Question: "What does it mean that love is not proud (1 Corinthians 13:4)?"
Answer: First Corinthians 13 offers tremendous insight regarding the Christian perspective of love. As love is described, the stipulation that love “is not proud” is included (verse 4).
The very word translated “proud” offers valuable information. It comes from a Greek word meaning to “puff up” or “blow up.” The English idiom “having a big head” communicates the same idea. To be puffed up is to have an inflated opinion of oneself. But pride cannot coexist with godly love. Christian love is not proud or focused on self.
Jesus Christ is the perfect example of selfless love. Philippians 2:6-8 says that Jesus, though He is “in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.” Jesus did not focus on Himself. Instead, He became a servant and in humility died to save us. As John 15:13 teaches, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
In contrast to the humility of love, the Corinthian believers were known for their proud behavior at times. They argued over which apostle they followed (chapters 1-3), spoke poorly of Paul (chapter 4), boasted of their tolerance of sinful behavior (chapter 5), took fellow believers to court with lawsuits (chapter 6), dishonored God in their taking of the Lord’s Supper (chapter 11), and argued about which spiritual gifts were most important (chapter 12). Paul’s exhortation that “love is not proud” provided a proper corrective for their self-centered attitudes.
Pride is a sin. John taught that the pride of life “is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16). The Proverbs summarize God’s attitude regarding pride: “Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate” (Proverbs 8:13), and, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
William Penn, the founder of the Colony of Pennsylvania, wrote, “A proud man then is a kind of glutton upon himself; for he is never satisfied with loving and admiring himself; whilst nothing else, with him, is worthy either of love or care” (from No Cross, No Crown, chapter XII). This is exactly why love and pride are anathema to each other. In pride we become the objects of our own love; in humility we learn to love others. A person with godly love is not concerned with benefiting himself. The only thing love sees is the need.
When the Good Samaritan stopped to help the man in need on the Jericho road, he didn’t concern himself with how “Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (John 4:9). The Good Samaritan did not care how it looked to others. He was there to help (Luke 10:30-37). His humble focus on someone else’s need is the illustration Jesus used of loving our neighbor as ourselves.