Epiphany 4 “Knowledge”
January 31st, 2021 – 1 Corinthians 8:1b
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
This morning let us talk about being right.
When you talk about things with your friends, what kind of person are you?
Are you the person who confidently says what you think is the right answer and will refuse to admit you are wrong? This kind of person will be asked by a friend, “Hey, what’s the date of Halloween this year?” and respond confidently, “It’s October 30th.” “Are you sure?” “Yup.” “That doesn’t sound right.” “It is. It is October 30th” “Google here says it’s October 31st” “Well, you can never trust Google these days anyway. Always filled with fake news.” “And these news websites say it’s the 31st, too.” “Can’t be right. None of those are credible. It’s the 30th.” (walks away from the conversation in a huff).
Or maybe you are the one who never can be sure they are right. When asked when Easter is this year this kind of person says, “I don’t know… I think maybe April 4th?” “Hmm.. that doesn’t sound right.” “Yeah, no you’re probably right. I have no idea what I’m talking about.” “It’s probably in March.” “Yeah, probably. When I checked the calendar yesterday I thought it said April 4th, but I’m probably wrong. I’m sure it’s in March.” “Yeah, it’s got to be in March.” (It’s April 4th).
Or how about those spousal fights, hey? The “I’m right you’re wrong” thing that seems to plague marriages. I’ve seen those get pretty big and pretty bad. Been a part of it, too.
“I said X” “No, you said Y” “Why would I say X? That is wrong. I clearly said Y!!!” “You’re the only one saying X.” (Remember when you were wrong? Can’t trust you to remember right. Why are you always such a jerk about it, etc.)
Perhaps you know, or have known, a know-it-all in your life. Someone who is always right, but who you just can’t stand. No tact. They bluntly tell people they’re wrong. Arrogant in their knowledge. Someone who acts like a know-it-all but is not always right is even worse.
Why are we talking about all these types of people this morning? St. Pauls’ word to us this morning, “all of us possess knowledge. This ‘knowledge’ puffs up…” (1 Corinthians 8:1). What knowledge is being talked about in this letter? What is this kind of knowledge that can “puff up”? The knowledge that there is only “one God, the Father… and one Lord, Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 8:6). The Father is the only God “from whom are all things and for whom we exist.” And this one Lord, Jesus Christ, is the only Lord who exists and “through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” This is true. This is the Way.
So if this is true, if this is right, why is Paul saying this knowledge “puffs up?” Why does Paul go on to say, “If anyone imagines he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know?” If you know something, and you know it is right, why should you have hesitation? Why would you not boldly, without hesitation, proclaim what you know to be true? We want everyone to be built up in the knowledge of the truth. We want everyone to know the truth about God being the only God, along with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Perhaps, if you think you know something, it is likely to puff you up, and encourage you to use the knowledge to tear down others around you instead of building them up.
This is something we as Christians in the world, really need to stop and take a moment to think about. If we have knowledge, even true knowledge, and nothing more, we can be destructive.
Think of our labels as Christians “Bible Thumpers, judgmental, hypocrites, abusive, insincere.” Why? Because we speak the truth?
Or perhaps we are missing a fundamental component that goes along with having that knowledge.
St. Paul writes, “This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.” What is this love that builds up? St. Paul answers this later in the letter in chapter 13:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And 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.
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
(1 Corinthians 13:1-13)
If you understand the truth, all the mysteries of the universe, and have all the knowledge, but do not have love, you are nothing.
If you think because you know the truth, and someone else does not, that gives you the right to be impatient, unkind, to boast, be arrogant, rude, insist on your own way, be irritable or resentful, or rejoice in wrong because you think you know the truth and they do not – you are wrong. If you do not have love, you are nothing.
God, our Lord Jesus Christ, He knows, and has known all along, the truth. Jesus has all knowledge. With that knowledge, of our inability to fulfill the Law, He could tell us we are damned and have no hope. He could be the ‘Bible Thumper’ who points to The Book and to everyone else and tells them how they are wrong. And they may listen, and still be damned, or they may not, and be damned. Do not mishear me now, Jesus does do this. He does know fully and completely who you are, points the finger, and tells you that you and everyone around you are damned.
The component that we miss as we do the same to ourselves and to our neighbours, is the love that Jesus always has a part of his message. From the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation, God is patient and kind. He bears all things. He endures all things. He gives hope to those whose sin He bears. He endures through all our evil to each other and our adultery against him out of love for you and me.
If it were not for God’s love for you and me, we would already be punished. If it were not for God’s love for you and me, His knowledge of right would have crushed us. If God’s love ended, we would have no hope. If all of this were true, we would have the right to point the finger in anger and hatred at our brothers and sisters with no love and shout “Wrong!” “Shame!” “Shame and eternal shame!” and we would still be hypocrites. We would still be hypocrites using our knowledge to tear down others without love instead of building them up in love of God – failing to remove the plank from our own eye.
We do not love and obey God because of our knowledge of Him. We love because He first loved us. For “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:18-21).
Your brother will be wrong, unlike God. Your brothers love may end, unlike God’s. Your brother will not be easy to love – just as you are not easy to love.
I have heard and seen despicable things in this congregation. Brothers and sisters not loving their brothers and sisters. Folks not understanding the actions required behind love and dismissing the forgiveness of Christ for one another. Perhaps it would bring you comfort to know that other congregations are no better – but this comfort would be derived from rejoicing in wrong and would-be knowledge without love that puffs up.
We are forgetting where our true unity lies – in Christ alone. If you think right now, “ah, I’m glad Pastor is finally addressing “them,” it is YOU I am speaking to. Even if you are not thinking these things, it is still to you that this message is for.
This message is a reminder of the love from God which binds us together. THAT is our core. It is a reminder that the love we all share from God is not deserved by some “external purity” we can gain from following the good and right Law. If your question is “How can I observe the Law of God at the expense of my foolish brother” you are asking the wrong question and your knowledge of the Law is blinding you to the sweet, humbling, undeserved forgiveness of Christ sacrificed FOR YOU.
We started off this message talking about “being right.”
When you are talking with others, are you the blindly confident one? Christ’s forgiveness is for your arrogance and your unlove.
Are you the unsure one lacking in any confidence and self-love? Christ’s forgiveness is for your excess meekness and your lack of love for yourself.
Are you the spouse who fights over who is right and wrong without forgiveness or love? Christ’s forgiveness is for your unlove and unwillingness to forgive as you have been forgiven.
Are you insisting on being right with your knowledge, not bearing with your brothers and sisters in Christ, but intentionally hurting them and their faith? Christ’s forgiveness is for your puffed-up knowledge without love and for hurting your brothers and sisters as Christ Himself.
Because God forgives you for all these things does not make these things right. It makes God merciful, fair, and loving beyond all compare.
To Him alone be Glory.
Thanks be to God!