Look in your Bible with me this morning at 1 Corinthians chapter 8 in our continuing study of the letter to the Corinthians.
Now, in chapter 8, we have titled this section “The Limits of Our Liberty.” The limits of our liberty. We know, as Christians, that we have liberty in Christ, but that liberty is conditioned upon certain things that the New Testament reveals to us, and that is just the area we’re going to be discussing not only in chapter 8, but also in chapter 9 and chapter 10, because all three chapters deal with the same theme.
To kind of set the picture a little bit, some of the great debates, believe it or not, in the Church in recent years - say in the last 25 years or 30 years, whatever - some of the biggest debates fall along these lines. Is it right to shop on Sunday. Some of you may remember the great arguments about that. Should Christian women wear makeup? Now, frankly, I don’t think that’s even a question in many cases, but in some it is. I’m not saying which cases; you know that. Can a Christian play golf on Sunday morning and score well? Is there anything wrong with rock music concerts or rock music? What about movies? What about dancing? Should a Christian have a beer, a bottle of wine, too much coffee?
Now you say, “What kind of questions are those?”
Those are questions that the Church has discussed and debated and wrangled over some time in the last 25 to 50 years, and some of them are current today. And the reason the Church spends so much time talking about that is because there is nothing in the Bible that speaks about that.
You say, “Well, there’s something in the Bible about shopping on Sunday or playing golf on Sunday. It says, ‘Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.’”
The Sabbath is Saturday, the seventh day of the week. So, the Bible doesn’t say anything about the Lord’s Day as such.
“Does it say anything about makeup and so forth and so on?”
Well, it says, “Don’t adorn the outside; adorn the inside.” That’s kind of general.
“Now what about dancing?”
Well, it does talk about that. It said, “Praise the Lord” – in Psalm 50 – “with a dance,” and, “David danced before the Lord.”
You say, “Yikes, is that in there?”
“What about – what about movies?”
There was a great debate, and now the movies that everybody damned 25 years ago are on television, and everybody’s indifferent to them because they’re rather innocuous compared to what we have today.
“What about drinking wine or beer? What about it? In our culture is it acceptable? What about other cultures where water is impure, etcetera, etcetera. What about the question of coffee? Doesn’t it have a drug in it? Does it bring you under the power of that drug? Does it depress you? Is it good? Is it right, etcetera, etcetera?”
Now, these are things that are not stated in the Bible as exactly as we would like to have them state it. We like to have little pigeonholes where we can just say, “Well, it’s all settled.” But we don’t like to extend ourselves and really have to think through some things, but there are things in our lifetime, in our culture, as there have been in every lifetime, and in every culture, that are in gray areas. They are not stated in the Bible as right, and they are not stated in the Bible as wrong. And so, there has to be a decision made about those gray area things.
Now, we do know that there are some things that are wrong. We don’t really have any problem with those, do we? The Bible says not to kill, steal, cheat, commit adultery, lie, and on and on. And you know what those things are. They’re very clear. The New Testament as long lists of the works of the flesh. In Corinthians and in Galatians we find exactly what we’re not to do.
There are lists in the Old and New Testament of good things to do, like loving your neighbor and helping people and giving your money and meeting people’s needs and doing right, and etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, and taking care of your children, and loving your wife, and on and on and on. There are many things that are good.
But in the middle of those goods and bads, there are those things that the Bible never comments about that are in that gray area, where in every year, in every society, and in every culture, and in every environment, there has to be a decision made that may be only for that time and that place.
How do we decide? How do we know what’s right and what’s wrong in that gray area? I think the New Testament is clear on what’s wrong and what’s right. The Old Testament is clear on what’s wrong and what’s right, and where it doesn’t really get specific, your conscience usually helps you.
But what about those things that just – they’re not wrong; they could be right – how do you know what to do? How does a Christian know whether to do them or not? Are there any guidelines we can follow?
Well, to begin with, remember this: we are free. As Christians, we are not under the laws. Is that right? So, any of those gray area ceremonial things, you know, they’re not necessarily the thing to do. There are many things, for example, that when the Church was founded, many Judaistic things that they needed to do anymore. They didn’t need to carry on certain ceremonies and certain feasts, and this, and this, and this.
