“Knowledge puffeth up but charity edifieth.” (1 Corinthians 8:1b/KJV). The NIV puts it this way: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
In my posts of the last few weeks I have been dealing with knowledge and love. Here today is a poignant statement of the apostle Paul.
Paul has said this in his first epistle to the Corinthians. He was writing concerning an issue that was controversial in those days. I cannot give you any full exposition of this problem here. This would require more space. I am seeking to keep my posts short.
The basic question is, how far can a Christian go adapting to and partaking in customs of the world surrounding without losing out on the essence of the faith. Believers will have differing positions on that depending on their lives before they surrendered to Christ.
Suppose somebody has been an atheist before turning to Jesus. He or she used to think that there is no God (and no god).
Paul here is referring to idolatry. A former atheist will be prone to say these other gods do not exist anyway. Therefore we need not be overly concerned to keep away from all that is related to this cult.
Others will have accepted God’s free grace and forgiveness after having strictly heeded religious rules. Such individuals will likely argue with standards they have accepted as true.
Both ‘parties’ might boast with their knowledge. They have some good point by which to argue on how a Christian ought to behave.
Paul here points to the limitation of such arguing: You glory in your point of view. Your way of looking at things makes you more self-confident. But really a Christian attitude would be to consider what is good and helpful to the other.
Life does not all consist of theological argument or polemics. Theoretical knowledge does not necessarily provide strength to overcome temptations and misery.
It is love that will help others to become stronger. “Love builds up.”
I will give you an example to help you understand what Paul is getting at. Within the Christian church there have been various positions as to the use of alcohol.
Some will say that drinking is permissible. They will maintain that Paul even advised Timothy to take some wine for the sake of his stomach.
But think of a former alcoholic. Just taking a little glass of wine or beer may trigger of the old addiction. He or she will lose his balance and get back into old habits.
There is no use of arguing and quarrelling with a former addict about the Christian use of alcoholic beverages. You need to help and strengthen such a person to be sound and sober. An addiction triggered off will easily lead into behaviour that is dangerous.
“And though … I understand all mysteries and all knowledge … and have not charity, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2/KJV).