1 Corinthians 8:1-3 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.
On the face of it, this looks like Paul is saying we should never have assurance that we know anything, and I don’t think that’s the case. What he is assailing here is pride. We have trouble associating with the whole “food sacrificed to idols” thing, but it was a very real issue in the 1st Century, and even has echos in such modern countries as Japan today. Japan doesn’t have animal sacrifices, but in devout Buddhist homes, fruit and such is placed in front of the family altar where the ancestral tablets are displayed, offering it/sacrificing it to the ancestors, but then it is later eaten by the people in the house, and even fed to visitors. At some Buddhist funerals, there are great quantities of food – fruit, vegetables, canned goods, etc. – offered like that to the deceased. I have been served such fruit on numerous occasions. So then, the whole issue is, what difference does it make? Paul is saying, whether you “know” that it’s no big deal or you “know” that it is idolatry, if your focus is on your knowledge, you’ve got it wrong. The whole point is that love trumps knowledge. In my case, refusing to eat fruit taken from a Buddhist altar would offend the person giving it to me and make them far less open to hear the gospel through me. In Paul’s day, animals were most often butchered as a ritual of sacrifice. Reading the Old Testament, we can see that a major function of the temple in Jerusalem was as a meat market, so to speak. In pagan countries, most of the meat in the city markets had come from pagan temples, and thus the conflict. As Paul points out in verse 8, the meat itself isn’t the issue, it’s the heart attitude. All our knowledge is relative, and compared to God’s knowledge it is totally insignificant. We are to stand on the principles God reveals to us, but do so always in love, both for God and for our neighbor.
Whereas I do encounter this specific issue in visiting Buddhist homes, the wider issue of pride in knowledge is more pertinent for me. I have struggled with intellectual pride all my life. I used to read the Encyclopedia Britannica for fun in the 4th grade, and still continue to enjoy absorbing information of all sorts. However, the moment I come to, “I know and you don’t, and that makes me better than you,” I am in serious trouble. I’ve got to remember that, as Paul says a little later in chapter 13, knowledge will pass away, and our current knowledge is imperfect at best. (1 Corinthians 13:8-9) I am to be grateful for the capacity to learn but never proud, speaking the truth in love to build others up, and never to lord it over them.
Father, thank You for the mind You have given me. Help me remember always that it is a gift from You, and not something I earned. Help me use it as You intend, blessing those around me for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!