1 Corinthians 8:1, 11 (ESV)
1 Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.
11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died.
It is fascinating to see how Paul speaks of knowledge in 1 Corinthians 8. As we see in verse 1, knowledge puffs us up with pride. On the other hand, love builds up the body of Christ. Paul speaks this way about knowledge relating to the issue of food sacrificed to idols. However, we, if we will be wise, can apply it to many issues in Christian life.
As Paul builds his argument in chapter 8, he starts with the groundwork that knowing and loving are different things. He then establishes what the knowledgeable Corinthians know: There is only one God, and thus food sacrificed to idols is not food sacrificed to actual gods. Many Corinthians have concluded, with their superior knowledge, that they should be able to eat food that had been sacrificed to an idol without any qualms.
However, Paul continues, not every Christian grasps the fact that idols are nothing. Some who were saved out of idolatry struggle mightily with the concept of eating food sacrificed to idols. If those people see “strong” Christians eating food which, with their “weak” knowledge, they assume to be offered to false gods, the weaker brothers can have major problems. In fact, the weaker brothers might be led to throw over their consciences and to do other things they believe to be wrong because they have seen other Christians crossing what they assume to be similar lines. Thus, as verse 11 says, the strong brother hurts the weak brother because of his living out of superior knowledge rather than living out of love.
OK, it is far too easy to grab hold of this issue and make some sort of case about modern Christians and alcohol, and I don’t have any interest in doing that today. It has been done many times, and often with different conclusions being drawn. So how about we dig down to the principle instead of seeking simplistic application? Sometimes, if a mature believer is not careful, he can, with his knowledge, do damage to the local church. Sometimes a person can stand and spout his or her understanding of an issue with great passion and strong arguments. Sometimes the person will even be correct in what he or she is saying, at least correct so far as the rule of law goes. But, in making the argument, in unloading his or her knowledge, the “strong” Christian can hurt others who are not ready to receive such knowledge.
Christians, if you are honest, you will acknowledge that you have not always been as mature as you are now. You know some things to be true now that you did not grasp earlier on in your faith journey. You grow, at least you should be growing. When you were a younger believer, a baby Christian, you were not ready to grasp the implications of issues of Christian liberty, intricate eschatology, studies of soteriology, and all the rest. In fact, had you, when you were just saved, been dragged into an argument between two “mature” Christians about some of the more complex issues of your faith, it probably would not have done you good.
Please do not hear me saying that hard issues are not important. Of course they are. However, there is a wisdom that we must use in throwing knowledge around. Parents are careful how much detail about the real world they let their children see. It can hurt kids to give them too much knowledge when they are not ready. Similarly, we can hurt the local church if we flaunt all the knowledge we receive.
So, the next time you have grasped a hard doctrine or come to understand your Christian liberty in a more free way than have other Christians in your local church, will you be careful? Your newly-acquired knowledge may not be the key to building up the body of Christ. No, knowledge, even if it is real truth, might only puff you up with pride. If you want to build up the body, love is what does that. Sometimes loving others means that you don’t flaunt every freedom you have in front of them. Sometimes love means that you don’t correct every error in a person’s thinking—of course with wisdom understanding that some errors are devastating and some are not. Sometimes you do best for the body by closing your mouth about the new thing you have learned and just caring for others who have not yet made it to your conclusion.
I can’t say how this must be applied for you for sure. There are too many possible applications. I also know that legalism and false doctrine are very big deals, and I do not support letting those things go. But God’s word is clear that we need to be wise and not merely have knowledge. We need to love and build others up, and we need to be careful that our knowledge does not get in the way of that. So, pray, examine yourself, and do what you can to build up the body of Christ, in love, for the glory of God.