Knowledge, Pride, and Care for Others

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:1-13, ESV)

In reading the first part of this passage, I am reminded of a powerful warning I read many years ago by J. I. Packer in his classic book, Knowing God (IVP, 1973, p. 17):

… we need, before we start to ascend our mountain, to stop and ask ourselves a very fundamental question – a question, indeed, that we always ought to put to ourselves whenever we embark on any line of study in God’s holy Book. The question concerns our own motives and intentions as students. We need to ask ourselves: what is my ultimate aim and object in occupying my mind with these things? What do I intend to do with my knowledge about God, once I have got it? For the fact that we have to face is this: that if we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject-matter will intoxicate us, and we will come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in it and grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theological ideas seem to us crude and inadequate, and dismiss them as very poor specimens. For, as Paul told the conceited Corinthians, ‘knowledge puffeth up … if any man thinketh that he knoweth anything, he knoweth not yet as he ought to know’ (I Cor. 8:1 f, RV). To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception. We need to guard our hearts against such an attitude, and pray to be kept from it.

Pride is a very real danger for me as I study the Bible and as I lead Bible studies. The antidote to pride is love. It is only when I love God and love those I teach that I am able to remain focused on God’s goodness and grace and to give Him praise for the gospel message we gratefully receive and study. Paul also affirms that if we love God, we are known by Him, and being known by God is far more precious than my limited knowledge of Him! I should always find more satisfaction in God’s knowledge of me than my knowledge of Him. Take time to thank God for His love for you, and His knowledge of you.

Later in the passage, Paul warns about how we should use our knowledge. We are to make sure that, in our greater understanding and sense of freedom on some issue, we do not cause our brothers and sisters, who may not yet understand an important truth, to act against their consciences. Violating their consciences can lead them further into temptation. Again, the guiding principle for living is not just in the knowledge we have, but the love we are to show to our brothers and sisters in Christ, caring for them more than for our own liberty. Paul says when we insist on our own rights and freedoms, causing a brother or sister to stumble in their sense of obedience to God, we sin against Christ. May God protect us from this! May we love our brothers and sisters more than our knowledge and personal freedom. For someone raised in a western culture that champions the rights of the individual, this is challenging, and I must ask God for help to do this. My love for others must increase, and my pride of knowledge must decrease. I pray you will pursue these same goals with me!

Father, I am so grateful for your love and knowledge of me. You know my faults, my temptations to pride, my weak love for my brothers and sisters in Christ. As I learn more about your amazing gospel and the freedom I have in Christ, help me to use that freedom as a way of loving others, not insisting on my own rights and liberties. No matter how much knowledge I gain of your Word and insight into your character, help my love for you and for others be the controlling force in how I use that knowledge. Help me not to sin against you because of my foolish pride. Please forgive me when I do, and teach me how to love better. Amen.

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