January 31, 2024

Knowledge vs. Love

Prayer for Illumination

Source of Wisdom, still our minds as we listen to the Scriptures. Send Your Spirit to keep us alert and attuned to Your life-giving Word this day. Amen.

When we bought our very first home three years ago, we had to clean up and renovate the whole house because it was old and was not maintained well by the previous owner.

My husband, Thomas is quite a multi-talented man but he never had any experience in home renovation. So for days before the moving day, he studied so hard about putting in new insulation, removing old carpets, roof and chimney cleaning, taking out old pipes, and so on... all by watching YouTube. He shouted, “Yes, I mastered it. I will make our house new.”

The first thing Thomas and I did was remove the old insulation from the attic and put in new ones. Oh my… Our knees were all bruised and I think our lungs were blackened even though we tried our best to cover our whole bodies.

It took days to finish the attic and then for the next 3 months, we did everything from the rooftop to the crawling room in the basement. The lesson we learned? Knowing something is totally different from actually doing it.

Today’s Scripture passage is from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. Even though the Corinthian believers were well-known for having many wonderful spiritual gifts, the church had a reputation for having many problems, such as sexual immorality, divisions in the church, lawsuits among believers, etc. With all these issues, they sent SOS to Paul for help.

So, this letter was written in response to reports Paul received concerning the problems and he was trying to explain and answer them as pastorally and at the same time, firmly as possible.

Today’s chapter begins, “Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” “We all possess knowledge” was one of the statements they wrote in their letter to Paul. And he is making an argument against their claim.

So, even though the subtitle of this chapter is ‘Food Sacrificed to Idols,’ the ultimate point Paul is trying to make is “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

Before we go further, let us first look at the historical and cultural background. Corinth was a wealthy Greek city. They worshiped Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and pleasure. But with the Roman influence, they created unique cults as well.

For example, the cult of Isis, originally from Egypt, was prevalent in the Roman Empire and emphasized "wisdom". The Greek historian Plutarch describes Isis as "a goddess exceptionally wise and a lover of wisdom, to whom knowledge and understanding are in the highest degree appropriate... ." So, the Corinthians boasted of their wisdom, their knowledge, and their sophistication.

Paul didn’t seem impressed with how intelligent and knowledgeable they were, saying, “Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge.

Then, what on earth did they say they have knowledge about? As we found from Paul’s other letters in the Bible, among the early Christians there had been disputes about consumption of the food sacrificed to idols.

The meat offered on pagan altars was usually divided into three portions. One portion was burnt in honor of the god, one portion was given to the worshipper to take home and eat, and the third portion was given to the priest. If the priest didn’t want to eat his portion, he sold it at the temple restaurant or meat market.

The issue raised many questions among the Corinthian believers: Can we eat meat purchased at the temple meat market? What if we are served meat offered on pagan altars when we are guests in someone’s home?

Some progressive believers understood that an idol was just a block of wood or stone and had absolutely no power over the meat that had been sacrificed to it or the people who had eaten the meat.

They knew that idols were not real gods because they were made by man, and the food sacrificed to idols had no religious significance, so it must be permissible for Christians to eat the meat sacrificed to idols.

On the other hand, for the newly converted Christians, who came out of pagan worship, eating the meat that was sacrificed to an idol was like participating in idol feasts. Seeing their Christian brothers and sisters eating the meat created some severe challenges. To them, it was a matter of conscience.

Paul agreed with the first group, saying in vv 4-5, “An idol is nothing at all in the world. There is no God but one.” However, he didn’t stop there.

Instead of siding with the first group who knew that the man-made idols had no power, Paul pointed out that it was not really about what you know and being right, but being considerate and loving others.

They might have a right view about the Almighty God and the powerless pagan gods, but their exercise of freedom based on their knowledge became a stumbling block to the other brothers and sisters in Christ, who had different views.

There are essential problems and unessential problems in the church. If it’s about essential issues regarding our theological beliefs or doctrines, we have to stand firm and hold our ground. If it’s not essential, we should not and we must not fight in the church.

