David Gilbert preaches on 1 Corinthians 13 at RTS Jackson. The message is entitled “Love Is Not Arrogant.” The following is a lightly edited transcript.

It’s a privilege for me to be with you today to preach the Word of God to you. I ask you, if you would, to turn with me in the Scriptures this morning to 1 Corinthians in chapter 13. I’m going to look with you at verse 4 in particular of this chapter, but I want to read from verse 1 through verse 4. Hear now the Word of our Lord. Paul writes this:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant . . . . (NASB)

Thus far the Word of our God and may he bless his Word to our hearts. Would you pray with me?

Our Father in Heaven, as we come this morning to consider your most holy Word, Lord, we pray that you would help us to understand it. We recognize our utter dependence upon your Holy Spirit to illumine the Scriptures to our hearts. So we pray, Lord, that you would open our eyes to understand your Word. We pray that you would sanctify us by your truth. We pray that you would grant us faith and love to receive this Word and to weigh it up in our hearts and to practice it in our lives. We do pray it in Jesus’s name. Amen.

A Spiritual Life Is Characterized by Love

Well, 1 Corinthians 13, of course, is one of the most famous chapters in the Bible. But we easily forget that it comes in the midst of an argument that Paul is making about a certain way of life. In 1 Corinthians 12 to 14, Paul is debunking the Corinthians’ view of spirituality. To them, being spiritual means exercising flashy or attention-grabbing gifts. Tongues, of course, would be an example of that, showing off their knowledge and wisdom with no concern for others.

To Paul, being spiritual means to behave as one sanctified in Christ. As one purchased by Christ and indwelt by the Spirit, the believer must walk by the Spirit and do what is pleasing to Jesus. And such a life looks like denying self and showing concern for others. And Paul has just called this kind of lifestyle, at the end of chapter 12 in verse 31, a “more excellent way.” A way that is beyond all comprehension, that it transcends the gifts. And it’s no surprise that Paul would call this life, which is characterized by love, a surpassing way in view of what he said elsewhere in the Scriptures concerning love.

For example, in 1 Timothy 1:5, Paul has said, “The goal of our instruction is love.” In Colossians 3:14 he said, “Put on love, which is the bond of perfect unity.” In Galatians 5:22, “The fruit of the Spirit is love.” Many more examples, of course, could be given, but it’s clear that love is indispensable. That’s really his point in the opening three verses of chapter 13: without love ministry is completely ineffective. It’s fruitless. Love is not some abstract concept or an inner reality of the heart. Love demonstrates itself. Love is put on display through what we do or what we don’t do.

And then Paul gives us 16 characteristics of love using 15 different verbs. Now, Paul is not defining love so much as describing it, for every verb in the original indicates what love continually does. Love is not some abstract concept or an inner reality of the heart. Love demonstrates itself. Love is put on display through what we do or what we don’t do. But it’s vital to keep in mind as we read these descriptions of love that Paul is at one and the same time correcting the Corinthians, who are not loving, and he’s giving us a description of the character of our God. He’s positively relating to us, as he tells us what love does and doesn’t do, our God’s character and the saving grace of Jesus Christ. For God is love, and man can only love as he knows God. Indeed, knowing him, we must be conformed to our God and Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In view of that, I want to consider just one characteristic of love with you, and that is at the end of verse four of chapter 13: “Love is not arrogant.” Now we’re going to look at its description right there, love is not arrogant, and then we’ll look at the flipside in a bit.

Love Is Not Arrogant

The arrogant man is obsessed with status and attention-seeking.So first, love is not arrogant. This verb translated “arrogant” means puffed up, to be swollen with pride, even as a balloon is filled with hot air. You can imagine the puffer fish and you get a pretty good image of what puffed up means. One who is puffed up has an inflated sense of his own importance. He believes his words, his opinions carry the weight that the utterances of others simply do not. So he has little respect or concern for the welfare of other people. The arrogant man is obsessed with status and attention-seeking.

