Love That Builds

Today we continue the theme of “love trumps knowledge” with a stop in I Corinthians chapter 8.  “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge.  Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (I Cor 8:1).  In other words, while knowledge puffs up, love builds up.

In I Corinthians chapters 8 to 10, the apostle Paul writes about the “gray areas” of life in a Christian community, areas where sincere believers disagree about participation in certain events or practices.  A particular challenge to Corinthian believers was whether or not to eat meat sold in the market that was previously used as a sacrifice to idols.  Paul summarizes the knowledge argument for eating the meat in question saying, “Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one” (I Cor 8:4).  Basically, because idols have no intrinsic meaning (they are merely wood, stone, metal, etc.), eating meat sacrificed to idols is acceptable.  We are free to participate based on our knowledge about idols.

But knowledge is not the end of the story.  In verse 7, Paul continues, “However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled” (I Cor 8:7).  These believers, coming from an idol worship background, are sinning against their conscience by their participation.  What is the knowledgeable brother who is not harmed by participation to do?

“But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.  For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?  For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died.  And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ” (I Cor 8:9-12).

The word “strengthened” does not mean that your participation as a “brother with knowledge” gives your weaker brother the freedom to join in.  Rather it means that your example has emboldened or empowered your brother to sin against his conscience.  In this way, the strong have become a stumbling block and sinned against their brother.

So how does Paul handle this challenge?  He concludes, “Therefore if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble” (I Cor 8:13).  This is what love does.  Love limits its freedom for the greater good of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  “Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor” (I Cor 10:24).  Knowledge puffs up.  Love builds up.  Both are “up”.  But the lesser is focused on what we know and the greater on serving and edifying the body of Christ.  Truly, love trumps knowledge.

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2 Responses to Love That Builds

  1. William Brown says:

    A great reminder on the rule of love interpreted by Paul. So much of our culture is focused on the rights that we have. Even in the church we emphasize (for good reason) the freedom we have in Christ. (Perhaps this is a reaction to the legalism that some of us grew up in.) But the statement “Love limits its freedom…” sums up nicely the preferred attitude we desire to have towards our fellow believers, the same humble attitude that was at work in Jesus described in Philippians 2.

  2. Jay Lehman says:

    The rule of love, as William called it, is an important antidote to our obsession with our rights. And it works both ways. I was focused on the attitude of the stronger brother in the post because that is the emphasis in I Corinthians 8. But Paul’s broader writings paint a great picture of the rule of love for both the weak and strong conscience. For the strong, “Do not flaunt your freedom. We limit our freedom for the good of the weaker brother.” For the weak, “Give your brother some space. Do not impose the rule-keeping system you are comfortable with on your stronger brother.” And to all, Paul summarizes this passage with, “not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many” (I Cor 10:33).

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