Love is regularly exalted in our culture, but it is generally seen as a mere feeling that one may fall into or out of. According to Scripture, however, love is more than a feeling. It has an objective content, a series of qualities without which it is not love. And one of the first qualities of love that Paul gives us is that “love does not envy or boast” (1 Cor. 13:4).
Envy, Jonathan Edwards said, is “a spirit of dissatisfaction and/or opposition to the prosperity and happiness of others.” Consequently, love and envy are completely antithetical. When we oppose the “prosperity and happiness of others,” we find it impossible to fulfill the command to rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15). Moreover, dissatisfaction arises in our hearts as a result of covetousness—the desire for things that belong to other people (Ex. 20:17). How can we truly love our brothers and sisters if we think what is properly theirs belongs to us? How can we love our fellow Christians when we fight against their prosperity? We cannot.
If we are to love in the manner that Scripture commends, we must fight against envy. Our cultural climate makes this difficult. Much of our advertising seeks to cultivate envy of others’ lifestyles so that we will seek satisfaction in possessions. Browsing social media can sometimes make us envy other people’s lives. To follow the culture’s lead into envy is worldliness, for by it we are conformed to this world and not transformed according to the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). To love rightly is to put to death our jealousy of those who have blessings that we do not.
Paul also tells us in today’s passage that love does not boast (1 Cor. 13:4). By boasting in our achievements in an untoward manner, we run the risk of causing others to stumble, for they may begin to envy us. We do not want to violate the law of love by creating stumbling blocks (Rom. 14), so it is vital that we not become prideful about what we have accomplished. Our success is only by God’s grace anyway. But this does not mean that we put ourselves down or downplay what we have done in a display of false humility. The Apostle does not command us not to think of ourselves highly but only not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought (12:3).Cultivating a sober self-image that reflects the truth about ourselves is how we can avoid boasting.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
To love other people rightly, we must work to put the envy in our hearts to death and to develop contentment in our circumstances. It is all right to desire something we do not own as long as it does not properly belong to someone else and as long as we are not angry that other people have it. If we find these desires arising in our hearts, we must remember that Christ is sufficient, and we must work to rejoice in the success of others.