June 23, 2010 David Balzer

1 Corinthians 8: Tripping up, or building up?

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.  Most of you know we’ve recently moved into a new house. Actually, “new” is hardly the right word for it! It’s about 40 years old, and it’s been extended at least twice.

Lots of things about it are great, but other things are not so good. You see, the guy was a handyman. With a little knowledge. And a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Like the telephone wiring. He’d wired in a of extra phone sockets. But none of them worked properly. And because he’d wacked some extra wires into the proper Telecom socket, IT didn’t work properly either. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

And then there was the bathroom tiling. He’d done that too. And the shower in the main bathroom leaked like a sieve. He’d CEMENTED the tiles to the wall instead of using glue. And he’d added ANOTHER cement bed on top of the old bed when he laid the floor tiles. So you had to step up about 5 cm when you walked into the bathroom. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

While that’s happening we’ve had to use the second bathroom. Which he’s also tiled. And there’s no fall in the shower there. It pools in one corner, rather than going down the shower waste.

He installed a pine ceiling in this bathroom. Which looks very nice. But he boarded up the manhole in the process. So now the only access to the roof cavity is through the tiles. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

He’s added an extra television socket. Which is nice. But he didn’t attach it with any screws. And Elyse pulled it out of the wall the other day. And nearly gave Caron a heart attack because she thought it was a power point. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

He’s added a laundry down the back of the garage. And a new circuit board for the laundry and the pool. But there doesn’t seem to be enough power. And sometimes when the washing machine and pool pump are on at the same time, the circuit breaker trips.

And the estapol on the floorboards – which he polished himself – keeps flaking off in big patches.

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

And that’s Paul’s message to the Corinthians here. Knowledge used WISELY is a VALUABLE thing. But knowledge used POORLY is USELESS. Even if it’s TRUE AND HELPFUL KNOWLEDGE. In fact it’s WORSE than useless, because it causes other Christians to stumble.

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

So let’s look at how this message works out in practice. I think we’ve got three tasks today. First, to work out what the actual SITUATION was with the Corinthians. Second, to work out what Paul’s ADVICE was to them. And third, to work out what all of this means to us TODAY. Because it’s not immediately obvious, is it?

So firstly, let’s look at the Corinthian situation.

1. The Corinthian Situation

The whole problem was about what to do with food sacrificed to idols. It was almost impossible to get away from. The Pagan temple wasn’t just PART of everyday life, it WAS everyday life. A standard part of eating and drinking was to offer the meat up to the gods first. Perhaps a bit like making a toast to someone at a formal dinner. It was just the done thing.

So when the Corinthians became Christians, everywhere they went, they had to deal with this question. The meat’s been offered to idols. To Pagan Gods. What do I do? Do I eat it, or not? Perhaps I just need to pack a bunch of CARROT STICKS wherever I go. Or do I just tuck in?

I’m a Christian now. And I worship God. And he’s a JEALOUS God! What do I do?

And it seems like there were at least two schools of thought on the matter. One group thought, “It’s been offered to idols. It’s unclean. Whenever I eat it, I might as well be bowing down to the pagan idols again. God is a jealous God, and he doesn’t want me to be doing that! So I’ll just steer clear of the whole thing. They’re the DIETERS.

And the OTHER group looked at them and thought, “Wuh! You’re all taking this just a BIT too seriously! Don’t you remember what Paul said? That an idol’s nothing? Or what he said about EATING AND DRINKING? That there’s nothing good or bad about any food!

So just hoe-in! Don’t be so sensitive! They’re the eaters.

The dieters and the eaters. Two schools of thought. So they wrote to Paul. “What about food sacrificed to idols?” They might have even added, “Remember you said that Christians know there’s no other gods? And remember you said we’re free to eat whatever we like?”

And so Paul writes back. Because once again they’ve twisted his position. He’s said ONE THING, but they MISUNDERSTOOD it. And pulled it, and stretched it. Until it actually says something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

2. Paul’s advice

So what IS Paul’s advice?

He introduces his topic. Verse 1 “Now about food sacrificed to idols” And then he seems to go off on a tangent.

But he’s really setting the PLATFORM. Laying the foundation for his argument. And he does it by talking about KNOWLEDGE. The second part of v1

(1 Cor 8:1b-3 NIV)  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.

He’s talking about INCOMPLETE knowledge. Or knowledge that’s NOT USED THE RIGHT WAY. And he says that THAT SORT of knowledge PUFFS UP. It makes you proud.

A little knowledge puffs up. When you only focus on the stuff you know, rather than on the right way to USE it. It doesn’t do any good.

