Puffed Up or Built Up

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.

In Corinth, a controversy stirred as to whether or not a Christian could eat meat that had been offered in the temple of an idol. Such meat was later sold in the market and certainly might be on the table in a person’s home. Some believers believed that to eat that meat was to participate in the worship of the idol. Some thought differently.

As Paul begins to address this issue—an issue I do not intend to be central in this post—he talks about a dangerous sort of knowledge. At the end of verse 1, Paul writes, “This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.” What is the “knowledge” that puffs up? How does it contrast with love? And how might this all apply to the lives of Christians today?

Contextually, it appears that the puffing up sort of knowledge has to do with a knowing of the truth that leads a believer to poorly treat a weaker brother or sister in the Lord. Because Bob knows that whether or not the food has been sacrificed to an idol, he is unkind when Jim is uncomfortable with it. What might Bob do? Perhaps he eats his food and makes a point to let Jim know what he is doing. Perhaps he dumps a truckload of knowledge on Jim’s head about this food whenever they are together. Perhaps he lets himself feel superior to Jim because Bob knows something that Jim simply is not knowledgeable enough to understand.

How then is love a contrast with knowledge? After all, none of us think that knowledge in and of itself is a bad thing. Love builds up. Whereas knowledge might fill one’s head with one’s own superiority, love will focus us on the good and the needs of others. Love will teach us to value the good of others even above our own comfort for the glory of God.

Consider Bob and Jim again. Bob knows that there is no worshipping of the idol if he happens to have a steak that was served in a home where idol-worshipers live. Jim is uncomfortable. What would love have Bob do? If Bob is not puffed up, Bob will certainly refrain from making fun of Jim for his confusion. Instead of mocking Jim for his lack of knowledge, Bob will speak wisely, gently, and even kindly to Jim. Perhaps Bob will seek to help Jim understand what Bob knows. Perhaps Bob will listen to Jim to better understand him even though Bob does not agree with him.

Will Bob then refuse to ever eat meat? Interestingly, this is something Paul said he would be willing to do if it would help in 8:13. However, I do not assume that this means that every Christian, in every circumstance, must put away every part of his life that others do not understand. Just before Paul talked about not eating meat, he particularly mentioned a hypothetical situation in which people were to see him eating in an idol’s temple, a place where people could be very confused as to whether or not he was participating in the worship of that idol. Paul’s greater point is that he would not want to do another person harm because of knowledge without love.

How might this apply in today’s world? Of course we could take this chapter and try to develop an exacting standard relating to liberty of conscience issues that are divisive in our culture: alcohol, entertainment, etc. But rather than focusing on the issues, I am focused as I write on the love side of things. I do not think that this passage is intended to tell us how to come down on the meat or no meat, drink or no drink, movies or no movies issues. Instead, I think that a greater point exists that we should treasure our brothers and sisters in Christ. We should love and build one another up. Sure, sometimes love means that you will forego your rights for the sake of another person’s conscience. Sometimes love will mean that you are careful as to how or even where you exercise your liberties. But always, absolutely always, love should prevent you from thinking yourself superior to a brother who does not understand what you understand. Love will keep you from mocking that brother for his views. Love will keep you from dumping a truckload of knowledge on a brother’s head before first caring for and hearing that brother’s heart.

Want to make an application that is closer to home for many than alcohol or meat sacrificed to idols? OK, how about modern issues like COVID or CRT? You can, and in fact probably should, have strong opinions about these issues. You need knowledge here. And I would not suggest that you avoid expressing that knowledge. However, as you express your knowledge, are you showing yourself puffed up? Are you seeking to build up others? Or are you looking to dunk on someone on-line so that you can show how witty you are and how stupid the people are who disagree with you?

No, I’m not saying that there is no room to disagree. Neither am I suggesting that one’s beliefs related to those issues is irrelevant. Some of our social hot-button issues include significant baggage that could led others to dangerously unbiblical views. And, yes, we must warn against those views. But love builds up. Love teaches far more than it smashes. Love warns without seeking to squash the one warned. Yes, eventually, love will tell the church that the teaching of wolves in sheep’s clothing must be abandoned and anathemized. But I would suggest that, when this must be done, it is done with a broken heart far more than with a snappy flourish.

You’ll have to figure much of this out for yourself. And I surely do not want to encourage you to lower your guard on biblical truth. But I recommend that you also look into whether or not you have already lowered your guard on love. Are you puffed up? Do you build others up? If you are going to make a mistake, on which side are you more likely to err? Defend the word of God with zeal. Build others in the family of God up with joy. It’s hard to balance these two, but we must if we are to look like Jesus.

Right but Wrong

Revelation 2:1–7 – 1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

2 “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

The people of Ephesus were right. The people of Ephesus were wrong. These two things were true at the same time, but not in exactly the same way. And, if we pay attention, we will grasp that this danger is ours as well.

How were the Ephesians right in the days that Christ sent them a little note in the book of Revelation? We see a couple of significant positives. The Ephesians were hard workers (v2). They endured hardship and pressed on (v3). They knew enough of Scripture that they could test false teachers, find them wanting, and turn them away (v2). (.

In verse 6, we even see a particular commendation from the Savior. The Ephesians hated the works of the Nicolaitans. While we do not know much about the Nicolaitans, for sure, we see that they are false teachers and perhaps have some tie to the gnostic false teaching that says a Christian can do whatever he wants with his body, because only the spiritual matters. The Ephesians knew better than to give into whatever was the false teaching of the Nicolaitans, and Christ commends this.

