What would you rather be: really smart or really loving? O, I know if you are a Christian that you should automatically know the right answer. But I wonder how often we do.
1 Corinthians 8:1-3 – 1 Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
The context of this passage is a bit of controversy in Corinth. Some Christians would, without any objections, eat food they knew had been involved in pagan temple sacrifices. Other Christians, those recently converted from those religions, were being put in a sort of spiritual jeopardy. The meat-eating Christians knew, with perfectly sound knowledge, that the false religion of the idol worshipers did not contaminate the meat. But those who had so recently been a part of the pagan temple system were not so sure.
Picture the problem. One person has a completely clear conscience. They could eat along with a bunch of idol worshipers without committing any sort of personal sin. They are just happy to have some bargain priced steak.
On the other hand, we have a person who just got out of that temple system. If they go back into the temple to have dinner, who knows what other temptations they will face. First, they will struggle to not let themselves believe that something has spiritually happened to their dinner. Second, they will be surrounded by the very familiar confines of pagan idolatry.
A Christian with only knowledge would, at this point, make a solid argument before the former idolater about the substance of idols and the fact that the meat is not contaminated. They will argue for their right to walk into any building anywhere so long as they are not participating in the worship. And, in a technical, legal, personal sense, they will be correct.
But the outcome of that argument could be devastating. The former idolater may then think that he should be personally comfortable with going into the temple. He may then find himself encountering a temptation that he is not at all ready to bear in his young faith. Thus, the well-reasoned argument of the meat eater does harm to the former idol worshiper.
What is the answer? The answer is love. Knowledge puffs us up. it makes us think we are superior. Knowledge alone will lead us to put down those who do not see things our way and flaunt our freedoms in such a way as to put others at risk. And this is never going to help the body of Christ or please the Lord.
Now, love here does not mean that the former idolater gets to tell the meat eater to become vegetarian. But love would make the former meat eater, when with the former idolater, not wave his freedom around. When the two are together, temple meats should not be on the menu. This is not because there is something wrong with the meat, but because the menu could lead the weaker brother toward the danger of sin that is completely unnecessary.
At the same time, love would keep the former idolater from proclaiming to the world that all the good Christians avoid meat. Love would lead the weaker brother to say,” I understand that some folks are free to go in there and buy a steak, but for me, it is too dangerous right now.”
I’m sure you have all sorts of personal areas where you can draw application here. And in truth, I’m not making an argument in those areas. Instead, my argument here is about love being more important than someone’s scholarly argument about their freedom. Our first goal should be to love the Lord and to love others in the body of Christ. And that means that, from time to time, we will curtail our personal freedoms when those freedoms will put another’s wellbeing at risk.