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The Proper Use of Knowledge

1 Corinthians 8:1-9:27

Jim Davis

The greatest mistake of education has been to assume that intelligent people are automatically good thinkers. High intelligence does not ensure effective thinking--it may actually make a person a poor thinker. For example, a highly intelligent person can take any view on a subject and then use his intelligence to defend that view. The more perfect the defense, the less chance the thinker has of actually exploring the subject. Other aspects of the intelligence trap include the need to be right, the need to show oneself to be more clever than others, critical rather than constructive thinking, and reactive thinking rather than projective thinking. (Feedback. Leadership, Vol. 6, no. 3.).

One preacher said, in my early years as a preacher I would have admitted there was much about God I didn't know; in practice, though, I always felt I needed to have an answer when a grieving mother asked why God allowed a three-year-old to die, or an anguished student wanted to grasp the relationship between divine sovereignty and human freewill, or a teenager asked for an explanation of the Godhead. Too often this meant I assumed the role of God's defense attorney, trying my best to bolster God's public approval rating.

Now I'm more likely to say, "I don't know." And I feel as though I've changed from a swayback workhorse into a winged Pegasus; not having to carry the crushing weight of theological omniscience has been like the freedom of flight. (The Trivialization of God. Christianity Today, Vol. 39, no. 12.)

Knowledge Can Be Deceiving

Knowledge of God is often mistaken for a relationship with God; loving God and having a knowledge of God is not the same thing. One may have a working knowledge of the Bible without loving God’s ways. We may convince ourselves that the all-important thing is having a knowledge of God. Certainly Jesus came that we might know God and have eternal life, but this type of knowing is different from having knowledge of God. You can’t love God without having a basic understanding of him, but you can have a knowledge of God without loving him.

1 Corinthians 8:1-3
Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But the man who loves God is known by God" (NIV).

Paul writes, "The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know." Knowledge can be a dangerous thing when it leads us to take pride in what we know. Taking pride in what we know is the most dangerous form of ignorance. It traps us into thinking that we know all there is to know. Pride of what we think we know blinds us to what we should know. The Corinthians had been enriched in every way in their knowledge of God—they fell behind in no spiritual gift (1:5), but they were failing in their relationship with God. They had knowledge of God but they were carnal minded (3:1).

If we are not careful knowledge in and of itself can become our god. Knowledge becomes our master when we allow it to lead us to insist upon our rights while ignoring that getting what we want is not beneficial to others.

1 Corinthians 6:12-13
"’Everything is permissible for me’-but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’-but I will not be mastered by anything. ‘Food for the stomach and the stomach for food"-but God will destroy them both’" (NIV).

1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1
"’Everything is permissible"-but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’-but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

"Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, ‘The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it.’

"If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' sake-the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God-even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved" (NIV).

Jesus tells us that knowing the truth will set us free, but knowing truth doesn’t set us free to violate the consciences of others. Freedom doesn’t mean that we have to be free to exercise our freedom. True freedom also gives us the freedom to choose not to exercise our rights. The greatest exercise of our freedom is to give up our freedom for the good of other. When you are just as free not to exercise your rights, then you are free indeed.

Paul writes, "I will not be mastered by anything." There may be nothing to what others think. They may think a totem pole is a god, but that doesn’t make it a god. But we must not forget that to those who think it is a god—to them it is a god.

1 Corinthians 8:4-8
"So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do" (NIV).

Does your knowledge breed good will within the body of Christ? Some in Corinth were using this knowledge irrespective of those too weak to understand this truth. Often, I can win the argument, but winning the argument is not the issue. The question is will winning the argument cost someone their soul. Paul writes, "Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others." Does it bring peace and build up the church.

Romans 14:19-21
"Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall" (NIV).

The Gentiles in Syria had been commanded to abstain from idolatrous practices by letters sent out from the Jerusalem council (Acts 15). This teaching was probably passed on to all those coming out of idolatry to embrace Christ.

Acts 15:19-21
"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath" (NIV).

Acts 15:23-29

We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul-men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

Farewell" (NIV).