But did you know, when the Council of Jerusalem met in Acts 15, they had a great big, long discussion? And they said, “Now, the Gentiles have been admitted into the Church. It’s a new day. The old ceremonies are done away with. Now, you go on out and have a great time with the Gentiles. But” – they said, let me add this – “tell them to refrain from things strangled – right? – and from blood and from certain things here, and certain things there.” Why? “Because there are many Jews in the community who would be” – what? – “offended,” and you have a principle there. Don’t you?
It isn’t as simple as whether it’s right or wrong; it boils down to who does it affect? And maybe there are some things that are all right in themselves, but if you do them, they’ll wound somebody who thinks they’re wrong.
Do you have the right, within your liberty, to do whatever you want, no matter how it affects anybody?” Well, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” 2 Corinthians 3:17 says, and, “For freedom Christ has set us free,” Galatians 5:1 says. And James says that our lives are governed by the perfect law of liberty.
But look at verse 9 in 1 Corinthians 8, “Take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a” – what? – a stumbling block to them that are weak.” Peter put it this way, “Don’t use your liberty as a cloak of maliciousness to willfully injure somebody,” 1 Peter 2:16.
So, how do we decide? What do you do in your life when you got one of those gray-area things? Do you have a process by which you make a decision? Let me offer you a series of terms that can act as a filter through which you can filter any behavior that is in the gray area. Listen to them.
Number one, excess. First guideline I ask myself about a gray-area thing is do I need it, or is it excess baggage. Do I need it? Hebrews 12:1 says, “Seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every” – what? – “weight.” In other words, there’s no sense in running the race dragging a ball and chain. Do I need this?
I remember the days when I used to run track. Many times when we’d work out, we’d put ankle weights on. Sometimes waist weights, and you’d run with them, and then when the meet came, you’d take those things off, and you would feel light. But when the meet came, you did take them off. There wasn’t any point in running with weights on. You don’t run in your sweat suit either. Are there things in this activity that I don’t need? That are just going to weight me down?
Second, the principle of excess, for a second, expedience. And this is kind of the other side of it. 1 Corinthians 6:12 it says, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient.” That means useful. Is it useful? Not only does it not have a negative effect, but does it have a positive effect? If I do this, is it going to hep me? Is this something I need to be a better man of God, a better woman of God? Is this something very positive that I have to do to increase my effectiveness as a believer? That’s important.
So, excess; will it slow me down? On the other side expedience; is it useful? A third principle that I like to use, and this one really kind of pulls it together for me is the principle of emulation. All these will start with an E, so, you could try to remember them. Emulation.
First John 2:6. Now, listen; “If we say we abide in Him” – John says, in 1 John 2:6 – “we ought also to walk even as” – what? – “He walked.” The principle of emulation is this, “Is this what Christ would do?” That’s a good one.
When you get into this thing, first you say is, “Do I need it?” Second you say, “Is it going to help me?” Third, “Is this what Jesus would do in the same situation?” That’s very helpful. Or you may not think it’s too helpful if you know better than to do what you’re doing and shouldn’t even be considering it. But it can be very helpful.
All right, excess, expedience, emulation. Let me give you a fourth: evangelism, “If I do this, is it going to enhance my testimony to an unbeliever?” Colossians 4:5 says, “Walk in wisdom toward them that are outside.” In other words, whatever I do, it should be done wisely toward the people who don’t know Christ, that they might better see Christ in me, that there might be a better base of testimony for me. So, if I do this, will it create a better evangelistic platform for me?
A fifth one, edification. “Will it build me up? Having done this, will I be stronger in Christ?” 1 Corinthians 10:23, “All things are lawful” – yes – “but all things edify not.” Not everything builds me up. It might be lawful to do it, but it won’t build me up. I ought to really think through whether it builds me up or not, whether I can gain a positive thing out of this to build me up in Christ.
All right, excess, expedience, emulation, evangelism, edification. I’ll give you another one: exaltation. “If I do it, will it exalt the Lord?” We’ve been singing this morning about “To God be the glory,” and 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whatever you do” – right? – “whether you eat or drink” – what? – “do it all to the glory of God.” That’s a great principle. Will it exalt God? If I do this, will it exalt the Lord?
Now, those are very practical. And there’s another one that ties us into 1 Corinthians 8, and that’s the principle of example. “If I do this, will it set the right pattern of righteousness for my weaker brother? Will it be an act of love toward him? Will it be done to show him what is right? To lead him in the right way?”
Romans 14:13 says, “Don’t do anything to make him stumble.” 1 Corinthians 8:9 says the same thing. 1 Corinthians 8:13 says the same thing, “I’ll eat no meat while the world stands, because I might make my brother offend.” Here’s the principle of setting a loving example. So, let’s call it loving example.
