The Danger of Knowledge
1 Corinthians 8:1 Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
The universal question in the interview for medical school admittance must be, Why do you want to be a physician? We all gave similar answers I’m sure, blathering on about caring for our fellow man and all. I would bet that most of us meant it but I would also bet that very few of us were honest enough to admit that we also wanted to be physicians for the status and prestige that accompanies the title.
We all want to be smart. Knowledge, as Paul said, puffs up, inflating the ego. If we want to insult someone, we do not call them unkind. We truly insult someone by calling them stupid. Most of us are much more fearful of appearing dull than we are of being seen as cold or uncaring. Knowledge elevates self, making us feel important.
Paul said however, that there is something far more important than how much I know. In today’s passage, he insisted that love is beyond knowledge. Knowledge elevates and points to me while love elevates God and others. Pride in my intellect always distracts from God as it focuses on me, while love turns my attention away from me to God and neighbor.
Love focuses on the needs of others, turning me from myself. In practicing love, I concern myself, not with my own promotion, but with that which is truly important to those around me. Love sacrifices and abandons my pride, freeing me from obsession with myself.
Abandoning myself to love God and others, is what it means to be a disciple. As Christians, we often get this wrong. We think that being a disciple means possessing great knowledge. In church, the teaching of right doctrine is sometimes accidentally elevated above obedience and love. We find ourselves saying things like, The most loving thing I can do is tell someone the truth. I do not have to help anyone or do anything for them. As long as I tell them they are going to hell, I have shown love.
We come to equate truth with love, absolving us from ever actually practicing love. I do not have to feed the poor, visit those in prison or cloth the needy. I just have to proclaim that Jesus loves them. If I have done that, then I have done my job. Knowledge, truth and right doctrine are not the same as love though.
Knowledge and correct doctrine are of course, excellent things unless they paradoxically prevent me from practicing love and following God. Knowledge is but a stepping stone to obedience and love. It is not the end in itself. Anything, no matter how good it is, can become destructive when it replaces God. If I use intellect to elevate myself, I am just addicted to one more thing that is not God. If my knowledge inflates my ego instead of leading me to love and obey God, it has become a defect, no better than my addiction to drugs.