Many students are away on spring break so I guess for those who are still here, your parents don’t love you because they’d rather you not visit? Well, we are family so we are happy that a bunch are still with us.
Please turn with me to 1 Cor 8:1-3.
[Let’s pray together. Pray for Life Baptist Church WLA, Friendship Baptist Church, Crossview, Sovereign Grace.]
The key verse that I want to focus on today is found in the first verse of chapter 8.
1 Cor 8
1 …Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
I want to study this verse in the context of chapter 8 and following because Paul continues the argument that he begins here into the next few chapters. So I am going to attempt to do a quick pass over chapters 8-14 so that we can walk away with the full impact of Paul’s argument. Also, I’ve been told that I have been preaching through this book at the rate of a geriatric slug. Given the current pace of expositional preaching through every book in the Bible, chapter by chapter, I think the elders are right when they said, Jesus will return before we cover the entire Bible. I hear that. We can go faster over certain sections once the context is understood. Plus, I am preparing for the Easter message and I thought it would be special to complete this book and cover chapter 15, which is all about the resurrection, on Easter Sunday.
What is love? First, love is not about the acquisition of knowledge, nor is it the exercise of one’s personal freedom but love seeks to build up another person.
In fact, isn’t this what Paul has been talking about all along? Since we began 1 Cor, we have been covering how the church was splintering because the people were moving away from the core of the gospel and instead focused on gaining special knowledge from eloquent teachings — seeking spiritual gifts and quarreling over whose leader was more gifted. They were gaining knowledge that was puffing themselves up rather than causing them to become more loving toward one another.
We’re talking about churches who were led by apostles who witnessed the gospel unfolding before their eyes. They witnessed the death and resurrection of Christ. With their own eyes. This tells me that church unity is a very frail thing. How would you like to have Apostle Paul or Apostle Peter as your pastor? These churches were around at a time in God’s history when the Holy Spirit was being poured out in a special way. People were being persecuted for their faith. But they were willing to be martyrs because the Spirit was empowering them to preach the gospel in the face of death. Furthermore, the church was experiencing amazing miracles. I mean, people were being raised from the dead. They had a serious resume of incredible experiential knowledge, first-hand knowledge of the power of the gospel to transform lives.
What if I told you that I raised someone from the dead last Tuesday during my lunch break? I think that fact alone would cause you to perk up in your seat. You’d probably listen to what I had to say with a bit more interest.
And yet, the most amazing thing to me is that churches founded under these circumstances with this first-hand knowledge, with these specially ordained pastors and leaders still experienced disunity. Somehow, I get comfort from this. Sin hasn’t changed. We are still sinners and whenever sinners are gathered, it takes a tremendous amount of humility and dependence on the Lord to keep churches together.
There are only 2 ways to live Christian life. One is self-orientation. And the second is other-orientation. Or self-love vs. true, biblical love. Self-centered versus God-centered. These are several different ways of saying the same thing.
1 Cor 8:1-3 speak about 2 kinds of knowledge. A knowledge that puffs up the individual vs. loving God and being known by God.
1 Cor 8
Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But the man who loves God is known by God.
All possess knowledge. Knowledge is a good thing, but the key question is, what is that knowledge going to be used for? Either it can be used in a selfish way to puff you up or it can be used in love to build up someone else. The man who loves God is KNOWN by God–this is relational knowledge. This is very different from the former knowledge that leads to nothing more than a puffed up mind and puffed out chest.
Guys, you and I know what Paul is talking about. I bet you looked in the mirror sometime over the past month and sucked in your gut and puffed out your chest and thought, hey, I don’t look that bad. We all know those guys in high school, the football players who always walked around with their guts tucked in, chest out and they strutted around the halls as if they owned the place.