Now, all of those principals just drive us into 1 Corinthians 8, where Paul deals with just that last one. And I gave you all of them because I think you need to have a broader scope on which you can make a decision.
But let’s look at this one concept of love. Now, I might say, “Hey, man, I’m mature in Christ. There’s nothing wrong with me smoking a big, black cigar. Nobody will – there’s nothing wrong with that. I won’t inhale; I’ll just – in fact, I may – right? – have it right on the pulpit here, and when I just feel like I’m a little worn out, I’ll just take a nice puff and blow some smoke. And it’s not wrong. The Bible doesn’t say, ‘Thou shalt not smoke a big, black cigar in the pulpit.’” So, I’m all right, but all I would have to do would be do that one time, and half of this audience would fall out on a dead faint. And some people would be very offended because, in their mind, that represents something other than a Christian life and a Christian commitment.
Now, whether they’re right or wrong isn’t the issue. I mean no less a man than Harry Ironside would smoke a black cigar.
People say, “Gasp.”
And I have his commentary. Well, don’t let it bother you. But the point is, in a society that we’re in, if that’s a problem to some people, then I don’t do that. Now, I don’t go around saying, “Oh, I wish I had a cigar.” I mean it isn’t a problem for me, but I’m just using an illustration.
The point is there are some things that in themselves are not necessarily wrong. Now, that may become wrong if it harms your body in that angle, but the point is, I don’t do some things, and you don’t do some things because they would offend.
I remember, as a little kid growing up in Philadelphia, and they thought it was a sin to read to the funnies on Sunday. Well, that’s the only day that you have the funnies. And the funnies – to read the funnies on Monday is no fun. I mean, you know, because you worry about it a whole day, and you lose your interest. My dad said, “As long as we’re here, and as long as we’re in this home, we will not read the funnies on Sunday because that offends them, and they think less of our Christian testimony. So, we didn’t read the funnies. We all sat around the living room wishing we could read the funnies. But in respect to them, we didn’t do it.
Now, today that’s not that big of an issue. And I can remember the same thing. I can remember that if I went out in the backyard, when I was a little kid, to play catch on Sunday, man, I really got it. I was in big trouble. And nowadays, you know, we don’t have that same attitude toward those things. But that’s why I say there has to be a long-range, timeless, acultural principle or set of guidelines to determine behavior in a varying series of years and cultures. And one of the great ones is acts of love – exemplary acts of love toward my brother. So, I don’t do some things because of that.
Now remember, the primary issue then is love in this chapter, and Paul is going to show that love is really the key to everything. That if you’re going to decide about a gray-area matter, you must consider how it will affect another Christian. And whatever would be loving toward him, that’s precisely what you do.
Now, to set the stage a little bit, remember that in the section from 7 to 14 in Corinthians, that large section, Paul is answering questions the Corinthians had asked him in a letter. Chapter 7, verse 1, “Concerning the things about which you wrote unto me. So, from 7 to 14, he is responding to their questions. In chapter 7, he answered their question on marriage and being single. Chapters 8 through 10, he answers their questions on this subject of meats offered to idols, which we’ll get into in a minute. In chapter 11, he answers their question on the Lord’s Table and worship. In chapter 12 to 14, he answers their questions on spiritual gifts.
So, this is the section in which he’s answering their questions. Outside of this section, he is correcting things that he has seen by his own observation. So, we’re in the section now about things offered to idols.
Let’s look now at verse 1 and get an introduction to it. “Now as touching things offered unto idols” – we’ll stop right there. That just introduces the subject. There’s only one word, the word “things offered unto idols.” That’s four words in English, one word in the Greek. The one word means idol sacrifices. It simply means meat that was offered to an idol as a sacrifice.
“Now concerning” – he says – “idol sacrifices.” Now, that becomes the theme of chapters 8, 9, and 10.
You say, “Man, MacArthur, that is irrelevant. We don’t have any idols, and we don’t have any people making sacrifices. It is very relevant to some people even today in some cultures. You know that. In some parts of the world, this very thing goes on today. There are offerings to idols, sacrifices to false God’s. So, it’s very germane. But more than that, you’ll find that form today and next week, this will become intensely practical and applicable to you, because out of this particular problem, we will draw a general principle that can govern a behavioral pattern in any age by anybody who is a Christian. So, we’re going to see some tremendous things that’ll help us in deciding about gray-area matters in our life, even though they aren’t the same as this one. The principle applied will be the same.
