By my count, nine of the 16 qualities of love in 1 Corinthians 13 are negative—what love is not.
We explored the initial two qualities of love in the previous post (“Love is patient, love is kind”). Now we explore the next three characteristics of agapē-love (1 Corinthians 13:4):
love is not jealous;
love does not brag and
is not arrogant,
What are these negative qualities? And what do they look like in our lives?
We may think we know what these qualities are, but the Greek language is richer and more textured than many think. Remember that each of these 16 qualities is expressed as a verb in the original text—that is, they describe activities in our hearts and lives.
At first glance, notice that each of these three traits are internal matters—dynamic attitudes that govern how we see ourselves and others.
Let’s look at them in a bit more depth.
Depending on your English Bible version, this word is usually rendered as “jealous” or “envy.” Again, either of these words could translate different Greek words and concepts.
“Jealous” or “envy,” in this text, translates the Greek action (verb) zēloō from which we get “zeal,” a quality that can be either good or bad. Given that we are “not to zēloō” in this text, it is being used in a bad or negative sense. Therefore, it could be understood in the sense of coveting or lusting to have.
In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, zēloō is used for the Hebrew qanah. Anthony Thistelton, in his commentary of 1 Corinthians, points out that this word “applies the notion of burning or boiling.” So, jealousy or envy is a burning or a boiling emotion. In other words, it is a strong emotion and (in this context) destructive.
The Corinthian Christians illustrate this quality negatively. They were divided amongst themselves, belonging to rival cliques or sects saying, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” and perhaps the worst of the bunch, “I am of Christ.” These groups were competing for dominance within the Christian community. In the midst of this, Paul identifies the heart-issue (1 Corinthians 3:3):
“you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy [zēlos] and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?”
Paul groups zēlos with other unattractive actions, giving us a sense of the contentious and angry nature of jealousy or envy (Galatians 5:20):
… enmities, strife, jealousy [zēlos], outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions …
From these observations, we conclude that love does not express itself in strong and destructive emotions of competition or rivalry to gain favor or position.
“Brag” here translates perpereuetai, a word that is not used anywhere else in the Bible. Discerning its meaning will take a bit of detective work. We can look for other uses of this work in Greek literature of the time in which Paul wrote.
This word appears in the writings of the Greek statesman, Polybius (ca. 200-118 B.C.), and the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.). From these historical clues, perpereuetai has clear negative connotations. It appears to predominantly mean speaking that “wounds others, causes unrest and discord, and represents unfounded presumption.” (TDNT VI:94)
The meaning appears to be more aggressive than simple (obnoxious) bragging. It seems to convey the idea of bragging to wound, asserting oneself, and being severely critical of others.
In simple terms, it is an attitude that not only conveys, “Look at how great I am!” but also “And look how worthless you are!”
So, love does not manifest obnoxious boasting that exalts self and wounds others.
Arrogance is a quality that is universally loathed. One English dictionary describes arrogance as “an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions.”
Paul uses the Greek word phusioō, a verb that appears six times in 1 Corinthians. The word occurs only one other time in the New Testament where it describes a person “inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (Colossians 2:18).
This word is derived from phusa, referring to bellows. Bellows are an instrument inflated with air to cause a fire to burn more hotly.
Depending on your translation, this word appears as proud, puffed up, conceited, or inflated. J. B. Phillips renders it as cherishing inflated ideas of one’s own importance.
At Corinth, this word is used to describe those who knowingly accommodated sexual immorality within the Christian community. Paul says of them,
“You have become arrogant [phusioō] and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.” (1Co 5:2)
Note that arrogance is contrasted with mourning—that attitude of profound loss, deflation, even (if you will) emptiness.
Again, in 1 Corinthians 8:1, the apostle confronts those who presumed to be free to do whatever they want because of their purported greater knowledge. To them, he declares, “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies”—or more memorably, “knowledge puffs up; love builds up.”
Flowing from these word-studies, here is a way of expressing these three qualities or attitudes that agapē-love is not:
Love does not desire to gain favor or position.
Love does not exalt self and wound others,
nor does it cherish inflated ideas of one’s own importance.
What can you add? How have you seen these qualities exhibited in yourself or others?
Take time to memorize these three qualities, adding them to the previous two. Think about them deeply and prayerfully in the context of examining your own heart and behavior.
In the next post, we will examine more of love’s qualities.
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