The Corinthian Christians must have asked Paul about whether it was OK to eat meat that had been offered as sacrifices to idols. This was a tricky situation for the new believers in Jesus Christ.
They professed there was no God but one. But in Corinth, animal sacrifices were being offered up continually to false gods. In fact, there was a good chance any meat available at banquets or at the markets likely had been offered in sacrifice to one of these false gods. If you wanted to eat meat or to participate in the normal social life in Corinth, you would have to settle any of your qualms about meat sacrificed to idols.
Of course, Christians also knew idols weren’t anything special and false gods were just that – false. And Christians wouldn’t have participated in this false worship. And so it was perfectly reasonable to eat that meat with a clear conscience. It was just meat after all. What other people – pagans – thought about it was up to them. The Christian was just looking for a good meal.
Other Christians likely had a hard time bringing themselves to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. It strained their consciences to do so. By eating it, weren’t they in some way participating in that idol worship?
On both sides of this debate within the church, people thought they were right. Those who thought it OK to eat meat offered to false gods probably thought they knew better. They had knowledge. And they probably considered those who weren’t eating that meat to be snuffing the fun out of life.
They might have been saying to them, “Go ahead and eat it. You know an idol is not anything. There is only one God. Don’t be such a fundamentalist! All of us possess knowledge.”
It is true. “All of us possess knowledge.” But there was something more at stake here, and Paul wanted to draw that out.
Paul said this kind of “knowledge” that some of the Corinthians Christians were talking about is a knowledge that “puffs up.” That is, it makes people arrogant. It makes them think they know it all. It makes them belittle their brothers and sisters in Christ who were thinking about things differently.
Indeed, knowledge can puff us up. But love, Paul said, “builds up.” Love looks in a different direction. Instead of standing with our arms crossed with all of our knowledge and looking down on others, love causes us to look out for the needs of others. Knowledge might cause us to tear another person down. Love looks for ways to encourage others and to keep them from hitting snags in their lives.
Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
It is not uncommon in a church for disagreements to emerge. Good Christian people can find themselves on different sides of church discussions. Some are convinced their knowledge is far superior than that of the other side. And these people wonder why others just can’t see the light.
And the fact of the matter is these knowledgeable people may be right. But that’s not the most important thing, Paul told the Corinthians. The overriding principle is that “love builds up.”
A person who is convinced of his or her own “rightness” can do a lot of damage to others. Instead, we ought to be thinking about what we can give up in order to maintain harmony within the church and, just as importantly, to help others grow in their faith. Perhaps I can sacrifice my right to being “correct” and to win the argument so that I can help someone else in his or her faith.
This kind of “knowledge” Paul was talking about led to selfishness. It was demanding its own way. Meanwhile, Paul will have a lot more to say about love later in this letter. Suffice it to say here that love is inherently outward-focused, seeking the good of others at the expense sometimes of ourselves.