Now, let me give you some background.
You say, “What do you mean when it says ‘stuff sacrificed to idols?’ What’s the deal?”
Well, recall the situation. Corinth is a part of the Greek culture. It’s a part of the Roman Empire. Now, Romans and Greeks worship many God’s. They were what we call polytheistic. That means multiple God’s. They were also polydemonistic. They believed in many evil spirits. They believed that the whole air was just full of spirits, and that way up somewhere, there were gods. And they had gods for every conceivable thing. The god of everything. You know? I mean just this, that, and the other thing. Never any end to them. They worshipped all kinds of gods and had consciousness of all kinds of evil spirits floating around.
Now, their entire life was interwoven with all of these gods. For everything they did, there was a god. When they had justice, there was a god of justice. Sometimes you see the goddess of justice today – don’t you? – with a blindfold and scales in her hand. That comes from that ancient period. The god of war, you know, and all of that. There are gods for everything: the god of love, and the goddess of love. Every single thing that they did, whether it was amusement, or whether it was entertainment, whether it was government, whether it was the process of justice, whether it was feasts, whether it was social events – it didn’t matter what it was, for everything there was a conglomeration of deities involved.
And take, for example, the average Christian. He becomes saved, and out of this paganism he comes. And I mean it is the kind of paganism that is absolutely engulfing every facet of his life. He can’t do anything socially that doesn’t relate to a god. I mean if he went to a sporting event, there would be the god of that sport there interwoven into everything that went on. This was true in every aspect of life. So, the Christian is in the danger of constantly being exposed to that from which he has just been saved. See?
Now, for a brand new baby Christian, all of this stuff is very distasteful. And he comes bouncing out of that thing, and, boy, when somebody wants to offer him meat offered to idols, he says, “Forget it. That’s what the Lord saved me out of. I don’t want anything to do with it.” But, for a more mature Christian, he says, “Hey, what’s an idol? An idol isn’t anything. Right? So, what’s the dif? Eat it. Live it up. Who cares?”
And so, you’ve got a conflict. You’ve got strong Christians, who know all their freedoms, doing what they want, and you’ve got weak Christians sitting in a corner just cringing because they can’t see this. They can’t comprehend it. And yet, at the same time, how do they avoid it? Because everything they did in their life was entangled with that.
Let me tell you how they would do it, how they would offer a sacrifice. You would go to any particular God, at any particular time - and they were doing it all the time – and you would offer an animal and divide it into three parts. Part number one was burned on the altar, and that went up, as it were, to that God.
Part number two the priest took. It supported the priesthood of that God, and he’d go back and he could eat it if he needed it. If he didn’t need it, if he had more than he needed, and they normally did, he would go right out the back of the temple and put it in a butcher shop and sell it.
The third part, the guy who offered it took home with him. So, there were three parts. One was burned, the second part you could buy in the marketplace, the third part you could eat if you went over to a friend’s house.
So, here’s a Christian. He goes down the street, and he wants to buy some meat. He stops and buys some meat, and he thinks to himself, “Wonder where it came from? I wonder if the priests have any connection with this little butcher shop. I don’t want to buy meat offered to idols.”
Another Christian comes by and says, “What’s the difference? What’s an idol? Take it; it’s the best bargain.” So, he buys it.
Here’s another Christian, and a friend says to him, “I’d like you to come over and have dinner at our house. You know, we just really appreciate you as friends.”
And you say, “Hey, super, because we just had a tremendous thing happen in our lives. We came to know somebody we want to share with you.” What a tremendous opportunity.
So, you go over to their house. They’ve got a wonderful dinner there. And you say, “My, we’re so pleased to be here. However, we have brought sack lunches.” See?
“Why’d you do that?”
“Well, you see – well, you know, we feel that it would be defiling us...”
Well, you’re done, man. You’ve just X’d yourself out of social contact. Or you could just sit there and gag through the whole meal and the hostess would wonder what was wrong with the dinner. This was some of the problem they were facing. What do you do? Maybe you could just go to a Jewish butcher shop. Since the Jews believed only in one God, they wouldn’t be involved in it, and buy all your meat there. But that would alienate the Gentile society. So, they were caught between a rock and a hard place.
You say, “Well, why didn’t they just buy meat that hadn’t been offered to idols?”