Let’s be honest, there are Christians today who need the Ephesians’ Commitment to doctrine and Christian morality. And, thankfully, there are Christians who have the same sort of doctrinal passion. There are Christians who can spot false teachers, expose bad doctrine, and call out sinful practices. And make no mistake, such commitment and discernment is good.

But the Ephesians were also wrong. How? Christ says that they had forsaken their first love (v4). What is our first love to be? We are to love the Lord our God with everything we have (Mat. 22:37-38). In case you’re curious, our second love is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mat. 22:39). It is a fair deduction to suggest that the Ephesians, though they had solid doctrine and high moral standards, somehow failed to love the Lord their God along the way. And this failure, if not corrected, would result in Christ removing that church from existence (v5).

Here is the question you must not miss. Could this happen to us? Is it possible for us to get our doctrine right and hold our morality high while we fail to love the Lord our God? If so, then we must guard against being right but being terribly wrong. We must guard against having only right doctrine and right practice without having a right heart.

Be careful here. I am not, and the Lord is certainly not, suggesting that we ought to ignore right doctrine or proper morality. Christ commended the Ephesians for championing godly morality based on solid, biblical doctrine. To let that go is deadly, sinful, and dishonoring to God. Never once think for one moment that you should stop studying, stop correcting false teaching, or stop calling people to God’s standard for Christian living.

But, and this is our danger, watch your heart in the process. There are some whose hearts grow colder and colder as they do the things that Christ commended in the Ephesians. Ask yourself, as you study, as you correct, as you endure, is your heart growing cold? Does your study make you love the Lord more? Does your protecting the doctrine in the church help you see Jesus as beautiful—not just intellectually appealing but actually heart-capturingly glorious? Do you have more anger in your heart for the way that some falsely handle Scripture than you have love for Jesus? Are you more often mad at the world around you than joyful over the gospel?

Never let go of biblical doctrine. Never let false teachers have their way. Never let yourself or other brothers and sisters in Christ embrace sinful practices. And, along with this, never let your heart get so full of anger over wrong that you forget to deeply love the Lord whose word you claim to defend. Never let your heart be fuller of anger at wrong than of amazement at God’s grace. Love the Lord first. Do not let your love fade. Right doctrine, if it is truly right doctrine, produces love of the Lord your God. Remember that and let it cause you to check your own heart so that you will not be right but wrong.

Loving and not Biting

H – Highlight

Galatians 5:13-15 – 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

E – Explain

Paul has just called on the Galatians to turn away from those who are trying to make them subjects under the law once more. There are those who would demand circumcision and proclaim it as necessary for salvation. But Paul wants to be clear that, in Christ, there are no ceremonies or rituals that are required for our salvation. Neither are we honoring God if we return to ceremonies that only pointed to the coming of Jesus.

But then Paul turns the corner, reminding the people that they are now free. And Paul tells them that they must not use their supposed freedom as a license to be cruel to others in the church. The law, summed up, calls us to love.

A – Apply

If I am to honor the Lord, I must love those in the body of Christ, the church. I cannot bite and devour others. I must not allow myself in word or deed to harm others. Yes, I may have to confront unrighteousness. But even as I confront, I can do so in a way that shows that I still love those who are my brothers and sisters in the faith.

R – Response

First, there is an accountability response here. I must watch my words. I must not let myself think or speak of others in such a way as to do them harm. This must be true in my private heart as well as in my public speech. This is why I am so seldom willing to engage in social media controversies.

I may need to add this to my Scripture memory list.

Prayer: Lord, I pray that you will give me love for all in the body of Christ. Yes, help me protect the body from false teaching and sinful actions. Let me not compromise. But help me to always show the love that you command and which so honors you.

Love and Justice in Parallel

What is the longest book in the Bible? Psalms. What is the longest chapter in the Bible? OK, Psalms are not chapters, but individual units; however, Psalm 119 has 176 verses. With such a long Psalm right in the middle of the Bible, there are many things to notice, far more than I grasp in any single reading. Here is a thought that hit me today from late in the Psalm

Psalm 119:149

Hear my voice according to your steadfast love;
O Lord, according to your justice give me life.

Verse 149 catches me for the poetic parallelism. This is a chiastic structure, the four parts of the verse arranged as A, B, B’, A’. “Hear my voice” is a parallel with “give me life.” Clearly David thinks that, as God hears his voice, the result will be life for him.

The center parallels, the B part, are what grabbed me. “According to your steadfast love” is parallel with “according to your justice.” Do you think of those two as synonymous parallel thoughts? Do you attach the justice and the love of God as if they say anything like the same thing? Biblically you should.

In our culture, we love the love of God. We sometimes cringe at the justice of God. WE boldly proclaim the love of God, but we try to hide the justice of God behind our backs like a kid hiding something he does not want mom to see. And when we do this, we are missing the truth of God. The Love of God is a depiction of the perfectly good character of God. Similarly, the justice of God is a depiction of the perfectly good character of God. A God who is not interested in justice is not loving. A God who is not loving will not do justice. May we pray that God will help us see that his justice, his judgment, his proper punishment of sin and his love, his kindness, and his mercy are all part of the same holiness that make us love the Lord.