The book of 1 Corinthians was written to a messed up church. You name it, the Corinthians were doing it: bad theology, sexual immorality, wrong worship, and families in chaos. In fact, this book looks an awful lot like many churches today.
One of the problems in this church is that their beliefs and their behaviors did not line up. Much of what they knew about Jesus didn’t translate to what they did for Jesus. Potluck meals were a particular problem in this church. Many had come to faith out of pagan religious practices. Part of those religious practices involved sacrificing animals on the altar. Often, the pagan priests would sell the meat from the sacrificed animals on the market for a premium price.
So it became a sticking point in the church during “fellowship” meals when somebody brought steaks from a bull that was sacrificed in pagan worship. This was the background for 1 Corinthians 8:1 when it says, “this knowledge is puffed up”.
The worship of Knowledge
Some people have made the mistake of believing there is supernatural knowledge that gets you into Heaven. This false teaching has been around for thousands of years. It’s called Gnosticism. At its core, this false teaching amounts to the worship of knowledge. It is essentially worshiping the created rather than the Creator- worshiping our mind, rather than our Maker. This error was directly at stake (no pun intended) in the discussion of meat sacrificed to idols.
Paul, the writer of this book, is saying it doesn’t matter if meat has been sacrificed to an idol or not… A steak is a steak. However, offending a brother or sister is what’s really important. If your friend is offended by what you eat, don’t eat it. In other words, don’t use knowledge as a weapon.
Knowledge as a weapon
Jesus has freed his people to eat and drink in a manner that honors him. He has done away with the Old Testament dietary rules. However, he expects his people to also honor each other with what they eat and drink.
The people who use knowledge as a weapon tend to beat somebody else over the head with the freedom that they have been given. They understand that Jesus has freed them from dietary rules and they expect everybody else to understand this also. People who use knowledge as a weapon tend to be ugly with others who haven’t yet learned that Jesus has set them free to eat and drink in a manner that honors him.
This is how knowledge puffs up. The phrase “puffs up” is the idea of pride or arrogance. It’s similar to us saying, “He’s got a big head”. This statement isn’t a criticism about what they know; it’s a criticism about what they do with what they know.
No one wants to be around somebody who’s arrogant. No one wants to be around somebody who flaunts their intelligence. No one wants to be around somebody who makes others feel stupid so they can feel smart. This is how knowledge puffs up. This is how people use knowledge as a weapon.
Worship with knowledge
There is however, a way to worship Jesus with the knowledge that you’ve been given. It is when you take your knowledge of Jesus and all other things and use it to serve him and to serve others. This is how knowledge “builds up” rather than “puffs up”.
How are you using the knowledge that you’ve been given? Who are you serving with your intellect? How are you blessing others with the freedom that Jesus has given you? How are you loving the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your MIND, and with all your strength? (Mark 12:30)