Christ Lutheran Church Upper Darby

January 31, 2021  Worship Sermon - "Knowledge Puffs Up Love Builds Up"

Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser

Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

One of the things I never fully appreciated about my parents was their patience with me when I returned home after my first year in college.  During this year, I had been introduced to new ideas, new values, new approaches to living.  That kind of growth is why kids go to college, but as I look back, I remember coming home with a bit of attitude, as if somehow that new knowledge lifted me above the working-class community in which I was raised.  I have to hand it to my father who put up with all my pretense and even expressed an interest in what I had learned.  But that summer, I needed to learn something else that I had not learned in college: that my relationships with my family mattered as much as my ability to drone on about Plato and Aristotle.

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

So writes the apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians living in the city of Corinth.  Paul was responding to a controversy that was causing some stress among the members of the Corinthian church.  The controversy had to do with whether it was okay to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols.  To understand what is going on, it helps to realize that if you were living in Corinth during this time and wanted to eat meat, you wouldn’t pick up a nice check roast at the Acme.  Most often, you would buy it at a butcher shop that was adjacent to a temple because the temples had to do something with all the meat from all the animals that were sacrificed in them.  Some temples even had restaurants and social clubs as a way of getting rid of all the meat they produced.  So, was it okay to eat the meat that had been sacrificed to Apollo?  Some Christians in Corinth said yes; others said no.  With no obvious way to figure this out, they ask Paul for his opinion. 

Paul begins by acknowledging that the meat you might buy at the local pagan temple is no different from any other meat.  The idols to whom this meat had been offered were just figments of people’s imaginations, so it’s not like anything magical happened to this meat as it was being sacrificed.  It was good meat and there was really no reason why it should go to waste.

But after acknowledging this, Paul offers a caveat: just because you can eat meat sacrificed to idols, doesn’t mean you should.  You may know that Apollo is not a real god; but what about the person who believes in Apollo?  What if that person sees you shopping at the temple of Apollo and concludes from this that it is okay to worship Apollo?  Have you not contributed to this person’s spiritual downfall?  Paul encourages the Christians of Corinth to let love for their neighbor shape the decisions they make.

Shopping at the temple to Apollo is probably not something that any of us are losing sleep over.  We might be concerned about whether the food we eat has been humanely raised or genetically modified, but I don’t think any of it has been sacrificed to an idol.  Nevertheless, Paul’s approach to working through this controversy does have relevance for us today.  Just like the Christians of Corinth, we have to weigh the knowledge that we have against the call to love our neighbor.

We have tremendous knowledge and with this knowledge has come tremendous freedom and power.  But we have not always used our knowledge in a loving way.  Too often we use our knowledge in a way that benefits ourselves without considering the consequences of our behavior on other people.
 “Knowledge puffs up,” Paul writes.  “Love builds up.”

Perhaps you have had the experience of going to a doctor who is really well schooled in his field but has terrible bed-side manner.  He knows everything there is to know about the disease that is afflicting you, but after you leave his office you feel dehumanized, as if you were just some kind of lab experiment.  Knowledge is useful, but only if it is used with love.  Without love, our knowledge can be used to cause harm just as readily as it can be used to promote life.

The whole message of Paul in his letter to the Corinthians is based in his awareness that we are all inextricably connected to each other in Jesus Christ.  Just as our bodies have many members, so the body of Christ - of which we are a part - has many members.  What happens to one part of the body of Christ affects the whole body.  What happens to you affects me and vice versa.  So, everything we do needs to be shaped with an awareness of how our actions affect others.

Let Jesus be our model for this.  If Jesus was the Son of God, then his knowledge was certainly beyond mine.  But what did Jesus do with this knowledge?  He used it to heal the sick and to free people from the powers that oppressed them.  Love was the motivating force in Jesus’ life and because of this we are healed and freed and forgiven.

These are important things for us to remember on a Sunday when we gather for our congregational meeting.  The love of Christ has built us up into this body that we call Christ Lutheran Church.  Every member of it is precious.  Just as Jesus has loved us and incorporated us into his body, so may we love each other.