These verses may seem to be a contradiction concerning what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, for Paul teaches that it is permissible to eat meat offered to an idol. However, the Gentiles addressed in Acts 15 were probably mixing idolatry with Christianity. It seems as though they were still practicing pagan religions as well as Christianity. They were commanded to abstain from fornication—this is probably indicative of practices surrounding the pagan idols.

It may be this very teaching that caused some in Corinth to become offended at those eating meat offered to idols. They had been commanded to abstain from idolatrous practices. This made it difficult for them to understand why some weren’t abstaining from eating meat offered to idols. However, they were unable to understand that those eating meat were doing so without any thought whatsoever of the idol. The idol was nothing to them. However, they were being judged for eating meat. Paul dealt with this type of judgment in chapter 4, but it is not only incumbent upon them not to pass judgment, it was also important for them to live so as not to bring judgment upon their actions of good intentions.

Romans 14:16-17
"Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men" (NIV).

Does your use of knowledge offend others? If you use your knowledge in such a way so as to offend others you are wrong. Paul is more concerned about the arrogant than he is the offended.

A terrible curse hangs over the know-it-all who does nothing. A salty pagan, full of the juices of life, is a hundred times dearer to God, and also far more attractive to men, than a scribe who knows his Bible—in whom none of this results in repentance, action, and above all, death of the self.

There are those who desire to acquire knowledge for its own value—and this is vanity. But there are others who desire to have it to edify others—and this is charity. And there are others who desire it so that they may be edified—and this is wisdom.

Certainly God can use a person of great intellect, but only as long as his faith is even greater. Sometimes it takes a great faith to believe that God can save those with less knowledge than we have.

1 Corinthians 8:9-13
"Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall." (NIV)

Making Personal Application

Too often we study the scriptures in a disjointed fashion and we fail to see the continuity of Scripture. We break it down in verses and use each separate verses as a lawyer would use a rule of law. The discussion of chapter 8 actually continues through chapter 10. We are not going to seek to go that far this evening, but we need to at least observe Paul’s personal application of these principles. His personal application is observed in chapter 9.

Paul first states his rights as an apostle. Many were taking issue with Paul because he may have appeared to be a little eccentric. He did not ask for monetary payment, and he chose not to marry. However, Paul stresses his right to be paid, and his right to be married.

1 Corinthians 9:1-12
"Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

"This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don't we have the right to food and drink? 5 Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?

"Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more?" (NIV)

It is not always easy to give up what we believe to be rightfully ours, but it may be for the best.

A traveler, between flights at an airport, went to a lounge and bought a small package of cookies. Then she sat down and began reading a newspaper. Gradually, she became aware of a rustling noise. From behind her paper, she was flabbergasted to see a neatly dressed man helping himself to her cookies. Not wanting to make a scene, she leaned over and took a cookie herself.

A minute or two passed, and then came more rustling. He was helping himself to another cookie! By this time, they had come to the end of the package, but she was so angry she didn't dare allow herself to say anything. Then, as if to add insult to injury, the man broke the remaining cookie in two, pushed half across to her, and ate the other half and left. Still fuming some time later when her flight was announced, the woman opened her handbag to get her ticket. To her shock and embarrassment, there she found her pack of unopened cookies! How wrong our assumptions can be. (John Ross Cranleigh, Surrey, England. Leadership, Vol. 12, no. 2.)

What that woman thought she knew could have made her look even like a bigger fool if she had of opened her mouth. Paul chose not exercise his rights as an apostle because of how it might look in the eyes of others. First of all he did not want to hinder the gospel. No one could say he was preaching for money. He knew the Jewish and pagan priest had grown rich from their positions. Their occupation had become a by-word.

1 Corinthians 9:12-18
"But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

"But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it" (NIV).

Secondly, Paul forced himself to see things from the other person’s point of view. We don’t need leaders in the church that are bent on making others see what they see. We need leaders who are willing to limit their freedom to the limited view of others until they come to maturity in Christ.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23
"Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings" (NIV).

Paul regarded his position as an apostle a privilege and a duty. As a result he was compelled to fill his position and exercise his duty in such a way to benefit everyone. He chose to live a disciplined life so that he would not become unqualified to do what God had called him to.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize" (NIV).


It is no accident that Paul tells the Corinthians in chapter 10, "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" Knowledge can give us a false sense of security. It is always wise to question one’s ways and motives.


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