Love Builds Up
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Key Verse 8:1
“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
Christian freedom is a gift of God. If you are a Christian, you have all the precious blessings of heaven (whether you are aware of it or not). You have the grace of our Lord Jesus in abundance. You have the forgiveness of God, and you have a holy purpose to your life. If you are a Christian, you also have eternal life, and entry into the holy kingdom of God; treasures beyond limit. If you are a Christian, Christ has set you free and so you have freedom beyond measure. The question is how to use your Christian freedom! Some Corinthian Christians were using their freedom in such a way that was hurting others.
The passage talks about eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. The Corinthian Christians were eating meat sacrificed to idols freely without thinking about how exercising their freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols was affecting other Christians in their church community. They would justify their actions by saying: “We are free. Christ has set us free and we won’t be bound by food laws any more. It’s not our responsibility if some might struggle over what we are doing.” Surprisingly, this attitude has not subsided among Christians over time; without consideration how their actions might harm others. This passage therefore, is not only about eating meat sacrificed to idols. It is about our responsibility as Christians to exercise our Christian freedom to build up others rather than to be stumbling blocks in their lives— to do good with our freedom rather than to do evil.
Read verse 1. “Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Let’s see what he’s talking about! To start with, we must consider how serious a problem was idol worship in those times; and it wasn’t a small problem. Rather it was huge. The Gentile community as a whole— Greek and Roman— was profusely idol worshiping. It was part of the culture, and the Corinthian public freely engaged in it. They regularly visited the gods’ temples, offered sacrifices and celebrated festivities by eating together the meat of sacrificed animals. What was not eaten was sold to the public at reduced prices. And that is where the Christian community was involved. Most Christians came from humble backgrounds, and the cheap meat found its way to their homes. So a question of conscience was raised among the Corinthian Christians. Should Christians eat meat that had been sacrificed to a god or gods? Paul answers this question of conscience plainly in his letter to them, but he also does more than that! He taught them a principle— a principle by which they could resolve future problems of the like. And here’s the principle we learn here— that Christian freedom must be guided or limited by love. Why then does he bring up a contrast of knowledge and love?
There are those in Christian life who pursue knowledge, and there are those who pursue love. Which is more beneficial and rewarding? Paul says that love always supersedes knowledge by far. In other words, the loving Christian is at a better spiritual advantage than the knowledgeable Christian. Let’s think about what “knowledge” is. While Paul restricted the term “knowledge” to the issue at hand (related to the eating of food sacrificed to idols), “knowledge” is like a vast ocean.
The Jews had been masters of “knowledge”. They possessed “knowledge” from God. God had endowed them with the word of God— the Bible— which they carried with them over generations of time. The word of God they carried had enormous and limitless knowledge. It contained the knowledge about God. The knowledge about the world. The knowledge about sin and of dark powers at work in this world. It contained all of God’s laws for a human being to live by the image of God he or she had been created in. Who, for example, among all the nations and civilizations of the world ever had such a masterpiece as the “10 commandments”— laws about relationships with God and with one another? None, but the Bible contained that knowledge and through it, bestowed blessings upon the Jews who otherwise would have dredged at the bottom of life together with all the godless nations! But God gave them knowledge and it elevated them to the highest purest most blessed people in the world— a people God called “my people”. And they maintained that knowledge from generation to generation. But as glorious as it was for them to have all this knowledge in the palm of their hands, what good did it do them when this knowledge was not used properly! While the knowledge should have driven them to be the Bible teachers of the world, they turned their backs first on the Gentiles, despising them as inferior. Then, as if one tragedy wasn’t enough, while the knowledge was intended to lead them to the Christ, they turned their backs on the Christ who was born to them. What happened to them? “Knowledge” puffed them up, made them proud.
Paul warns the Corinthians “Knowledge puffs up”. Knowledge, has that kind of danger. For example, Christians who recently were born again, and were endowed with the blessings of God, suddenly with all the knowledge that comes to their hearts think they are special. They begin to look down on others who had been Christians for years before them; thinking they know better; understand better; do better. All that “knowledge” when it is not properly guarded and nurtured, only puffs up the Christian. The young Christian who is barely an infant in Christ, does his own thing in his own way, despising his elder’s wisdom. He wont hear of commitments to worship because in his superior mind, a Christian is free to worship anywhere anytime. Isn’t that what the Savior has said, after-all! In that way he despises lessons of commitment and of fellowship and of unity in Christ designed to bless his spiritual life if he only listens. But he does not listen because he believes he is free, and that he possesses better knowledge than all other Christians. His knowledge becomes his idol and his God, slowly replacing the Christ who died for him with the “knowledge” he possesses and with pride.
