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1 Corinthians 8

When Love is More Important than Knowledge

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Teaching Moments

1. There is a debate about whether Paul is quoting the Corinthian letter in 8:1, whether he is simply being sarcastic, or whether Paul is stating the obvious--knowledge is something everyone possesses though to varying degrees. No matter which is the case, Paul is setting up his subordination of knowledge to love.

2. The clear principle of this text is stated in 8:1, "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." Knowledge breeds conceit and self-deceit (the person does not really know) whereas love is the evidence that God knows us. It is more important, of course, that God know us than that we know everything about God.

3. What do we "know" about food sacrificed to idols? (1) We know that there is only one God, and the idols are imposters. (2) We know that God the Father created the world through the Lord Jesus Christ, and that our lives are dedicated to the Father through Jesus Christ.

4. But (a big "but" here) "not everyone knows this" (8:7). The truth of monotheism still has not sunk into every Corinthian Christian's consciousness. Some people still think that the idols are real and that when one eats food sacrificed to an idol that it undermines the Christian confession of one God. The "weak" are those who are weak in knowledge. They do not understand the full implications of their new faith and Christian confession.

5. Paul's understanding is clear: food does not matter (8:8). If we eat, so what? If we don't eat, so what? Paul's knowledge is certain and unequivocal. Idols are nothing and the food sacrificed to them is inconsequential.

6. But this is where love is more important than knowledge: our knowledge should not compromise the Christian confession and faith of another (i.e., cause another to stumble).

7. Note that this "stumbling" is not simply a matter of discomfort, uneasiness or taste ("I like this or I don't like that"). Rather, it goes to the heart of the Christian confession. By emboldening others with less knowledge to eat food sacrificed to idols they believe are real, we destroy their faith in the Christian confession that there is one God. We sin against our brothers when we influence them to do something which denies the Christian confession. "Stumbling" here refers to apostasy, the loss of faith and the undermining of the foundational truth of the Christian confession: "God is one and Jesus is Lord." This is not about preferences, minor understandings of Scriptural texts, comfort levels or doctrinal disputes. We cause someone to stumble when we cause them to give up their Christian confession.

8. Paul is saying that if anyone uses their knowledge ("idols are nothing and there is only one God") to do something which destroys the faith of another ("eat what is sacrificed to idols while still believing the idols are something so that it is act of worshipping the idol"), then we sin against (1) Christ and (2) the brother.

9. Paul's conclusion, then, is that he will do nothing out of his knowledge that will destroy the faith of a fellow Christian, even if it means never eating meat again. Love is more important than knowledge. Rather than destroy his brother with his knowledge, Paul will love his brother and deny himself something which he knows is really nothing at all.

10. Basically, I think we should all seek to behave toward each other in such a way that no one compromises the basic truth of the Christian confession. Thus, I will give up my rights out of love to protect my brother from "stumbling" (denying the Christian confession) even when I know there is nothing to what he his concerned about. Love is more important than knowledge.

Questions for Discussion

1. When you are in an argument, how do you react: (1) dig in your heels until you are satisfied that you have won and said all that can be said?, or (2) seek out a compromise while tenaciously holding on to your preferences, or (3) give in to the other rather than increase the animosity?

2. What is the argument about in this text? What is the meaning of eating food sacrificed to idols?

3. What knowledge do some claim to possess? What do they know? Does Paul agree with them?

4. What is the basic Christian confession in this text? What does this confession say about God and Jesus?

5. What is it that the weak do not know? How does eating food sacrificed to idols affect the weak? In what sense does it cause them to stumble?

6. What does "stumbling" mean? What would "stumbling" look like in our church context? Is it "stumbling" if someone gets mad and leaves one congregation to go to another?

7. Paul is applying the general principle that knowledge puffs up, but that love builds up. What does it mean to say that "love is more important than knowledge"? Is that true? Is there a sense in which it is not true?

8. How does this principle look in our church context? Does this mean that we "give in" to each other's particular interpretations of various "doctrines"? Does this mean that we do not "offend" (cause discomfort) anyone? Does this mean that churches should seek to "please" everyone and everyone agree on anything that is done? Is this what Paul is talking about?

9. How do we distinguish between things that are simply matters of discomfort and things which destroy the other person's faith? How does Paul distinguish it here? [Paul talks about the confession of one God and the Lord Jesus Christ--this is the arena of his discussion; not about preferences in clothing style, etc.]

10. Is there anything in our lives where our freedom destroys the faith of another? Can you envision situations where this happens? [I am thinking about a friend who was so caught up in the rock/drug culture that after conversion rock music was anathema to him because he associated it with the drug/violence/anti-Christian culture. Rock music took him back into that world and attacked his faith. Consequently, in his presence I decided I would not listen to rock music. That music had the effect of destroying his faith.]


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