1 Corinthians 8: Knowledge vs. Love

…  Knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 1 Cor. 8:1

Conflicts Over Doctrine (1 Cor. 8 – 10)

In the first century cities, animals were offered as sacrifices at pagan temples.  Part of the meat was burned; much of it was sold in the temple meat market.

Some Christians in Corinth regularly bought this meat, convinced that the idols has no real existence except as lumps of rock or metal.  Other Corinthians associated idol worship with demonic powers and were convinced that to eat meat sacrificed to idols was associated with demons.  Each side rested its case on doctrine.

Idols are not real, said one.  Evil spiritual powers are real, answered the other.  Each side argued strongly that its doctrine, and thus practices were correct.

In dealing with this doctrinal dispute Paul goes back again to basic principles.  He shows first how doctrinal disputes are to be dealt with by Christians.  Then he shows which doctrinal position in the dispute is right.

Chapter 8.  Food Sacrificed to Idols

Knowledge or Love?  8:1-3

Paul argues first that we must approach such disputes from the perspective of love, rather than asking “Who is right?”  The attitude that we know tends to puff up and create pride.  This is foolish, for while we all have some knowledge, no one has complete or perfect knowledge.  We must then hold our doctrines humbly, confessing imperfect knowledge.  On the other hand, the attitude that we will love builds others up — and opens everyone up to the Lord.

Paul’s point is important.  Whenever there are doctrinal disputes, each party must give love for the other high priority.

1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.

The Problem:  According to Knowledge; 8:4-8.

Paul agrees that “we know an idol is nothing at all in the world, and that there is no God but one.”  This position is doctrinally correct.

4 … We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” … 7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, 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.

The Problem:  According to Love; 8:9-13

But being “right” is not the only issue.  Some who do not see this truth are being harmed by those buying from the temple market!  When the practice of a correct doctrine seems to justify wounding a brother, it is sin.  One can be wrong even when his doctrine is correct.

9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.   10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.


Doctrine, the word means “the teaching.”  Most Christians believe it is the content of faith:  what we believe — the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the resurrection of the body, and many other things taught in the Bible are thought of as doctrines.

Dealing with doctrinal disputes:  Some doctrinal errors are extremely serious.  But we must begin by affirming our love for those with whom we differ.  Christians are Christians because faith in Jesus has brought them his new life.  It is faith and not doctrinal agreement which makes us brothers.  But Paul’s goal is not to compromise.  He wants believers to begin a process through which they will move to a more accurate understanding of truth.

If we confront one another over doctrine, each claiming to know the truth better than the other, pride and closed minds result.  If we affirm our love and acceptance for each other, and approach the issue humbly, each admitting his knowledge is limited and concentrating on helping the other love God better, then both are open to the Lord and the teaching ministry of the Spirit.  It may take time.  But when we give each other time and love, better understanding will come.

Truth is important.  But doctrine is never to be exalted at the expense of love.  Thus Paul tells Timothy, “The Lord’s servant must not quarrel:  instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Those who oppose him he must gently instruct”  (2 Time 2:24, 25).  Love and humility open the door for the discovery of truth.

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