Paul begins a section (1 Corinthians 8-10) of his first letter to the Corinthians by stating, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” As Francis Bacon once said, “Knowledge is power.” Unfortunately, according to Paul, knowledge without love is powerfully destructive. Certainly, love can work within a framework of knowledge, but we should never approach one another from knowledge alone without love.
The following verse falls within that same section – a section in which Paul is teaching about living with and accepting one another in spite of theological differences:
And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. (1 Corinthians 8:11 ESV)
Later in this same letter, Paul will tell the Corinthians that if they do anything without love – even if they are working through a gift of the Holy Spirit without love – then their actions are worthless and done in vain. This is a strong statement, and I am glad that I did not make it. But, Paul made it very clear: our interaction with one another should always be done out of love and concern for one another. If we are “right” or correct about our fact but unloving, then we are wrong.
How does this connect to helping people follow Jesus Christ as his disciples? Well, in following Jesus, we all make mistakes. From time to time, everyone stops following him – even if for a brief moment – and we all require correction or rebuke from our brothers and sisters in Christ to help us get back on the right track.
When writing to the disciples in the region of Galatia, Paul reminds them to help those who are caught in some trespass. In this passage to the believers in Corinth, we see that this help cannot come from our knowledge alone. If we approach people only from our knowledge – we are right, and they are wrong- then we may end up “destroying” someone’s life. But, if we approach the person out of love for that individual, we build that person up instead of destroying him or her.
In knowledge, we seek to prove that we are right. But, in love, we have another goal. This section of 1 Corinthians mentioned above contains very important lessons about dealing with our brothers and sisters out of love instead of knowledge. For example, Paul acknowledges that there is no problem eating food sacrificed to idols because idols are nothing. However, he says that if this practice bothers one of his brothers or sisters, then he will never eat meat again! We may think that would be a drastic step to take. But Paul thinks it is worth giving up meat in order to help someone else follow Christ.
Paul could deal with this brother or sister out of his knowledge, telling them that he is free to eat meat offered to idols and continuing to eat that meat. However, he refuses to consider his own freedom in Christ, and, instead, makes himself a servant to that other disciple. He knows that his knowledge could cause problems to someone else, so he decides to respond in love, caring more about the other believer than himself.
Why? Because Paul knows what his goal is. His goal is not to live in his own freedoms. His goal is to help others follow Jesus Christ and to become more mature in him.