The Corinthians Were Arrogant

Now, it’s not that this sin is exclusively found at Corinth, but the verb is reserved almost entirely in Scripture for the Corinthians. Paul uses this verb seven times and six of the occurrences come in 1 Corinthians. So the Corinthians are a case study in arrogance, and one of the clearest examples is in 1 Corinthians 4, where Paul uses the verb three times. So turn back with me there, if you will, 1 Corinthians 4.

In chapter 4, verse 1, Paul instructs the Corinthians how they are to think of the apostles, and it’s namely as servants of Christ and stewards, he says, of the mysteries of God. Now, in the Corinthians’ minds, leaders were to hop, skip, and jump according to Corinthian expectations, and they were making critical judgments about Paul, who didn’t conduct himself according to a Corinthian mindset. Well, Paul told them, frankly, in verse 3, “to me, it’s a very small thing that I’m examined or judged by you.” Paul’s judge is the Lord. So Paul saw his task as simply being faithful, not to live up to Corinthian expectations.

Paul then pressed them in verse 5 about their judgmental attitudes, telling them, essentially, you have no business judging a man’s heart. That’s the evidence of their arrogance. And then he brings it to a matter of application in verse 6. He says this, “Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written, in order that no one of you might become arrogant [puffed up] in behalf of one against the other.”

Essentially, what Paul is saying here is this. His intent, as he instructs the Corinthians, is that they learn to pay attention to what is written, to God’s Word, above all else. They’ve got to learn to subject their tastes, their opinions, the prevailing cultural winds or whatever to Scripture.

Love Submits to Scripture and to Others

And surely we must do the same because we all have our own opinions about how church leaders and seminary professors and others ought to conduct themselves, what they ought to be doing, what they ought to say. But are they being conformed to our reason or to what’s written? What’s king: our judgment or the Word of God? Each person must not have the attitude, “What I think is right because I think it.” If you haven’t met someone like that yet in the church, I guarantee you, you will. But I pray that it’s not you, that you don’t go into the church with the attitude that my thoughts are right because I’m the one who thinks them.

You see, that’s the height of arrogance, and it’s common in our culture, both in non-Christian circles and among believers, that you exalt yourself. Paul’s saying you cannot behave this way. You are not the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus Christ is, and your savior and what pleases him is revealed in his Word. So your reason, your feelings, your experience is not the paragon of truth. And to think in such a way—besides being idolatrous, which Paul doesn’t bring up right here—it deprecates other people because as you exalt your tastes and your views, it is over against others. That’s not love. It is self-centered pride. It’s the “it’s got to be my way” philosophy. But as Paul exhorts in Romans 12:10: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love, literally out-doing one another in showing honor.”

You are not the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus Christ is.So how can the exaltation of your own way or your thoughts possibly square with the cross, which is the epitome of considering others as more important than yourself? Pride, as evidenced by those who confess a crucified messiah, is simply repulsive because it does not value what Jesus did, lay down his life, or Jesus’s way of life.

We Cannot Be Prideful Because Everything We Have Comes from God

So Paul asked three questions of the Corinthians going on in chapter 4, which we ought to take very seriously. In verse 7, he asks first, “For who regards you as superior?” Literally, who made you to differ? How is it that you look at yourself in this inflated way? Who in the world do you think you are?

Well, let’s say that you are different. Let’s say that you have gifts, great gifts, superior intellect, a particular skill in this area or that. Who made you this way? Let’s say you can read some Greek, and you can parse a Hebrew verb. Who gave you the skill? God did. It’s not about you.

Second question, “What do you have that you did not receive?” Well, the only answer is: nothing. As John the Baptist said in John 3:27, “A person can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.” God gives you what you have. But that is not how an arrogant person thinks. And if we’re honest in our own prideful delusions, that’s really not how we’ve thought either.