Paul warns the Corinthian Christians about “knowledge”, that it puffs up. But it does not have to puff up if it is viewed correctly— if it is allowed to be guided by the Holy Spirit and mentored by mature Christian brothers. It does not have to get puffed up. But Paul mentions that it had happened to them. Paul says to them in verse 1, (in quotations) “We know that we all possess knowledge.” These words appear to be a statement they had made to Paul in their original letter of inquiry to him. “We know that we all possess knowledge” seems to be one of those phrases which grated on Paul— as if the offenders are making a statement that they too have knowledge and therefore, can stand up to Paul’s own knowledge about certain things. They seem to have meant that Paul is not the only Christian who possesses “knowledge”. The understanding of this statement will later help us understand some of their justifications for openly eating food sacrificed to idols. (10)
Anyway, Paul acknowledges that we do all possess knowledge. But beware! Knowledge puff up. It’s how Satan fell from heaven. It’s how the Jews abandoned their foremost mission to spread the word of God to the godless world, as their own idea about being “special” above all others. That is how Judas may have felt in betraying Jesus. Indeed knowledge puffs up. It makes the unwary Christian proud and useless and offensive to God. The Christian— as he or she is endowed with knowledge— who stands alone above the rest, thinking that he knows all, that he knows more, that he knows better than others, that his way of thinking, and the way he lives his Christian life is superior because he has a measure of the Holy Spirit and a measure of knowledge— that Christian knows nothing! Read verse 2. “The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.” In fact, he or she knows nothing! The truth is that he or she “does not yet know as he ought to know” meaning that all his knowledge and learning and wisdom are lacking, because what he ought to know, he clearly does not know. He has missed the mark of “knowledge”. “Knowledge” alone can be a spiritual trap that can truly be a vice for some of us. Some Christians study the Bible with the sole intent and purpose of increasing their head knowledge. In the end, they have no heart knowledge of what is true and what is valuable and what is truly worthy. In the end, they are so far above others, that they cannot find anyone they can really learn from, nor can they find any community they can really belong to. Like Cain, they are drifters, restless wanderers in a sea of knowledge. Their commitment to “know” becomes their bane. Paul warns us, “Knowledge puffs up”. If you are pursuing “knowledge” alone, beware that pride doesn’t consume your heart.
But Paul tells them what they “ought to know”. He teaches them a principle— the principle of love— using their “knowledge” or their “Christian freedom” (As it becomes clearer in his words) to love. “Love” in all its glory is the perfect balance to al things especially to “knowledge”. When it comes to what a Christian pursues in his or her life, “love” is completely different. “Love” is what Paul yearned for these Corinthians to pursue. With “Love” they could easily discern questions or matters of conscience, let alone simple and mundane issues like eating meat sacrificed to animals. Paul encourages them that “Love” should be their banner by which they stand tall and proud and majestic (for there is something majestic about those who love, who truly love); Rather than the banner of “knowledge” without love, which makes the Christian reserved, unapproachable, and offensive to God and to man. And here we are not talking about the idea of “Love” which is founded in human understanding and emotion, but that “Love” as God would have us love with. I say this because even in matters of love, the Christian must be ever vigilant and ready to put aside his or her own ideas about what love is or what love ought to be, and listen carefully and learn from the very source of love— Himself. This “Love” Paul is talking about is critical to those who possess knowledge. While knowledge has the power to tear down, despise, segregate, alienate, insult, shun, judge and such, “Love” has the power to build up.
There has never been a single person in all of human history who could boast more knowledge than the Lord himself. The Lord Jesus’ knowledge was beyond measure, considering that He is the author of knowledge in all its glory. He had the knowledge of life and death, of power and weakness, of sin and death, the power and the complete freedom to crush human beings at the hint of sin, and the power and freedom to destroy us anytime and create something new and inoffensive to God. But how then did he exercise the knowledge he had? Although there are countless examples of how Jesus used his knowledge, there is one verse that sums up all. In Jesus’ High Priestly prayer in John 17:2 he says: “For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.” Jesus had all the authority in heaven and on earth. Jesus knew he is the Son of God. He knew that at his command, God would send angels to bring an end to all sinners. He knew that at a word of his mouth, these weak and wretched disciples would be silenced forever. They had been wretched the whole three and the half years that he had been with them. They were more trouble than necessary. They were misfits. They were incompetent. They were offensive. Peter frequently said the wrong things at the wrong time. John and James secretly wanted to oust the other disciples that they themselves might sit at Jesus’ right and left in heaven. They would even wipe out a whole village which opposed Jesus. But God had given Jesus work to do. It was to save their lives. It was to protect them— to serve them— to shepherd them until they could grow into the men God wanted them to be. The word God gave Jesus to do was not easy. It is never easy to d what Jesus had done for them and for us, and this is not only suffering and dying on the cross. Jesus bore with their weaknesses day after day. He prayed for them, and forgave their offenses. Finally he was ready to surrender his life to the cross for them and for us.
