1 Corinthians 8:1b-3 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.
Later in this letter Paul will write: “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (13:2). He knows that ‘knowledge’ is a great asset and a powerful resource in the Lord’s work. This is not surprising because the omniscient, all-knowing God has created us in his own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). The trouble, however, is that this image of God in us has been marred by sin and even when we have been REMADE in the image of Christ, this side of heaven we will continue to be plagued by sin’s influence (Romans 7:24-25).
One of the areas where this is most evident is in this area of ‘knowledge’, ‘gnosis’ – it was at the centre of the Gnostic heresy that threatened to destroy the Church in the 2nd Century. Paul gets to the heart of the problem when he says, “Knowledge puffs up”. The source of our sin is pride, and pride puffs up. He also prescribes the only cure for this problem we all have: ‘Love’ – ‘agapé’, self-giving, self-effacing, self-sacrificing love that took Jesus to the cross for us. As Paul says, the biggest problem with knowledge is that for us, during the whole of our earthly pilgrimage, it can only ever be partial (cf 13:9). We can never have the whole story.
Throughout Chapter 8, Paul is dealing with a problem that arose in Corinth about whether the followers of Jesus, who had turned away from idol worship, should eat meat bought in the marketplace attached commercially to the temple belonging to pagan idol worshippers. What he was encouraging them to do as they worked through this question was to be aware of people who were at different stages in the life-long process of sanctification. What is needed in this situation is understanding, listening, supportive love, not a dogmatic, I-know-best, judgmental attitude.
How important it is that we apply this same principle to all our dealings with one another! We are not one another’s Holy Spirit. Every believer, ‘the man who loves God’, is ‘known by God’. IT IS THE HOLY SPIRIT who is in control of the sanctifying process – HE KNOWS what he is doing … and we never have ALL the facts. Yes, we ARE to stand up for the truth, we ARE to live out the truth without compromise, and we ARE always to SPEAK the truth; but we must never fall short of “speaking the truth IN LOVE, [so that] we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” and then “FROM HIM the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:15-16). Remember, when we ‘judge’ others, even just in our minds, we are doing it on the basis of only SOME the facts, never the WHOLE story – so let’s always try to go for the LOVE option and, wherever possible, to give the benefit of the doubt!