Knowledge for Love’s Sake (1 Corinthians 8:1–3)

Knowledge is power. The crucial question is, Power for what? First Corinthians 8:1–3 offers an answer:

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.

In these verses, Paul contrasts knowledge as power for self with knowledge as power for others. The former is the viewpoint of the Corinthians. The latter is Paul’s own. Which is ours?

At various stages in my life, I have used knowledge as power not only for self but also over others. During my freshman year in college, for example, I studied philosophy. Why? I desired to know the truth. But to be honest, I also desired to be right.

Here’s another example: As a new associate pastor, I started a Bible study for young adults in my church. At our first meeting, I taught the small group for 30–40 minutes, then asked for questions. A young woman—an elementary school teacher—asked if in the future I could lead the group in discussion rather than lecture them. I took offense. Why would I want group members to pool their ignorance in a discussion group when I could enlighten them with a lecture? I was a teacher, not a facilitator.

The issue at stake in these personal examples is not knowledge. Knowledge is a good thing. Rather, the issue at stake is motivation and relationship. Why do I want to know? Based on my knowledge, what relationships with others do I want to have?

The Corinthians desired to know because it enlarged their freedom of action. In 1 Corinthians 8:1–11:1, the issue is whether Christians can eat food sacrificed to idols. The Corinthians know that “an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one” (8:4). From this truth, however, they incorrectly infer that they can eat whatever wherever and whenever they want.

In other words, their motivation is selfish. What’s in it for me? And their relationships are elitist. What do I care if my actions offend you? You’re an ignoramus!

To a significant degree, Paul agrees with the Corinthians about the nothingness of idols and the somethingness of God. Unlike them, however, he deploys that knowledge for the good of others. Just as there is scope and sequence to how we learn things in school, so there is scope and sequence to how we learn things in Christ. Education requires patience because rooting out ignorance takes time. Taking time requires love. Love requires sacrifice.

The Corinthians, concerned for little beyond their own freedom, are impatient, unloving, and self-aggrandizing. Their knowledge puffs up their own egos. Paul’s love builds up others in the knowledge of the truth.

Knowledge is power. Does our knowledge result in huge egos? Or does it result in changed lives?

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