Then what are some essential issues? About the fact that God created the universe. God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ to save us from our sins. Jesus died on the Cross and was resurrected on the third day. He will come again to judge the Living and the Dead.

We have been saved by grace, through faith - not by works. All Scripture is inspired by God. The Triune God - God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These kinds of issues are foundational for Christianity, and should not be negotiated or altered.

What are the unessential problems we face at church?  While the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols might seem irrelevant today, there are some real-life, relevant issues we can find.

Believe it or not, many churches are still arguing about what songs/hymns they should sing on Sundays. Disputes over worship orders, consumption of alcohol, smoking, having an auction as a fundraising event, on and on, you name it.

We have to remember, though, that some issues might seem very important to us, but they are not as important to God. Most controversies are quite subjective and relational.

For example, drinking. Social drinking can be no issue at all for most North Americans and Europeans. Those famous reformed theologians talked about theology probably while drinking beer.

But it can be problematic for some conservative Christians, like the evangelicals, Asian or African background Christians.

The church I served had an annual banquet as a fundraising event. Most members were from the Caribbean countries, so they loved dancing and drinking. At the banquet, they sold alcohol and danced all night.

At another church I went to, it was not permissible to drink or sell alcohol at any church function. It didn’t matter if they drank at home, but at least not at church functions.

At the church I attended in Korea, drinking? NO WAY. Especially the leaders of the church were not supposed to drink at all. At least they were not supposed to be caught.

Those who remember the incident at the wedding in Cana will say that drinking alcohol is not a big deal because it was indeed Jesus who turned water into wine.

Those who remember Proverbs 20:1, “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise,” will say that drinking eventually leads to drunkenness and drunkenness is a sin. So you should not drink.

Those who believe drinking is not a problem think that they are more mature and more knowledgeable about the Scripture passages about drinking, and think they’re RIGHT.

Those who believe drinking is not appropriate for Christians, think that they are more mature and more disciplined, and think they’re RIGHT.

We can argue for hours, or days, whether or not ‘trick or treating, ‘buying lottery tickets’, ‘gambling’, or ‘euthanasia’ is permissible for Christians.

Each of us can make a persuasive argument to justify our actions and beliefs. I’m telling you, ‘You have the right to do anything” but as Paul says, “not everything is beneficial.”  “Not everything is constructive and edifying.”

If we confess that we know Jesus Christ, our Redeemer who gave Himself up to save us and died on the cross, then instead of ‘looking down’ the people who have different opinions, we gotta show generous and sensitive love to them. If we are focused on what we know, we are likely to exclude empathy and sincere caring for others.

The other day some ministers were chatting about new programs at church. Some of the ministers said that there shouldn’t be Bible study classes at the church. Why? Because most members know the Bible so well.

They’ve heard countless sermons and attended numerous Bible studies. However, the ministers continued, they do not live out what they’ve heard or learned. They do not need one more bible study. It’s time to act on what they have learned.

I’m not saying that we should cancel our Bible study.

Friends, Knowledge is a great gift, but knowledge without love leads to arrogance. Do not let your knowledge or your freedom be a stumbling block to those who do not have the same knowledge. Knowledge is nothing until you use your knowledge wisely and lovingly.

Indeed, it’s not easy to live out your faith. Just like mastering ‘renovation’ via YouTube is different from actual ‘renovation’, living out your faith is different.

Our church is always trying to serve others and share the love of God in our community. We might make mistakes; we might fail. But it’s okay, right? As we explore and try different things, we will learn to live faithfully and lovingly with our neighbors in our community.

If we know Jesus, let us act out our knowledge according to His will, which is to love the Lord our God, and Love our brothers and sisters, and our neighbors in the way JESUS loves them.

Then, as v 3 declares, “The man who loves God is known by God.” Yes, when we show Christ’s love to others in humility, we will be known by our God. Remember, Love builds up!

Let us pray

Lord of mercy and grace, help us govern our church not according to rules and regulations, but with love and grace. Help us build each other up. We pray that we are known by You by our love for You and our Love for our neighbors. In Jesus’ name. Amen.