The RIGHT way to use knowledge is IN LOVE. In consideration for the other person. Knowledge puffs up, But love builds up. It encourages. It supports.

It’s what he says a bit later on in Ch 13.

(1 Cor 13:2 NIV)  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and ALL KNOWLEDGE, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, BUT HAVE NOT LOVE, I AM NOTHING.

You can see that Paul’s talking about INCOMPLETE knowledge from v2. Anyone who THINKS he knows something, doesn’t really know as he should know. REAL knowledge. COMPLETE knowledge. Is when a person recognises that they DON’T KNOW MUCH AT ALL.

I’ve seen a car bumper sticker that says, “Hire a teenager – while they think they know everything”.

That’s the situation Paul’s describing. People who know something. And think it’s actually MORE than they really DO.

I’ve thought about going into full-time ministry since I was about 15. And I USED to think it was a pretty easy job. And that I’d probably be ready by the time I was … uh… 18 or 19. But as I got older. And as I learned more, I realised how little I knew. How big the job was. And how NOT READY I was. It took me until half way through my last year at college to think I MIGHT be ready – with God’s help – to give it a go!

(1 Cor 8:2 NIV)  The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.

It’s about perspective. Recognising your TRUE place in the scheme of things. There’s a lot more to life than knowing a few facts. The REALLY important thing in life is knowing who you are. To love God. To be his child. And that’s more important than any amount of knowledge. Verse 3.

(1 Cor 8:3 NIV)  But the man who loves God is known by God.

Well, all of that stuff’s pretty GENERAL. Not very SPECIFIC. But now Paul’s laid the foundation, he ties it all back to the question at hand. To the Corinthian situation. Verse 4.

(1 Cor 8:4-5 NIV)  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. {5} For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”),

Here’s the knowledge that “The Eaters” were proud of. Probably even something Paul taught them.

“Yes, it’s true!” he says, Idols ARE nothing. And all the gods and lords that people worship – whether they’re in heaven or on earth – they’re nothing more than lumps of wood or metal. You got that RIGHT.

And there IS only one God. One FATHER who created everything. And one Lord, Jesus, through whom everything lives. One God. Yes, your knowledge is spot on there, TOO!


Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. You need to think about OTHER PEOPLE. You need to think about “The Dieters”. Verse 7.

(1 Cor 8:7 NIV)  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.

The temple and the feasts had been such a huge part of life. That the dieters couldn’t separate THE FOOD, from the ACTUAL SACRIFICE. It might just be dinner to SOME people, but for the dieters, it was still a religious experience. And so they didn’t eat.

And notice that Paul doesn’t say there’s anything WRONG with that. That decision not to eat isn’t a wrong one. Eating the food doesn’t make “the eaters” any better, and NOT eating doesn’t make “the dieters” us worse. Verse 8.

(1 Cor 8:8 NIV)  But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

So what’s the problem? If neither group is making the wrong decision, why all the fuss? Verse 9. Paul warns “the eaters” against their little knowledge TRIPPING UP their brothers.

(1 Cor 8:9-11 NIV)  Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. {10} 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? {11} So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.

The eaters were flaunting their knowledge. “There’s nothing wrong with food. Doesn’t matter who sees me. Just hoe-in”. But because “the dieters” connected the eating with offering sacrifices, they were being encouraged to sin everytime they saw the eaters eating. They were being TEMPTED by the eaters. Tripped up.

The one action of eating/ is both okay for the eaters, and sinful for the dieters. And the reason is because of the SIGNIFICANCE the dieters placed on the eating. They CONNECTED eating/ with sacrifice. And so if THEY ate, they might as well have been back at the pagan temple sacrificing with the rest of the pagans. And that makes it idolatry for them.

But the eaters didn’t make that connection. They had a little knowledge. They just enjoyed the food. And so the action wasn’t sin to them.

But a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. And Paul’s point is that the eaters are using their knowledge WITHOUT LOVE. Without consideration for the weaker brother.

In contrast, the LOVING thing is to GIVE UP, rather than TRIP up. Rather than causing his brother to stumble, Paul would give up meat forever. Verse 13.

(1 Cor 8:13 NIV)  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.

If he had to, he’d do it without a second thought. It’s NOT THAT IMPORTANT to risk causing a brother to sin. A little knowledge TRIPS up. But love GIVES up. It gives up on doing anything that causes a brother to stumble.

Paul’s message to the Corinthian church. Don’t get swept up in knowledge. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Using that knowledge IN LOVE toward your Christian brother or sister is much more important.                                        (2093 words)

4. Our situation:

That’s Corinth. But what about us? What is God’s message TO US from this passage?