We think we’ve achieved something by our own mental prowess so we deserve the ear of others: “You need to listen to me because I know something. I’m smart. I’ve studied. I have something to contribute to you. You ought to pay attention.” That’s a lie. You are the recipient of the gift of God. It’s not that we don’t labor. It’s not that we don’t grow. But God is the giver.

So Paul asks, “And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” Everything you have is from God, and his gifts are not to be used in a way that exalts you; it’s to be used in his way, which is for his glory and to benefit the church. You’re not given anything to exalt self, to inflate yourself, to advance your own name.

But that’s what the Corinthians are doing. They are seeking honor for themselves, and they are criticizing others, particularly Paul. How quickly we forget Proverbs 15:33, “Before honor comes humility.” Or how about James 3:16, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist there is disorder and every evil thing”?

The Arrogant Have Puffed Up Words but No Spiritual Power

Well, Paul’s pointed words to the arrogant come to a climax at the end of chapter 4, verses 18 to 20. And he says this, “Now, some of you have become arrogant as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power, for the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power.”

Now Paul’s making a contrast here between words and power, and what he seems to be saying is, puffed up people are big talkers. Spewing a lot of hot air, however, does not display a transformed heart. Talk is cheap. Where’s the life to back it up? Where’s the evidence? Not the form of godliness, not the inflated talk about the godliness, not the knowledge that puffs up, where’s the power of the gospel displayed? Where’s the faith working through love?

Now one thinks of Mr. Talkative here in Pilgrim’s Progress. I don’t know if you remember Mr. Talkative, but Christian and Faithful came upon Mr. Talkative soon after they had joined together as they were on their way. And as they made their progress as traveling companions, Mr. Talkative told Faithful that he would be glad to be their companion and to speak of things that are profitable and things of the God of heaven.

Talkative then elaborated about the value of profitable conversation. And he said this, “For by doing so, a man may get knowledge of many things. A man may learn of the necessity of the new birth, the insufficiency of our works, the need of Christ’s righteousness. A man may learn what it is to repent, to believe, to pray, to suffer. What are the great promises and consolations of the gospel to his own comfort? To refute false opinions, to vindicate truth, and also to instruct the ignorant.”

Well, Faithful was impressed by Talkative’s speech, but Christian reminded him, “The Kingdom of God is not in word but in power. He talketh of prayer, of repentance, of faith, and of new birth. But he knows but only to talk of them.”

Mr. Talkative was puffed up with knowledge, but he had no practical religion. He was, as Christian said, “a saint abroad and a devil at home.”

Brethren, that should strike us. It should strike us hard. Do we have a sincere love of God? A zeal for Christ? A concern for our neighbor? Or do we just talk of them? In class, you discuss theological details, you discuss systematics, biblical theology. But is it all talk? Are you moved to a deeper affection for the Lord Jesus Christ? Your slogan here, “to have a mind for God an a heart for truth,” is that the case?

Have you been moved to see the greatness, the majesty of God, his glory, the infinite distance between your God and you, the sinner, your own depravity in view of his majesty and how you stand in need of his grace even more? And you are amazed that that God would send his own Son to die for your sin, he would spare him not and rescue you? And you’re overwhelmed, and you desire to serve him and live for him?

Or have you discovered that you take delight only in proving people wrong and taking out your theological sword and slicing up those with whom you disagree? Have you become quick to criticize, skilled at validating your theological point? Because you’re going share what you think, forgetting that it’s the fool who delights in revealing his own mind. Forgetting that it’s the fool who is arrogant and careless. “Such a man stirs up strife” (Proverbs 28:25). And that’s exactly what was going on in Corinth. God hates the one who spread strife. God hates the proud.

Are you coming out of seminary being concerned for the unity of the church, the bond peace for which Jesus spilt his blood?

You see, you can’t build a foundation on what is puffed up. It’s flimsy and unstable. It threatens to rupture like a structure set on balloons. It’ll never work. But love edifies. Love is the perfect bond of unity. And what love does, as evidenced by our Lord Jesus Christ, is love humbles itself. So love is not acting with arrogance. Are you putting it away? And instead, are you doing the flipside?

Love Is Humble

See, secondly, love is humble. If love isn’t arrogant, love must be the practice of humility. How many of us would define love as exercising humility rather than flaunting one’s knowledge and ostentatious behavior? With the a humble there’s wisdom. Such a one is peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy (James 3:17).

If someone disagrees, love doesn’t hastily answer with proud, fiery words, ready to knock you down because love isn’t quarrelsome. It’s kind, longsuffering, not concerned simply to be right and to show off. Love aims to gently correct in the hope that God will lead someone to the knowledge of the truth. There’s a concern for the soul of the erring person, just as Paul has in 1 Corinthians chapter 4, where we’ve been. He doesn’t quit on the Corinthians, though they are stubborn and bullheaded, and he calls them arrogant. He also calls them his beloved children; he calls them brethren. And he continues to teach them. He labors for them. He’s spent and expended for their sake. Paul’s concerned for their spiritual welfare. And he can’t come to them at the moment, but he sends Timothy to remind them of his way in Christ, which is the way, he says, of a fool. It’s the way of a weak servant, one who gives himself without concern for self. That’s love.

Being a Christian Means Being a Servant

If love isn’t arrogant, love must be the practice of humility.And is that the way that you men will view ministry? To be a mere servant of Christ? And the word Paul used for servant in 1 Corinthians 4:1, was an underrower, or one who’s just like a galley slave rowing a ship, an underrower. You’re nothing. Certainly not worthy of exaltation. You’re nothing. You’re a bondservant of the Lord Jesus, and you’re glad to be it. Is that what you want? Not to exalt you, but to boast in the glory of your master?

Humble Love Means Not Flaunting Your Liberty in Christ

Neither does love proudly parade your own liberty as the Corinthians will do, and Paul will get on them about that in chapter 8. They know that idols are nothing, and they eat meat sacrificed to idols with no concern for who it might offend, what weak-conscienced brother they might hurt. But Paul is going to teach them that love dictates your behavior. Love denies self for the good of a brother. Love doesn’t say, “You know that scruple in your conscience? Well, it’s just stupid and you shouldn’t have it. So I’m going to do what I’m free to do.” Now, that’s not love.

Paul says, “If food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again.” That’s a drastic statement, but what’s the principle? Love puts others first. Love refuses to think everyone should bow down to my preferences because I’m distinguished.

Christian Love Puts Others and Their Spiritual Well-Being First, Just Like Jesus

Paul wrote, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but with humility of mind, regard others as more important than yourselves.” Such humility means we’re not stiff and inflexible. We don’t treat others with contempt thinking they are beneath us in thought and station. And even if we’re owed honor, we don’t assert our rights. That’s pride. And it’s certainly not the way of our Savior who came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.

Seminary is often a brewing cauldron of pride.If we serve, our chief concern, like that of Jesus, will be the spiritual well-being of others. He was incarnate to redeem us. He gave everything for us. If our Lord was gentle and humble of heart, and he lived a life of humiliation whereby he humbled himself unto death in love, how can we walk contrary to that pattern? For we’re called to trace our Savior’s steps. What does humility in practice look like? It looks like self-denying service that through love we serve one another.

Now, brethren, I say to you that seminary is often a brewing cauldron of pride. It’s a place where you learn much; much knowledge is set before you. But are you fighting that? Are you taking the knowledge and thanking God that he would reveal such things to you by his grace? And are you praying that he would allow you to take what you learn and use it in a service to the church and not just be filled with hot air?

Are you asking that God would help you, by his grace, to put pride to death? To kill the arrogance that would destroy effective service to the Lord Jesus? And that he would enable you to put on humility, the character of the Lord Jesus Christ, for God gives grace to the humble? May he help us to live in such a way.

Let’s pray together.