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Knowledge Puffs Up

Love edifies. It builds up others. When Christians love other believers, they take concrete steps to help them spiritually. When God loves his people, he acts on that love by transforming us into people who glorify him (through justification and sanctification and the other benefits of our calling in Christ).

Love looks similar in our own lives. When we love God, we will want to see him glorified above all else. When we love others, the affection will move us to concrete actions that help those others magnify God’s glory. The Christian who loves another believer seeks to see that other grow in Christlikeness, the fruits of the Spirit, and the grace of God that alone will bring that other believer happiness and greater godliness. The believer who loves his brother wants to see his brother or sister’s spiritual advancement. 

Knowledge puffs up. By itself, left in the hands of sinners, knowledge without love seeks to magnify self. We like to know what others do not know so that we can convince ourselves that we have an advantage over them. It gives us a sense of superiority to know more than others around us.

Knowledge itself is not bad. We are the ones who are bad. We’re hopeless sinners, who take even something like the knowledge of God’s truth and try to use it to glorify ourselves. People sin when they take a good gift and try to use turn it around as a weapon against God.

God wants us to have knowledge. Peter’s blessing over the saints captures this well: “But grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.” Paul even thanked God for the knowledge the Corinthians had been richly given in Christ (1 Cor 1:4-5). In other places he prayed that this knowledge would increase (Phil 1:9). Indeed, knowledge is a necessary part of faith, and so, without knowledge, one cannot be saved (Rom 10:14-15).

We abuse knowledge, however. We use it in arrogant ways. Where love edifies, and is bent on building up others and the church into a great spiritual temple of God, knowledge puffs up the individual who has it, like a balloon. A great and solid temple cannot even be compared to an ephemeral balloon.

For us who are conservatives, and especially those of us who have labored to grow in our knowledge, we should take seriously the call to love others. We of all people who speak of ordinate affections should, even when we disagree with others, have a genuine Christian charity in our hearts toward them. We should never use our knowledge as an excuse to bypass the necessity of brotherly love and affection. If you’re in a conservative church, or if you’re a conservative in a church where not everyone is on board, let your love for other brothers and sisters and assemblies shine brightly. Don’t let your lack of love spoil your knowledge of what is good and right.1

About Ryan Martin

Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).

  1. This blog post is a meditation on 1 Cor 8:1-3. I am aware that the parallels I am drawing out here are less than exact with the context of the original passage. There the Corinthians were using their specific knowledge of a certain theological axiom to tempt others to sin against God and Christ. This is certainly much different than being a conservative Christian interested in holy affections and loving those who are not. But as long as these two principles, “knowledge puffs up,” and “love builds up,” are true, then I believe my application fits, as understood to be application of the biblical truths in that passage. []