What kinds of people are these in our churches today? The consumers. They have no intention of building up someone else in love. I am coming to church for myself only. Of course, there are seasons when we need to focus on our relationship with God to the neglect of those around us, but if that is the pattern year after year, I’d be concerned. In addition to the consumers, you have the leaders. Puffed up with a lot of head knowledge. And they use this knowledge to elevate themselves and their goal is to show you how mature they are. Have you met people like this? Some of the most knowledgeable people in matters of doctrine and even the Bible are the last people on earth that you want to be around. Like the Pharisees in the Bible. They are so puffed up and they are more concerned with observing the Sabbath law than showing compassion to a person in need on the Sabbath.
Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. We see this exhortation to love others throughout the subsequent chapters.
1 Cor 10
23 “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. 24 Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
Love builds up, love is constructive. Don’t seek out your own good like everyone else, but seek the good of others.
In earlier sermons we talked about partaking in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner in chapter 11. That was also an issue of love, or lack thereof.
Remember, the Lords’ Supper was a full meal, not just a cracker fragment and a sip of grape juice. And some of the poor members at Corinth relied upon that meal to fill their empty stomachs. But the more financially well-off members would come early and eat the food and so it would run out by the time the poorer members could even have a bite. On the surface, this was an issue of food and socio-economic disparity, but the deeper issue was a lack of love. Paul was fuming mad by this lack of concern. Why are you humiliating your fellow brother or sister in Christ? Stop just thinking about yourselves.
Paul was always concerned with the health of the body of Christ, the church. Paul talks about spiritual gifts in 1 Cor 12 and 1 Cor 14. What is the purpose of each person’s individual spiritual gift(s)? Paul is quite clear of the purpose in 1 Cor 12:7. Listen to what he says.
1 Cor 12
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
The common good. Not your personal good, not my personal good, but the common good, meaning the common good of the entire congregation. Let’s read on in 1 Cor 12:18-26.
1 Cor 12
18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
I like the phrasing Paul employs here. God has arranged the parts in the body, EVERY, every one of them, just as HE wanted them to be. I know that I have certain gifts, but there are other gifts that I sorely lack. But I am confident that at this church, God has brought the right gift mix together in order for this congregation to thrive. The eye cannot say to the hand, I don’t need you. Instead, the members of this church should be saying to one another, I need you. I really need you. The Lord has brought us together and I couldn’t imagine doing church without you. That’s why God gives each of us spiritual gifts. Not so that we can outshine others as individuals with puffed up heads and puffed out chests. Each of us has at least one spiritual gift so that we can use these gifts to build up this particular body of Christ.
So when Paul talks about spiritual gifts, it is clear that we need to have a purpose of building up the body of Christ. Paul goes further in 1 Cor 14. He compares the self-oriented view of using spiritual gifts for oneself vs. an other-centered view where we use spiritual gifts for the purpose of strengthening the body of Christ. Let’s read 1 Cor 14:2-5.
1 Cor 14
2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. 3 But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.
Here, Paul is comparing 2 gifts–speaking in tongues and prophesy. Speaking in tongues is great for building up one’s individual prayer life. I wish I had that gift. But it adds no value in a corporate worship setting.
In v18-19, Paul even says, I can speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church he says he would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. Do you see the principle? Compare the self-oriented view where anything goes as long as I am being edified and I am learning and I am being strengthened. Pray in tongues to your heart’s content in your prayer closet at home. But when you come to service, look to use whatever gift you have to build up the church. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
All your years of coming to service and reading your Bible, where is it going? Many people think Sunday service is like going to school. And they remain as perpetual students. They learn with no intention of using it in the real world. Imagine if you were a lifetime student. For the students here, studying has been your life. What if there were no graduation date, ever? And you had to attend lectures for the rest of your life because you didn’t see how you would use your knowledge in the real world. Every week is like finals weeks. That’s a horrible existence, right? You go to school because deep down inside, you believe this knowledge is going to translate into some concrete use or benefit in the real world outside the walls of your university.
The same principle applies for Christians. We gather on Sundays to put what we learn into action. And the real world begins right here. The person sitting next to you that you call your brother or your sister. How have you been building up that person? The real world is not just Monday through Saturday and your witness to non-believers. That’s important, but equally important is how we are using God’s Word and the gifts He has given us to concretely build up someone else in this body of Christ. Love builds up, that’s point number one.