number of solid churches in the city of Denver? Yeah. I got one going down there." And Dale said, "I suddenly realized we were not in competition. That church was reaching people we didn't reach." That new church moved into a large, empty church building, and Dale and Liz wrote a check and supported the building fund. They saw those people as people of their community, and God blessed them.
Love doesn't envy. If you live before God, you believe God gave you all you need to be all he wants you to be, and he does that for other people.
Love does not boast.
Paul says, "Love doesn't boast." If envy is what the person who feels they have lesser gifts feels to the person who has greater gifts, boasting is what the person with the more apparent gift does to those who have lesser gifts. In many circles we have boosted boasting to a fine art. I used to hate to go to ministers' conferences when I first got in the ministry. Everybody was striving for a place in the sun. "How's your church doing?" "Oh, okay. How's yours doing?" "We've doubled in the last three years." I hated it. There's always that sense that God's doing something for me, not doing it for you.
My father was not a particularly sophisticated man, but he didn't like testimony meetings. I remember him saying, "When I was a lad, I was a runty kid. There were 12 children in the family, and every Friday my mother baked a batch of bread. She'd say, 'Willie, come here.' She'd give me a big slab of bread covered with butter, and she'd say, 'Don't tell the others.' I'd go out and tell the others, "Look at what Mother gave to me!" They wouldn't think more of me. They'd think even less of Mother." And my dad would say, "Sometimes when people give testimonies I feel that God's giving them bread he's not giving to me."
If God gives you something, accept it. But boasting is saying we're richer than other people, better looking than other people, more gifted than other people. Boasting puts us in competition rather than in communion. If you live your life before God and accept what he has given you and just do it, you can live without boasting.
I have a friend by the name of Fred Smith. Fred died at 92 years of age. Over the years we became good friends. He was a blunt sort of guy. He came to visit us when we were at Denver Seminary, and he said to me, "Haddon, God has given you some good gifts." I said, "Well, thank you, Fred." He said, "What are you thanking me for?" "You know, what you just said." He said, "I wasn't complimenting you; I was complimenting God." He said, "When I'm complimenting you, you'll know about it." He was right. When you say you're gifted, who gave you the gift? When you live before God, boasting's excluded.
William Carey is called the father of modern missions. As a young man he was a cobbler. He repaired shoes. But he was a brilliant linguist. Even as he repaired the shoes he learned Greek and Hebrew. Later he taught school, and then he went to India. Because of his linguistic ability, 34 dialects and languages have the Bible in their language. When he was in India, he spent time with people who were there on business, usually people educated in the best schools. One day in one of the dinners, someone said in a rather loud voice, "Mr. Carey, I understand that when you were growing up you were a shoemaker?" And Carey said, "No, no, no, sir. I was not a shoemaker. I repaired shoes. I didn't have the ability to make them." Somebody who can handle life that way is able to take India for God.
Love doesn't boast. It doesn't destroy community.
Love is not proud.
The third thing Paul says about people and community is that "love is not puffed up." The NIV says, "Love is not proud." Think of somebody being puffed up. I think of cotton candy: all fluff, no substance. People can be puffed up. They can be proud and not boast. They've got too much finesse to do that. But they can look down on other people. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8 that one of the things that causes us to be puffed up is knowledge. Knowledge puffs up; love builds up. Isn't that the curse of the academic world? Isn't that the curse we often face after we have been through seminary and we have learned things we didn't know before we came, and then we look at other people who don't know them? We don't say anything, but we look down on them. If your big question in life is What do they think of me? you'll do anything to impress other people.
Love does everything it can to preserve community. It doesn't envy. It doesn't boast. It is not puffed up. And you're better at it than you realize you are. Because if you have been gifted by God, the same Spirit who gifted you indwells you, and the mark of his presence in your life is the way you love people. You can't do this by determining that you're not going to envy or boast or be puffed up. But you can say before the day begins, O God, help me today. Show me myself as I really am, and show me others as they really are. And above all, show me who you are. Love protects community.
For your reflection:
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? _____________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ___________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? _______________________
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? ______________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ___________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? (For help on what may require credit, see Plagiarism, Schmagiarism and Stolen Goods: Tempted to Plagiarize.
Haddon Robinson was a preacher and teacher of preachers all over the world. His last teaching position was as the Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.