Knowledge is essential, but it’s not sufficient. It takes knowledge for me to write this. We need to think. We must know the truth.
But knowledge alone is not sufficient for the Christian life. It’s not enough just to have knowledge. That’s why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:2: “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Think hard. But know that it’s not enough. Paul says even if he had all knowledge but didn’t love, he would amount to nothing. In other words, you can be brilliant and worthless.
It would be like a great basketball player who never misses a shot but keeps shooting into the opponent’s basket. He may say, “I was five for five today from the three-point line,” but his teammates would respond, “But you’re killing our team! You’re shooting at the wrong basket!” He answers confidently, “But I did not miss.” That is the kind of attitude that Paul is confronting here. You might be brilliant, but you’re killing our team. You’re not building up the brothers; you’re making them feel dumb and wounding their conscience. You’re not stirring them up to love and good deeds. You just keep making them feel inadequate. By your knowledge, this weaker brother is being destroyed!
Your brilliance is worthless if you’re not building up your brother—and even worse if you’re destroying him with your knowledge. So when you look at people, do you love them? Do you think, Let me use my knowledge to build this person up?
What Christians Say to Each Other
So often when I read statements on blogs (or tweets)—comments that brothers will write to those who are supposed to be fellow brothers—I think, “Where is the love?” It burdens me. I can’t believe some of the things Christians say to each other in person—and maybe especially online (when you don’t have to look them in the face). How is what you’re saying supposed to build that brother—or anyone else who hears it or reads it? Our knowledge should be pressed into the service of love. It should serve to build each other up. That’s what love does. It builds up. It looks to help others, not hurt them.
Our knowledge should be pressed into the service of love.
It is such a danger to puff yourself up and imagine that you’re a brilliant person. It’s like the school bully who imagines himself as the hero because he is the strongest. He can beat anyone up. But everyone else knows that he’s not a hero but a jerk. If he were a real hero, he would defend the weak. He would be lifting them up, using his strength to care for them and protect them, not to bully them.
In the same way, with biblical and theological “knowledge” come the intellectual bullies who seem to know so much and imagine themselves to be so knowledgeable. But Paul is saying that they may be only imagining that they are knowledgeable, because if they really knew, they would use their knowledge not to weaken others but to strengthen them. Not to tear them down but to build people up. That’s what love does.
A Closing Challenge to Thinkers
Thinkers, let’s not fool ourselves: To “be conformed to the image of [Christ]” is what we were predestined for, right (Rom. 8:29)? We’ve been predestined to walk as Jesus walked. It’s great if we have thought hard about Jesus and wrestled with doctrines such as predestination, but my prayer is that this information becomes true knowledge, and that we actually become like him, and that our knowledge doesn’t make us arrogant so that we gloat about it and show off what we know. My prayer for me, and for you, is that everyone we come in contact with would feel our love for them and be built up. That they would see the fruit of our having said, “How can I lift them up with this knowledge that I have?”
Let’s not fool ourselves and imagine that we know so much. Maybe we don’t know anything at all. Maybe some of us have been using our knowledge to tear our brother down and hurt that brother for whom Christ died. Let’s not be guilty of the Corinthian error.
So I’m asking God even right now as I write these final words that he would give me love for others. Oh, God, let me believe what I’m saying. And I hope that you would think through your words and how you can build others up and think about others as brothers and sisters in Christ—so much so that when unbelievers see it, they will have a glimpse of God.
This article is adapted from Francis Chan's contribution to Thinking. Loving. Doing.
The object of our love can always be detected in our behavior.
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