Do you have knowledge and understanding? Do you know the Scriptures and its truths? That is good and highly commendable. Would that all of God’s children would apply themselves to the gaining of such knowledge. Knowledge and understanding of God’s Word are good and must be sought after. But, in that knowledge, do you truly love God? Does your knowledge of the Scriptures and of God motivate you to love Him and your neighbor? Our love for God cannot be separated from our knowledge of God and His Word. Love of God, and true knowledge of God, are inseparable. One cannot be had without the other.
That is exactly the point of the Word of God that we are going to consider today. We read in I Corinthians 8:1-3, “Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of him.” We can boast in our knowledge of God and of His Word. We can boast in our ability even to defend the truth. But if that knowledge of God is not seasoned with our love for God and the neighbor, then that knowledge means nothing. “Though I understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and have not love, I am nothing” is what we learn in I Corinthians 13:2. And that is what we learn here in this passage of I Corinthians 8 as well.
Our knowledge of the Word of God must always be coupled with our love for our brothers and sisters in the Lord. When it is, then we will know how to live in the whole area of Christian liberty. That is really the subject of this chapter: Christian liberty—that is, the area of life where Christians may differ in their point of view; the area of life where something is not really mandatory according to the dictates of God’s Word. We learn of this subject in connection with what was going on in the church in Paul’s day. One of the main issues of debate was the eating of meats offered unto idols, as is evident from verse 1 of the chapter that we read.
As in all controversies that arise in the church, the issues were not always so easily discerned. In early times Christians lived in a culture that was given over totally to the worship of heathen gods. Asia Minor was predominately Grecian. The cities where the early churches were established, therefore, for the most part served the Greek gods and goddesses. In many of the major cities huge sacrifices were made every morning in service to the particular god or gods of that city. And much of the meat of those sacrifices was taken and sold in the marketplaces of that city. Those who went to the market to buy their meat, therefore, could be relatively certain that they would end up with a piece of meat that had been offered to an idol.
But this was only part of the issue involved in the eating of meats offered to idols. Also, in many of these cities there were banquets and feasts held in the courts of the temple. That is where many of the market places were found. Probably these banquets and feasts were similar to the restaurants and cafes even today that surround places of business.
The controversy in the early church was this: May a Christian attend such banquets, or buy such meat in the marketplace and then eat of what had been sacrificed to a heathen god? As is always the case in a controversy in the church, there were people of varying opinions on all the matters. The Jews said, “No, you mayn’t eat that meat. After all, that meat was dedicated in the service of an idol.” And in the Old Testament, it is true, the Jews could not eat meats that had been dedicated to an idol. Those meats were unclean. So they said, “No.”
Gentile believers had no problem regarding the meat and the food sold in the marketplaces as nothing more than food. Man is not polluted spiritually, after all, by what goes in at the mouth, but by what comes out of the heart.
Paul, in this chapter, now attempts to solve the controversy, one that was being debated hotly in the church of Corinth. He sets forth the main principle of God’s Word that ought to govern matters of Christian liberty. And he does that in these verses that we consider.
Knowledge by itself puffs up, but knowledge with love edifies. And it is that principle that we are going to consider for a few moments today.
Knowledge puffs up a person in pride and conceit. What knowledge? Well, almost any knowledge can do that. Not that knowledge is itself wrong. But sin lies in a person, and sin can puff a person up in pride. Money, power, fame, and authority can do the same thing. Whenever a person has more of something than another, he can become vain and conceited about it. And it is no different with knowledge. The man of learning, the man of education, the man who is knowledgeable in the liberal arts, can oftentimes feel of himself that he is far superior to those who do not have his learning. He can become puffed up in that knowledge and begin to look down on or even become haughty toward those who are not gifted with the amount of knowledge that he has gained.
So knowledge in general can puff a person up in his pride. But the Word of God that we are considering speaks in particular of knowledge and understanding in the Scriptures and its application to life. When Paul writes in verse 1 of this chapter that “we know that we all have knowledge,” then he is making reference to the members of the church. And the knowledge about which Paul is speaking is knowledge of the truth, knowledge in the principles of God’s Word, and how to apply it. In the controversy over meats offered to idols, this is the knowledge that certain members were boasting in. They boasted in a higher level of knowledge and understanding in the Christian faith than others. They believed that they had “one-up” on the weaker Christians who could not get beyond the fact that meat is meat. So the knowledge of this passage is the spiritual knowledge of the Word of God and what it tells us.
That knowledge, Paul very bluntly states, puffs a person up in pride. When a person has such knowledge, then he becomes conceited and proud in it. Now, we are going to explain that in a moment, but before we do, we had better be very certain what Paul is saying when he makes this statement. I do not want anyone to misunderstand. Paul is not saying that spiritual knowledge in the Scriptures is a bad thing. Paul is not discouraging you and me from taking Bible in hand and reading it and studying it. He is not telling you and me that ignorance in the Word of God and doctrine is better than knowledge because it will make you more humble. That is the emphasis in the church-world today. It does not matter if you know anything about God and Christ or of salvation and so on. You must simply be sure that you love them. Knowledge is not important. Only love is. So they too separate love from knowledge. We must simply experience the love and the presence of God and of Jesus Christ. Christianity is nothing more than that.