That wasn’t easy. You know why? They believed, in those days, in many evil spirits. It was an age when that belief just proliferated. And they believed that all those evil spirits wanted to gain entrance into their bodies. And one way that an evil spirit would get into your body was lighting on your food. And then, when you ate your food, he came in with your food. Well, that was a common belief.
Now, in order to prevent that demon from getting into you through your dinner, they would offer that meat to a god, and the god would be so thrilled that they acknowledged that god, that he would clean the demons off the food, and you could eat without any fear.
So that the result being almost everything that they bought in the market had been offered to some god somewhere along the line or that they ate in the home of an unbeliever had been offered to some god. They couldn’t avoid it.
Now, add to that the fact that all the social events were tied into the worship of these gods, and that most of the festivals and social events took place in the temple. For example, we found one papyrus, and on it, it says this, “Antonius, the son of Ptolemais, invites you to dine with him at the table of our Lord Serapis” – now, our Lord Serapis was the god Serapis. They were going to have a dinner up at the temple as a worship offering to Serapis. And it was a social event, and you’re a Christian, and you get an invitation, what do you do? Do you go and eat meat offered to an idol or don’t you? Do you go and have an opportunity to share and fellowship and talk with the people and present Christ, or do you stay away? Do Christians cloister themselves in a monastic lifestyle and become vegetarian? What do they do? Is that the end of social intercourse at all? It’s a tough problem.
And what about this? The weddings and the festivals that were connected with family life were usually always held at the temple and always had meats offered to some idol before they were consumed. What if your sister was getting married? She was a pagan, but you cared about her, and you cared about your family. Would you go to your sister’s wedding and eat? Tough problem, yeah. You see, they were trying to figure out whether they could do the things the world did – now listen – whether they could do the things the world did that were not stated I the Bible as wrong. Now, isn’t that what we’re trying to find out? We’re trying to find out whether we ought to shop on Sunday, work on Sunday, play on Sunday, drink booze, smoke, go to movies, dance, blah-blah-blah-blah, all the way down the line, because that’s what our culture does. The Bible doesn’t say anything negative about it, and we have to decide whether we can do it or not. Right? That’s the same factor that they were dealing with.
Now, Paul’s going to give them a solution. It’s really good. He says now, “How far does your liberty go?” Now listen – “It only goes as far love.” The Corinthians, the mature ones, they had decided it was okay. Their feeling was, “Man, we’re just going to go, and we’re going to have a great time. We’re going to eat whatever comes; we’re going to just buy old – any old meat we want, not even going to worry about it. We’re not going to try to be careful; it doesn’t matter. And idol isn’t anything anyway. And God isn’t really too concerned about what we eat; that’s not the issue. “‘It’s not what goes into a man that defiles him,’ Jesus said” – what? – “‘it’s what comes out of him.’”
So, we’re not too concerned about it. We’re just going to eat up. And some of these weaker Christians just saved out of this, boy, they couldn’t handle that. It was just killing their conscience. So, Paul writes to them and says, “Your liberty is conditioned by your love. Before you exercise liberty in an area, you got to think about how it affects somebody else.”
Now, he states this principle – watch – he states this principle in chapter 8, and he explains it, incidentally. He illustrates it in chapter 9 through 10:13, and he applies it in 10:14 through the first verse of chapter 11. So, he explains it, illustrates it, and applies it.
Now, let’s look at his explanation in chapter 8. I got to give you one more note so you’ll get into the text. Now, they had decided to go ahead and do it, the Corinthian spiritual ones, mature ones. And they had given Paul three reasons why. You have it on your outline, and those are the three reasons they had given. I feel that those are excerpts from their letter to him.
Reason number one is in verse 1, “We know that we all have knowledge.” Reason number two is in verse 4, “W know that an idol is nothing.” Reason number three is in verse 8, “But food commends us not to God.” Three reasons have led us to do this. Number one, we know enough to know the Bible doesn’t forbid it. Two, an idol isn’t anything anyway. Three, God isn’t concerned about what we eat. You see? Those were their three reasons for going ahead and eating no matter what.
So, Paul hits them at those three reasons. What he does is beautiful. In each case, he agrees with the reason and then shows why it can’t be applied. Terrific. He agrees with the reason and then shows why it can’t be applied.