It’s not an easy question, is it?. Because the situation at Corinth ISN’T ours. We DON’T have the problem of pagan temples. We DON’T have the problem of deciding whether to eat food that’s been offered to idols.

But I believe Paul gives us several PRINCIPLES that we can apply to the way we treat each other.

First, Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.

The goal of the Christian life ISN’T knowledge. There is no point growing in knowledge/ if we’re not GROWING IN THE GRACE TO USE THAT KNOWLEDGE BETTER. And Paul tells us that REAL KNOWLEDGE builds people up in love.

Look for opportunities to build each other up. What knowledge do YOU have that you can use? At the moment we’re preparing for the Kid’s Club. And as I looked around the room at the planning meeting, 6 out of 9 people there were trained teachers!

That’s a great way to use your knowledge to build people up.

The second principle Paul mentions/ is the importance of knowing and loving God, rather than just knowing ABOUT him.

(1 Cor 8:2-3 NIV)  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.

In lots of ways it’s easier to learn things ABOUT God. But the real riches of the Christian life come from spending time with God. Growing in your knowledge of God. Understanding more and more of the depths of the love that he has for us in Christ. Understanding more of our own sinfulness. And the grace God’s shown us.

It was a temptation I faced all through college. To just make do with learning facts about God. And assuming that that would pass as growing in godliness. Our lecturers were constantly praying that what we learned would affect our HEARTS as well as our HEADS.

And it’s the same in sermons. If I ever just give you lots of FACTS. Tell me. The LAST thing I want to hear is, “Gee, I learned lots of new things ABOUT God, but you didn’t tell me what to DO with that. I Don’t feel I know GOD any better.”

Knowing and loving God is more important than knowing ABOUT God.

Thirdly, be careful of tripping up other Christians. Causing them to stumble.

There are lots of things that are THEORETICALLY okay for Christians to do, but which can be sinful if they’re done with the wrong motives, or done in the wrong way.

Like drinking alcohol. It’s not for Christians to drink. But it’s wrong to get drunk. It’s possible that by my drinking/ a weaker brother could be encouraged to drink too much.

That was a decision my Dad made when he went into parish ministry. He drank alcohol before, and he drinks a bit now. But he felt that if he came across people who had a problem with drinking. And they knew he drank, they’d be encouraged to stumble.

Although I haven’t made the same decision, I still try to use my knowledge in love. I know that it’s okay for Christian s to drink, but it’s not appropriate to use that freedom if I thought it would influence someone the wrong way.

Some Christians feel that it’s wrong to go to Registered Clubs. The atmosphere of pokies and drinking is too off-putting. Yet, there’s nothing wrong with the ACTION itself. But if a Christian goes there with an attitude of greed and drunkenness. Then that action becomes wrong. So I’d give it up if it stops my brother sinning. (It’s not too hard, since I only go to a club about once a year).

Here’s another example. The way we dress for church. It doesn’t matter to God WHAT we wear to church. A suit, or stubbies and thongs.

It’s not the ACTION, but the ATTITUDE that counts.

If I wear a suit and have the attitude that God will be impressed with me because of what I’m wearing. Or I look down my nose at someone who doesn’t dress up as much. Then the action of wearing a suit is wrong.

Or if I wear stubbies and thongs because church is no more important to me than going to the beach. It reflects the priority I give to meeting with God’s people, and worshipping God. Then wearing stubbies and thongs is wrong.

Now, we’re a pretty casual church as far as dress goes. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we need to dress up. Just that we need to be CAREFUL that we don’t send a message by what we wear. That church is unimportant. Or that worshipping God doesn’t mean much to us.

One final point. Let me say what Paul is NOT teaching. By weaker brothers, he doesn’t mean some Christians who try to make other Christians conform to legalism. If someone who SHOULD KNOW BETTER says I CAN’T drink, or CAN’T go to clubs, or HAVE to wear a suit to church, Paul isn’t saying to give in to them. They’re not weaker brothers.

In fact, I’d probably to the exact opposite. To try to get the point across that my salvation doesn’t depend on these things. And that we do have freedom in Christ.

Paul is talking about people who’s behaviour might be affected by me doing one of these things. And a nit-picking legalist like that isn’t going to be influenced by what I do.

Knowledge is important. It’s important to know the right attitude to have towards things like eating and drinking. Let’s work hard at knowing God better. At knowing what he expects of us.

But it’s knowledge that has to be used in LOVE. To build people up. Rather than TRIPPING them up. Let’s work hard at building each other up.

This is the knowledge you need to work on.

(1 Cor 13:1-7 NIV)  If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. {2} If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. {3} If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. {4} Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. {5} It is not , it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. {6} Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. {7} It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *