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(1 Corinthians 13:4b) Refusing to be Pig-Headed People

(1 Corinthians 13:4b) Refusing to be Pig-Headed People

Ref: 1 Corinthians 13:4

Paul has already described what true love is and now it is time for him to describe what true love isn't. In a word, true love is not 'pig-headed' . . . only people are.


“Refusing to be Pig-headed People”
1 Corinthians 13:4b

I enjoy the history of words and expressions. Over the years, Marsha has bought me several books on the subject.

As I studied the expressions Paul used for how love does not act, he described for us a very unattractive behavior. He’s nearly crass in his descriptive verbs.

One thing’s for sure, he tells it like it is.

In fact, the descriptive term that came to my mind was “pig-headed and stubborn.”

When was the last time you looked in the mirror and said to yourself, “Man, you can be so pig-headed?”

What does that mean?

According to one of my wonderful volumes on word histories, this expression dates back to the Middle Ages and the Southeast Asian country now known as Indonesia.

There is the legend of the King who had incredible powers over the forces of nature and life and death. He could supposedly enter a meditative state and, while in that state, actually have his servant lop off his head and then put it back on without ever disturbing the King. 

Whenever the King wanted to show off his power to all his dignitary friends—who, of course, were awed by his obviously unique power—he would have his servant lop off his head with a very sharp sword, and they would all watch as his head mysteriously re-attached itself to the shoulders.

The only problem was, one day, his servant cut off the king's head with a little too much enjoyment – a little too much force – and the King’s head rolled into the river and was washed away. The servant was so frantic – he didn’t know what to do. He saw a nearby pig and thought, that’ll work. And so he used the pig’s head instead. This is obviously not a good bedtime story for little Jr.! Some of you Dads are thinking, this is great!

When the King came to, he was upset. I can understand why. He had his servant killed and then moved his royal residence up into a high tower, where he lived out the rest of his life. He declared an edict that when anyone was around the tower, they were never allowed to look up. They had to keep their eyes on the ground lest they look upward and see the Pig-headed King.

Over the next few centuries, that phrase eventually came to refer to anyone before whom you must grovel. Never question. Just stay quiet and keep your eyes on the ground, and nobody will get hurt.

It became an expression of prideful condescension where all others must recognize that the King – pigheaded that he was – was far above anyone else. He was, after all, King. Even though in reality, he was just an extremely unattractive and unhappy man.

Paul is about to reveal the unattractive side of people. Pig-headed people. People are convinced of their superiority. People before whom you lower your eyes and keep quiet.

And he uses language that we all immediately understand. There are no loopholes here, and no question marks are left. Nobody in Corinth or in Cary can read this text and say, “Huh?” “What’s he mean by that?” 

In fact, I’ve chosen to title this study as practically as I can. I’m going to call it “Refusing to be Pig-Headed People.” Listen, even without knowing the history of this phrase, you just know it isn’t something you want to be.

Refusing to be Pig-Headed People . . . might just be the down-to-earth wording that we will not soon forget.

In our last session, we began with the first two action verbs in this list of 15. Remember, these are not adjectives; they are verbs. So we translated them, beginning in verse 4: Love exercises patience; love demonstrates kindness.

Now Paul begins to rattle off 8 negative statements about agape. They are down to earth and in your face. 

There’s nowhere to hide.

The next phrase is 4b.

Love is not jealous.

It can be translated Love does not burn with envy. 

One author said there are only two classes of people in the world – those who are millionaires and those who wanna be.” [SOURCE: William Barclay, 1 Corinthians (Westminster Press, 1975), p. 120]

Those that have and those that wanna have.

Jealousy, or envy, as your text might be translated, comes from the Greek word meaning “to boil” or “to be fervent”. [SOURCE: Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Regency, 1976), p. 432]

The problem is, this person is boiling over with what somebody else has and they are fervent in their desire to have it too.

In fact, what makes this particular word all that more seriously deviant is that it refers not only to wanting what somebody has, but wanting what somebody has so they can’t have it.

This is jealousy at the deepest, most corrupt, destructive level. [SOURCE: John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians (Moody Press, 1984), p. 340]

This kind of jealousy shows up in 1 Kings chapter 3, where two women show up in Solomon’s court to settle a dispute. They both claimed that a baby boy was theirs and that the other woman’s baby had died in the night. These women were living in the same house and had babies within 3 days of each other. One of the women’s sons was accidentally smothered in the night and died. She took the other woman’s 3-day-old baby and exchanged it for her deceased baby while the other woman was still asleep.

The true mother knew the difference immediately upon waking up, of course, and demanded that her baby be returned. The other woman lied and said she was the one trying to steal her son. 

What a mess. This was before DNA testing. No court could settle the dispute, and since these women were both prostitutes, there weren’t any fathers around who witnessed either birth.

There were no witnesses, and there was no way to solve the case. So it escalated up the judicial ladder until they actually stood before Solomon. Solomon had no idea who the mother was either, but he had insight into the human heart.

He knew that one of these women was potentially driven by jealousy. He knew that true jealousy didn’t care anything about the baby, but only that the other woman would not be allowed to have a son while the jealous woman went without.

So Solomon said to bring a sword and divide the child in half. The true mother acted predictably – “No, Solomon – let her have the baby. I’d rather the boy live than be allowed to be his mother.”

The jealous mother also acted predictably. She said, “Suits me just fine . . . bring a sword.”

See, she didn’t really want the baby – she didn’t care about the baby. But what she wanted was for the other woman not to have something she couldn’t have. That’s what mattered.

In fact, she said to the other woman in front of Solomon, who was about ready to swing the sword, in 1 Kings 3:26, Divide him . . . he shall be neither mine nor yours.

So Solomon wisely said, “Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him. She is his mother.” (v. 27)

Can you imagine jealousy burning so greatly against what another has and what you don’t have that you would be moved to such cruelty so that they can’t have it anymore?

This is the burning of jealousy that causes a man to kill his former wife, who plans to marry another man. He can’t have her, and that other man won’t have her either.

This was the poison behind Cain! He burned with jealousy toward Abel, his brother, whose sacrifice was acceptable to God, which led to the first recorded murder in human history.

This was the jealousy over Daniel’s promotion with the King that led men to plan his execution at the mouths of lions.

We can’t have Daniel’s promotion, but we’ll make sure he can’t have it either.

This is the jealousy of Joseph’s brothers, who sold him to slave traders so that their father would no longer be able to favor him.

We can’t have Jacob’s favor, but we’ll make sure Joseph can’t have it either.

This was Pilate’s admission in the record of scripture that the Pharisees delivered Jesus for crucifixion because they envied Christ’s ministry. It had nothing to do with blasphemy or claims of Messiahship or miracle-working power. Mark’s gospel records, “For Pilate was aware that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy.” (Mark 15:10) 

They literally burned with envy – jealous over Christ’s authority and ministry among the people, to the point where they wanted to put the competition to death.

Do Christians envy other Christians? Do churches envy other churches? Do Bible study leaders envy more gifted Bible study leaders? Do singers envy more talented singers? 

Is there competition in the name of Christ?

Ladies and Gentlemen, agape is living without competing.

This love is demonstrated when someone is glad that another person has something they want and don’t have.

This means that true love is contentment with what God has given you.

Someone sent me this rather humorous, tongue-in-cheek poem several years ago that demonstrates the fickleness of jealous love.

It goes like this:

Sam’s girl is rich and haughty,
My girl is poor as clay;
Sam’s girl is young and pretty,
Mine looks like a bale of hay;
Sam’s girl is smart and clever,
My girl is dumb, but good;
Now would I trade my girl for Sam’s girl?
You bet your life I would.

What would you long to trade with someone you envy? You might envy the health of another Christian, their job, their physical appearance, their spiritual gifts and talents, their spouse, their children, their position, and even their personality.

Ultimately, the jealous person destroys themselves – they fracture their own peace of mind and sense of purpose.

Why? Because their eyes are not on Christ, the author and finisher of their faith – their eyes are on one another.

It was to the Corinthians that Paul wrote,

“When you compare yourselves with one another you are not wise.” (2 Corinthians 10:12)

Remember, Paul isn’t telling the unbeliever in 1 Corinthians 13 to love without envy, he’s telling the believer; which obviously means the believer can live jealous, petty, envious, bitter lives.

It was James who warned the believer,

“If you have bitter jealousy and selfish strife in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. (In other words, admit it! Don’t try to get around it! He goes on to write) For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” (James 3:14-16).

Jealousy is incredibly destructive.

And ultimately, we destroy ourselves.

Nathaniel Vincent writes, “How much of the (pit) is there in the (spirit) of an envious man? The happiness of another is his misery, the good of another is his affliction. He looks upon the virtue of another with an evil eye and is as sorry at the praise of another as if that praise were taken away from himself. Envy makes him a hater of his neighbor and his own tormentor. [SOURCE: Quoted by Alexander Strauch in, Leading with Love (Lewis & Roth, 2006), p 48]

Now we know how wise John the Baptizer was as he responded to his disciples when they came to him and said, ‘Master, our followers are leaving us and beginning to go after Christ.’ And John effectively responded, “We could only hope as much . . . He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

True love does not burn with jealousy over something someone has or is. True love is love without competition.

Paul goes on further in verse 4, with the phrase,

“Love does not brag.”

You could understand Paul to be saying, “Love does not go around shining a spotlight on oneself.” True love does not live to brag. The one who loves with agape is the not the subject of his own conversations. The one who does is merely proving he’s really in love with himself. By the way, this word is used nowhere else in the New Testament. It refers to one who talks a lot about himself. [SOURCE: Rienecker, p. 432]

One author added this insight. Jealousy is wanting what someone else has. Bragging is trying to make others jealous of what we have. Jealousy puts others down; bragging builds us up. [SOURCE: MacArthur, p. 341]

This was the trumpet blowing of the Pharisees. They wouldn’t do anything unless it was going to be published, along with their photo, in the Jerusalem Gazette. This person is in love with their own image. They are show-offs and boasters. And they never run out of material because they are full of themselves. Listen, you can’t be full of yourself and full of agape. There isn’t room in your heart for both.

The truth is that braggart doesn’t recognize that they are actually advertising their own true emptiness, their shallowness of spirit, and ultimately, their own pride.

When Paul wrote this text to the Corinthians they were involved spiritual show-offs, attempting to best each other with the sensational public gifts. They were after the prestigious offices. They all wanted to have the microphone whenever they met for worship. There were trying to out-do one another and one-up each other in the assembly.

The result was carnality and chaos.

Earlier in chapter 4 of this letter to the Corinthians, Paul rebuked the foundation of their bragging when he wrote,

“Listen, what do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

In other words, if whatever we have and are is the gift of God’s grace, shouldn’t we be boasting about the grace of God and not ourselves?

No wonder Paul said,

“God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 6:14)

That’s the only sensible response to the awareness that whatever you are, God made you; and whatever you have, God gave you.

I love the way Moffat translated this phrase when he wrote, “Love makes no parade (of itself). [SOURCE: Alan Redpath, The Royal Route to Heaven: 1 Corinthians (Fleming Revell, 1960), p. 164]

Here were the Corinthians . . . petty, boastful, proud. They were all living in their own little towers, demanding that whenever anyone got near them they were to lower their eyes out of respect and honor. In reality, they were in the process of becoming pig-headed people. This was nothing less than sheer, pig-headed, devilish pride. Think about it . . . it was pride that made the devil the devil. [SOURCE: C. S. Lewis, quoted by Strauch, p. 59]

Paul is making it very clear. If you will love others as Christ loves you: Don’t live to have what others have; Don’t become your favorite topic of conversation.

Paul goes on to add in verse 4,

“and don’t act with arrogance.”

You could render it, “Love doesn’t strut around with an air of superiority.” Your translation may read, “Love isn’t puffed up.” Great description.

It’s interesting to me, yet sad, that the Corinthians had such an obvious problem with arrogance that 6 of the 7 times this verb appears in the New Testament, it appears in Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians. [SOURCE: David E. Garland, Baker Exegetical Commentary: 1 Corinthians (Baker Academic, 2003), p. 618]

J. B. Phillips translates it well, “Love does not cherish inflated ideas of its own importance.” This is the man in Luke chapter 18 who prayed, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other people.” (Luke 18:11) This is a pig-headed man. I’m up in the tower and everybody below can never see my greatness.

One author summarized this terrible attitude well when he wrote, “Arrogant people think they’re better than other people; they think they know more than they actually do; they consider themselves holier than other and imagine themselves more gifted than they really are. They are blind to their own glaring sins, personal weaknesses, and doctrinal errors.” [SOURCE: Adapted from Strauch, p. 56] Arrogance blinds the eyes to truth.

This is the same word Paul used to judge the Corinthian church for not disciplining the unrepentant man from the assembly who refused to stop his sexually immoral relationship with his stepmother.

He continued his incest, and the church thought they were exceptionally loving to include him and ignore his sin.

Paul wrote in Chapter 5,

“You have become arrogant – thusiow – same word used in chapter 13. 

You are not loving . . . you’re arrogant. You are not tolerant – you are proud of your defiance.

So the church today that believes its tolerance toward sin and unrepentant sinners are badges of openness and love is actually self-condemned for arrogance.

I pulled out of the newspaper this past week the article related to the continuing Episcopalian issues with homosexuality.

A meeting had been called with many of the bishops and church leaders. The article said that the Archbishop of Canterbury himself even attended, urging the American liberal bishops to make concessions for the sake of unity. 

Unity, by the way, that they believe must be kept in spite of the fact that homosexual men may be ordained to church leadership. The unity must be preserved while same-sex couples are having their unions blessed with official prayers.

The Archbishop, in his attempt to keep the church unified, pled with the liberal bishops to, and I quote, “exercise restraint” in approving another gay bishop.

