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The Case of the Inflated Blow Fish
1 Corinthians 8:1
by Bob Wilkin
"Now concerning things offered to idols: we know that we
all have knowledge.
Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies."
Have you ever seen a blow fish? It's a little fish until it is
threatened. Then it puffs itself up into
to a big ball. It is a picture of arrogance and aloofness.
There are some Christian leaders today who understand the
Apostle Paul to be saying that too
much Bible knowledge inevitably puffs a person up like that. They
find here a mandate to avoid
heavy doctrinal teaching. Such teaching, they suggest,
necessarily produces unloving, arrogant
I seriously doubt that this is precisely what Paul had in mind
when he penned these words.
Read Paul's letters. Even a casual
reading shows that he emphasized knowledge. Indeed he
prayed for his spiritual charges that they might grow in
knowledge. "And this I pray, that
your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and
all discernment" (Phil 1:9).
Likewise, "[We pray] that you may walk worthy of the Lord,
fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and
increasing in the knowledge of God"
Paul instructed Timothy repeatedly to be careful to instruct
his flock in sound doctrine. "Till I come, give attention to
reading, to exhortation, to
doctrine" (1 Tim 4:13). "Take heed to yourself and to
the doctrine" (1 Tim
4:16). "Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have
heard from me" (2 Tim 1:13). "And the things that you
from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who
will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim 2:2). "Be
diligent to present
yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be
ashamed, rightly dividing the word
of truth" (2 Tim 2:15). "All Scripture is given by
inspiration of God, and is profitable
for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in
righteousness, that the man of God may be
complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim
3:16-17). "Preach the
word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke,
exhort, with all longsuffering and
teaching" (2 Tim 4:2).
Paul also clearly predicted that someday church people would
turn away from sound doctrine.
He said that they would demand to be told what they wanted to
hear, rather than what God has said
"For time will come when they will not endure sound
doctrine, but according to their own
desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for
themselves teachers; and they will turn away from
truth" (2 Tim 4:3-4a).
What, then, did Paul mean by the expression "knowledge
puffs up, but love edifies"?
Let's first consider its basic meaning and then how Paul
specifically applied it in 1 Corinthians 8.
The general meaning of the expression is that knowledge
divorced from love produces arrogance
and injures others, but knowledge wedded to love edifies. Paul
later in the Book of First
Corinthians repeated this same thought when he wrote: "And
[if I have] all knowledge . . . but have not love, it profits me
nothing" (1 Cor 13:2).
On the one hand, being well grounded in the Word of God does
not guarantee that one will be
loving. After all, a person can do what he knows to be wrong. On
the other hand, being ignorant
of biblical truth does not guarantee that one will be loving
either. In fact, ignorance of biblical
truth normally results in unloving behavior!
To be edifying knowledge must be united with love.
The specific issue Paul was addressing in 1 Cor 8:1 was meat
offered to idols. Paul was urging
his readers to relinquish their freedom in order to avoid hurting
weaker brothers in Christ. Some
believers at Corinth, weaker brothers, could not in good
conscience eat meat which had been
offered to idols. More knowledgeable and mature believers had no
While there is nothing wrong with eating such meat per se, it
becomes wrong when my eating hurts a weaker brother. If I
arrogantly and spitefully eat such meat in front of a person I
be a weaker brother, then I have become puffed up and unloving
since my knowledge has been
divorced from love.
There is certainly no prohibition of intensive doctrinal
preaching in this passage. Paul was not advocating the
string-of-pearls approach where a
preacher briefly mentions a Bible verse or two and then spends
the bulk of the message sharing a
series of human-interest stories.
The real pearl is the Word of God. Our illustrations and
applications, no matter how clever, are uninspired. Of course,
illustrations and practical
applications can be helpful. Well-chosen illustrations and
applications serve to challenge us to
obey God. But they are not the main dish. The meat and potatoes
of Christian education is the
Word of God.
In closing, let's consider another application of the
knowledge-puffs-up-but-love-edifies principle found in this
passage. God calls us to share our
faith as often as we have opportunity. In order to share the
Gospel clearly, we must know what
the real Gospel is. However, that is not enough by itself. We
might become puffed up in our
knowledge and choose not to share what we know. In order to
actually witness, our knowledge
must be wedded to love. Such a union results in lovingly
witnessing for Christ as a normal part
of one's life.
Bob Wilkin is the Founder and Executive Director of
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