Knowledge is power, and it helps us excel in life. Even so, it can be a hindrance, especially in our church community.
How can knowledge be a hindrance?
Knowledge is a hindrance when we allow it alone to guide us. We see an example of this in 1 Corinthians. There were some in the church who had come to believe that:
“an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (1 Co 8:4b–6)
For their understanding, we would praise God because what they believe is correct.
Where they went wrong, however, is in how they applied their knowledge. Since gods and idols are nothing, they concluded it was OK to attend meals thrown in pagan temples by their pagan friends, and even to eat the meat sacrificed to idols.
While their belief may be true, others in the church weren't there yet. When they saw other brothers and sisters in the church participating in these activities, they were led to believe it was ok to combine these practices with their Christian faith, which resulted in their faith being destroyed (1 Cor. 8:11).
How should we use our knowledge?
(1) Love must lead us
As Paul begins chapter 8, at the end of verse 1 he says,
“This knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Cor. 8:1b).
Paul's statement tells us love must lead us. Love should lead us because it has others best interest in mind. Unlike Knowledge, which often serve to puff us up, love is willing to sacrifice for another. Love is willing to give of our rights, desires, and freedom for the sake of another.
When we think about it, giving up our rights, desires, and freedoms is not our natural tendency. Naturally, we hold those things close because we are selfish. The only way we are going to love in a way that allows us to joyfully give up our rights, freedom, and desires at times for another is if we have experienced love like that ourselves.
I believe we experience that type of love in the gospel. The Father loved us so much that He gave of His only Son, Jesus. The Son, Jesus, loved us so much that He was willing to give of His life for us. He hung on a cross dying in our place, while the Father poured the wrath we deserve out on Him. Hanging there, receiving God’s wrath, Jesus gave up His rights, desires, freedom, and life for us. He gave of Himself to repair our relationship with the Father, so that we might have eternal life.
Experiencing the love and benefit of Christ’s sacrifice should motivate us to sacrifice for another. As Christians’, God’s love then should channel through us to others.
Love, true love, not the love pictured in movies or shows, should be what leads us. Love should lead us alongside our knowledge because love focuses on others, while knowledge by itself often focuses on us and our rights.
(2) At times, our rights must be sacrificed
While Paul agrees with the Corinthians that eating food offered to an idol is a matter of indifference, he also tells us that we are to use our “rights” in a way that does not cause another to stumble.
“But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Cor. 8:9)
It might be our freedom to do something, but if our actions are harming another person’s faith instead of building them up, we must be willing to give that thing up. That’s what love does.
Whereas knowledge looks at a situation and says, "I have the freedom and right to do that," love looks at a situation and asks, "Will my right harm another?" Where we determine our actions could harm another’s faith, where it would tear them down instead of build them up, we don’t do it.
For instance, we live in a technologically savvy world. Facebook has become a normal part of our lives. One of the great things about Facebook, and social media in general, is the connections we can make with others. In the past we might have only been able to connect with and keep up with a small group of people in our own community, but through Facebook we can connect with people halfway around the world and keep up with friends from our past.
And with those connections comes influence. Influence like we have never had before. Through my posts I can influence the way people think not only in my immediate community, but also in my global community. With influence comes responsibility.
As a member of Facebook, I have the freedom and right, to post almost anything, but as a Christian, that doesn’t mean I should. Instead, my first thought before posting something should be: How will this be perceived by another?
Will it be positive and build them up in their faith?
Will it tear them down in their faith?
Will it lead them to think or act in a way that is contrary to God’s Word?
Will it lead them into excess?
After answering those questions, we may conclude that our post is not beneficial. At that point, we have a decision to make. Will we give up our right to post what we were going to for the sake of another? Or will we go through with it because it is our right to do so? Paul tells us at times we must be willing to give up our rights for the sake of another.
(3) There is a difference between leading others into sin and leading others into the truth
I don’t want you to get the impression that we should never challenge another person. We should challenge other people to think and act differently, especially when we are challenging them to think and act in a more biblical way.
There is a distinction between leading others into sin and leading others into the truth. If we have knowledge that someone else doesn’t have, we may temper our actions, some of the things we post, or say in a public forum, if we know our actions would hinder their faith. That, however, doesn’t mean we don’t teach them what God’s Word says in another setting.
While our actions could lead another into sin. Dialoguing with them and teaching on a particular subject, where we can explain ourselves and expose them to Scripture can lead them into the truth.
Teaching, challenging, and dialoguing is something we should do. It is an area in which we shouldn’t hold back because our desire isn't to make good, neat legalists, but gospel-centered followers of Jesus.
So there is a difference between leading others into sin and leading them into the truth. One we should do and one we shouldn't do.
Love then should lead us. It should lead us because love will do what is best for others, whereas knowledge will more often do what is best for us.