How about exercising discipline? How about exercising righteous living for church leaders? How about warning of God’s divine opinion regarding sodomy; that, according to Paul in Romans 1, these men are committing indecent acts and receiving in their own bodies the due penalty of their error (v. 27)

How about standing up for the words of God regarding man’s relationships and judging any immoral sexual lifestyle, whether it is heterosexual or homosexual, as both sinful and forgivable? For this, Christ died!

There is a call for the Episcopalians to exercise restraint.

Ladies and Gentlemen, you don’t exercise a little restraint regarding sinful behavior. There is no such thing as moderation in sinning.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth and the church at large in America—not just the Episcopalians, but the Baptists, Methodists, and Non-denominationalists—and effectively says, “You think you’re loving by tolerating sin? You’ve actually become arrogant.” Thusiow, you are infatuated with your own intellectual gymnastics.

You are actually in love with your own defiance. You are in love with your own autonomy from God’s word.

You have done nothing less than elevate your view above God’s view.

Like Elijah of old, the church needs to restate the clear choice of distinction. You can have Baal – a God that allowed all sorts of sexual perversion, or you can have God – you can’t have both.

Paul told the church in Corinth, you can have fellowship with this immoral incestuous man or fellowship with God.

Don’t be arrogant enough to believe you can have both.

You can have that hidden affair with a woman you work with, or you can have God – you can’t have both. The Bible is clear that unrepentant adulterers go to hell when they die (Hebrews 13:4)

You can swindle and cheat and lie as a way of life, or you can have God . . . you can’t have both. (1 Corinthians 6:10)

Listen, young people, you can have sexual activity outside of marriage – or you can have God . . . you can’t have both. (Revelation 21:8)

They say, “But I love God.”

No they don’t . . . they love themselves. Paul put it this way, “true love for God and others isn’t arrogant.”

It doesn’t proudly walk in a way that God disapproves.

Those who choose sin and sinners over salvation and fellowship with Christ don’t know what true love is. True love—agape love—seeks to rescue sinners from sin and ultimate destruction, not pat them on the back and say, “Everything’s okay.”

True love seeks to find those who will worship God in spirit and in what? Truth.

What has Paul said about true love?

  1. First, agape is the kind of love that doesn’t act with envy;
  2. Secondly, agape is the kind of love that doesn’t brag about itself:
  3. Thirdly, agape loves is the kind of love is not inflated with its own opinions.

These three, in a variety of ways and in varying degrees, say the same thing – true love is truly surrendered humility to Christ and His word.

It’s refusing to live in a tower – or on a pedestal, for that matter.

These three descriptions are a warning for those who want to escape the tower and come back down to earth where pig-headed people are turned into big-hearted servants.

For those who will accept the servanthood of agape.

One of the most effective missionaries that we’re still reading about today was William Carey, the Father of Modern missions. 

He would serve in India, translating parts of the Bible into 34 different languages. He became one of the world’s foremost linguists. Before entering the ministry he had been a shoe cobbler. In fact, before entering the ministry in the late 1700’s, he had taken over his father-in-laws shoe repair shop. While in his shop repairing shoes he taught himself Italian, French, Dutch, Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

Guys who can do that really irritate me. Wait, that sounds like envy. Let me back up . . . and confess.

Once, at a large gathering of dignitaries and other well-known people where William Carey was in attendance, an upper-class snob sneered at Carey and said, “I understand that you, Mr. Carey, once worked as a shoe-maker.” “Oh, no, sir,” Carey replied, “not a shoe-maker, only a shoe-cobbler.” William Carey wouldn’t even claim to make shoes—only to mend them.

The opposite of agape is pride.

The opposite of being pig-headed is being big-hearted. And the ingredients that go into a big heart are, first and foremost, the ingredient of true humility.

You can check yourself this week to see if you’re developing the fruit of agape.

From these three verbs, you can ask yourself these questions.

  • Whose opinion do you value the most? Yours . . . or God’s.
  • Is your lifestyle modeled after God’s word, or what you think is best.
  • How often will you listen to someone go on and on about their own life without interrupting them with news about yours?
  • Does your neighbor’s house, car, or boat make you irritated, or are you glad for them? 
  • Do the accomplishments of other believers cause you to rejoice or simmer with resentment and feelings of being overlooked?
  • How often will you talk about yourself this week . . . your problems, your achievements, your plans?

I like the way one author put it, “Will you walk into a room with the attitude of “Here I am.” Or instead, “There you are.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, agape doesn’t belong in a tower or a tall pedestal. It works best among ordinary people and the daily things of life.

It becomes the evidence of surrendered humility before God.

Martin Luther, the reformer, once said, “God made the world out of nothing . . . and when we are nothing, He can make something out of us as well.

I’ll tell you . . . one of the things He creates is a person who desires to live out, in the realities of daily life, the evidences of and activities of true love.




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