Now concerning things offered to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
— 1 Corinthians 8:1
When casually reading this passage you could think this verse simply presents a dichotomy of love verses knowledge. Such a view would lead you to believe that God wants us to choose love over knowledge. But I believe that this is a false dichotomy. It seems rather that we are not being asked to choose love over knowledge, but rather love as the only safe way to approach knowledge. If God was telling us to reject the pursuit of knowledge in favor of the pursuit of love, then He would have done so consistently throughout the scriptures. But the book of Proverbs tells us again and again to pursue knowledge.
To know wisdom and instruction,
To perceive the words of understanding,
To receive the instruction of wisdom,
Justice, judgment, and equity;
To give prudence to the simple,
To the young man knowledge and discretion—
A wise man will hear and increase learning,
And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel,
To understand a proverb and an enigma,
The words of the wise and their riddles.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction.
— Proverbs 1:2–7
Proverbs tells us right up front that the very reason it was written was so that we could be wise. But notice that it is not hoping we will be independently wise. No, rather it is wanting us to have the wisdom to be able “to know instruction, to perceive the words of understanding, to receive the instruction of wisdom…” Think of wisdom as the intelligence necessary to understand what is in front of you and to know how to respond to it. A wise man does not go for a cheerful walk through a clearly marked mine field. But that wisdom is useless if the sign is written in a language he does not know or if there is no sign at all. His wisdom is useless without knowledge. Knowledge is the raw material that wisdom must understand and apply.
The wisdom of this world is sorely lacking for it does not have the knowledge given to us through the mind of Christ. We have been given the Word of God to teach us “wisdom, justice, judgment and equity.” The student who doesn’t do well in mathematics and science can do exceptionally well in life if he studies the Word of God. But even an avowed atheist can study the scriptures, so why is it that the simplest Christian has a wisdom advantage over the most intelligent atheist? Because the atheist can study for hours and not understand because the Scriptures are written in a language he cannot discern. Whether he studies the most accurate English translation or the original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, he cannot understand them because the Bible tells us these truths are rooted in spirit, and that spiritual things cannot be understood except through the Holy Spirit whom the atheist rejects.
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
—1 Corinthians 2:14
The bedrock of wisdom is knowledge, and the beginning of knowledge is the fear of the Lord. It is the recognition of God’s sovereignty, His power, His authority and His justice. It is giving honor to the Lord as our Creator, our Lord and our Judge. And as we learn in the New Testament, He is both our judge and our legal advocate. We honor Him with the fear of reverence but no longer the fear of judgment because the Judge Himself defends us against every accusation, true of false!
So what are we to take away from 1 Corinthians 8:1? That we are to always see to it that we let love guide our use of knowledge. We are followers of Christ, who loves the whole world. So we, too, are to love the world and lay down our lives for others. It was in the context of meat sacrifices offered to idols and now sold as food that Paul wrote this instruction. His point was not to discourage us from seeking knowledge but rather to help us see that the right heart attitude toward knowledge is one based in love. So we should seek knowledge for by it we can do the will of God more and more accurately, but we are to always put love ahead of our own comfort, desires and pride. Knowledge puffs up, creating a framework for growth. But without love it is just vanity. With love, it empowers us to demonstrate the nature of Christ to those around us, to set them free and to discover the true joy of our freedom in the process. After all, love actually needs knowledge. We cannot love like Christ, if we do not first know the love of Christ. Love complements knowledge. And knowledge complements love. When they are ours together, we are a delight to those around us.
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
— Galatians 5:13