Verse 1, here we go. “Now, as touching things offered to idols, we know that we all have knowledge.” Stop there. This is a sort of an egotistical statement. “Why, we know we all know everything there is to know. And knowing everything there is to know, we know that there’s nothing against this. We have this knowledge. We all know that.” They were claiming to have matured sufficiently as Christians to have proper knowledge.
Notice verse 7, “However, there is not in every man that knowledge.” That’s what they had failed to really reckon with, that everybody hadn’t matured to that level yet. But to them, “We know everything, and we know that there’s nothing against this. It is not a sin. We know enough to know that. So, it’s all right.”
Now, you know, knowledge is important. I really agree. Knowledge is critical. I mean I spend all my time learning in order to teach you so that you might have knowledge. That’s the starting point, isn’t it? Knowledge is critical? I’m not saying it’s bad. In fact, Paul agrees, “Hey, we know we” – and he includes himself – “we all have knowledge.” That’s fine. I mean there’s nothing wrong with knowledge.
Paul says, for example, just to support the fact that he believed in knowledge, in Romans 15:14, “I myself am persuaded of you, my brethren, that you are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge.” “Boy, that’s great. I’m so thankful that you have knowledge.”
In 2 Corinthians chapter 6 and verse 6, he is describing his own virtues, and he says, “By pureness, by knowledge, by long suffering, kindness and love, and by the Holy Spirit.”
And so, one of the things he says about himself, one of the salient qualities of his apostleship was knowledge. He is high on knowledge. His reasoning, in his letters, just loaded with knowledge. “In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” he says.
In 2 Corinthians 8:7, he says, “I see that you abound in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge” - to the Macedonians. He’s thrilled with what they know. In Colossians 1:9, he prays, “For this cause, since the day we heard it, we do not cease to pray for you, to desire that you might be filled with all knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” “I want you to have knowledge, the knowledge of His will.” That means the knowledge of what God desires. And that’s, of course, his revelation.
Colossians 3:10, “Put on the new man, renewed in knowledge.” He says to Timothy, “Teach sound doctrine.” He says to the believers, “Study to show yourself approved.” “Renew your mind,” he says in Ephesians 4. “Have your mind transformed,” he says in Romans 12. Learn. Multiple times he says, “I would not have you ignorant, brethren.”
So, Paul has a high, high, high concept of the importance of knowledge. And rightly so, because the Bible says, the Old Testament, that without knowledge man is destroyed. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge,” said Hosea. So, knowledge is vital. To know things. There is no premium on ignorance. The priority for the Christian to begin with is to know this truth, to have the knowledge of His will.
Now, we’re not saying that knowledge is not important; on the contrary, knowledge is essential. However, may I add something? Knowledge is not sufficient. It is essential; it is not sufficient.
You says, “What do you mean by that?”
Look at the end of verse 1, “Knowledge puffs up; love builds up.” Have you ever met somebody with a lot of knowledge and no love? Kind of revolting aren’t they? Have you ever met somebody with a lot of love and no knowledge? Kind of tragic. Knowledge is essential, but knowledge without love comes out a great, big, fat zero. Knowledge alone puffs up; love builds up.
Now, the Corinthians had a puff-up problem, believe me. Paul uses the term “puff up” seven times in the New Testament, six times to describe the Corinthians. They were really proud. Proud about their knowledge. They knew everything. “You’re really puffed up.” Knowledge just makes people proud. You know why? Knowledge alone – knowledge alone turns and stops on me. Knowledge alone is self-gratification. Knowledge terminates on me. Knowledge ends right here with me. “I know.”
It’s like Isaiah 47:10. It’s a really funny verse. It says, “Thy wisdom and thy knowledge has perverted thee.” And then it says this, “And thou has said in thine heart, ‘I am, and none else beside me.’” What a statement. “I am, and none else beside me.” That’s a god complex. But that’s what knowledge does.
The starting point was right. You have to have knowledge. They began with sound doctrine. They began with knowledge of the Scripture. But that isn’t the end of it. Turn to the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians and I’ll show you something. Verse 1, and here Paul hits at their pride again, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels” – or the languages of men and angels, though I can speak human languages, and though I can communicate with angels – “and have not love, I am nothing but a banging gong and a tinkling cymbal.” That’s pretty indiscriminate. You ever heard a gong? It doesn’t really have a lot to say.
And look at verse 2, “I may have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and I may have all faith so that I could remove mountains” – imagine that kind of faith; imagine having all mysteries, all knowledge, and all faith – “and have not love, I am” – what? – “zero. Absolutely nothing.”
