There are parts of the Bible we tend to leap over. The lengthy geologies scattered throughout the text, for instance. There are also sections that no longer seem to apply. The market where I live doesn’t have a “meat sacrificed to idols” refrigerator case. So, that whole section in 1 Corinthians about their struggle, concern, and division over eating meat sacrificed to an idol doesn’t seem to apply to us. But in so many ways it does. Not the source of our meat, but how to handle these kinds of disputes.
For this article, I’m not looking at the whole of Paul’s argument concerning this thorny Corinthian issue. Our focus is on one half of one verse. “Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Corinthians 8:1, ESV) To be honest we can substitute any number of things in that first part. Our “food sacrificed to idols” could be a genre of entertainment, types of games, certain books, cultural overlap, seeker-sensitive, style of worship music, practical or exegetical preaching, kinds of foods or drinks, participating in festivals and celebrations, anything that we can say “you know…” “You know that that game is a doorway to the demonic.” “You know what the Bible says about that.” You get the picture.
I’m getting really close to avoiding all sentences that begin with “you.” The overwhelming majority of them don’t end well.
Paul gives us a double-edged truth for dealing with this, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t know things or that education is bad. There are arrogant folks with a Ph.D. and arrogant folks with no education at all. Knowledge, in this case, is that which makes us feel superior to others. Through expressing this knowledge, we become important, more perfect in our faith, observably righteous and holy – all because we “know” something.
On the other hand, “love builds up.” Instead of a wagging finger, love offers an open hand. Yes, I may have some knowledge or experience with one of the somethings mentioned above. But do I puff myself up and put others down or avoid the puffer thing and build up others? Perhaps we’re even right about our assessment and knowledge. The question is what do we do about it?
Let’s move to the land of metaphor for a moment. Say that I have a plot of ground with a large hole in the middle of it. I mean a really big hole. A slimy, ugly, giant hole that is very obvious to all that pass by. It is really easy to put me down and make fun of the rather ugly hole, which seems to have no purpose at all. “You know that hole is ruining your property value.”
That is until a builder comes along and lays a foundation, erects walls, floors, and ceilings. Soon instead of an ugly, useless hole, there is a useful shelter. That’s the difference. Anyone can complain about a hole, but a builder patiently fills it.
We all have holes in our lives. Habits and patterns which fall into that middle ground between God’s purity and the corruption of sin. Things others could say, “you know, you would be a better Christian if you didn’t do that.” By the way, the opposite view of “you would be better if you did this” also applies. We can either wag our finger at the holes while belching out a healthy “you know.” Or we can consider how to build up those with holes in love. Perhaps this double-edged statement by Paul points out the biggest hole of all – our need to be seen as smarter or better than the others in our world.
I’ve struggled to write this without using any real-world examples. The basic reason is as soon as I say, “I have a friend that does (fill in the blank)” some will judge and be puffed up in their knowledge. Just like Paul’s example of meat sacrificed to idols some were convicted of sin, and others weren’t. We will never live in a world without these in-between, not so sure about issues where some find freedom, and others find conviction. The question isn’t the conflict; it is how we handle it. Can we trust the Holy Spirit to build in others the same way we trust Him to build in us? Can we acknowledge that we don’t know it all, least of all why someone does something? Can we instead build up one another with love?
And just in case you missed it, love doesn’t wag a finger at someone else’s hole. How times have we said, “I love them by pointing out their sin.” That’s just a way to rationalize our puffiness. Many try to be like God in pointing out sin, but there are far fewer striving to be like God by loving others as He does. This, of course, requires wisdom and love. There are times when “love covers a multitude of sin” and times when the Holy Spirit speaks truth through us. But even in those times when God uses us to expose sin in others it must be predicated and built on love and love alone.
Perhaps you have been wounded by someone’s “you know” attitude or actions. Or maybe you’ve been the one to wag your finger at others. God’s love, healing, and forgiveness are ready for you. All you have to do is ask.