But that is not true. The Bible demands of you and me that we gain an objective knowledge and learning in the Scriptures. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge,” the prophet says. And one who does this, one who understands Scripture and is able to apply it to his life, is to be commended, not frowned upon. That in the first place.
In the second place, this passage is not saying that knowledge in itself automatically puffs up a man up in pride. On the contrary, true knowledge of God is a virtue. And it is not true that every man who has knowledge, especially spiritual knowledge, is automatically going to be a proud fellow. There are many knowledgeable men in the Scriptures who are humble, who conduct themselves on the level of all of God’s people.
So we must avoid these misconceptions of what Paul is teaching us here.
And yet, nevertheless, there is a strong, strong warning issued in the verses that we consider. Knowledge puffs up a person. What Paul means to say is this: When knowledge stands alone, it always results in pride and haughtiness. Even in the child of God, a knowledge and understanding of the Word of God and things spiritual, if that knowledge is left standing alone, will result in a sinful attitude toward others. That is what this passage teaches.
And against that, we must be strongly warned, because there is always a tendency on the part of some in the church of Jesus Christ to think that they, as members of the church, know more than the other person. They are more knowledgeable, they are smarter than he or she is in the truths of God’s Word. They know more. They begin to view themselves as a certain elite people that are the last remnants of those who know and maintain God’s Word. The others in the church are just little peons whose life shows that they are ignorant of the truth of God’s Word. As a result, such a person begins to set himself or herself up as a standard of truth: what is right and what is wrong in the church. They usually do not say it, of course, but they think and they exude the attitude that if it is not done their way then it is not right, because “I know God’s Word and I understand its application to life better than others. I’m right and you are wrong.” And these set themselves up as a guard in the church and they look at themselves as the last bastion of truth. They become proud in their knowledge. In fact, they delight in making others seem ignorant and small.
Against such the Bible gives strong warning. The Bible speaks to these saints when it says in James 4:12: “There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?” We have already noted what Paul writes in verse 2 of I Corinthians 13, a very important truth concerning love itself: “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” I can have the gift of prophecy, I can understand all mysteries of God’s kingdom, I can have all knowledge, but if this is all I have, if this stands alone, I am nothing.
So knowledge alone can definitely puff a person up in pride. And Paul explains to the Corinthian believers who had fallen into this sin, in verse 2 of this passage in I Corinthians 8: “And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.”
Now the meaning of this verse is simpler than what it may seem at first. A man who thinks that he knows any thing is one in the church who has in fact become puffed up in pride. Paul writes, “You thinkyou know something. You are proud in your knowledge. Your knowledge, therefore, stands alone. And because of this, you really know nothing as you should know it. Your knowledge is vain and empty. Your knowledge causes you to look down on others, your knowledge makes you haughty and judgmental. You really know nothing as it truly ought to be known. That knowledge has no real value. Why? Because it does not help the brother, much less does it help yourself.”
That is, in essence, what Paul teaches us in verse 2. Knowledge alone means nothing. It is not profitable. But as soon as knowledge is coupled with love, it takes on a whole new perspective. Knowledge must always and ever be coupled together with love. Why? Because of the nature of love. Love never seeks self. Love always is looking to and caring about the desires and needs of others. Read what Paul says of love in I Corinthians 13 and you will find that love always looks out, not for me, but for the next guy. That is the nature of love.
And that is because love is a bond that ties us together with others who believe. Love draws us to one another as fellow members in the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Love draws us to one another so that we long after his welfare and his good. Love, you see, is that which is rooted in the heart of a man. It is not mere affection, as the world makes of love today. It is not simply an emotion that changes like the wind. True love is rooted in knowledge and understanding. It is stable. It is like a rock. It serves to bind two or more persons together. And it does so in such a way that we are inseparably drawn to that person or those persons so that we desire, more than anything else, their welfare and good.
This love of the passage before us is a love that we as God’s children have for Him, first of all. Of course it is. One cannot truly love without God. God is love. There is no true love apart from Him. Our text speaks of this love of God in verse 3, “But if any man love God, the same is known of him.” That is where our love starts. God, by His grace, has chosen His people from eternity. And He sends forth His Spirit to work in their hearts. That Spirit sheds His love abroad within us. So much does God love His people, that He sends the regenerating work of His Spirit into them so that they begin to love Him. And they begin to seek after Him. They begin to seek to do His will. We want to please Him, not ourselves. And, therefore, we begin to live our lives for God. We love His Word and we love His commandments and we seek to do them and to live in them.
