Knowledge, Love, and Idols - Page 2 (Lessons on First Corinthians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Knowledge, Love, and Idols
That we all have knowledge. That is, on this subject; we are acquainted with the true nature of idols, and of idol worship; we all consider an idol to be nothing, and so, we cannot be in danger of being led into idolatry, or into any improper views in regard to this subject, by participating in the food and feasts connected with idol worship. This is the statement and argument of the Corinthians. Therefore, they were confident that they could eat meats offered to idols, and not be defiled, or hurt in any way by doing it; because they were made aware of the fact that there was nothing common or unclean of itself, and yet they did not think it was proper to make use of their knowledge to avoid grieving and wounding their fellow Christians. To this Paul crafted two answers:
1. That it was not safe to rely on mere knowledge in such a case, since the effect of mere knowledge was often to puff men up and to make them proud, therefore, it would be better if they acted out of "charity or love instead. Christian behavior is founded on love, not knowledge; and the goal of the Christian life is not knowledge, but love.
2. That though most of them might have this knowledge; that there was just one God, there were some who did not, and they might be injured (see 1 Corinthians 8:7), which shows that knowledge is not a safe guide, and that those who had knowledge ought to act in a way that would not injure those who did not have it.

It was Socrates who said, that this one thing he knew, that he knew nothing; but men wise in their own opinions know everything.

knowledge puffeth up,
This is Paul’s reply of to the statement by the Corinthians, that they all had knowledge. The sense is, "Admitting that you all have knowledge; that you know what is the nature of an idol, and of idol worship; yet mere knowledge in this case is not a safe guide; its effect may be to puff up, to fill with pride and self-sufficiency, and to lead you astray. Charity, or love, as well as knowledge, should be allowed to come in as a guide in such cases, and it will be a safer guide than mere knowledge." The knowledge possessed by these men was not “true knowledge”; not that which comes from above; not sanctified knowledge, or that which has the grace of God going along with it; that makes men humble, and will not allow them to be puffed up one against another; but rather a mere show of knowledge, knowledge with conceit in it, mere hypothetical and speculative knowledge, which is lacking in charity or love.

There had been some remarkable proofs of the misjudgment of relying on mere knowledge as a guide in religious matters among the Corinthians, and it was a good idea for Paul to remind them of it. These pretenders to uncommon wisdom had given rise to their factions, disputes, and parties within the church (see chap. 1-3), and now Paul reminds them that it was not safe to rely on such a guide. And it is no safer now than it was then. Mere knowledge, or science, when the heart is not right, fills with pride; swells a man with vain self-confidence and reliance in his own powers, and very often leads him entirely astray. Knowledge combined with right feelings, with pure principles, with a heart filled with love for God and men, may be trusted; but not mere intellectual attainments--mere abstract science--the mere cultivation of the intellect. Unless the heart is cultivated with love, the effect of knowledge is to make a man a nit-picker and a whiner, and it fills him with useless ideas of his own importance; and consequently he is led into error and sin.
Those who brag about their knowledge do it to please their self, and they have an air of superiority. Knowledge blows up like a balloon or like an automobile tire. Love doesn’t blow up, but it fills up. Love for God and love for others should determine our conduct. Knowledge alone puffs up and tends to make us vain, conceited, and harsh in our dealings with others. This is a danger with a great many folk who feel that they have a lot of knowledge and yet in reality they know very little. Paul is saying that we have certain knowledge and, because of that certain knowledge, our behavior is governed by it.
Well, I don’t care what stage of spiritual development you are in today, you don’t know everything about any subject—and I don’t either. All of us are in the learning process. Paul could say of himself, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings …” (Phil. 3:10). It is the knowledge of Christ which we need above everything else.

Sculptors in ancient Rome were wise to the disloyalty of their citizenry. Because heroes were so frequently discarded, they put detachable heads on their heroic statues so heads could be easily replaced when heroes were replaced.—San Antonio Express-News, Feb. 21, 1997, p. 9G

but charity edifieth.
That is, a man that has knowledge, joined with love for God and his fellow Christians, will seek for that which makes for the edification of others; and without this all his knowledge will be of no avail, and he himself will be nothing. On the other hand, love (Gr agapē) edifies. That is, it does not terminate upon itself as knowledge does, but goes beyond to seek the well-being of others. And it is this incomparably higher principle which the apostle applies to this case.

It is evident that Paul's questioners did not refer to themselves (they already knew everything), but "they wanted to know how to deal with the people who refused to eat meat sacrificed to idols." Despite this conceit, some of them were actually "dinning in an idol's temple"!—“For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols” (1 Cor 8:10; KJV). As some would say today, they were bringing their "culture" into the church!

Charity means love, so it would be well to translate it that way. Our word charity is now applied almost exclusively to giving. The dictionary has this meaning: “generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill, or helpless.” The word “love” in the Scriptures means “the high esteem that God has for His human children and the high regard which they, in turn, should have for Him and other people.” The sense here is, "Knowledge is not a safe guide, and should not be trusted. Love for each other and to God, true Christian affection, will be a safer guide than mere knowledge. The doctrine is that love for God and for each other is a better guide in determining what to do than mere knowledge. It will prompt us to seek the welfare of others ahead of our own, and to avoid what would injure them. It will make us tender, affectionate, and kind; and will better tell us what to do, and how to do it in the best way, than all the abstract knowledge that is conceivable. The man who is influenced by love is not in much danger of going astray, or of doing harm to the cause of God. Paul was wise in recommending that the question should be settled by love; and it would be wise if all Christians would follow his instructions.

Knowledge puffs up; but it only says, “All things are lawful for me, but all things do not edify”: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not” (1 Cor 10:23; KJV); but love edifies. Both knowledge and love have an effect on our lives; both of them make something grow. The difference between puffs up and edifies is striking; it is the difference between a bubble and a building. Some Christians grow, others just swell!

God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. The way to advance in God’s program is to be humble, not to be “blown up.”

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