One profound verse we explored yesterday was at the very beginning of 1 Corinthians 8. Verse 1 tells us that “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Paul essentially cautioned the more educated and theologically mature Corinthians to consider younger believers. We should never use knowledge to put other people down. Instead, by loving others, we build them up.
You’ve probably witnessed this biblical truth in your life. It’s tempting to be proud of ourselves for various reasons, and boasting about a sharp mind is often at the forefront. Education and book-knowledge can be very beneficial in our world. Jobs often require a high school diploma, GED, college degree, or other forms of education. Being educated can help you manage money better, organize your life more, and improve your quality of life. These can be very good things, but as we’ve discussed many times before, good things can quickly become idols if we prioritize them over Jesus Christ. In many cases, knowledge offers us a false sense of security.
And even formal education aside, it is so tempting to believe in our heart that we just know more than the next person. Surely we are better off than him or her. This is something we often struggle with, and it usually leads to us judging people based off of our shortsighted viewpoint.
One of the most common insults you’ll see today is attacking someone for lack of intelligence. People call one another fools, idiots, stupid, and so on. This goes to show that we are obsessed with being smarter than other people.
Indeed, knowledge puffs up our lives.
Worshipping knowledge is one thing I’ve often struggled with over the years. As you may know, there are quite a lot of “hoops” one has to jump through to become a commissioned or ordained pastor in the Methodist church. In total, it takes about seven years of higher education, getting a bachelors and a masters. On top of that, there’s a lot of paperwork, essays, and assignments to do. (I mentioned on Sunday how my ordination paperwork was over 100 pages!). One temptation I struggled with near the beginning of seminary was to trust more in my classroom knowledge, rather than leaning more into God’s love. I learned so many new and interesting things in seminary (and all these have helped me to serve Concord as a pastor), but I quickly realized that if I truly want to serve Christ, I must first have God’s love in my heart. Knowledge without love has the habit of puffing us up!
John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, preached extensively about what this kind of love looks like. As a side note, it is interesting that if you want to read about John Wesley, you’ll have to turn to his personal diary and sermon manuscripts. He didn’t really write long books like other historical leaders in Christianity did. This is a testament in and of itself of how Wesley was concerned about being with people and communicating the love of God to them. He had a preacher’s heart!
Wesley often preached on what it looks like to have a spiritual encounter with God. That experience is something that changes your heart. You feel alive and regenerated when you enter into that sacred relationship. Wesley’s own conversion experience occurred when he heard someone reflecting on Romans 1, as he said that his heart was “strangely warmed.” Many refer to this idea as “heart religion”–brain knowledge isn’t the most important thing, but heart knowledge is.
If you think about it, you could even have all the knowledge of the world, but it still not impact you as it relates to your relationship with Jesus. An atheist could be an expert in biblical languages and studies, but that not make much of a difference in his or her life.
What matters is if you have the love of God in your heart. That kind of “heart religion” builds both us and one another up in Christ.