Now, listen, people, knowledge terminates at me; love terminates at you. And that’s the difference. Knowledge must issue in love. Knowledge puffs up; love builds up. Love reaches out and cares about you and strengthens you, because love terminates on you. Knowledge terminates on me. As I said earlier, knowledge is essential, but it is insufficient.
Philippians 1:9, “This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge.” You see, here Paul ties love and knowledge together. It doesn’t do you a bit of good to know everything if you don’t love anybody. And it doesn’t do you any good to know something is within your righteous and to just fire away and do it not matter what anybody thinks. Now, this is a very, very important truth. The Bible doesn’t say, for example – the Bible talks about having good conversation, but the Bible doesn’t – there are some words that are not really words – I think about this when I hear people with foul mouths. There’s some kind of dirty talk that is not necessarily blasphemous to God. I mean it isn’t “God this,” or “God damn this,” or, “Jesus Christ,” or, you know, those terms. It’s just cruddy, dirty kind of ugly talk that isn’t acceptable in our society.
It’s like if you go to England and say the word “bloody,” that’s about as bad as you could ever say in their culture. And, you know, you could say, “Well, the Bible doesn’t say anything about saying blah-blah-blinkety-blank-dirty – you know, certain words just aren’t acceptable in our culture.
Yeah, but you know, if you start talking like that, somebody is really going to be offended. And if you say, “Well, I have my liberty, so hang it on your blinkety-blinkety-blinkety-blank.” You know, see? What you’re doing is you have used your liberty, and you have terminated your knowledge at you without the exercise of love. And you know what you are? You are nothing. You are nothing. Even though you know the angelic language, you’re just a banging gong. Nobody wants to be a banging gong.
Lynn Cory and I were talking about this the other day at lunch and saying that a truly well-rounded, a truly positive, a truly effective Christian thinks in two ways and acts in two ways: conceptually and relationally. He has the ability to understand concepts, and he has the ability to communicate to people. He has knowledge plus love. And this is the – this is the way it is within the Church, that we must balance off our knowledge with love. And, of course, the thing that we would fear in our church is with all the knowledge we have, that we would not have love and all wind up being nothing. We can’t just be conceptual and go stomping out of here all over everybody. We have to be relational, too.
And I think in our modern day, some of Christianity, in the name of liberty, has just violated the conscience of weaker brothers at random and created division in the body. We all think that division in the body comes as a result of variation and doctrine. It doesn’t. It comes most of all in the variations in behavior. Variations in behavior which many times are not even necessary because we could restrict our liberty for the sake of that weaker brother and create unity. So, make sure that I love is the response to knowledge so that it doesn’t terminate on you.
In verse 2 – we better hurry – verse 2 – we’re only going to verse 3, so, we don’t have to hurry too much. “If any man thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing” – I like that. You know, when you think you know everything, you know what? You don’t know anything. You know why? Because you don’t know the first thing that knowledge knows, and that is that you can’t know everything.
“If anybody thinks he knows anything” – “Boy, I know that subject; I’ve got that one licked; I know it” – “he knows nothing, yet as it is necessary to know.” What he’s really saying here is if you end on knowledge, you haven’t learned the basic concept of knowledge; that knowledge ends on love. You think you know something perfectly, then you don’t know one of the essential elements of knowledge: that knowledge is incomplete until it’s fulfilled in love.
In fact, one theologian gave the best definition of knowledge I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s fantastic. He said, “Knowledge is the process of passing from the unconscious state of ignorance to the conscious state of ignorance. Boy, that is really good. Being ignorant is not knowing that you don’t know. Being knowledgeable is knowing you don’t know. There is no point in priding yourself on what is incomplete. You’ll never have all knowledge anyway. You’ll never know everything. And last of all will you never know real knowledge when knowledge doesn’t go on to love. Look at verse 3, “But if any man loves God, the same is know of him.” And here is imply a principle: that the only true way to have the knowledge of God is to love God. And that becomes an illustration of his point, that in terms of God, you don’t just know God. In fact, you don’t know Him at all until you – what? – until you love Him. And it is when you love Him that you know Him and He knows you. Right? And that’s the point. You don’t really know anything until love is there. And you don’t know the revelation of God until you have loved Him. And He’s just simply pointing out the fact that knowledge cannot be true knowledge without love, as illustrated by the fact that a man who loves God only really knows God in those terms. Does anybody who doesn’t love God know Him? No. No. So, don’t think you’ve arrived just because of your knowledge. Knowledge must issue in love, and that’s proven by the fact that the only people who really know God are the ones who have love – a love relationship with Him.