Neither can we overlook the fact that when we love God, this automatically means that we love Jesus Christ, because this is love—that one lay down his life for his friends. God, in His love for us, sent His only Begotten Son into this world. And Jesus Christ, in His love for us, took upon Him our sins. In doing so, He bore them away, paid the price for our sins, so that we no longer are subject to condemnation and death. How much Christ has loved us.
And because the Spirit whom God sends forth to dwell in our hearts is in all reality the Spirit of Jesus Christ, that Spirit sheds abroad in us the love for Christ, so that we are bound together with Him in one body. We long to know Christ and all He has done for us on the cross. There is in us, therefore, first of all a love for God, and then a love for Jesus Christ.
But our love reaches out farther than just God and Jesus Christ. By means of our salvation, we have all become members of the body of Christ. That means that all of us are members together with Him. All of God’s children are one in Christ. There is no more important truth than that! Christ does not respect one person more highly than another. We are all sinners. We are all saved by grace. We know that. That is the center of all our knowledge of God’s Word. The love that we have for God and for Jesus Christ is, therefore, a love that we have for one another. If there is no love for the brother, John tells us, there really can be no real love for God either. That is why the King James translators translated the word for love in verse 1 of this passage as “charity.” The word “charity” is exactly the same word that is used in verse 3 but is translated there as “love.” In verse 1 they translated it as “charity”— because they recognized that love must show itself in the charitable deeds of love that we do for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
My knowledge of God’s Word, therefore, must be used always and ever out of love for my neighbor. That is why Paul says to the Corinthian saints: “Love edifies. Love builds up others because it is always seeking their welfare.” Love seeks to build up in others affection, virtue, holiness, and blessedness. It seeks to elevate others higher than oneself. It seeks to help them and not to hurt them; to understand them and not to despise them. Love is not condescending. But love rather humbles and esteems others better than oneself.
This will come through in one’s attitude. He will be charitable to the brother or sister. He will reason with them on the same level and not act as if he is somehow on a higher rung of the ladder than they are.
With love, true knowledge is exhibited. Let us use the saints in Corinth as our example. Paul tells those who are puffed up in their knowledge concerning meats this: “You’re right. You are right in your knowledge. We know that to eat meat offered to idols does not defile a man. There is nothing wrong with eating that meat. We know that. But,” Paul says in verse 7 of this same chapter, “there are some men who cannot get beyond the fact that when they pick up that meat, they are taking something that was dedicated to a heathen god. And their consciences smite them. They believe it is wrong. Everything that I eat should be sanctified and set apart for my God, for Jehovah, not for some heathen god. This meat is defiled, and if I eat it, I am defiled. It bothers me. And it bothers me that others in the church see no problem with eating it. Don’t they see what I see? The church is not living very holy if they eat this meat.”
Now these brothers in the church who think they are the strongest brothers are actually the weaker brother. And Paul says to those who have knowledge, “Why should the brother with knowledge not eat of these meats, though there is nothing wrong in doing so?” Why? Simply because they love their brothers in the Lord. We avoid doing things that might hurt or offend the brother who has a weaker conscience. May I go to the market and buy meat offered to idols and take it to my house and eat it with my family in private? Sure. There is no sin in that. And my liberty in this instance need not be judged by another man’s conscience. Those who have a problem with my eating that meat may not judge what I am doing. But why go out into the public and join with those who eat such meat in their festivities? That was what was being done. And that offended the weaker brother, either because this brother became angry or because he joined the stronger brother in eating against his own conscience.
The point is, that everything in the church must be done for the edifying of the brother, not of ourselves. We should be willing to refrain from something simply for the sake of others, because we love them. And the knowledge God gives us in spiritual matters should always be used to build up our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
That is the conclusion of the matter. That is the underlying principle of Christian liberty. It is the underlying of all of our dealings with one another. Charity must prevail. Knowledge will then be profitable and desirable. And so will they who have it.
The incentive to use knowledge in this way is this: The person who does so is known of God. God knows those who love Him and who show that love to the brother. God knows them with an eternal knowledge rooted in His love for them. They are His beloved.
Let us exercise ourselves in the knowledge of God’s Word. But when we use that knowledge, may we use it in love, in order that we might edify others by means of our knowledge.
Let us pray.
Gracious and eternal Father in heaven, again before Thee we come. And again we thank Thee that Thou hast given unto us Thy Word. Use that Word mightily in our heart, Father. May we gain knowledge in that Word. But, in doing so, may we also exercise ourselves in love toward others—those who are without Thy church and those who are within. And, in exercising our love toward them, may we use our knowledge to gain the brother and to edify him and build him up. And, where there is disagreement, Father, in things that belong to Christian liberty, may love prevail. In that love, may we seek one another’s welfare. Forgive us where we have failed and have sinned against Thee. We ask these things for Christ’s sake, Amen.