“Knowledge and Love” 1 Corinthians 8:1-3
One of the questions that have constantly plagued the church through the ages has been the question of what do we do about the grey areas? Grey areas are those practices not specifically forbidden or explicitly permitted in the Scriptures.
In the realm of church worship, two positions emerged on the “grey area” issues. These two positions defined the extremes. Martin Luther believed whatever was not explicitly forbidden was permitted. John Calvin taught things not specifically permitted were forbidden. Today we believe that the truth is somewhere in the middle.
In 1 Corinthians 8, we find a big grey area in the life of the Corinthian church. “What do we do about meats offered to idols?” Paul’s discussion of this issue will cover chapters 8-10. If we are going to understand this discussion, we need to grasp an important principle. There is a balance between knowledge and love.”
“Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.” (1 Corinthians 8:1). One disadvantage we labor under is that we only hear one side of the conversation. This is not unlike listening in on one side of a telephone conversation. While we can guess what the person on the other end of the line said, we don’t actually know. Similarly, we don’t know with any certainty what questions the Corinthians asked the Apostle Paul. However, we do know the issue was meats offered to idols. Pauls’ answer was enormously important to the Corinthian believers.
Everyone who was a Christian knew that these idols were nothing but metal and wood, they were not really gods at all. Therefore, the process of offering this meat to these pieces of brass and wood did nothing to the meat, so it was acceptable for Christians to freely eat of this meat. If other Christians had a problem with this they were dull and uninformed and needed to grow up in their knowledge.
On the other hand, some saved out of idolatry were sensitive to this practice. These folks did not believe in the idol gods. Still, they were not certain it was right in the sight of the living God to be identified with this kind of practice.
Who was right and who was wrong? The Corinthians didn’t know. Thus, they wrote to the Apostle Paul to find the answer. These first three verses are the beginning of Paul’s answer.
As Paul began his answer he cited a statement from the letter that he received. The statement was: “We know that we all have knowledge.” The “pro-eating idol meats” group found this one fact enough to win their argument. The fact was that no one disputed the idea that there was only one God and the idols were not actually gods. This was a good place to start an answer.
Lest the “pro eating meats offered to idols” group use this knowledge position to steam roll their opposition, Paul strongly suggests they may use this knowledge unwisely. Consequently, the Apostle introduced a principle to help them keep things in balance. Here is the principle Paul wanted the Corinthians to keep in mind: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
It is crucial to understand first what Paul did not say before we focus on what he did mean. Obviously, when Paul used “knowledge” in a statement, he was referring to how the word “knowledge” was being used in the letter he received. Paul did not mean knowledge of God Himself or of the Word of God is unimportant. This is not a case of “we should park our brains at the door and let our hearts (emotions) take over.” God is not against knowledge and Paul was always concerned his readers had sufficient knowledge to operate. This is why he wrote his epistles.
In Hosea 4:6 God said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me. Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”
The Apostle Paul himself prayed for the Colossian believers that they “might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Colossians 1:9). He constantly reminded the folks to whom he wrote that he did not want them to be ignorant of any portion of God’s revealed truth. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 he wrote, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.” Obviously, Paul was not saying knowledge is not to be desired or evil.
Second, Paul was not drawing a disjunction between knowledge and love. Some claim Paul said we could only have knowledge or love. They claim knowledge works against love and love works against knowledge. This is not what Paul said.
If Paul did not assert these two ideas, what did he mean by the statement “Knowledge puffs up and love build up?” While Paul desired they have proper knowledge, the knowledge that God gives, applied with God given love. This principle was a warning about the danger of knowledge apart from love. Knowledge apart from love tends to “puff up.” The Greek word means to literally inflate like a balloon. Inflation is temporary. Knowledge not tempered by love tends to inflate the ego of the one who has knowledge, but not make a lasting change in the life of the one who knows or the lives of others. The goal of acquiring the knowledge can be self-exaltation.
Knowledge is something we must have. God is a God of knowledge and He gave us His book that we might grow in our knowledge of Him. We are to acquire knowledge and use it in the realm of love. When this happens, the influence of divine love turns the goal of acquiring and using knowledge from self-exaltation to loving God and service of others. Knowledge and love together edifies or builds up. “Building up” is permanent change. Paul would ask the Corinthians and us, what is your motivation for acquiring and using your knowledge? Is it to puff up or is it to build up?
Having focused on the relationship between love and knowledge, Paul proposed two basic applications to help us identify true knowledge and real love. First, the person who has true knowledge is the person who recognizes how little he understands and really knows. The Apostle wrote in verse 2. “And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.”
The one who thinks that he has fully known everything does not really know much. This person thinks that he has arrived at true knowledge. We could paraphrase this verse, if someone thinks he knows it all, he really doesn’t know anything. In fact, he doesn’t even know what he ought to know.
Sir Isaac Newton, the scientist who discovered gravity and made a host of other brilliant discoveries, once said that he “was only gathering pebbles on the shore of the ocean of knowledge.” The true genius is the one who although he has acquired much knowledge, still recognizes how much he doesn’t know, how much he has yet to learn.
Second, Paul reminds them that only the one who is known of God can love God and thus can love others. “But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.” (1 Corinthians 8:3).
The Apostle tied the two ideas of loving and knowing in this one verse. Absolute knowledge and unlimited love are found together only in the person of God. The external evidence of our relationship with God is that we love God. We can only love Him if He first has known us and saved us. The Apostle John told us. “We love, because He first loved us.” (1 John 4.19).
If we have a relationship with God (i.e. He knows us) and thus we love Him, then we will love those He loves.
What do we do with this reality? Why do we seek to learn about God and about the Bible? We do not seek to learn so we can win in Bible trivia and so everyone will think we are spiritual. We should grow in our knowledge of the Bible and of the God of the Bible so we can grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior and so we can help others grow up into Him.
If we really know Him, we will love Him and we will also love those who are loved by Him. May God help us to both know and to love.