In today’s discourse, love have become the measure of spirituality for those who fight for the special rights of minority groups. Love is usually pitted against knowledge as if the two are oppose to each other. We are told to choose love, because after all, love unites but knowledge divides.
Have you heard of the phrase “love wins”? This phrase was popularized in United States after the 2015 Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality for same-sex couples, and those who oppose, those who value knowledge and objectivity over emotion and subjectivity were deemed as bigots and unloving. Love then is redefined as tolerance and acceptance even if it means accepting sin. With this definition, knowledge will always be against love, because true knowledge will always be intolerant of error and untruth.
Now the issue in Corinth was the exact opposite of what we’re hearing today. Some treat knowledge as the measure of spirituality. Those who claim to have “knowledge” are the ones living a libertine lifestyle. This knowledge, instead of being used as a means to build up other Christians, have caused others to stumble.
In both of these cases, the ones pitting love against knowledge, and knowledge against love, have a wrong understanding of what true love is and what true knowledge is all about. We will see in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 that the two are not against each other, but complementary. True knowledge will always express itself in love, and true love is grounded on our right understanding of God.
Since by definition idols are no real gods and therefore have no real existence, because there is only one God (1 Corinthians 8:4), some have argued against Paul that they should have the right to continue attending temple feasts (1 Corinthians 8:10), and be allowed to eat food offered to idols. This is the knowledge being referred to in verse 1. They were just being consistent with their understanding of the Shema(see Deuteronomy 6:4).
Notice that in most of our English translations, the clause “all of us possess knowledge” is in quotations. Perhaps Paul was alluding to a slogan that was used by the Corinthian believers to justify their behaviour, and he grants that we indeed have such knowledge. Nevertheless, he still argued that this knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
The reason why some have suggested that knowledge and love are antithetical is because of a faulty understanding of this passage. They say “See, knowledge cannot build others up, it only puffs up. Love on the other hand is more preferable because it builds up.” What we failed to see though is that the text never said “all knowledge puffs up”. It says “this knowledge”. So for Paul there is a “kind” of knowledge that puffs up, but not all. Therefore when he said that “but love builds up” he’s not offering an alternative to knowledge. He was offering an alternative “kind” of knowledge.
So what kind of knowledge that doesn’t serve to build up, but only puffs up? The answer is in 1 Corinthians 8:10-12. In acting out our supposed knowledge we wound and therefore destroy a brother for whom Christ died, we are sinning against that brother and by extension we are sinning against Christ. That’s the kind of knowledge that doesn’t serve in building others up.
What then, should we give up knowledge? Absolutely not! As I mentioned earlier, Paul’s solution is not less knowledge but more true knowledge. He said in verse 2 that if anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. So it’s clear that the issue is not that they became too intelligent. Quite the opposite, they have yet to know as they ought.
There are two kinds of knowing here then. An imaginary knowing and an ought to know kind of knowing. I think it is not a stretch to say that this imagined or supposed knowing is the same “knowledge possessed” in verse 1. They imagined to have a right knowledge about God(monotheism), but Paul was saying that they failed to know God as they ought to know Him, that’s why it can’t build others up.
But what is the knowledge that we ought to know? Or to put it another way, what kind of knowledge that builds up?
Notice the parallelism of verse 2 and verse 3. Verse 2 states “If anyone imagines to know something”, and you would expect that in verse 3 it would say “If anyone does not imagine to know something” or “if anyone knows as they ought to know”, but instead it says “If anyone loves God”. Paul used the word knowing and loving interchangeably. What’s being said therefore is that the knowledge that builds up and not puffs up is the one that grounds itself on our love for God. That is, it is one thing to love theology, and another thing to love God. We ought to be satisfied with God and not on our imagined knowledge about God. So a knowledge that fails to take into account affections for God is no true knowledge. Satan knows more about God than we do, but he doesn’t love Him. Therefore his knowledge lead him to pride, and he will use all of these imagined knowledge to hurt and destroy others.
But how do we know that we really love God, and that we have a right knowing of God? 1 John 4:7-9 and 1 John 4:20-21 tell us that anyone who does not love does not know God! Now notice that even in this context love is not a tolerance of evil, falsehood and untruth. John in 1 John 4:1-6 reminds the believers that there’s the spirit of truth and of falsehood, Spirit of God and spirit of the antichrist. Love does not exclude true knowledge. Same thing is true about true knowledge, it does not exclude love for God that express itself in love for others. You can’t have a true knowledge without a true love.
Therefore the love that is being promoted nowadays is not true love because God is excluded. On the opposite extreme, if we think that we know God and love Him and yet we don’t love others, we too have yet to know as we ought to know Him.
Who are the people that does love God, and therefore have the true knowledge and true love that build others up? The last part of verse 3 is the answer. If anyone loves God, he is known by God. The verb to be is in the perfect tense in greek. That is, “He has been known by God.” The cause of our love for God and others is having known by God, not the other way around. “Knowing” is a word used by the Scripture with regard to God’s electing love. 1 John 4:7-9 is saying the same thing, but this time, it has to do with being born of God. It says “Whoever loves has been born of God and knows God”. Being born of God precedes true knowledge of God and our love for Him and others.
To sum it up, love, in order for it to be true, it must be grounded on our right understanding of God. Love for others must begin with our love for God, and we cannot say that we love Him if we don’t know him. Same thing is true with knowledge. True knowledge does not delight on the self but on God. It must find expression in loving others, because if we don’t love one another, we deceive ourselves, and it will be evident that God never knew us. So brethren by all means love but not at the expense of truth, and fight for the truth but not without love.
Possessing knowledge about God is good, but if it is meant only to puff us up, then it is not a true knowledge. Love on the other hand is using your knowledge to build up others.
Therefore use your knowledge in building others up and not destroying them. This way it would be evident that you love God and has been known by Him.