“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.” (1 Corinthians 8:1b-3)
KNOWLEDGE VS. AGAPE
In the quote above, Paul is addressing the topic within the Corinthian church about food that has been sacrificed to idols, and whether it should be eaten. But as he discusses this (in all of chapter 8), it is clear that the issue is not about certain foods, and whether to eat them or not. The issue comes down to love and concern for other people of faith, especially those for whom eating such food goes against their conscience. It’s as if Paul is answering the question: What is the most loving thing to do in this situation?
The word that Paul uses here for love is agape, the Greek word for selfless, unconditional love... and a word to which he devotes a whole section of this letter in what we refer to as 1 Corinthians 13.
I am intrigued with how we can use any kind of knowledge - even spiritual knowledge - to “puff ourselves up”... to act like we are better than others... to look down on others - who are, in our minds - less knowledgeable and... therefore, ahem... inferior. I was sharing with someone the other day that when I was in my 20’s, I had some interactions with Christians who had “been baptized in the Spirit”, which - in their case - meant that they had received the gift of speaking in tongues. Some of these folks were incredibly condescending when speaking about this gift. You weren’t REALLY a Christian if you had not received the gift of tongues! (Interestingly enough, this was one of the issues that Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians.) I wasn’t especially interested in receiving the gift of tongues anyway, but after encountering these folks, I really wasn’t interested!
I suppose we can do this with any “special knowledge” that we have received. Perhaps you have met medical doctors or college professors who never introduce themselves without saying “I’m Dr. so-and-so.” I, for one, find it much more interesting to discover how wise or spiritual people are from our interactions, rather from them telling me what their credentials are. I like how Eugene H. Peterson translates this in The Message: “... sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds.” (1 Corinthians 8:1b-2)
I guess what I am saying is that if we have to choose between being really smart and really loving - and maybe we don’t! - go for the agape! The world doesn’t need more really smart people who are arrogant, unkind, and wanting to be right - at all costs. What we need is more people who are like our Lord - truly humble, as in “down to earth”, and not flaunting your stuff just to be noticed or recognized or celebrated... AND who are loving, kind, compassionate, and quick to serve.
Smart or loving? If you were to force me to choose one, I’d choose loving... every single time.