What Jesus prayed about in his high priestly prayer was indeed remarkable. Jesus, endowed with all the power and authority of the Godhead, bestowed with awesome knowledge, did not use his power of knowledge to Lord it over his disciples. Rather he used his knowledge to love them. His knowledge did not puff him up. Rather, Jesus was given a task by the father to build up. And with divine humility, he used his knowledge to built up his disciples through the power of love. He saw Peter’s impetuousness, and he used the knowledge he was given by God to build up Peter in stability, until he became a rock in the church. Philip was a calculating disciples, and extremely dense to what was on Jesus’ heart. When Jesus wanted to feed the crowds, Philip did not understand Jesus’ shepherd heart for the crowd, and preferred that Jesus send them away. Jesus did not use his knowledge nor the freedom that he had to humiliate Philip. Rather he tested him time and again until Philip could understand the shepherd heart of God. There are countless stories of how Jesus did not use his knowledge to crush his disciples but to build them up. He alone is the ultimate example of what Love is and what Love does. Indeed with Christian faith, comes knowledge. And with knowledge often comes a proud and abrasive heart and mind for those who think they should use their knowledge to oppress others, to point out other’s weaknesses, to criticize the work of growing Christians, to lord it over those who do not know as much, to separate in their hearts and minds from fellowship with others. But while Jesus possessed knowledge beyond measure, our Lord used it to complete the work God had given him to do. And it was to build up and to grow a people for the kingdom. He used it in love and with love— not a sappy emotional love— but a love ready to give of itself until others are built up.
Read verse 3. “But the man who loves God is known by God.” And that is what is most important. Not to know, but to be known by God. And God knows or would know those who love him and who love others. These Corinthian Christians who raising issues of freedom, and the eating of meat offered to idols, without care for what harm their freedom what doing to weaker Christians, clearly gloried in their knowledge of the freedom we all have in Christ. But they obviously did not have the love to be able to bless others and help them grow in their spiritual lives into mature Christians. Paul exhorts them on what is important. Above all else they must love God. Knowledge must lead them to love God above all else. If a Christian truly has knowledge, he or she would also know what is on God’s heart and Mind. Jesus deeply understood how much God wanted to help and bless his people to be delivered from sin, and gain the eternal life God wants all men to have. Similarly Paul understood the heart and mind of God. With his knowledge he led the Corinthians to Christ and blessed them by being their shepherd until their lives changed. But later they favored knowledge and ignored love. Paul reminded them of what is important. To love God is most important. Next to love others, is most important. To use our Christian freedom to build others up is most important. We do that the way Jesus taught us, the way Paul followed in Jesus’ footsteps, the way of love. And when we love, our love can build up others, and we can be known by God.
It is a blessed thing to be known by God. Of course each person is known by God because God is God Almighty the Creator. But Paul helps us understand that what is important is not to be known by others for our knowledge, but to be known by God for our love. That is a worthy struggle to devote our lives to— to the pursuit of love. To use our Christian God given freedom to love and build up others. It is a shame how many use their freedom — more out of ignorance than out of knowledge— to do as they see fit, with no regard to others. What we say, what we do, how we live, how to interact with each other and others, how we forgive or not forgive, how we hold a bitterness or reflect love and grace, how we do all things in our Christian lives is a matter of our freedom, out choice, out decision. But it is God’s will that we use our freedom and the knowledge we gain through the word of God to serve others, as our Lord did. To grow in love as Paul did following in his Lord’s footsteps. To learn and to grow and to pour ourselves into the work God has given each of us to do. As Jesus finished the work God gave him, we too have work to finish in our lives. We cannot allow anything to hinder the work we set out to do. We need to carefully examine how we are exercising our freedom which God had given us? How are we using the knowledge that God has given us and continues to give us? What is most important to us, is it love or something else. Let us love God and be known by him as his humble and loving servants.