Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
These are the words St. Paul wrote to his brothers and sisters in the Corinthian Church and these words still pack much meaning for us today. Now, this is one of those verses that without the proper exegesis, could be used out of context. Perhaps it is used to discount one who studies the Bible, or those who attend higher education, seminary or put a lot of effort into learning. But that isn’t at all what Paul was getting at here, because study in itself isn’t wrong. It is important to study and grow in our understanding of God. But Paul was concerned with the attitude of some who were more knowledgeable than others and what Paul was doing was getting the Corinthians to realize that in this Christian life people find themselves at various levels of understanding. Some have studied for years, some are just beginning and some do in fact know more, but knowledge is not an excuse to treat anyone less than or without love and compassion. In other words, knowledge doesn’t trump love. Knowledge without love, can result in destruction and disunity within the church. One with an immense amount of biblical knowledge is not exempt from loving others. As we find throughout much of Paul’s writing, love is the key that builds up the church and it is the Holy Spirit working in us that inspires and enables us to love.
So, what was going on in the Corinthian church that caused Paul to have to say what he did? Well, there were some in the church who had been studying and learning for a while and they had come to a place where they knew and understood that there was only one God, and the heathen gods that their pagan neighbors worshipped simply didn’t exist. Because they knew that they didn’t exist they did not have a problem with eating food which had been sacrificed to an idol. The problem was that there were some who still struggled with the idea of these pagan gods, and to them to eat this food was difficult for them. To them it was a temptation and it would become a matter of conscience. What was happening was those with the knowledge and ability to see this food as food and not food for pagan use would act superior to those who struggled with it. In other words their knowledge made them proud and act as if they were better than those who struggled. It was as if they were looking into the face of these people struggling and said, “get over it….” Now I am sorry, but my question and what Paul’s question would have been is, where is the love in that?
Seminary started last week for me again and I am excited to be taking a global Anglicanism class with Bishop Grant LeMarquand. The class is all about the history and current state of the Anglican Church throughout the world, specifically the non-western church and more specifically the church in Africa, where Bishop Grant had served as Bishop for the Diocese of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. This first week we were discussing the things in the African and eastern churches that we in the west could learn from and the main area according to +Grant, was evangelism. He said that the global church apart from the west, the west meaning North America and Europe, exhibit a greater sensitivity to the receiver of the gospel. For instance, the colonials from England assumed they were superior people because they were more advanced and more educated. So, when they met native people in a new land they had discovered they often degraded the people and their culture because they felt that they had superior knowledge. They would attempt to conform them to their ways. Non-western churches and the people in them, even today, consider themselves equal with those they are sharing the gospel with, so they tend not to degrade and thus the gospel is received better and spreads further. Those in Africa and other non-western churches approach the gospel as a gift they have received and they want to share it rather than see it as an achievement they have gained out of study or their own effort. When we share our blessings we exhibit far more love than if we attempt to tell others what they must do and how they must live. Our job is to tell them about Jesus, tell them how he has saved you, how he has changed your life and trust that the Holy Spirit will transform their life.
As I have been coming into my own as a priest I am realizing more and more that I am what you’d call an evangelical Anglican. Now some people hear that word evangelical and any number of conclusions may be drawn but when we look at the Greek the word evangelical simply means “the gospel” or more literally the “good news.” So, one who is evangelical is one who focused on the transformative power of the gospel not only in their own life but they believe that is has the power to transform the world.
I was recently watching a video about “evangelicals” and the misconceptions about who is an evangelical. This word pops up a lot when it is time for an election and the analysts try to categorize voters. Sometimes we label specific churches as evangelical. Sometimes we label people as evangelical. Oftentimes the Episcopal church in a town would not make the list and I think that is because most people have a misunderstanding of what being evangelical is. In the video they talk about 4 characteristics of evangelical Christians throughout history.
- They value the authority of the Bible
- They had a conversion experience, they believed they are saved
- The death and resurrection of Jesus is central to their beliefs
- They are active in or at the very least pray and support ministry and mission
Now, notice there is nothing in here about politics and who an evangelical must vote for, nothing in here about social issues, no description of how one must be involved in ministry and mission. Quite frankly, an evangelical is one who believes in and shapes their life around the power of the gospel.
Last week I talked to you about the important job of the church today is to be fishers of men and take seriously the call to share the gospel of Jesus to others in their life. To take the equipment they have been given, their skills, talents, passions, time, treasure, and use it to share the gospel. In other words, be evangelists! Be evangelical, dedicated to the spread of the gospel which is the one and only way this world will ever be restored. It is only by the blood of Jesus that we can find true peace and have hope for eternal life.
Being evangelical doesn’t mean you need to fit inside a box of what an evangelical Christian looks like as society defines it. Being evangelical means that you have been changed by the gospel, by the blood of Christ you’ve been forgiven and have come into a right relationship with God, that you believe his word and you take serious the call to share gospel. That could look very different, depending on who you are and that is ok! God certainly doesn’t fit in a box and neither are we expected to. As long as you believe in Jesus and the authority of scripture you can use the unique characteristics of who you are to be a bearing of Christ’s light.
I was in a discussion the other day about those who are lost. Those who are so far away from God, walking in darkness. They have turned and walked so far away that the darkness has consumed them. You may know someone in your life like this. Sadly, sometimes they don’t even know how far away they are and they function in life as someone our society may call successful. But they have not come to know God and they have built up layer upon layer of walls against him that they are so far they cannot see his light. It would not be a good idea for us, who have the knowledge of God, to approach them without love and compassion. We believe because we have been given a gift by God’s grace. Somehow, someway we came to know God. It could simply have been the family we were born into. But that gift, doesn’t make us superior to those in the darkness as we learn from the African church. It makes us saved, and redeemed, but not superior.
Being called to share the gospel is an important aspect of our faith. If that is something you are taking seriously, I pray that what you know doesn’t overshadow the love you can give. We are all sinners, we’ve all been in the darkness, we all have struggled with understanding, but by the grace of God we have been saved and I pray that we will all continue to grow in our knowledge of God and be involved in bible studies, and reading, listening to Christian radio and podcasts. But we must also continually grow in love and that is where we look to the Holy Spirit. When we as the Holy Spirit to fill us we are asking him to fill us with himself and we know from I John that God is love. So asking for the Holy Spirit to fill us not only gives us strength and courage but it fills us with love, love that we are called to share and radiate into the darkness of this world.