Love Is Not… Boastful?… Pompous?… Conceited?…

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People often ask me “Which is the best translation of the Bible?” Of course, I have to mention The New Peace Treaty: A New Translation of the New Testament for a New Millennium (my translation of the New Testament), but when it comes to “translations” there is no “best.” Translations are a matter of comfort and usefulness (as is the case with most things). Some people want their Bible to sound like the Bible and they really want to work at understanding it, so the King James Version, written in modified Elizabethan language is the ONLY Bible for them. Others want their Bible to be more readily accessible and there are a variety of translations that use contemporary language. God’s Word Translation is a good one at capturing the meaning of the text. The RSV (Revised Standard Version) is still the best at being accessible and yet being formal. You can click anywhere on this sentence for a list of the most common Bible translations. [1] (And of course, have I mentioned The New Peace Treaty?)

What I usually recommend is that they get a parallel Bible or that they use more than one translation. A parallel Bible is useful because it will place three or four translations next to each other. Some will only use two, but the more translations of differing styles the better. Comparing the styles allows the reader to see differences in how some words are translated, which usually means there is something important going on or some debate or variety as to how to translate that word or phrase. You do not have to know Hebrew or Greek. All you have to do is notice when there is a glaring difference in translations and look up that word in a concordance and figure out for yourself what the text and word means.

I said all that because the fourth qualification of what love is (or this case, what love is not) according to Saint Paul is translated in a variety of ways. Paul says that love is not περπερεύομαι (perpereuomai). The NAB (Catholic Bible) translates it as “love is not pompous”; The King James (and other older translations) use “vaunteth not itself,” whereas The New King James renders the word “does not parade itself”; The Revised Standard Version says that “love is not boastful,” as does the NRSV and other similar translations; The Good News Translation (one of my favorites) says that love is not “conceited”; and The God’s Word translation says that love “does not sing its own praises.” Incidentally, I translated it as “love does not brag.”

The most common words or phrases used are “pompous,” “conceited,” “boastful,” “brag,” and some version of “showing off” or “being grandiose.” If I were translating the New Testament now, I would probably go with “Love is not showy or flashy.”

But in keeping with recent tradition, let’s look closer at what some of these words really mean.

Pompous means to be “characterized by an ostentatious display of dignity or importance.” (That’s the problem with the dictionary – sometimes you have to look up the meaning of the definition of the word you were looking to understand.) Ostentatious is a word used for a “conspicuous show in an attempt to impress others.” And of course, to be “conspicuous” is to be “easily noticed.”

This is in keeping with Jesus’ teaching not to be showy with our faith. We are to simply live it, not parade it in front of others. Jesus tells us to pray in private, fast in private, and do acts of charity in private and secretly. This does not mean that cannot join in public prayer or tell someone when we are fasting, or even let others know of our good works – Jesus tells us to “let our light shine” so people will see our good works and praise God. So there must be some nuance or way to balance these two competing ideas of “do in secret so no one sees” and “do in front of others so that others will see and praise God.”

The nuance is simply, “Who gets the attention?”; “Who is being praised?” What Jesus is talking about are those people who are public with their faith because they want to be praised for it. They pray in public so others will see them and think they are holy or special. They perform their acts of charity so that others will see them doing it and praise them for their “selfless” efforts. Jesus is criticizing people who are POMPOUS – they go out of their way to be noticed being religious so that others will be impressed with them and praise them (and not God).

In the same way, to be “conceited” is to have an “excessively favorable opinion of one’s own ability and importance.” The word has its origins in a word that meant “self-deception.” It is a thought or idea formed in the mind that is not true. It is vanity. So to say that love is not conceited is to say that “Love is not vain” and “Love is not deceptive.”

To brag is to speak boastfully. To be boastful is to speak with excessive pride or exaggeration about oneself.ImageWhen all these words and definitions are taken together, the word περπερεύομαι begins to take shape. It is grandiose and insincere. It is all about appearances and has nothing beneath the surface. It is something that declares “Look at me!” it is deceptive in nature, making others think something about the person doing it that just is not true. It is like when a politician presents himself as sweet and kind and concerned for the welfare of others, but when we see the person in private when there are no crowd and no cameras and see that it is all an act designed to win votes. That is what περπερεύομαι is and that is what love is not!

When Saint Paul is saying that love is not περπερεύομαι, he is saying:

Love is gentle;

Love is sincere;

Love directs the attention from oneself and onto others;

Love is humble and meek.

What he is saying is that love is not accomplished by grand gestures, but by the little, sincere, everyday things we do. Love does not have to brag, or boast, or parade itself, or make grand gestures because love is enough in and of itself.

Love creates a stream from within that flows outward to others. Without love, there is a void, a vacuum – and nature abhors a vacuum. So that vacuum tries to suck everything inward into the self. The symptoms of this sucking of everything into the self is bragging, conceit, grandiosity, insincerity, and showing off – all the things that love is not.

But God is love, and that vacuum within is God-shaped. When we are filled with God, we are filled with love, and that love not only fills us, but overflows within us and spills out from us. It is then that we find that all those simple little things we do each day are grander than any of the grand gestures we may have done before. This is because those grand gestures were not a result of love, but an attempt of sleight of hand, a lie, an attempt to convince others (and even ourselves) that we really do love God and neighbor, when the truth is we barely have the ability to love ourselves.

Life is lived in the every day. Life is lived in the mundane humdrum of routine existence. It is in the mundane routine that love lives. If we make love a part of our routine, then our lives are filled with love. When that outward flow of patience, and kindness, and tolerance, and freedom, and generosity is as routine and natural as that morning cup of coffee or that first cigarette – just something that you do without thinking and have a hard time functioning without it – when that happens, there will no longer be a need for grand gestures because every gesture will be grand.

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[1] The Message is popular, but it is a paraphrase of a translation and not a translation from the original languages. The NRSV is used in many mainstream Protestant denominations and The Episcopal Church, but it must be remembered that the NRSV will change the text to avoid using gender pronouns (i.e. “He” often becomes “They.”)

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