Knowledge vs. Love
NCW 26, December 1995
Q. What does Paul mean when he says: "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone fancies he knows anything, he does not yet understand as he should; but if anyone loves God, that person is known by Him" (1 Cor.8:1b-3, RBV). I thought knowledge was important!
Paul said: "Faith without works is dead." By the same token we would maintain that "Knowledge without love is dead." In fact, knowledge without love is a dangerous temptation. I would suggest, moreover, that true knowledge comes out of love. I would further suggest that "knowledge" that proceeds out of pure intellect or mysticism is quite useless. This was the great gnostic heresy; because they sought for knowledge before anything else, they wandered far off the path of truth and became early versions of the "New Age Movement".
I do not believe Paul is condemning knowledge. Indeed, he was probably the most knowledgeable apostle of all, a highly educated and erudite man. That knowledge was put to great use in the service of God later in his ministry. But before his conversion to Christ it was quite useless -- in fact, he used it to persecute Christians. Later he confessed that he esteemed everything he had before he was saved, including his knowledge, to be quite useless.
Knowledge did not send Paul into the missionary field to suffer abuse, stoning, imprisonment and finally martyrdom. It was love. Knowledge was not what made all the apostles willing to suffer terribly for the Lord. It was love. It was not knowledge that converted the first Christians -- it was God's love. Knowledge alone brought them no nearer to God; but love did.
True knowledge is a fruit of love. It is humble, not boasting, not attention-seeking. False knowledge is occupied with the self in a bid to impress others. It puffs up the soul in pride. Paul knew. He tried it with the Athenians. He never tried philosophising thereafter. Instead he spoke of the one thing that moved humble men's hearts -- the cross. And how foolish the cross appears to the proud and "knowledgeable"! They mock and scorn it. But for us Christians is reveals the heart of God and is the very path to our spiritual liberation. Indeed, it is the cross which has given us true knowledge! And praise the Lord for that!
Let us therefore preach the cross and be done with trying to impress the intellectuals and the sophisticated. God is far more intellectual and sophisticated than them all -- He calls their knowledge "folly". And as one brought up as an intellectual at one of the best universities in the world, I think I know now what He means.
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Last updated on 8 May 1998
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