In the first chapters of 1 Corinthians, we see that Paul was facing serious problems with the church at Corinth. In light of those problems, Paul could have said, “Shame on you for writing to me about something as silly as meat, considering what is going on in the church. You ought to be worried about the immorality.” Paul does not do that. He operates on the basis of the need, addressing the problems that people face. He deals forthrightly with the principles first, the most important things. Knowing God’s will in doubtful situations involves a number of key ideas. First of all, it involves the idea of knowledge. What does it mean “to know?” Then it involves the idea of circumstances. What is the situation in which this is taking place? It involves knowing God’s will in that situation. That is precisely the way he handles it.
He talks about knowledge in chapter 8 in a most profound way. The Corinthians were so proud of their knowledge. They thought they were able to handle the deep things of the faith and they all had their opinions. In reading the letter, we sense that the problem had an intellectual basis. Some of them said, “Yes, it’s all right to eat and here are ten reasons why.” Others said, “No, it’s not acceptable to eat and here are our ten points to support our position.” They were fighting each other using their keen analytical minds, so Paul begins with knowledge.
First, Paul says a number of very significant things about knowledge. His key point is that knowledge and love go together. We don’t generally think that way. We think of love and knowledge as two separate and distinctly different things. But Paul is saying if you have the kind of knowledge that is divorced from love, it is a brittle, self-righteous, self-elevating perspective, which really is not knowledge in the deepest, biblical sense. It is not the way God wants us to know. What is it to really know God? To know God is to love God. And you can’t love God without knowing God. The two go together. The same thing is true with people. You do not really know what is right until your knowledge is coupled with your love for Christian brethren. This is what he says.
He makes another profound point. Notice that he is talking about two kinds of knowledge and love. There is knowledge of and love for God on the one hand, and there is knowledge of and love for our fellow Christians on the other. He does not say it directly, but it is obvious what he has in mind, because in verse 1 he says, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Clearly he is not talking about love of God because we do not build up God by our love. Rather, Paul is talking about human beings. Then he talks about being known by God and loving God. He is saying that they go together. You cannot have a vertical relationship without a horizontal relationship. You don’t know God unless you also know men. And you don’t know men unless you also know God. The same thing is true of love. You don’t really love others properly unless you love God first, and you cannot really love God unless you love your brothers and sisters in the Lord.
This is not the sort of wisdom that was being passed around Rome or the cities of Greece. This is Christianity, the integration of the person with knowledge. It is the basis of what Paul wants to say about this question, so this discussion of knowledge is not a digression. He is laying the groundwork for what he wants to say concerning food sacrificed to idols. What he is saying is, “When you talk about knowing what you should do in this kind of a situation, make sure you understand what kind of knowledge you are talking about.”