So, all he’s saying in verse 3 is that love and knowledge are inextricable. Love and knowledge are cemented together. Love and knowledge have to go together. And that’s what I was saying. A church and a Christian must be conceptual and relational. He must be able to know the truth, and he must hold the truth in love.
And so, Paul is tying together their principle. Really, they had left it isolated, “We have knowledge.” And he ties it together with love and says, “Yeah, that isn’t enough.
You can’t say, “Well, we know everything, so off we go with our liberty.” No, no, no. If it’s true knowledge, it’ll issue in love. And knowledge will always think about love.
You know, you can see this in so many areas. For example, you can have a particular doctrine that you believe, or a particular thing you believe, and you can ask somebody, and they can give you an answer that is knowledge only. Have you ever had one of those? Blah-blah-blah-blah and it offends you. Or they can give you an answer that is knowledge coupled with love. Knowledge always has to be passed on with love. Without love there is no knowledge; with love there is true knowledge.
And so, Paul pulls together this principle, that knowledge isn’t enough. It’s a start, but it must be coupled with love. Love is the key to behavior. When you are worrying about how you’re going to act toward a brother, when you’re concerned about how you’re going to affect him, when you’re concerned about how his conscience will react to what you do, when you take care to realize that what you’re doing may offend him, may make him stumble or make him weak, as Paul says in Romans 14, then you’re really operating on the basis of love. And remember, knowledge without love makes you nothing, zero.
So, we begin with the need to build others up in love. How do you evaluate now what you do? You got a problem? You got something that comes across your path? You’re very concerned about it; you don’t know whether it’s right or wrong, what do you do? First of all, ask yourself this, “Do I need this? Will it slow me down in the race?” That’s the principle of excess. Is this just baggage I don’t need? And, man, that’s a good question to ask, because there are some things we do in our lives that aren’t bad; they just take up time that we could use somewhere else.
Second, “Is it expedient?” That’s the positive side. Am I going to profit from this? Is it useful to me? Can I see a positive effect in this?
And then I ask myself the principle of emulation, “Is this what Jesus would do in the same time, in the same place, in the same culture?” And then I ask myself about evangelism, “Is this going to help me spread the Gospel? Is this going to lay a foundation of credibility for my life? Is this going to make me a believable Christian?”
Then I ask this, edification, “Is it going to build me up? Am I going to be stronger in Christ because I’ve done this?” And then the principle of exaltation, “Will it glorify God? Can it be to His glory? Can I make it to His...”
You say, “But I mean if you’re just going to go out and play golf, I mean how can you do that to the glory of God?” You can. You can. Don’t cheat. Keep an honest score. Nice attitude. Don’t bend your three iron around a tree. Yeah, you know, it’s all there.
But the supreme guideline that Paul’s dealing with here, the supreme guideline is will it show love to another brother? All these things. Everything I do in my life should come under that kind of consideration if it’s a gray area. Now, if you say to yourself, “Let’s see, I have an opportunity here to steal $10,000.00. Is it excess? No, that’s very much needed.” Well, wait a minute, wait a minute. “Will it profit me? Oh, yes, oh. It will profit me, oh, yes. Will it be good for evangelism? Yes, I’ll give ten percent to the church.” No, no, no. See, now you’re not even dealing with a gray-area issue there. You’re dealing with a wrong. You don’t apply these in the case of wrong. You’d get stuck anyway toward the point, “Is this what Jesus would do?” So, you won’t make it anyway. And living to the glory of God.
Every time I think about, you know, somebody who you can do everything you do to the glory of God, I always think about the golfer who played such a terrible game. He got to the 18th hole and picked up his club and his carts and everything, walked out on a bridge at the 18th hole and threw it all in the lake furious. Marched off to his car, and the guys were standing around laughing. It was in Reader’s Digest. And it was the funniest thing you ever saw. And about five minutes later, he comes stomping back, threw his shoes off, rolled his pants up, walked back in, took his cart out, took the keys of his car out, dropped it back in, and went back to his car.
So, you can do anything you do to the glory of God if it’s – if it passes these tests. And the ultimate that we’re looking at in chapter 8 is love for the brother.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.
This sermon series includes the following messages:
Please contact the publisher to obtain copies of this resource.Publisher Information