Text for the Week: on Being Puffed Up

1 Corinthians 4:6-9

I have applied all this to Apollos and myself for your benefit, brothers and sisters, so that you may learn through us what “Not beyond what is written” means, so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive?
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings! If only you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to humans. 

Reflection

I never realized how closely related the words “envy”, “boast”, and “proud” are in 1 Corinthians 13:4. Of course that is because until recently I had never understood the fact that 1 Corinthians 13 is in many ways a summary of the letter to the Corinthians. I read this chapter in isolation from the rest of the letter and I never appreciated how each word in this list referred back to some earlier wisdom Paul had presented. I never saw that Paul writing the letter to show the Corinthians his views on their situation and then to show how each of his views stemmed from Love, and since Jesus has told us love is the primary responsibility for anyone who wants to be called his follower or a child of God we should then listen to Paul’s wisdom. But as I am starting to recognize how chapter 13 works within the letter, I am beginning to understand how these concepts work together for Paul.

Last week I talked about envy or rather how the word is not tied to our wants and desires but our burning passion. I think the next two words Paul uses help to explain this idea further, because they are about being puffed up. We use the phrase “a big head” for someone who shows signs of being self-aggrandizing, but Paul used a word that means puffed up. I think like how Paul talked about our passion, we must be a little careful with these words, because there is a fine line between self-confidence and self-aggrandizement. We are not healthy we lack confidence in our abilities, but neither are we healthy when we believe too highly in ourselves. We all know this, each of us understands the line from Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”. But often we do not grasp the true wisdom that is behind Paul’s words because we only think in terms of what we are and are not able to do.  In our society we have the mindset that it is not bragging if one can back it up, we believe that we cannot both be right and be bragging. But what Paul is getting at is that one’s confidence in one’s own abilities or knowledge can actually puff us up and lead us to break down relationships.

The words Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 13 for bragging and proud do not necessarily relate to being false or overly arrogant. Thy can just as easily be read to being puffed up in a way that leads us to being independent of others. My pride in my relationships is not simply about me not knowing my limitations it is also about not letting people help me. My pride is what makes me take on too much responsibility and doing so can lead others to thin “well if you don’t want me to help, I won’t.” Being puffed up even in areas where we are right pushes us toward an unhealthy independence. We can easily start thinking that we can do everything ourselves and push away those we love. Paul is not simply thinking of the arrogant who believe they can do anything but those who believe they do not need anyone else. In 1 Corinthians 4 Paul is pointing out that the factions of the Corinthians church do not think they need one another, and they can get by without the others in the church. Being puffed up is simply having too much confidence in one’s own importance. When that takes over the person and ultimately the Church is in trouble.

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