Love Builds Up

by Scarlett Stough

For the Scripture References and related Bible Study Guide, go to Bible Study Guide: Love Your Neighbor.

The early Christian church experienced the same kind of conflict between its members as we do today. The subject varies according to the culture and time period in which we live; but the attitudes continue to plague our fellowship with one another. Paul addressed one such problem:

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.
1 Corinthians 8:1-3

Some Christians thought it was participating in idol worship to eat meat of animals being sold in the markets that had been sacrificed on altars built for gods other than the God who created and rules the Universe, the God of the Bible.

Other Christians had no conscience problem with using that meat, believing the meat had no power to profane their worship of God. Both sides looked proudly down their noses at those whose "knowledge" was contrary to their "knowledge."

Their "knowledge" was becoming a "stumbling-block to the weak" (1 Corinthians 8:9). Their conflict was dividing the church into squabbling factions instead of building unity in love, a deep concern for one another built on the foundation of God's love for all. Paul's entire letter was addressing the failure to practice the love of God by showing loving respect for another's love of and faith in God. The issue in Paul's mind as led by the Holy Spirit was not which faction had the right knowledge and practice; the issue was obedience to the Greatest Commandment taught by Jesus:

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Matthew 22:36-40

We, of our time period, also get caught up in the neglect of "the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness" (Matthew 23:23).

We get so caught up in judging one another's practice of faith, that we end up failing to encourage genuine love for God and one another. We end up being judges of one another's faith instead of being examples "for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12).

Does this mean we can just do any old thing we want to do, whatever seems right to us? No. We all have an obligation to learn from God's instructions and put them into practice; but we need to recognize the need to respect another person's conscience. Some actions are clearly not to be tolerated within Christian fellowship, which Paul elaborated on in Chapter Five of 1 Corinthians.

We need to discern between issues which reveal immaturity and those which are clearly "wicked." We are not to tolerate a licentious attitude of anything goes within our congregations; neither are we to make a big deal about things (such as food ) that are between a believer and our Heavenly Father. We do need to speak the Truth, defined by the Bible as being Jesus and the written word of God, but we also must give people a chance to internalize that truth. We should not harbor contempt toward those who love God and are loved by God. We also need to recognize with humility our own knowledge and practice is at best incomplete and often flawed.

Our neighbor whom we are to love is any person, not only those who are fellow Christians. This love is not merely acts of charity to those who have material needs such as food and clothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3); this love involves compassion even for wicked people who are cut off from God. We are called upon to mirror God's compassion, not just to those who treat us well, but also to those who are mean and insulting.

How can we be a witness of God's love for all peoples if we are unable to express love to other people so they feel loved and valued? Often we are seen as belittling others with our attitudes and comments instead of showing the kindness we ought to feel, not just "put on."

God is able to give us the Spirit of love. We just need to ask for it and then live it out in the way he has taught and modeled for us. Not easy is it? But with God, all good things are possible.

Volume 17 Issue 05 | Notes from Nancy | Women in Christ Commentary | Bible Study Guide | Abundance of the Heart | Exhortation | Book Review |

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