Knowledge Puffs Up But Love Build Up

Sermon by the Rev. Lisa Smith Fry
Sunday, January 28, 2018

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Knowledge puffs up. Love builds up.

Catchy little phrase, isn’t it? Well, we have King James to thank for that. Although, if I’m being honest, I believe the King James version of the bible actually said: “love puffeth up, but love buildeth up.

When discussing this phrase in staff meeting this week somebody mentioned that “puffs up” doesn’t particularly sound like a Greek or middle eastern phrase.

Truth. It doesn’t.

So I did a little digging. The Greek is closer to “knowledge can make one arrogant.” Or—as we say today: “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

What that doesn’t mean is that knowledge is a bad thing.

Aside from this one pithy comment of Paul to the Corinthians, what does the bible say about knowledge? Does it say it makes a person arrogant? It says–

  • “It is the fool who hates knowledge.” (Proverbs 1:22)
  • In the book of Mark, Jesus will commend a teacher of the law because he answers with “knowledge.”
  • And Paul like all of us, isn’t even very consistent: later on in this very letter he lists knowledge as one of the gifts of the Spirit.

So it can’t be just ‘knowledge’ that’s bad.

The only time knowledge is looked down on, biblically, is when knowledge isn’t tempered with……(anyone?)……….. love, actually.

Think of the people you know who have great knowledge. Do they use it to make themselves appear smarter, better? Or do they get a charge out of sharing what they know—tickled to see the spark of what they know light the flame of understanding—and excitement—in others?

And what does that have to do with this letter?

We assume—sometimes erroneously– that all scriptures are speaking directly to us.

I think that would surprise the heck out of Paul. He was writing this letter to a specific group of Christ followers in a specific place at a specific time. They had problems in Corinth that they didn’t—say—in Phillippi. We can learn from this letter, but we need to understand the context of it.

The Corinthians were full of promise when Paul first converted them, but he’d had heard disturbing things, recently, about their conduct. There was a bit of arrogance among the faithful. People had been bragging that they were in the “know”, they possessed the knowledge that gave them the “God edge” over other people.

Gnosis, or secret knowledge of spiritual mysteries, passed from one secret group to another was one of the first problems and heresies in the church. People hoarded their special spiritual knowledge, doled it out to only the most elite inner circles.

O.K. How many of you have seen the new Star Wars movie?

How many of you have seen the OLD Star Wars movies?

In the old Star Wars movie Luke was told by his teachers that secret Jedi knowledge was only mastered by faith, ancient rituals and wisdom and was only given to special followers.

It was clear that not everyone in the galaxy had access to this special knowledge, this FORCE. Nor were they supposed to. Only special people, with special bloodlines—trained in this special knowledge– could use this power—the Force.

But this new movie the Last Jedi—oh—- this new movie— turned all that on its head.

Luke Skywalker, the hero of the previous movies– the one with the amazing bloodline—declared unexpectedly that

  • You don’t have to be a privileged person to have access to the Force.
  • You don’t need special knowledge—
  • you don’t need a master to teach you all the tricks.

The Force flows through everyone—through the entire cosmic ecosystem. And all people have access to it, can understand it, and can use it. There is no secret knowledge, there are no special bloodlines– the Force belongs to everyone!

It’s interesting that not everybody who watched the Last Jedi liked that message. For some reason, the thought that only some SPECIAL people can have power, have knowledge—seems to resonate with many—and to hear that everyone has access to any kind of power and knowledge—just doesn’t seem to appeal as much. Why is that?

It’s alluring to have special knowledge—as long as WE’RE the ones to hold the special knowledge. It’s not so great for everybody else.

Feeling that we are better than someone else because of what we have—or what we know—doesn’t make us special—it makes us arrogant.

But here’s the truth: this knowledge of Jesus, of his love, his talk of the Kingdom, and his prophecy that we could do the same things he did and more— didn’t just come for us—it came for everyone. All people have access to it, can understand it, and can use it.

We only use what we’ve learned about God to build people up, never to diminish them.

Paul put it another way, later in this same letter: “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

What we know, as followers of Christ, is that we are to love everyone as Jesus loved us. It is as simple, and as difficult as that.

But when we do that, the force of Love is unstoppable.