Question: "What does it mean that love does not boast (1 Corinthians 13:4)?"
Answer: In 1 Corinthians 13, the famous Bible chapter on love, the apostle Paul details God’s greatest gift. Part of the description of love is a list of negatives—what love is not. One of these negatives, found in verse 4, is love “does not boast.”
The Greek word translated here as “boast” means “to brag or point to oneself.” In contrast to the kindness and patience mentioned in the beginning of the verse, boasting is not a mark of love. Paul’s mention of boasting is significant, given his teaching against arrogance elsewhere in the epistle.
Earlier portions of this letter reveal that the Corinthian Christians were boasting about many things. They touted their allegiance to different apostles, creating division within the church (chapters 1–3). They were critical of Paul (chapter 4). They boasted of their tolerance for immorality within the church (chapter 5). They sued each other in court (chapter 6). These and other arrogant actions are ultimately countered in chapter 13, with love as the proper corrective. According to verse 4, real love does not boast. There’s no arrogance in love.
The actions of the Corinthians are sometimes evident among today’s believers. Rather than live with kindness and patience (verse 4), many promote division within the church, criticize church leaders, brag of their enlightened attitude toward sin, and bring lawsuits against fellow Christians. The remedy for these flaws is found in 1 Corinthians 13. A Christian who exhibits godly love will not boast.
The reason that love does not boast is simple: love is focused on the loved one, not on oneself. A braggart is full of himself, magnifying his own accomplishments and too occupied with self-aggrandizement to notice others. Love turns the perspective outward. A person with God’s type of love will magnify others, focus on their needs, and offer help with no thought of repayment or recognition. When someone says, “Look at how great I am!” it’s braggadocio talking, not love.
Paul had chances to boast, but he chose not to. He had served the Corinthians without a salary, completely gratis, but he did not boast of his sacrifice. Instead, he wrote, “If I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting” (1 Corinthians 9:16). Elsewhere, Paul wrote that no Christian has a right to boast about salvation: we are saved by grace through faith, “so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:9; see also Romans 3:27-28).
Boasting is unloving and sinful. Those called to reflect Christ should strive for the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5), showing a love that draws people to the Lord and gives glory to the heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16).