“Love above Knowledge”


Epiphany 5 (Epiphany 4 texts)

February 8, 2015

 

Text: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

         

          In today’s Scripture from 1 Corinthians, Paul was dealing with a situation in the Corinthian church that was causing problems. Much of the meat that was available for purchase in the markets of Corinth had previously been sacrificed to idols. Apparently there was serious disagreement among the Christians of Corinth whether or not it was appropriate for Christians to eat such meat. Some of them believed that the meat was tainted because of being sacrificed to false gods, and should not be eaten because they thought it could be spiritually harmful. Others said that because idols are not really gods, there was no harm in eating the meat, because something that is not real cannot hurt you. This apparently got to be quite an argument, even to the point that those who thought the meat was fine to eat described themselves as “strong” and called those whose consciences were bothered by the idea of eating the meat “weak”.

          Paul saw that the Corinthians were arguing about knowledge. The so-called “strong” were claiming to know more about the matter in question than those they called “weak”. But as Paul pointed out to them, knowledge has a way of leading to arrogance. I know this to be true in my own life. There have been times in my life that I have acted like a jerk because I thought I knew more about certain things than other people. Paul appears to be saying that the “strong” party in Corinth was doing a similar thing.

          “Knowledge puffs up,” said Paul, “but love builds up.” For Paul, love was more important than knowledge. We sometimes use knowledge to try to gain the advantage in a dispute over someone we disagree with. But love calls us to a different way of being. Love calls us to care about the well-being of those with whom we may disagree, who we may think don’t know as much as we do.

Paul acknowledged that technically, the so-called “strong” party was right. Idols are not really gods, and they cannot actually taint the meat. But on the other hand, there is also no spiritual benefit to a Christian in eating this meat, and no harm to a Christian in not eating it.

Paul reminded those who considered themselves strong that they needed to love those brothers and sisters they regarded as weak, many of whom had been idol worshippers and still regarded the meat as spiritually tainted. He reminded them that if they went ahead and acted on their “knowledge” without considering the effect of their actions on those whose consciences might be injured by their behavior, they could end up destroying that so-called “weak” brother or sister for whom Christ died, sinning against them and against Christ.

In our time we don’t have arguments about eating meat sacrificed to idols. But we do have our own disagreements, don’t we? We have them both in the church and in society. People disagree about politics, social issues, and a whole host of other things. And I find that a lot of times the argument hinges on what the people doing the arguing know, or at least think they know.

The problem in many of these disagreements is that people do not treat those with whom they disagree with respect. That was happening in Corinth, where some called themselves “strong” and disparaged others as “weak”. Similar things happen in our day, when liberals and conservatives bash each other and their differing opinions, each regarding those with whom they disagree as being either stupid or evil. And sadly, we often see this kind of behavior not only in secular politics, but in the church. Too often we in the church forget that Christ also died for those with whom we disagree. Too often we forget that God loves them just as much as he loves us. And that means we need to respect them and take care to do no harm in the way we treat them.

I have actually been on both sides of what can happen in these situations. On the one hand, a few months back I unfriended an acquaintance on Facebook. This individual and I had some serious disagreements about politics. That is not why I unfriended him, however—I have many friends on Facebook with whom I have significant political differences. The reason I unfriended this individual was his way of expressing his disagreement, which he did by insinuating that I am an idiot. It felt like he was saying he knew more than me, and therefore my opinion was stupid and didn’t count. I think you can understand why I became fed up with this behavior and decided not to put up with it anymore.

That said, I also confess that I have also been on the side of the fence where I thought I knew more than others about a certain subject and rode roughshod over others with my opinion without consideration to the thoughts and feelings of others. I have been advised that some people in this congregation feel I did this very thing in my sermon of three weeks ago in the way I addressed a certain highly controversial topic within the church. Although it was not my intent to hurt anyone, I have been told that some persons were hurt. To those who were hurt, I apologize for doing so, and assure you that I did not intend to hurt anyone—but of course things don’t always turn out the way one intends. And there were others who told me they appreciated what I said.

It has been suggested to me that the issues the church is dealing with around the matter of homosexuality would best be dealt with in an adult forum where we can talk with each other openly, honestly, and respectfully about this subject and our disagreements on the issues connected with it. I have come to the conclusion that this needs to happen, and so I am going to begin to work on bringing this to fruition, and invite you to take part in this conversation. I have already begun assembling a list of books and articles to be made available for people to read, and am considering resource people to invite to help us as well. It needs to be balanced in perspective—all sides of this issue need to be heard. And I believe the goal should be to try to understand the perspectives of people with whom we disagree, not to try to change anyone’s mind. Minds may change, to be sure—my own thinking on this subject has changed greatly in the last several years—but if that is the goal, people’s defenses will go up, and genuine dialogue won’t happen.

I do know from conversations I have had with various people in this congregation that we are not of one mind on this subject. I have had people in this congregation tell me that they have thought about leaving this church because our denomination’s Book of Discipline says quite plainly that we do not approve of homosexuality, and because charges have been brought against pastors who officiate at same-gender weddings, for doing so is forbidden by church law. I have also had people in this congregation tell me that if the United Methodist Church ever approves of homosexuality, they will leave, and I am pretty confident these people are unhappy that the clergy who have been brought up on charges for officiating at same-gender weddings have mostly gone unpunished.

I understand that these conversations probably will not be easy or painless. I also understand that there are likely some who question whether doing this is a good idea. I’m sure some of us would just as soon ignore the subject and hope it goes away. But given the growing turmoil around this issue, not only in the United Methodist Church but throughout Christianity, turmoil that is directly affecting some of us, I don’t see that happening. What I do hope and pray will happen is that we can demonstrate the ability to love, respect, seek to understand, and not hurt each other, even as we disagree. I believe that is what Paul was asking the Corinthians to do in the name of Jesus Christ around the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols. I believe that is what we are being called to do now in the name of Jesus Christ as we deal with these issues, for in the end, how we love one another is more important than what we know. May we be faithful in being loving and respectful, even in the midst of disagreement.

                                                                    Amen.

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