Puffing up or building up? 1 Corinthians 8
“Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” (1 Corinthians 8:1 NIV11)
Finish this sentence, “It’s not what you know..”
Normally we’d say, “It’s not what you know but who you know.” I think that’s close to getting to the heart of Paul’s answer to the Corinthian’s questions about food sacrificed to idols here in chapter 8. My modification would be,
“It’s not what you know but who you love with what you know.”
True knowledge here assures you that an idol is nothing (1 Corinthians 8:4) and that there is one true God (8:5) and so it would seem that eating food sacrificed to one is no big deal – because there’s ultimately ‘nothing’ there.
“..if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.” (1 Corinthians 8:10–11)
So what we know to be true can cause those who aren’t sure to stumble because they are taking steps that go beyond what they can do with a clear conscience. This causes them to sin as Paul unpacks in a parallel passage in Romans,
“But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23)
So Paul’s conclusion is that we should modify our behaviour to take into account the potential for weak faith in those around us. The proud person (puffed up) will just do what they think with no concern. On the other hand, the Christian (acting in love) will take what they know and apply it with care to build up the faith of their fellow believers.
Some of us come from families where idols and sacrifices are far from academic. My encouragement from this passage is to consider no only the truth of God’s Word and your own conscience but also the maturity and faith of those around you as you make your decision.
“Heavenly Father, we thank you that you are the one and only True God. We thank you that You have set us free to engage with a world that is idolatrous knowing that we are no worse if we do eat, and no better if we do. Whichever we choose, give us a clear conscience, and a clear vision to take what we know and live it out with loving concern for our brothers and sisters. Keep us from being puffed up. Help us to build others up we ask so that Jesus would be honoured by all. Amen.”
Grace and peace,